The short, flat track of New Hampshire Motor Speedway is one of NASCAR’s rhythm courses on which drivers have to hit exact marks lap after lap. That kind of precision only comes with hours of practice, but to get enough track time Mother Nature has to cooperate. This week, she did -- but reluctantly.
While New Hampshire fought weepers for much of the weekend, every scheduled session was run. A couple of drivers may wish that were not the case, however.
Jimmie Johnson provided the most drama this weekend. It took several attempts to get him through the inspection “room of doom” and once he cleared it, his Chevrolet was too light with an out-of-bounds side skirt, to boot.
The team added ballast, stuck the driver in the car, and pushed it to the head of the line just as the five-minute clock was expiring. He blistered the track on his qualification lap by beating the old qualification record and posting the second-fastest speed. In post-race inspection his time was disallowed, however, when the car was found to be too low. He will start the race 43rd.
That penalty is a blessing in disguise for fantasy owners. Place differential is based on the official lineup and since Johnson is posted as starting 43rd, he could earn up to 42 points in that category if he wins the race. Odds are good that he will at least finish among the top five because he had the second-quickest 10-lap average in Saturday morning’s session and was eighth-quick in final practice.
Jamie McMurray is another driver who experienced hardship during a pre-race session. With 10 minutes remaining in Happy Hour, he had a left-rear tire go flat down the backstretch. He fought the resultant wheel hop into turn three and eventually looped his car into the retaining wall. The team hopes to be able to repair the car so they will not have to drop to the back of the pack and give up their 11th-place grid position. There is a lot of work to be done, but he posted the fourth-quickest, 10-lap average in final practice and should be considered a good value. Regardless of whether he drops to the back, his official starting position is 11th and that is how NASCAR Fantasy Live’s place differential will be scored.
Brian Vickers has had an up-and-down season, but he was one of the best values in fantasy games for most of last year. He should get his Toyota pointed in the right direction this week. He posted the fastest single lap in final practice and had the quickest 10-lap average. He was equally strong during long runs in the morning session, which suggests he is going to be fast regardless of any changing track conditions on Sunday.