The winding hills of Infineon Raceway were replaced by the tight confines of New Hampshire Motor Speedway this week. Ringers were gone and the battle was left to the regular Sprint Cup stars fighting for places in the Chase for the Championship.
Juan Montoya started the race from pole. The New Hampshire track seems to suit drivers with extensive road racing backgrounds, as evidenced by Robbie Gordon's win in 2001. It was Montoya's second consecutive pole at the track, but could he make it pay off?
The race produced a lot of close racing through the field, and a number of drivers were involved in contact as they raced hard for position. Montoya's day ended as a result of contact, and so did other's.
By the finish it was Johnson, again, asserting his dominance. He was forced out of the lead by Kurt Busch, but stalked the leader again before making his move and never looking back. The win was Johnson's fifth this season, and second in a row.
Jimmie Johnson Johnson drove a wonderful race in New Hampshire scoring back-to-back wins on the California roadcourse and New Hampshire oval. It was the usual storyline for the No. 48 team, working the car throughout pit stops to have a car that could challenge for the win in the closing laps. It looked for a short time that Kurt Busch had gotten the better of the Californian, but Johnson charged back and reclaimed the lead. It was Johnson's third win at the New England track. His average finish in 17 career starts at Daytona is 15.4 with one win, the 2006 Daytona 500. He may not have the wins that other drivers do at the track, but his finishes have been consistently solid.
Kurt Busch Busch was again a consistent runner, scoring another top-five finish that will serve him well in his quest to claim a spot in the year's Chase for the Championship. The finish was Busch's seventh top-five result of the season, and he continues to be one of the more consistent drivers in the Sprint Cup field. Looking ahead to next week's race at Daytona, fantasy players should not count out the Las Vegas native. He has always been a decent restrictor-plate racer, and his average finish of 17.5 at Daytona in 19 career starts backs it up. Busch should be a solid option to use in next week's Coke Zero 400.
Tony Stewart Stewart started the day with a strong car, but was caught a little off pit sequence, which pushed him down the running order. A lucky caution allowed him to catch back up the rear of the field, but was back on the lead lap. The bit of luck, plus hard driving afterward, gave Stewart his fourth top-five finish of the season. Smoke is the man at Daytona International Speedway with three wins, seven top-fives and 11 top-10s in 21 career starts. He has won just about every race held at the track except the Daytona 500. Stewart is definitely an arrow fantasy players should have in their quiver for next weekend's race; think carefully before leaving him on the bench.
Jeff Gordon Despite having run-ins with other competitors for the second consecutive week, Gordon still was able to notch a top finish. He and Montoya bounced off one another as they fought hard for position in the latter stages, but it was Gordon who continued forward. Daytona is an excellent place for Gordon to flex his muscle too. Disappointingly, his average finish in the last five points races there is 27.2. While he has won at the track in the past, and scored well in non-points races, he has recently come up short when points are on the line. Still, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have Gordon in your lineup next weekend, history says he can get the job done despite recent troubles.
A.J. Allmendinger Allmendinger had the run of his career Sunday at New Hampshire. He was about to score his second career top-five result, but couldn't hang on in the last few laps and finished 10th instead. The finish was Allmendinger's second top-10 this season, which shows that the California native is steadily improving. In four career starts at Daytona, Allmendinger has one top-five finish and an average result of 23.5. Consistency isn't there for A.J. and until he can start producing top-10s on a regular basis, it would be wise to save using him for tracks where he has shown prowess in the past. Daytona does not fit that bill.
Kasey Kahne After starting on the outside of the front row, Kahne was the man in charge through the first half of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. It was a strong run from a Ford-powered car, until it finally gave way. Despite the trouble, Kahne should be high on the fantasy radar next weekend at Daytona International Speedway. He finished 30th in the Daytona 500 in February, but that interrupted two consecutive finishes in the top two, including non-points races. Kane's average finish in the last five Daytona points runs is 17.6. The No. 9 team is currently not in the Chase, so they will want to drive steady and fast again at Daytona to make sure they work their way forward in the standings.
Marcos Ambrose One week after gifting his first Sprint Cup victory to Jimmie Johnson, Ambrose fell further behind in New Hampshire. He found himself a lap down near the halfway mark, and was never truly on pace. With just two top-10 finishes so far this season, the team must certainly be wondering what is going wrong. Ambrose was a promising rookie in 2009, but is in the midst of a sophomore slump. Daytona isn't a horrible track for the Tasmanian. He bagged a top-10 result there last year and finished just one out of the last five races outside of the top 20, which was due to an early engine failure in this year's Daytona 500. Ambrose, despite his recent poor luck, could be a dark-horse fourth option for fantasy rosters next weekend.
Juan Pablo Montoya Montoya made a number of enemies at New Hampshire Sunday afternoon. Contact with a number of competitors slowly degraded his car, until contact with Reed Sorenson finally put his car into the wall, ending his day. The car had been battered by Montoya's driving throughout the race, but he was still on the lead lap until he was taken out. The Colombian has gotten consistently better at Daytona. His average finish in seven career starts is 22.0, but he's notched two top-10 results in the last two points races there. Montoya had a rough weekend in New Hampshire, but he should be happy to get back to Florida where he will continue to search for his ninth top-10 finish of the season.
Kyle Busch Busch stalked the leader through the first half of Sunday's race, until he finally took over at the point. He won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race just a day prior and was about to record another top Cup finish on Sunday, but was spun in the closing laps. Ultimately, he finished 11th. After two disappointing results in Michigan and Sonoma, Busch looked to be back on track in New Hampshire, though. He holds the third spot in points, and is still in a solid position to make the Chase. Busch's average Daytona finish is 17.6 in 11 career starts at the track, but he has also been stellar in the non-points races there too. Look for Busch to remain at the summit of the sport for quite a while.
Jeff Burton Burton was a driver that many expected to have a good chance at winning on Sunday, and in fact he did. Unfortunately, his car faded in the closing stages and he caused a spin in the closing laps after he slid up the track into Kyle Busch. Burton ended the day in 12th position, which is not bad, but it isn't what could have been given the equipment he had for the majority of the day. His average finish in the last five Daytona points races is 21.0, which is slightly worse than his career average finish of 17.6 in 33 total starts. Fantasy players may want to look elsewhere for a driver to use next weekend, Burton just doesn't distinguish himself as a great play.