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NASCAR Barometer: Busch Breakthrough at NH

C.J. Radune

C.J. Radune

Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the 2012 Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Kyle Busch became the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup winner at Kentucky Speedway when he crossed the line first Saturday night. It was Busch's 22nd career victory, holding off David Reutimann, Matt Kenseth and a number of others to finish first after the final caution.

Two caution periods in the last 15 laps gave plenty of drivers the hope of sneaking in a victory, but it was the No. 18 who took the field by the scruff of the neck, holding off all challengers to take the victory.

This weekend's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire International Speedway will see Busch lead the field atop the points, the third points leader in as many races.

Chevrolet-powered cars have won seven of the last 10 New Hampshire races. Three teams have ruled that roost, and it may come as no surprise that they were Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing. Not surprisingly, those drivers make up the majority of this week's NASCAR Sprint Cup upgrades.

The key to winning at New Hampshire is pit strategy and managing track position. The aforementioned teams are typically the best in the pits, and that is why they rise to the top this week.

Crew chiefs will look to manage their tire and fuel strategy to give their drivers as few cars to pass as possible on the tight track, and this week's winner will be the one who manages that balance the best.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch -
Busch was in contention to win Saturday night. Before the final two-lap run to the finish he stopped and took on four fresh tires that should have given him an advantage in the quick run to the end. Track position was what mattered more, though, and Busch came home ninth. His average finish in the last five races at New Hampshire International Speedway, however, is 6.2, and that is the best of any current driver. Despite not having a win in that time, Busch has been the one driver with whom every winner has had to contend. Two top-fives and four top-10s in the last five starts at the track make Busch a solid choice this week.

David Reutimann -
An amazing night at Kentucky will do well to lead Reutimann to a track where he has had some success. He finished second at Kentucky, earning his first top-five finish of the season after being in a prime position to win. He spent 248 of the 267 laps in the top 15 and was agonizingly close to winning another race in Sprint Cup. Instead, Reutimann will look to leverage that momentum to carry him further in New Hampshire. His average finish in the last five events there is 10.6 with a top-five and two top-10s. That record is the seventh best of current drivers, and Reutimann should be in line for another strong run this week.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson finished third Saturday night, scoring his sixth top-five of the season. The No. 48 crew welcomed that finish after two of the last three races have seen the team finish 20th or lower. Johnson is now poised to turn in a consistent string of results if history is any predictor. At New Hampshire, Johnson has earned a win, three top-fives and four top-10s in the last five races. His average finish in that time is 8.2, leading 212 laps as well. Johnson has overcome the difficulties that consumed him at Daytona and Michigan International Speedways, and he is now in line to crack off a string of top finishes.

Kyle Busch -
After spending every lap of the inaugural Quaker State 400 in the top 15, leading 125 of those laps, Busch romped to victory. He endured two final restarts from caution to take his 22nd career win in the series. He now heads to New Hampshire, where in his last five tries at the track he scored a top-five and three top-10s. His average finish in that time is 13.2, with an average starting position of 10.0. Busch is consistently one of the top competitors in NASCAR, and given his success this weekend, in addition to his New Hampshire statistics, he should be one to contend with this week as well.

Greg Biffle -
Biffle finished 21st in the Quaker State 400 after starting the race from 21st. He may not be clicking off the finishes that his teammates have been to date, but he has been able to put himself into contention a handful of times. His average finish at New Hampshire is pretty good at 12.2 in the last five races. A win and another top-10 make him one of the top-10 drivers at the track over the last five events. Biffle will want to show that he is not the weakest link in the Roush Fenway Racing garage, and he will bring his New Hampshire experience to bear this weekend when he tries to score his second top 10 of the year.

DOWNGRADE

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne finished the Quaker State 400 in 13th position, losing positions in the final laps. He spent 153 laps of the race in the top 15, but didn't make it pay off. With just one top-10 result in the last five New Hampshire races, Kahne probably isn't the driver to rest fantasy hopes upon. He only finished three of those last five races on the lead lap, failing to finish twice. Those results give Kahne an average finish in that time of 21.8. He led 110 laps during that time, but closing the deal has thus far eluded him. Fantasy players would do well to recognize that Kahne has only scored one top-10 finish in the last eight races, and leave him on the bench.

Matt Kenseth -
As usual on the 1.5-mile ovals, the Roush Fenway Racing teammates were strong in Kentucky. Kenseth put himself into contention to win, but ended the night in fifth position, slipping just a bit with a loose car in the final 10 laps. In the last five New Hampshire races Kenseth has only finished on the lead lap three times, scored no top-fives or top-10s and failed to finish one of those times as well. Despite his normal prowess, this would be a week that the numbers tell you to avoid selecting the No. 17. Only one Roush driver has won at New Hampshire in the last 10 races, and it wasn't Kenseth. Fantasy players should steer clear.

David Ragan -
After picking up his first win at Daytona, Ragan backed it up with another top-10 at Kentucky. He has been on an upswing in form this season, and his job with Roush may be close to being saved after a number of underperforming seasons with the team. This week poses an issue for the No. 6, though. Ragan has not seen bright days at the New Hampshire track and only carries an average finish of 28.2 in the last five races there, with just one finish on the lead lap. Those statistics aren't inspiring and should serve as a warning to fantasy owners looking for a fourth driver this weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Junior spent a number of recent races looking as though he was on the verge of ending his winless streak. Three straight races worth of finishes in the top 10 have given way to four races with a best finish of just 19th. Earnhardt is on the dark side of a cycle, but New Hampshire might give him an opportunity for redemption. His average finish at the track in the last five races is 16.7, and he only scored one top-10 in that span. Earnhardt is in the downgrade column because of his recent string of poor luck. His blown tire directly after pitting Saturday in Kentucky is evidence of this trend. He may break through this weekend, but approach with caution.

Brian Vickers -
Vickers started the Quaker State 400 in 27th position, and never made his way forward. He didn't record a single lap in the top 15 throughout the race, and finished exactly where he started. Just one top-10 finish in the seven races since the All-Star race has to be a disappointment for Vickers and Red Bull, who are in their last season with the series. He missed two of the last five New Hampshire races, but has still only managed an average finish of 27.0 in those remaining three starts. Vickers isn't the dependable driver we would hope for in fantasyland, and owners will do well to look elsewhere this weekend.

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