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Driver Reports: Previewing the Loudon race

July 10, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Can another first-time winner cause Chase chaos?

Editor's note: Driver Reports includes the 16 drivers currently in the Chase field, ranked in order of the current points standings.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 651 points.
Current Chase seed: 7
Past five races: 12th at Daytona, 6th at Kentucky, 2nd at Sonoma, 6th at Michigan, 8th at Pocono.
Season stats: 1 win, 6 top-fives, 13 top-10s.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Gordon's average finish is 9.0 and his average running position is 7.4 over the past nine years. In 38 career starts at New Hampshire, he has three wins, 16 top-five, 22 top-10s and four poles.
Quick hit: Gordon's lead atop the Sprint Cup Series standings should be safe for another week. He hasn't finished outside the top 20 at New Hampshire since 2005, and his average running position during that same span is first in the series.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is second in the standings with 624 points.
Current Chase seed: 2
Past five races: 14th at Daytona, 5th at Kentucky, 3rd at Sonoma, 7th at Michigan, 1st at Pocono.
Season stats: 2 wins, 9 top-fives, 12 top-10s.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 13.8 and his average running position is 11.7 over the past nine years. In 29 career starts at New Hampshire, he has seven top-fives and 12 top-10s.
Quick hit: It's a little puzzling that Junior does not have a win here, because this is statistically one of his best tracks. A look at the numbers reveals a driver who is more consistent than dynamic, though. His average running position is fifth in the series, but he has trouble closing it out -- he's never finished second at this track, and of his seven top-fives, only one is third-place finish.

3. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is third in the standings with 596 points.
Current Chase seed: 1
Past five races: 42nd at Daytona, 10th at Kentucky, 6th at Sonoma, 1st at Michigan, 6th at Pocono.
Season stats: 3 wins, 6 top-fives, 12 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Johnson's average finish is 9.6 and his average running position is 9.7 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at New Hampshire, he has three wins, nine top-five and 17 top-10s.
Quick hit: Johnson has been exceptional at New Hampshire since 2007, with only two blips during that stretch. The numbers: 14 races, one win, seven top-fives and 12 top-10s. His average finish last year was 5.0 in two races, so a top-five run is practically the expectation at this point.

4. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is fourth in the standings with 586 points.
Current Chase seed: 3
Past five races: 18th at Daytona, 1st at Kentucky, 22nd at Sonoma, 3rd at Michigan, 2nd at Pocono.
Season stats: 2 wins, 8 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 3 poles.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Keselowski's average finish is 12.6 and his average running position is 14.8 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at New Hampshire, he has three top-fives, five top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: This has become one of the best tracks for the No. 2 team, which has a worst finish of 11th over the past five races at the 1.058-mile venue. It's even more impressive when you consider Keselowski has not qualified well over the same stretch, where his average start is 14.8 (and that includes one pole). Given Team Penske's 2014 dominance during qualifying, expect both a good start and finish to the weekend.

5. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is fifth in the standings with 580 points.
Current Chase seed: 12
Past five races: 20th at Daytona, 4th at Kentucky, 42nd at Sonoma, 14th at Michigan, 25th at Pocono.
Season stats: 6 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Kenseth's average finish is 14.4 and his average running position is 16.0 over the past nine years. In 28 career starts at New Hampshire, he has one win, six top-fives and14 top-10s.
Quick hit: New Hampshire is a track where Toyota as a manufacturer can get back on … well, track. It's been a down year so far, as Toyota ranks third in the manufacturer standings and has two wins in 18 races -- at this point last year, it had seven. Kenseth is the most recent winner at the 1.058-mile track and performed almost flawlessly last year, his first with Joe Gibbs Racing.

6. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is sixth in the standings with 546 points.
Current Chase seed: 4
Past five races: 17th at Daytona, 9th at Kentucky, 16th at Sonoma, 9th at Michigan, 40th at Pocono.
Season stats: 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Logano's average finish is 17.5 and his average running position is 21.7 over the past nine years. In 11 career starts at New Hampshire, he has one win, two top-fives and four top-10s.
Quick hit: This is one of just five tracks on tour in which Logano has a win, but he's long said that he doesn't hold New Hampshire in special regard despite it producing his first career Cup victory in 2009. Logano kind of has a point, as he has more finishes outside the top 30 (three) than inside the top five (two). An interesting note: in the past five races here, Logano has three finishes of 14th.

7. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is seventh in the standings with 543 points.
Current Chase seed: 5
Past five races: 37th at Daytona, 17th at Kentucky, 1st at Sonoma, 23rd at Michigan, 41st at Pocono.
Season stats: 2 wins, 4 top-fives, 8 top-10s.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Edwards' average finish is 13.5 and his average running position is 14.4 over the past nine years. In 19 career starts at New Hampshire, he has two top-fives and five top-10s.
Quick hit: Edwards turned a corner last year at Loudon, notching two top-10s in the season's two races, something he had never done before. He's a sleeper pick to win this weekend and extend Ford's winning streak to four in a row. It would be the first time that happened in the same season for Ford since 2001.

8. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is eighth in the standings with 534 points.
Current Chase seed: 13
Past five races: 24th at Daytona, 3rd at Kentucky, 11th at Sonoma, 15th at Michigan, 7th at Pocono.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 6 top-10s.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Newman's average finish is 15.6 and his average running position is 13.0 over the past nine years. In 24 career starts at New Hampshire, he has three wins, six top-fives, 15 top-10s and seven poles.
Quick hit: Newman's last win at Loudon was the summer race in 2011, and he hasn't recorded a top-five in the five races since. He won the pole in last year's fall race, but could only produce a 16th-place finish. If he gets back into the groove at the 1.058-mile track, though, he'd be the first Richard Childress Racing driver to win here since 2010.

9. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is ninth in the standings with 524 points.
Current Chase seed: 8
Past five races: 28th at Daytona, 2nd at Kentucky, 25th at Sonoma, 41st at Michigan, 12th at Pocono.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Busch's average finish is 15.1 and his average running position is 14.0 over the past nine years. In 18 career starts at New Hampshire, he has one win, six top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Twelve different drivers have won the past 12 races at New Hampshire, and Busch has to be the favorite to keep that streak going -- his lone win here came in 2006. He finished second in both races last year, and the Joe Gibbs Racing program at Loudon is perhaps the best in the business.

10. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Menard is 10th in the standings with 516 points.
Current Chase seed: 14
Past five races: 16th at Daytona, 15th at Kentucky, 5th at Sonoma, 4th at Michigan, 26th at Pocono.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 9 top-10s.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Menard's average finish is 24.6 and his average running position is 24.4 over the past nine years. In 14 career starts at New Hampshire, his best finish is 12th in 2012.
Quick hit: Having a first-time 2014 winner at Daytona should give the No. 27 team pause. Menard has worked his way to 10th place in the standings, and he needs all the breathing room he can get if someone duplicates that feat on Sunday. Not only does Menard have zero top-10s at New Hampshire, he's finished outside the top 20 in 10 of his 14 career starts.

11. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 11th in the standings with 514 points.
Current Chase seed: 6
Past five races: 39th at Daytona, 7th at Kentucky, 20th at Sonoma, 2nd at Michigan, 14th at Pocono.
Season stats: 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 3 poles.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Harvick's average finish is 13.4 and his average running position is 13.0 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at New Hampshire, he has one win, five top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Harvick's numbers at New Hampshire aren't the best, but consider this: The 1.058-mile track is, in many ways, comparable to the 1-mile oval at Phoenix, where Harvick was dominant earlier this year. Sure, it's a little flatter in Loudon, but the No. 4 will have plenty of speed.

12. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota

Standing: Bowyer is 12th in the standings with 509 points.
Current Chase seed: 15
Past five races: 9th at Daytona, 23rd at Kentucky, 10th at Sonoma, 10th at Michigan, 11th at Pocono.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Bowyer's average finish is 15.1 and his average running position is 12.4 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at New Hampshire, he has two wins, four top-fives, six top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: New Hampshire is one of three tracks on the circuit where Bowyer has won twice. Those wins have come while starting first in 2007 and second in 2010, so keep an eye on the No. 15 on Friday during qualifying as much as Sunday during the race.

13. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 13th in the standings with 494 points.
Current Chase seed: 16
Past five races: 5th at Daytona, 16th at Kentucky, 17th at Sonoma, 30th at Michigan, 17th at Pocono.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: Dillon does not have a Sprint Cup Series start at New Hampshire. In three Nationwide Series starts, he has two top-fives and two top-10s.
Quick hit: Dillon was the biggest gainer in the standings following Daytona (up five spots), and he's the last driver currently in the Chase field. That's an accomplishment, although he's just four points ahead of Greg Biffle, so there remains no room for error. The No. 3 has never won at Loudon, and Dillon spent two days testing there earlier this month.

14. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 14th in the standings with 493 points.
Current Chase seed: 9
Past five races: 6th at Daytona, 42nd at Kentucky, 26th at Sonoma, 29th at Michigan, 4th at Pocono.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Hamlin's average finish is 9.0 and his average running position is 10.8 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at New Hampshire, he has two wins, seven top-fives and 10 top-10s.
Quick hit: Hamlin's success at New Hampshire has come with brief periods of malaise mixed in. So considering he finished 21st and 12th last season, the trend would be for Hamlin to return to form at one of his better tracks.

21. Aric Almirola (No. 43)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford

Standing: Almirola is 21st in the standings with 452 points.
Current Chase seed: 10
Past five races: 1st at Daytona, 39th at Kentucky, 23rd at Sonoma, 31st at Michigan, 22nd at Pocono.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Almirola's average finish is 21.0 and his average running position is 24.6 over the past nine years. In seven career starts at New Hampshire, he has one top-five and one top-10.
Quick hit: Almirola's history at New Hampshire is, well, bad. The upside though is that he's qualified well the past three races and started a career-best 13th in last year's Chase event. His fifth-place run in this race last year was the best of his career.

26. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 26th in the standings with 412 points.
Current Chase seed: 11
Past five races: 3rd at Daytona, 12th at Kentucky, 12th at Sonoma, 13th at Michigan, 3rd at Pocono.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At New Hampshire, Busch's average finish is 16.5 and his average running position is 13.7 over the past nine years. In 26 career starts at New Hampshire, he has three wins, seven top-fives and 11 top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch's last seven appearances at Loudon have resulted in just one top-10. He's only cracked the top 20 once in the past five races, but his win at flat Martinsville earlier this year means that his No. 41 car will probably be good Sunday.