Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: Harvick leads points as series heads to New Hampshire

Newman and Stewart finished 1-2 in July. Credit: Todd Warshaw, Getty Images for NASCAR

With week 1 of Chase for the Sprint Cup over and a new points leader at the top of the standings, the Sprint Cup Series moves to Loudon, New Hampshire, for the Sylvania 300.

Many of the top-12 drivers have seen success at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the past and with everything on the line, don’t count any of these drivers out just yet. It’s week 2 of the playoffs and just like the drivers competing for the title, the ladies of Skirts and Scuffs are competing for bragging rights.

Here are the drivers in order of their standings after Chicagoland, followed by their stats for New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 

1. Kevin Harvick - Current points leader after runner-up finish in Chase opener - By Holly Machuga
Top 5s: 5, Top 10s: 11, Wins: 1

In 21 starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick has one win and one pole, both of which happened in the same weekend. He has an average starting position of 14.5 and an average finish of 14.2. With 318 laps led, Harvick and the 29 team may be setting up for a win!

2. Tony Stewart (-7 points) - Stewart enjoys boost after win at Chicagoland - By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 13, Top 10s: 15, Wins: 2

After winning at Chicagoland, Tony Stewart now sits second in the points, rebounding from a winless season thus far and now putting him in the hunt for the Sprint Cup championship.

Looking ahead to Loudon, Stewart has many many stats to boast. Stewart ranks second-best in average running position at NHMS, with an average of 9.0. With two wins in 2000 and 2005, Stewart has been searching for the missing link to get him back to victory lane.

Finishing in second during July's race, Stewart and crew chief Darrian Grubb will look to better that and cement their No. 14 team firmly into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

3. Carl Edwards (-10 points) - Edwards looks to continue good runs on short ovals - By Lindi Bess
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 2, Wins: 0

It’s the second race of the 2011 Chase, and the No. 99 Ford Fusion for Roush Fenway along with the Sprint Cup Series are moving to New Hampshire for the Sylvania 300.

Carl Edwards said, “We hope to go to Loudon and run like we did in Richmond.”

Sitting in the third position in the standings, the No. 99 has one win and finished 2nd four times this year, but he doesn’t plan on parlaying some of those second-place runs into wins during the Chase — at least not early on.

Carl says, “I think you have to let it go down to the end of the season. I think at Homestead (the season finale) there might be some more temptation, because you’ll all know where you stand.”         

4. Kurt Busch (-11 points) - Busch brings successful track record to Loudon - By Melissa Wright
Top 5s: 7, Top 10s: 15, Wins: 1 

Last week after a sixth-place finish at Chicagoland, Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 22 Shell/Penzoil Dodge, kept his temper in check and his focus on the Chase. Even though he only has one victory this season, he has sat on the pole three times in 26 starts. Out of 15 of those races he has led a total of 612 laps.

This weekend the Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Sylvania 300 where Kurt has three wins, seven top 5s, 11 top 10s and an average finish of 13.5 in 21 races and an average running position of 12.1. He has the seventh-best driver rating of 95.4. However, his overall season driver rating is 98.0.

What to watch for this weekend at the “Magic Mile”? A lot of under steering in the corners and Kurt Busch attempting to conquer his fourth victory in New Hampshire.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (- 13 points) - Dale Jr. looks to build off strong performance at Chicagoland - By Genevieve Cadorette
Top 5s: 6, Top 10s: 10, Wins: 0  

Earnhardt Jr. is starting this year's Chase season on the right foot with a third-place finish in the first race at Chicagoland, putting him 5th in points. He moves on to New Hampshire Motor Speedway with a good attitude and a positive approach.

“I like [New Hampshire],” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Just getting the car to turn in the middle is important. That track is really flat and it is very hard to get a car to rotate in the middle of the corner really good.”

Last July, Earnhardt Jr. finished 15th at the Magic Mile but that's behind him; he still likes the racetrack. "I always enjoy the racing in NH, I've always had some pretty good cars here and ran well in a lot of races I've run here," he said. "I enjoy coming here and look forward to the race. It is good racing. It is really challenging to pass, but it is fun."

In his NHMS history, he has the fifth-best driver rating with the second most green flag passes of 719 and has the second (highest of) quality passes of 424.

Out of the 12 Chase drivers, Earnhardt Jr. has the highest average finish of 7.6 at the eight tracks in the Chase run earlier this year, and has finished second at two of them.

Earnhardt Jr. will be driving a new car at NHMS; it'll be his No. 88 Diet Dew/National Guard Chevrolet (not the new car he unveiled Wednesday). The paint scheme he is using is the one he drove in the 2009 Darlington race.

6. Brad Keselowski (- 14 points) - Keselowski looks for another top finish - By Unique Hiram
Top 5s: 0 , Top 10s: 1, Wins: 0

Brad Keselowski is currently seeded fifth in the Sprint Cup championship point standings after last week's race in Chicago. He will be headed to a track where he set a qualifying track record (28.515 seconds with a speed of 133.572 mph) in September 2010.

Additionally, Keselowski also earned his first Cup career pole at this racetrack. 

Most of his success at this track has been captured in the Nationwide Series, where he has been competing from 2008 to the present. In this series, he captured two top 5s, four top 10s and two poles driving for two different team owners (JR Motorsports and Penske).

