It's three wins and counting for Tony Stewart and crew chief Steve Addington after the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. [Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images]
Mash The Gas - New Hampshire Preview
by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann
Event: Lenox Industrial Tools 301
Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, NH
Track: 1 mile oval
Date: Sunday, July 15th 1:15PM Eastern
Last Seasons Winner: Ryan Newman
It's on to the flat one-mile oval at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as the season kicks off the second half with the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. Traditionally the track has produced some tight racing as drivers fight for position entering the flat corners and getting their cars to turn smoothly and quickly through those turns will be keys to success Sunday. Track position is also extremely important this week, which will put pressure on the pit crews especially on the final pit stops.
Dan Margetta: Stewart enters New Hampshire riding a nice wave of momentum following his third win of the season last Saturday at Daytona. He leads all active competitors in Driver Rankings here and has scored three wins, including the last time the series visited the New England area last September. Stewart has scored top five finishes in 14 of his 26 starts at New Hampshire and should be the favorite on Sunday.
John Wiedemann: Last year, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway was a playground for the Stewart-Haas Racing teams. While Stewart has been hot and cold this season, he may have started a hot streak with his Daytona win that could last right through the next race at Indianapolis. Four top-five finishes in six New Hampshire races as team owner including a win and two second places puts Tony at the top of the favorites for this weekend.
DM: The "Broken Record" line on Jeff Gordon remains the same and again this is a must win situation to salvage any hopes of a championship run this year. Gordon has three wins at New Hampshire and ran very strong in both races here last year. The bad luck has got to hit rock bottom sometime and getting crashed while innocently trying to pit last week may have been it.
JW: Gordon has averaged a seventh place finish in the last six races. But, all the driver of the #24 needs right now is wins. There are eight victories left for the taking until the Chase starts and Gordon needs at least one and likely two. Gordon's three wins were accomplished back in the '90s with the most recent in 1998. As has been said before - now is the time for Gordon to add win number 86 to his career total.
JW: For many reasons Ryan Newman needs a top finish this weekend. Currently just missing the final Wild Card by a point and out of tenth place in the standings by seventy points, Newman needs to add to his points total. This weekends' race is a great place for him to increase his points and even get a shot at a win.
DM: Newman also has three wins at New Hampshire and has already won at Martinsville this year, another flat track with similar characteristics. The team got some bad news earlier this week with the loss of the US Army as a sponsor and Newman's a free agent next season with a strong interest in finishing the year in the title hunt. A strong run Sunday to follow their top five finish from last week keeps them in the mix for The Chase.
DM: Yet another driver with three wins at New Hampshire, Johnson almost always runs well here and should get back on track this week as the restrictor plate races and their bad omens are done for awhile. The team tested at Milwaukee earlier in the week to prepare for this event and they are expected to be strong.
JW: You can never leave Jimmie Johnson out of the favorites and a bounce back from the misery at Daytona is highly likely. Johnson has three Cup wins at New Hampshire with the last one coming at this race in 2010. Over the last five years Johnson has an average finish of eighth at New Hampshire with his better runs coming in the summer races.
DM: Always a threat on the flat tracks, Hamlin has a win at the flat one-mile oval at Phoenix already this year. He should run up front at New Hampshire although the physical problems with his back compounded by a hard hit in a crash last week remain a question. A win on Sunday would definitely make him feel better.
JW: Denny Hamlin has done alright at New Hampshire with eight top ten finishes in twelve races. Just when you stop thinking about him, he pops up in victory lane - and that's where I expect him to be at the end of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301.
DM: Bowyer's holding onto tenth in the points, and that puts him on the "bubble" towards making The Chase. Bowyer is a pretty decent flat track racer and like many others needs a win to solidify his championship hopes. He already has two wins at New Hampshire and could pull it off on Sunday.
JW: Bowyer is in a big pack of drivers in the standings. From fifth place to tenth there is a difference of fourteen points. Fortunately for Bowyer, and the other guys in the pack, there is a thirty-one point gap to eleventh place. So, they are safe - for now.
DM: Now that the baby watch is over with the birth of his son earlier in the week, Harvick can concentrate on getting his first win of the season. He typically runs well at flat tracks as New Hampshire suits his style well. Of the top ten drivers in the points, only Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are winless and the #29 team would like to change that on Sunday.
JW: Logano is currently holding the last Wild Card for the Chase by a precarious single point over Ryan Newman and by three points over Kasey Kahne. Logano has three top tens and a win in the last five races, however those good finishes are split up by 22nd and 35th place runs. Last year's rumors of Carl Edwards taking his ride may have been reasoning for disappointing finishes. Now Matt Kenseth is rumored to land in the #20 next season. Logano, on the bubble of making the Chase, needs solid finishes more than ever if he wants to prove to everyone that he should remain a Cup Series driver after this season.
DM: Keselowski's stats on flat tracks don't exactly jump off the page, but they're not too bad either. This team has shown the ability to run well just about anywhere this year and a test at Milwaukee just before July 4th could help make them contenders at New Hampshire.
JW: Let's not forget about the point leader. A top ten, pole and then third place finish after announcing that he would be leaving Roush Fenway Racing have quieted the talk of a collapse from Matt Kenseth. Past history at New Hampshire isn't promising for this weekend but Kenseth did finish sixth in last year's fall race. Kenseth leads the series in top fives and top tens and his consistency this season should produce another top ten run.
DM: While I have a feeling Jeff Burton can use his second place finish last week to jump-start a solid run this week, I'm going to pick Sam Hornish Jr. as my long-shot this week as he takes over the #22 Penske Dodge for the suspended A.J. Allmendinger. This is Hornish's shot to make something happen at the Cup level and an earlier Nationwide Series win at Phoenix proves he has the flat track skills to get the job done as long as the mechanical demons that have plagued this team stay away.
JW: Last week's long shot pick for me, as it has been in many races, was A.J. Allmendinger. I was as surprised as most to hear about his suspension for failing NASCAR's drug policy. Many fans and even some irresponsible "media" writers online jumped all over this news with wild accusations and calls for him to be fired from Penske Racing immediately.
There may not be a better way for NASCAR to handle a situation like this, and I admit that I don't have a better idea, but it is possible for a driver making an honest mistake to have his career ruined. Sponsors are tough to find as it is and an accusation is enough to make them shy away from a driver.
Allmendinger has claimed that he failed the drug policy by testing positive for a stimulant. We will need to wait to see how everything plays out for him, but it is easy to see how a driver could ingest a banned substance that may be included in a medication or supplement that had been taken innocently. While it is the driver's responsibility to monitor what they are taking, it is sad to see how people in a rush to judgment can't wait for all the facts to play out and crucify the individual.
I'll admit to being a fan of AJ since his karting days and hope that he is innocent and able to ride out this situation to save his seat at Penske Racing.
So yes, in a different vein, my long-shot this week is A.J. Allmendinger.