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Lenox Industrial Tools 301 Preview: Short Track Survival

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A four-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the 2016 Racing Writer of the Year. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

We head back east this weekend after visiting the twisting road course of Sonoma. The one-mile flat oval of New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 this Sunday afternoon. The track at Loudon, New Hampshire is a true oval, with variable banking of two to seven degrees in all turns, and one degree on both straights. It is a flat track in the purest sense. The handling of the race car is very important at this oval. How it turns, how it exits the corners, and how it holds the corners, will dictate the driver's ability to pass or be passed at NHMS. A driver and crew chief's patience is tested to the max at this race track. If adjustments can be made and an ill-handling car can turn around over the course of a run, the patient driver and crew chief will reap the enormous rewards. A lack of patience will usually end up in a wreck at this facility.

This is the first of two races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. For tips on what we might expect this weekend, look no further than the recently completed races at Martinsville and Phoenix. All are flat tracks, and while Martinsville is smaller, the handling, setup and racing are quite similar to Loudon. Phoenix has more speed than NHMS, but the flat track in Arizona boasts some similar characteristics to the oval in New England. While keeping these recent races in mind, it will still be helpful to take a look back at the recent historical statistics at Loudon. The loop stats shown below cover the last five years or 10 races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Tony Stewart9.73022766972,361114.9
Jeff Gordon10.33412481382,667108.0
Jimmie Johnson10.43362302152,530106.3
Denny Hamlin7.530458741,991102.7
Dale Earnhardt Jr.16.73371731842,329100.7
Mark Martin8.7160461011,28298.0
Kevin Harvick15.31971232511,86493.2
Kurt Busch15.6323116871,94591.6
Jeff Burton12.522967891,97991.5
Ryan Newman16.52511011271,99390.6
Martin Truex Jr.14.421669471,53790.3
Kyle Busch15.62591011791,63789.4
Clint Bowyer19.12111162451,43089.0
Greg Biffle11.925373851,72788.1
Carl Edwards13.2202102651,66787.9
Juan Pablo Montoya17.72066011199684.5
Matt Kenseth15.62185331,58181.5
Kasey Kahne20.2269119181,46281.3
Brian Vickers20.721867531,34079.9
Reed Sorenson20.3171324159675.4

Recent seasons have shown a lot of parity among the competition at the one-mile oval in New Hampshire. What used to be a track of season sweeps has turned into a virtual crap shoot among the various manufacturers and racing teams. A different manufacturer has one each of the last four races held at NHMS. The winner of this event one year ago, Joey Logano, used a good rain dance and Mother Nature to collect that win for Toyota. It was his first career Sprint Cup Series victory. NASCAR returned in the fall of 2009 and veteran Hendrick Motorsports driver Mark Martin took control late and held on to win the Sylvania 300 for the Chevrolet camp. This season could see yet another new face and new manufacturer take the win in the LENOX Industrial Tools 301. Dodge hasn't visited victory lane at Loudon since this event two years ago. It was Penske Racing driver Kurt Busch taking the win that day, and as hot as the No. 2 team has been this season we could well see Busch take the win and Dodge back to victory lane at the one-mile oval. We'll take a look at the loop stats, the past history of NHMS and current trends to determine who could dominate this weekend at Loudon.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has led a bunch of laps and won a handful of races this season. Luck has finally come around for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team. Hamlin is finally living up to his potential and showing the form to win a championship. He won this event in 2007 and led 22 laps and finished second in his last race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Short tracks are Hamlin's specialty and that's bad news for the rest of the field this weekend.

Jeff Gordon
Gordon will be making his remarkable 31st career start this weekend at New Hampshire when he rolls off the starting grid in the LENOX Industrial Tools 301. Time sure does fly when you're having fun. In those numerous starts the Hendrick Motorsports veteran has managed to capture five poles and three victories at Loudon. While his chances of winning on Sunday are minimal, you have to like his near 43 percent rate for cracking the Top 5 at New Hampshire. With well over 1,200 laps led at the one-mile oval, we know he'll be racing with the leaders.

Kurt Busch
With three career victories and a 50 percent Top 10 rate at the track, Busch has to consider Loudon one of his best tracks. The Penske Racing star already has multiple wins this season and well over 700 laps led for the year. Busch is riding a four-race Top 10 streak at Loudon into this event, so he's been sharp as a razor in recent seasons at the New England short track. We expect a heavy dose of the No. 2 Dodge up front on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson
As the No. 48 team broke their dry spell at Infineon Raceway last weekend, Johnson is ready to rack up a few more victories before the Chase begins. He is a two-time winner at Loudon, although the wins came much earlier in Johnson's career. He has finished in the Top 10 in eight of the last nine races here. Despite the Hendrick Motorsports star's recent lull in performance, you can never count out the Lowe's Racing team and this weekend is no exception.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are a near lock for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning

Kyle Busch
Busch comes to Loudon this weekend well within the Top 5 in the championship standings. This season has been a real revival for the No. 18 Toyota team. Busch loves racing at the flat one-mile oval as demonstrated by his one win and four Top 10's at the track. While we don't believe he'll mount a major challenge for the win, Busch should easily equal the fifth-place effort that he made at NHMS last fall.

