The first race in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff, the Chase is in the books. Denny Hamlin assured himself of moving onto the second round with a win last Sunday in Chicago. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series now heads back to Loudon New Hampshire for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at the flat 1.06 mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway. For some it’s business as usual, try and win; for four drivers though there is sense of desperation as they need a win or a decent finish in order to stave off elimination and move on to the next round which begins after the next race at Dover.
The series was here in July with Kyle Busch snatching the victory. While he is among the favorites this week the track changes so much in just two months that a season sweep is rare; it’s only happened twice with the last time coming 11 years ago when Kurt Busch accomplished the feat in 2004. Here are some of the favorites for Sunday, with odds current as of Wednesday morning, for betting or your NASCAR fantasy racing leagues. The Driver Ratings use stats compiled from 2005-2015 races (21 total) among active drivers at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick (9-2) is perhaps the most desperate driver of the bunch. After a crash left him in 42nd last week he finds himself in 16th place and needs a win of a good finish Sunday. His overall stats don’t bode well . He has won here, in 2006, but has the 10th lowest average finish, 13.5, and his driver rating a measure NASCAR uses of all stats combined is 94.6 eighth among active drivers. However he was third her e in July and with his talent and motivation from last week’s disaster, it’s no wonder odds makers have him as the favorite to win it all Sunday.
Kyle Busch (5-1) remains hot. He led laps last Sunday and was in contention to win until late settling for a 9th place finish. He was the winner here in July, his second career New Hampshire win, the first coming in 2006. His average finish however is just above Harvick, 13.4, and his driver rating, 96.7, is also just ahead of Harvick at seventh among active drivers. Expect Busch to be at or near the front when the checkered flag falls Sunday.
Brad Keselowski (5-1) has one win here, in July of 2014. He has the best average finish, 10.2 among active drivers though and a driver rating of 98.7, which is fifth. Keselowski could be a winner Sunday, after all, he was second here in July and led the most laps, 101. Betting on him seems a risky proposition, but it might be a risk worth taking.
Joey Logano (7-1) has decent odds, but has an average finish, 16.9 that’s outside the top 10. His driver rating, 79.9 is also outside the top 10 and among the lowest. He is the defending winner of this race however and also won here in 2009 and finished 4th in July. Logano is perhaps the biggest risk in the field this week, but also seems to have the best chance of repeating his win from last season.
Jeff Gordon (20-1) seemed to find something he hasn’t had all year last week at Chicago, speed. Gordon led laps and was a contender until the end. At New Hampshire he has three wins, the last coming all the way back in 1998. However he does have one of the better average finishes, 11.3 and the highest drier rating in the field at 106.7. If he can continue the momentum from last week, Gordon could be a surprise winner in his last race at New Hampshire Sunday.
Others to watch: Jimmie Johnson (10-1) was 22nd here in July, but has three wins the last coming in 2001. He has the third best average finish, 10.7, and the fourth best driver rating, 100.9; if he can shake the gremlins that have plagued him of later he could add a fourth victory Sunday. Denny Hamlin (10-1) has the third best driver rating, 102.4 and the second bet average finish, 10.7. But he was 14th here in July and with a guaranteed start in the next round may look to just finish strong. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (20-1) is actually our longshot and our favorite this week. Sure he may be buried in the “others to watch” and have a driver rating, 97.5, and average finish, 15, outside the top 10, but he was extremely upset with his finish last Sunday and scored one of the better finishes of his career, a fifth, here in July. If his anger can translate into speed, Earnhardt may just go all the way Sunday.
Qualifying at New Hampshire will happen Friday at 4:30 ET. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Sylvania 300 gets the green flag just after 2:00 p.m. Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.