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Fantasy Preview: Busch, Harvick a 'virtual lock' at NHMS

July 13, 2011, Dan Beaver, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Bowyer, Newman only two drivers with three consecutive top-10s at flat track

Flat track races are nearly as common on the NASCAR schedule as those on unrestricted, intermediate speedways. With the next three events contested on tracks with 12 degrees or less of banking, this is a good time for drivers to build some momentum in the portion of the schedule known as the Race to the Chase.

This week's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is on the shortest track of the next three on the schedule with just a little more than a mile in length. Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway are both 2.5 miles long, but one is a rectangle and the other a triangle, so drivers will face unique challenges in every race. These three tracks all share one characteristic, however -- they are rhythm courses that require drivers to brake before entering the corners, roll to the apex, and carry as much momentum out of the turn as possible.

Streaks on this track type are common, such as Kyle Busch's four consecutive top-three finishes at Phoenix International Raceway, Martinsville Speedway, Richmond International Raceway, and Pocono or Jeff Gordon's 11 consecutive top-15s at New Hampshire. Once a driver finds the groove on a flat track, he is liable to run strong there for quite some time.

The Deck Remains Wild

Hopefully that will be good news for fantasy owners who seem to be dealt a wild card every week. From the restrictor-plate superspeedways, to the short tracks, road courses, and an inaugural track -- through races that have been determined by fuel mileage and tire strategies -- this season has been hard to handicap. Barring another late-race monkey wrench, their fate should change this week because flat tracks are generally more predictable.

Of course, Joey Logano's rain-aided victory in the 2009 edition of this race provided unexpected results. So did the caution flag that waved during the middle of green-flag pit stops at Martinsville this spring, but typically the cream finds a way of rising to the top on this track type.

The Favorites

No matter how one looks at statistics, it is difficult to ignore Kyle Busch. Last week, the only thing that kept him from sweeping the Kentucky weekend was a qualification crash before the Nationwide Series race that caused him to roll off the grid from the back. He won the Truck Series event and dominated the Cup race. His past four oval track races have all ended in top-five finishes, and so have his past four flat-track races. In fact, his worst attempt on this track type in 2011 has been a pair of thirds at Martinsville and Pocono. Unless he gets swept into an accident, he is guaranteed to finish with the leaders this week as well.

Kevin Harvick is another virtual lock on this track type. His past nine attempts on the short, flat tracks have all ended in top-15 finishes with an average of 5.3. His victory at Martinsville this spring when he passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap is his only win, but he has seven results of sixth or better in that span of races and the only time he finished worse than 10th was in the Crown Royal 400 at Richmond. Add Pocono and Indy to the data pool and he has a streak of 14 top-15s on all of the flat tracks combined -- and that means he is a good place-and-hold driver in the coming weeks.

With three previous victories in inaugural races, Jeff Gordon surprisingly struggled last week at Kentucky Speedway. He described the track as one of the most frustrating courses he has ever raced on, but somehow he managed to score his third consecutive top-10 and fifth such finish in the past six weeks by narrowly holding off Denny Hamlin's charge on the final lap. That means he is finally finding his stride after only earning three top-10s in the first 12 races of the season and it is a strong indication that the team is turning their fortune around. Last year, Gordon finished fourth in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 and was sixth in the Sylvania 300.

New Hampshire


Our experts pick the studs and duds for this week.

Dark Horses

This week's dark horses are the only two drivers to enter the weekend with three consecutive top-10s at New Hampshire. With back-to-back accidents and results in the 30s at Daytona and Kentucky, it is possible that Clint Bowyer has lost his momentum and it will not be regained easily. The next three weeks will be a test of the team's resolve. That is what keeps him from being a favorite this week, but he cannot be overlooked. Bowyer is the most recent winner on this track with last year's Sylvania 300 triumph. He also won the fall 2007 race at New Hampshire. Bowyer will be very attractive to fantasy owners if he qualifies well. Both of his New Hampshire victories came after he started on the front row.

Ryan Newman is the other driver with three consecutive top-10s at New Hampshire, but he gets relegated to dark horse status this week because he none of those have been top-fives and he hasn't finished that well in five years. His last top-five was a great one, however; he won the fall 2005 Sylvania 300 and like Bowyer, he has two total wins to his credit with another one coming in his rookie season of 2002.

Underdogs

The entire Roush-Fenway Racing organization is getting stronger on the flat tracks, but for Carl Edwards -- that has been much more likely to show up during qualification than on race day. Four of his past five efforts at New Hampshire were kicked off with a top-10 starting position, but only one of those ended in a top-10 finish. Last fall, he slipped only one spot from 10th to 11th, but given this driver's price tag, that is not much of an upside to outweigh his average finish of 18th during the last two years at New Hampshire.

Fantasy Power Ranking

Short, flat tracks (past three years)
Pos.DriverPA*Pos.DriverPA*Pos.DriverPA*
2.Denny Hamlin6.8618.Greg Biffle19.9533.Mike Skinner32.70
3.Jeff Gordon7.1719.Matt Kenseth20.0334.Robby Gordon32.81
4.Kyle Busch8.7720.A.J. Allmendinger20.2635.Scott Riggs34.16
5.Mark Martin11.7121.Brian Vickers20.7236.David Gilliland34.19
6.Tony Stewart11.8622.Kasey Kahne21.1537.Travis Kvapil34.63
7.Clint Bowyer11.9223.Joey Logano21.7438.Mike Bliss36.25
8.Carl Edwards12.5624.Marcos Ambrose22.6839.Andy Lally36.31
9.Jeff Burton12.7925.Brad Keselowski23.2840.Michael McDowell36.37
10.Kurt Busch13.0326.Scott Wimmer24.0041.Dave Blaney37.08
11.Ryan Newman13.1527.Casey Mears25.0842.Landon Cassill37.90
12.Kevin Harvick13.1928.David Ragan26.8643.Tony Raines38.74
13.Dale Earnhardt Jr.13.9729.Trevor Bayne29.0844.J.J. Yeley39.06
14.Juan Montoya14.6030.Regan Smith30.0745.Joe Nemechek39.14
15.David Reutimann17.8931.Bobby Labonte30.5246.Jeff Green39.50
16.Martin Truex Jr.18.14

Matt Kenseth is another Roushketeer who has struggled at New Hampshire in recent seasons. His last top-10 at this track was earned in 2007, and in the six races since he has failed to crack the top 15 and eked out an average finish of 23.8. That is particularly frustrating for his fans because prior to this recent slump, he earned 10 top-10s in 11 New Hampshire races and had a much more respectable average finish of 7.2