September 18, 2009

In the words of the Black Eyed Peas: Let's get it started.

And just as has been the case in the previous five years of the Chase format, New Hampshire Motor Speedway will stage the crucial first race in the 10-race quest to crown 2009's Sprint Cup Champ.

While it's fair to say you can't win a championship at Loudon, you can certainly go a long way to losing one by putting yourself in an early hole with a terrible finish; a predicament Kyle Busch found himself in this time last year. Brilliance in the regular season means nothing come the drop of the green this Sunday afternoon. One point to note here, too: Only once has the winner of this race gone on to take the title -- Kurt Busch back in the inaugural year of the new points format.

That aside, the 1.058 mile long flat track requires similar qualities to the previous weekend as drivers who perform well at both Sprint Cup tracks in Virginia -- Richmond and Martinsville -- tend to have success at NHMS. Running well at Phoenix is another indicator of potential success at a track that is all about rhythm and consistently hitting your marks, corner after corner.

This is the second race of the year for New Hampshire and a thirteenth straight year the venue has had two dates on the Cup schedule. So without further ado, let's take a look at the favorites, the sleepers and the long-shots...

Denny Hamlin

After leading 299 of 400 laps at his home town track; Hamlin pulled his FedEx Camry into Victory Lane at Richmond International Raceway and wasted no time espousing his credentials for a run at a Championship. "They better watch us. I am telling you, this team is dangerous," said Hamlin who comes into the Chase with ten top ten runs in the last 12 races and two wins in the last six. Adding to the positive momentum is his record at Loudon (one win, two top fives, five top tens) where he has an impressive average finish of 8.3. Something of a flat track master, don't be surprised if Hamlin racks up back-to-back wins this weekend.

By the numbers: Hamlin has led 992 laps this season. Only Johnson (1252 laps) has led more.

Jimmie Johnson

If it's Chase time; it's Jimmie time. Don't be fooled by a couple of poor weeks, either, the 48 team is very much for real and still the car to beat. Running for a historic and unprecedented fourth straight title will keep the pressure stacked high but with an average finish of 9.9 in his 15 attempts at the New Hampshire track, there's no reason Johnson won't feel confident headed into the weekend. He's only finished outside the top 10 once in his last nine tries.

By the numbers: Johnson has won an astonishing 14 Chase races in 50 attempts. Edwards and Biffle are the next closest with six wins apiece.

Mark Martin

With a Chase berth secured, the pressure is off the 50-year-old as he tries, once more, for that elusive first Sprint Cup crown. Running a partial schedule in both 2007 and 2008, Loudon was one of the tracks Mark skipped so he has far fewer laps here in the new car than his immediate competitors. Of course, this won't make a huge difference as the consummate professional, lead by the illustrious Alan Gustafson, will almost certainly shine on Sunday. Martin has an average finish of 11.1 in 47 races including eight top fives and a further five top 10s at Loudon and he should pad those numbers with a solid finish this weekend.

By the numbers: Martin won the inaugural pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July 1993; a race won, coincidentally, by Rusty Wallace, Martin finished second.

Martin Truex Jr.

It's been a good couple weeks for Martin Truex Jr. with the announcement that Pat Tryson will assume crew chief duties for the NJ native next season, when he makes the transition to Michael Waltrip Racing. An early crash took Truex Jr. out of contention in the first race of the season at NHMS, but in the four races before that he had an unblemished record of fine finishes (third, fifth, fourth, seventh); results that would indicate this is a good circuit at which to activate the six year Sprint Cup wheelman. Locked out of the Chase field for a second straight year (he made the cut in 2007); Truex Jr. will be looking to finish off his tenure at EGR on a high note, and there are few tracks he has a better chance of doing just that then at Loudon.

By the Numbers: Martin Truex Jr. has an average finish of 13.1 at Loudon

Juan Pablo Montoya

After racing for points all season long, the multi-faceted Colombian driver has achieved his first goal by making the Chase for the first time in three seasons. But those eager to write off his chances, citing his zero wins and only two top fives (Pocono and Indianapolis) on the season so far, would do well to re-consider. Here's what Mark Martin had to say on the subject at the Chase Media Day in New York on Thursday: "I'd be really surprised if Montoya can't make a charge for it [the Championship]. I've been watching him. I think there's more there." While Montoya's career stats at Loudon -- a highest place finish of 12th in 5 attempts -- are nothing to get excited about, he's shown steady improvement at the mile long flat track and look for that to continue this weekend.

By the Numbers: Sunday will be Montoya's 100th race at the Sprint Cup level.

Joey Logano

Back in June, Joey Logano won the first NHMS race of the year and in doing so, at 19 years old, one month and four days became the youngest ever winner of a Cup race. As you might remember it was a gamble on inclement weather that vaulted the youngster from mid-pack all the way to the top of the charts despite the fact his car looked like it had run a thousand laps at Thunder Valley. If Logano goes even some way to fulfilling the early hype, no one will remember his maiden victory being rain-assisted but for now, don't be fooled by his success in the first race as you pick your team for this weekend.

By the numbers: Logano's win at Loudon is his only top five effort in 29 Cup races. His next best run was a 7th place finish at Michigan.

Next Up: The Sprint Cup circuit heads to Dover, Delaware for a date at the Monster Mile in race number two of the 2009 Chase.

LOOKING TO WIN A LITTLE EXTRA CASH? THEN DON'T MISS OUT ON YOUR OWN CHANCE TO BE A PART OF THE CHASE! 12 drivers have 10 weeks to sort out who will be the 2009 Sprint Cup Champion. We think you're up to the challenge to figure it out in one week! For the third straight year, brings you our Chase Challenge - your chance to show off your NASCAR knowledge. Simply match up which Chase driver will perform the best in the 10 Chase races, and you can walk away with all sorts of great prizes! The deadline to enter is one hour prior to the drop of the green flag at Loudon. It's FREE to play, so race over and make your picks today by clicking here!

You May Like