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NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Dominates New Hampshire

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.

A late green-white-checkered finish gave Brad Keselowski one last test that he easily passed Sunday, scoring his third NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the season. The race was dominated by the No. 2, who started seventh. He quickly moved through traffic and was able to chase down anyone who moved ahead of him through pit stops. When all was said and done he had led 138 of the race's 305 laps, and appeared destined to take victory.

Despite the race's low attrition, New Hampshire Motor Speedway caused a number of teams problems. Cut tires were the biggest issue, and both Joey Logano and Aric Almirola lost left-rear tires and found themselves resorting to back-up cars before race day. Once the green flag was thrown, Jimmie Johnson was the next to taste a similar failure.

Generally the race featured long green-flag runs with intermittent caution periods for debris. Only a late caution for Justin Allgaier jumbled the running order when Denny Hamlin was forced to pit to avoid running out of fuel. Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick gambled with their strategies and lost, leaving Keselowski to run off in the distance to victory.


Brad Keselowski -
There was no car faster than Keselowski on Sunday in New Hampshire. The No. 2 driver sped away each time he was in the lead, and didn't hesitate to climb forward to regain the point anytime he wasn't. It was a perfect weekend for Keselowski, and the only honor he missed was scoring pole position for Sunday's race. His Nationwide Series win on Saturday and his Cup win on Sunday earned him the honor of being the first driver to sweep the weekend at the track. His four Brickyard starts have earned him two top-10 finishes and an average result of 14.5. Keselowski is the second three-time winner the season has produced so far, and he appears very dangerous as the Chase approaches.

Kyle Busch -
Busch may have been the only driver realistically able to challenge the No. 2. Busch led 62 of the afternoon's 305 laps, which was less than half of Keselowski's total but still the most of the remaining drivers. The second-place finish is the second time in three races the No. 18 has finished runner-up, marking a return to form after a small slump prior to visiting Kentucky Motor Speedway. Busch has never won at the Brickyard, a race that every driver wants to win, and there is no doubt he will want to come good next week. His average finish in nine starts there is 11.6, which is among the best in the field.

Clint Bowyer -
His sixth-place finish at New Hampshire last week marked Bowyer's second consecutive top-10, and his fourth in the last five races. He led 36 laps on Sunday, the race's third highest tally. Compared to their results earlier in the season this team has definitely turned a corner. The No. 15 is working his way forward in the points, and consistently putting himself into position to capitalize when the opportunity for a win presents itself. That win would get him into the Chase, but points matter too. Bowyer's two top-10 finishes from eight starts at the famous Indianapolis oval help him to an average finish of 13.2 at the track, and his recent racing makes him a contender that fantasy players should pay attention to next week.

Denny Hamlin -
If the race hasn't been on a superspeedway this season, Hamlin likely hasn't been the driver we're used to. He turned that around last week, leading 20 laps in New Hampshire and finishing eighth. Sunday's finish was Hamlin's first top-10 run in a non restrictor-plate race since he scored back-to-back top-5s at Pocono Raceway and Dover Speedway. Hamlin and his team have corrected a number of the issues that stunted their progress early in the season, and are now searching for consistent top-10 and top-5 finishes. He is improving, and that is good news for his chances in the Chase. Hamlin's eight Brickyard starts have given him three top-10s, which could help him to his first string of three consecutive races this season to score a top-10.

Kyle Larson -
Expectations of Larson weren't terribly high this weekend. The rookie was in a slump having failed to finish inside the top 20 in the three races prior to the New Hampshire visit. He led 14 laps last week, and scored another solid top-5 with an impressive performance, though. This team will be searching to find ways to win in the remaining races before the Chase, and it looks like Larson could make it happen. His lack of experience on the schedule makes for fantasy gambles, but leagues monitoring his practice speeds give opportunity for players to pick the right week. He has asked owner Chip Ganassi to race in the Indy 500 one day, and next week's Brickyard 400 could be his chance to impress.


Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson has endured hardship two weeks running now. First he finished 42nd in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, then he was struck out of New Hampshire with multiple tire failures. Before even 10 laps were complete on Sunday, Johnson was in the pits to repair the first of two failed tires. Just a handful of laps later, another failure put him into the wall, finishing 42nd again. Having said that, Indianapolis provides Johnson an opportunity to right his slump. He is a four-time Brickyard winner with an average finish of 15.6 from 12 races at the track. With less than 10 races remaining until the Chase Johnson is honing his craft for those final races, but that doesn't mean he won't want to win next week.

Joey Logano -
Logano was terribly disappointed after Morgan Shepherd too him out of last week's race. The 72-year-old veteran of Sprint Cup was making a rare start and got into Logano's rear fender, spinning the No. 22 into the wall and forcing Logano to the garage for repairs. The terrible result was Logano's second consecutive finish outside of the top-10, but despite his disappointment he was encouraged by the speed of both him and his teammate. That speed has been the best of the Ford-powered teams so far this season, and the team is preparing to carry the Ford flag in the Chase. Logano has two top-10 finishes in his five Indianapolis starts and an average finish of 17.4.

Jeff Gordon -
Were it not for a late caution, Gordon would have been in for a top finish on Sunday. His race strategy was predicated on a distance of 301 laps, and once the race passed that mark his car ran out of fuel. Gordon should have been a primary challenger to Keselowski, but instead he was pushed to the pits as the field restarted. It should have been a top-5 run, but Gordon now has two finishes outside of the top 10 in the last two races. The good news is that Gordon ran well on the flat track, and the next circuit on the calendar is flat as well. Gordon is another four-time Brickyard winner, and he has every chance of turning in another top run next week.

Kevin Harvick -
This is the second week that Harvick has landed in the downgrade column. He was another top driver that was caught out on fuel strategy once the race headed to overtime. The No. 4 showed decent speed in practice last weekend, but finished a lap down in 30th position when his engine sputtered for fuel as the field took the last green flag of the day. Harvick is a former winner at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and his average finish of 10.9 in 13 starts there doesn't get much better among active drivers. He will need a good race after being shut out of the top 30 in the last two, and we will see if he can turn things around.


Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -
Something must have lit the fire under Stenhouse last week because he scored his first top-10 finish since the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Stenhouse has been virtually invisible this season, a disappointment considering he drives for one of the biggest teams in the series. Races where he finished inside the top 15 were beginning to be deemed successes, which is not how this young driver envisioned his time in the No. 17 car. Stenhouse started and finished 25th in last season's Brickyard 400, and shouldn't be a top consideration for fantasy rosters, but last week's finish gives him just a glimmer of hope that he can turn the current season around before it ends.