Tony Stewart
With the momentum of some great recent runs under his belt, Stewart comes to New England this weekend in search of his first win of the season. He is a two-time winner at New Hampshire (2000 & 2005) and has finished in the Top 3 on numerous occasions. Stewart has led well over 1,000 laps over the years at NHMS, so he could sneak up and win this event on Sunday. There is no doubt about it Smoke is well into his usual summer hot streak.

Jeff Burton
Burton's history at Loudon is long and colorful. He leads all active drivers with four career victories at the one-mile oval. Burton isn't the threat to roll into victory lane here as he was in the past, but he still knows how to navigate this short track. The driver of the No. 31 RCR Chevrolet has five Top 10's in his last nine visits to New Hampshire. Burton's last visit to the speedway yielded a 16th-place finish, but we know he'll perform much better in this Sunday's event.

Martin Truex Jr.
The Michael Waltrip Racing star easily qualifies as a solid play this weekend at Loudon. Truex owns a 50 percent Top 10 rate at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and he's led close to 50 laps for his career at the one-mile oval. It's no secret that he loves racing at Loudon, and Truex should bring the best car that he's ever unloaded at the flat oval this weekend.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at New Hampshire who can provide a solid finish

Kevin Harvick
Harvick has had an incredible 2010 season. Currently he is well within the hunt for this season's championship and he's running as consistently from week-to-week as anyone in the series. New Hampshire Motor Speedway could be another notch in the belt for this No. 29 Chevrolet team. Harvick has led over 300 laps, collected one win and has nine Top 10's at Loudon. Chances are good for another Top 10 this weekend for the veteran driver.

A.J. Allmendinger
The Richard Petty Motorsports driver is putting together a solid season. He enters this event ranked 22nd in the championship standings, and he's riding a five-race Top-15 streak. There's no better value at the end of your fantasy racing bench than the No. 43 team right now. Allmendinger finished a career-best 25th at this track last fall, but we're willing to bet he'll do much better this time around.

Ryan Newman
Rocket Man is a two-time winner at Loudon and he owns four career pole positions at the one-mile oval. His No. 39 team comes to New England this week soundly within the Top 15 in the championship standings. While Newman hasn't performed as well in recent seasons at New Hampshire as he did earlier in his career, that shouldn't be a concern. He finished a respectable seventh at NHMS last fall.

Joey Logano
Logano has been quietly coming on in recent weeks. It's taken some ups and downs this season, but the Joe Gibbs Racing prodigy is finally starting to get comfortable with his No. 20 Toyota team. Logano won this event one year ago thanks to rain and sound pit strategy, but don't discount that victory at all. He had raced his way to the front in that event to put himself in a position to win when the rains came.

Juan Pablo Montoya
The No. 42 team had by far their best outing at Loudon with Montoya behind the wheel last fall in the Sylvania 300. It was Montoya's first Top 10 in six career starts at the speedway. He started from the pole and led 105 laps before finishing a brilliant third. The surging Earnhardt-Ganassi driver is riding a wave of momentum into Loudon and shouldn't have much trouble replicating that success on Sunday afternoon.

Sam Hornish Jr.
Hornish has been heating up of late. The No. 77 team has led laps and collected Top-20 finishes in three of the last four races. He comes to New Hampshire Motor Speedway looking to equal or better the eighth-place finish he posted in this event one year ago. Hornish is a very talented driver and crew chief Travis Geisler should make good use of his notes from this event in 2009.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Mark Martin
Despite winning the last race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, we have to move Martin to the flops list this weekend. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet has struggled the entire season. Martin has only scored one Top 10 in the last seven races entering this weekend, and the team appears to be in complete disarray. He finished a sub-par 21st at the similar oval in Martinsville earlier this season, so exercise caution when considering Martin for the LENOX Industrial Tools 301.

Jamie McMurray
While McMurray has been one of our favorite fantasy spot-starts most weeks in weekly lineup leagues, we have to take a pass at Loudon. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet had some decent performances at the one-mile oval earlier in his career, but the going has been pretty tough there the last five years. McMurray has only one Top-20 finish in his last four visits to Loudon.

Paul Menard
The driver of the RPM No. 98 Ford has shown some real ability this season for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career. Menard enters this event ranked 23rd in the championship standings and with a pair of Top 10's to his credit. This is shaping up to be his best season in four full-time years of racing at NASCAR's top level. However, Loudon has been anything but kind to Menard. In six career starts at the one-mile oval he's yet to crack the Top 20.

Brad Keselowski
You can say a lot of positive things about Keselowski. However, patience is not one of his virtues, at least not yet. Keselowski's tendency to put cars where you don't think they can go, and race three-wide where it isn't advisable is a definite disadvantage this weekend. He finished a stunning sixth in this event one year ago, but considering this team's current status we don't think Keselowski will visit the Top 20 this week.