NASCAR Barometer: Busch Charges through N.H.

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Charges through N.H.

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Busch won Sunday's 5-Hour Energy 301 to take his third win in four races. Prior to Sunday's race the No. 18 needed an average finish of 17th or better in the remaining races to claim a spot in the top 30 in points and book an entry into the Chase for the Championship, but Busch is an overachiever. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver held off Brad Keselowski's stout charge to maintain the top spot on Sunday, and improved his odds of entering the Chase despite missing the beginning of the season with injury.

Busch was the betting favorite prior to Sunday's race, and he followed through by dominating the race. He led 95 of the 301 laps on hand. Keselowski was arguably the next closest contender and led 101 laps himself, but wasn't able to chase down Busch in the final miles. The race featured Toyota and Ford again, and makes fantasy players wonder just how much ground Chevrolet has lost.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch extended his hot streak last week in New Hampshire with his third win in four races. The No. 18 car was one of the fastest all afternoon at the track, and was at his best in the final miles as he drove away from Brad Keselowski. Busch was able to maintain his handling throughout the distance, which was what gave him the edge on the rest of the field. That advantage put him in the perfect position to claim another victory, which pushed

Kyle Busch won Sunday's 5-Hour Energy 301 to take his third win in four races. Prior to Sunday's race the No. 18 needed an average finish of 17th or better in the remaining races to claim a spot in the top 30 in points and book an entry into the Chase for the Championship, but Busch is an overachiever. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver held off Brad Keselowski's stout charge to maintain the top spot on Sunday, and improved his odds of entering the Chase despite missing the beginning of the season with injury.

Busch was the betting favorite prior to Sunday's race, and he followed through by dominating the race. He led 95 of the 301 laps on hand. Keselowski was arguably the next closest contender and led 101 laps himself, but wasn't able to chase down Busch in the final miles. The race featured Toyota and Ford again, and makes fantasy players wonder just how much ground Chevrolet has lost.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch extended his hot streak last week in New Hampshire with his third win in four races. The No. 18 car was one of the fastest all afternoon at the track, and was at his best in the final miles as he drove away from Brad Keselowski. Busch was able to maintain his handling throughout the distance, which was what gave him the edge on the rest of the field. That advantage put him in the perfect position to claim another victory, which pushed the door to the Chase further open. Sunday's exceptional effort extended his charge to finish inside the top 30 in points to keep his 2015 championship hopes alive as he heads to Indianapolis.

Brad Keselowski –
Keselowski continued Penske Racing's resurgence last week in New Hampshire. The Ford driver felt great about the adjustments his team made to his chassis prior to the race, and then promptly found himself in the lead after the green flag waved. Keselowski maintained contact with he lead but simply wasn't as strong as Busch's Toyota in the final miles of the race, though. While The No. 2 has been strong the past two weeks fantasy owners need to keep in mind that Keselowski has never finished better than ninth at Indianapolis. The Penske driver hasn't been entirely successful at the storied speedway, but appears to have some fire at his back after Penske's resurgence the past two races.

Joey Logano –
Logano leveraged Penske's step forward in performance on Sunday to score another top-5 finish in New Hampshire. That result was his second in as many races, which marks a return to the sharp end of the field for the No. 22 team that has been behind since his Daytona win. Logano praised his crew's calls on pit road Sunday, but simply didn't have enough to reel in the leaders in the final miles last week. His result was still a good one, though. Logano has led at least 10 laps in each of the last two Brickyard 400s, and should be a contender again next week after the strength Penske has demonstrated the past two weeks.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. –
Earnhardt's efforts on 1-mile ovals continued to improve last week in New Hampshire. He scored a top-5 finish on a day that wasn't the most straightforward for him. He was the highest-placed driver having not led a lap, and extended his run of top-10 finishes at the track. While he continues to make strides in the direction of a championship he now has to turn his attention to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He could extend his run at the Brickyard to four consecutive top-10 finishes if he is able to replicate his New Hampshire form next week. Earnhardt is one of the front-runners in this year's Chase, and could be in contention to win his first series championship with his current form.

DOWNGRADE

Jamie McMurray – McMurray appeared to have a car that could pull off an upset result last week after practice. Unfortunately, the No. 1 car faded at the end of Sunday's 5-Hour Energy 301 and dropped further when McMurray felt mechanical trouble in the final miles. McMurray is fighting to hang on to a spot in the Chase, and a win would virtually guarantee him a ticket. He won at the Brickyard in 2010, but only has one top-15 finish at the track since then. While he is always a threat at the biggest races on the calendar, fantasy players should pay attention to McMurray's speed in practice and qualifying next week before relying on him as an option.

Jimmie Johnson –
Johnson had a rough outing in New Hampshire last week. The championship contender failed to finish on the lead lap, and also didn't lead any laps. The day should have been a much better outcome for the No. 48 considering the pace he showed in weeks prior, but circumstances conspired against the team. The good news is that Johnson is a four-time winner at Indianapolis with two top-5 finishes in his last three races at the track. If Hendrick Motorsports is able to respond to the Gibbs and Penske teams in the next race, Johnson could be one to consider. The team needs to regain the dominance they had, and Indianapolis offers a good chance for them to do that.

Kyle Larson –
After an impressive debut season at New Hampshire Larson appeared poised for more of the same in 2015. He was fast in practice, but faded in the race. Larson's 31st-place finish was emblematic of his first two seasons in Sprint Cup racing. He suffered a number of poor results after showing tremendous speed early. Sprint Cup races are long affairs that require drivers to maintain that pace, but Larson hasn't quite shown he is capable yet. The time will come, but it appears as though Larson still has some experience to gain before he is truly a contender for a victory. Larson is going to need a win to get an entry into the Chase, but that seems a far-fetched dream at this point.

Clint Bowyer –
New Hampshire was another venue where Bowyer showed that he had the potential to score a top finish, but he was unable to match those expectations last weekend. After starting 18th on the day he only managed to score a 34th-place finish in Sunday's race. Bowyer had some decent practice times, but has not shown the consistency to be able to convert top starting positions in to decent finishes. He heads to Indianapolis with two consecutive results outside of the top 15, and lacking a top-10 finish at Indy since 2010 when he finished fourth. Bowyer continues o grapple with the confidence he needs to score consistent top finishes, but has started to take some steps in the right direction. He isn't there yet, though.

Tony Stewart –
It is becoming very easy to place Stewart in the downgrade column. The veteran team owner has had a terrible 2015 season and reporters have even begun querying whether or not Stewart was contemplating retirement. The Indiana native has been enduring arguably the worst season in his career, and it may have even gotten worse last week in New Hampshire. Despite having a tremendous record at the track Stewart was off pace much of the weekend and only finished 20th. Sonoma and Daytona were two anomalies for Stewart, and fantasy owners shouldn't expect another top finish from him until the road course at Watkins Glen or at Talladega. He has struggled on every other track, and players should choose accordingly.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Austin Dillon – After being muscled out of the lead in Saturday's Xfinity series race Dillon rebounded and nailed a top-10 finish in the Sprint Cup on Sunday. The eighth-place finish was all the more impressive for Dillon considering he started in the 24th position, and had plenty of questions about his pace heading into Sunday's race. Instead, he came back with a vengeance and picked up his second top-10 finish in the last five races. Dillon finished 10th in last year's Brickyard 400 and a result like that this year could be in store for the sophomore as he elevates his game. He will need a win to enter the Chase. While that isn't likely, he could still offer plenty of value to fantasy owners in the meantime.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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