Passing at Loudon is difficult; setting your lineup shouldn't be
Short, flat tracks are rhythm courses and to be good at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, drivers have to log a lot of laps to get the perfect setup. In Saturday’s combined sessions, most of the top drivers ran approximately 100 laps, which equates to one-third of the distance they will race on Sunday.
Passing can be difficult on flat tracks and strategy is critical. Teams tend to employ a tactic similar to a road course and they try to time their final pit stop to come as early as possible. That means the drivers have to set up their cars to work on long runs and old tires, so the most predictive stats this week will be 10-lap averages in Saturday sessions.
On Saturday morning, 25 drivers ran at least 10 consecutive laps; in final practice, 29 drivers made long runs, which underscores the importance of handling in race conditions.
$25 or greater
Kyle Busch was the first driver to take a qualification lap on Friday and the team knew that he would not be one of the contenders for the pole on a hot, slick track. They concentrated on race trim for much of that session and were among only six teams that ran 10 or more consecutive laps. Busch had the quickest elapsed time in with a speed of 129.968 mph. Even with the bad qualification draw Busch starts 12th, which is close enough to the front of the field to be in contention for the lead halfway through the first green flag run. In both of Saturday’s sessions, he posted top-10 times during long runs.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s salary cap has been slipping in recent weeks because he has suffered one disappointment after another. He blew an engine at Chicagoland Speedway last week and has a deep hole from which to climb, but he could be one of the best values in the Sylvania 300. Earnhardt posted the fastest single lap in Saturday morning’s session, recorded the fastest single lap in final practice, and had the sixth-quickest 10-lap average in that same session. He is still expensive at $26.25, but he rolls off the grid 17th and should begin accumulating quality passing points early in the race.
$20 to $24.99
To say that Denny Hamlin has struggled since returning to the cockpit of the No. 11 after suffering a back injury would be a huge understatement. There is also the matter of Joe Gibbs Racing possibly using this team to test engines and setups to help Kenseth and Busch in the Chase, but eventually Hamlin’s fortune has to improve. He is one of the best drivers on short, flat tracks and there were indications in practice that he will run strong on Sunday. He posted the third-quickest 10-lap average in Saturday morning’s session and was fifth-best in final practice. His New Hampshire record speaks for itself. He won last year’s edition of this race.
All the news from final practice was not good, however. It took a long time for Ryan Newman to get comfortable in his car and he did not post 10 consecutive laps until the end of the session. When he finally did, he was only 21st-quickest on the 10-lap chart. Newman is great on short, flat tracks, but fantasy players who start him run the risk of the No. 39 losing a lot of place differential points since he won the pole for Sunday’s race.
Players will want to take note of the No. 55. Kenny Wallace qualified this car on Friday, but he will not drive on Sunday and will not earn points in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game. Brian Vickers will climb into the car for the Sylvania 300, but his official starting position will be 29th and his place differential will be based on that position even though he will drop to the back of the pack per NASCAR’s rule book.
Less than $20
Juan Pablo Montoya may be the best value under $20. He posted the 10th-quickest 10-lap average in the Saturday morning session of the 25 drivers who ran at least that long. He also showed short-run speed with the 10th-fastest single lap in Happy Hour, which puts him in the same league as the much more expensive drivers Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Kurt Busch. Short, flat tracks are supposed to require some of the same skills as road courses, and Montoya is an unquestioned master on that track type.
Michael McDowell could be this week’s best bargain, however. He will drive the No. 51 car instead of his usual No. 98 ride and this team could score a top-20 finish if they choose to run all 300 laps. Since McDowell has been in a car that has parked early for most of the season, he will cost a fantasy owner only $3.25 and that frees up a massive amount of salary cap to upgrade their mid-tier selection.