Keselowski is definitely a consummate competitor and it will be interesting to see if he can capitalize on either a win or great finish in New Hampshire.

7. Ryan Newman (- 14 points) - Rocket Man ready to repeat at Loudon - By LJ Cloud
Top-5s: 6, Top-10s: 13, Wins: 3

Ryan “Rocket Man” Newman has racked up impressive stats in his 20 starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, including his first points-paying win in September 2002. He’s won three times at the Magic Mile and according to the team’s notes, they’re bringing the same chassis that qualified on the pole, led a race-high 119 laps and brought home the win in July of this year when Newman and owner Tony Stewart finished 1-2.

With a total of six top 5s, 13 top 10s, and five poles, Newman has spent 72 percent of his laps at Loudon in the top 15, which is eighth best in the series. His average finish has been 12.4, which makes NHMS his second-best track of those in the Chase, exceeded only by his 10.9-place average finish at Dover.

On Monday at Chicagoland, Newman led twice for 18 laps total, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet managed a solid eighth-place finish in the first race of the Sprint Cup Chase despite running out of fuel on the last lap. This is his second Chase appearance in his three years with SHR. He improves this week from eighth to seventh in points, tied with Brad Keselowski, who in sixth place has the same number of points (2,040) as Newman, but is seeded higher because Keselowksi had more season wins.

So far this season Newman has one win, eight top 5s, 14 top 10s and two poles, with an average finish of 12.9. He’s led 13 races for a total of 285 laps led. He's won at six of the remaining nine tracks in the Chase, so he’s poised for what could be a legitimate challenge for the Sprint Cup championship.

8. Jimmie Johnson (- 16 points) - Could fuel mileage be Johnson’s Achilles’ heel? - By LJ Cloud
Top 5s: 7, Top 10s: 13, Wins: 3

If winning this year’s Sprint Cup comes down to fuel mileage, then Jimmie Johnson’s chances of winning his sixth in a row may be not be so good. Johnson and the No. 48  Lowe’s Home Improvement Chevrolet head into Loudon with an excellent record at New Hampshire Motor Speedway including three wins, seven top 5s, 13 top 10s, and an average finish of 9.6 in 19 races. That’s third best among active drivers at the Magic Mile. He’s spent 3,140 laps in the top-15 (81.2%), with 319 fastest laps, so he knows his way around the track.

However, he lost two positions in the Sprint Cup championship standings when he ran out of fuel on the last lap in Monday’s race at Chicagoland. He finished 10th in the Geico 400, but that translated to dropping from sixth to eighth in the standings, 16 points behind leader Kevin Harvick.

Fuel conservation has never been one of Johnson’s strengths, but he said after the race, "I really felt like I had done enough … They told me they needed a lap before the run started, and I gave up racing [Stewart] and [Kenseth] quite a few laps earlier than they started conserving fuel. So I don't know what I did wrong. But there is proof that a Hendrick car can go the distance, because it's sitting in Victory Lane. I've just got to do better at saving fuel."

Overall this season Johnson has one win, 11 top 5s, 18 top 10s  and an average finish of 10.6. He’s led 15 races for 694 laps. It's a solid, if not stellar performance from a team that’s used to winning four or more races a season. Don’t be surprised if Five-Time and team picks Chase time to collect those wins … and to get that sixth championship.

9. Kyle Busch (- 19 points) - Busch hopes to rebound at Loudon - By Katy Lindamood
Top 5s: 4, Top 10s: 6, Wins: 1

Dropping from first to ninth in the standings after running out of fuel at Chicago, Kyle Busch heads to a track where he has had much success in the past. Over NASCAR’s top three series, Busch has six wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, including a Cup Series win in 2006 while driving for Hendrick Motorsports. With only 19 points between ninth and first, don’t hand over that trophy just yet.

Busch, who finished 19th in the July race said this about Loudon, “New Hampshire is a fun track for me, as a driver, even though it was a tough year there last year and the July race this year. It’s flat like Phoenix and Milwaukee, but it’s a little bit tricky. In order to do well there, you need a car that works on all the different kinds of asphalt the tracks seem to be putting down. You need a car that has a lot of side bite in the rear and front grip to turn easier. At New Hampshire, it seems like I’ve always been loose into the corner and tight in the center, which is hard to fix, sometimes. I think the team that can fix that the best will have the best car.”

10. Matt Kenseth (- 24 points) - Kenseth looks to make up ground – By Rebecca Kivak
Top 5s: 5, Top 10s: 11, Wins: 0

As he heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth is hoping to put Chicagoland behind him. The driver of the No. 17 Ford was penalized in the Chase opener for being pushed on the final lap of the Geico 400 after running out of fuel. The penalty dropped him in the finishing order from 8th to 21st, dealing a blow to his standing in the points, where he now sits 10th.

Kenseth will be looking to make up ground at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the second race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But the 2003 Sprint Cup champion’s stats at the Loudon track are mixed. His average finish in 23 starts at the 1-mile oval is 14.4, which isn’t bad, and he has 11 top-10 finishes, including five top 5s. However, upon closer look, Kenseth hasn’t scored a top-5 finish at New Hampshire since fall 2005. In his last five starts here, Kenseth has four finishes outside the top 20, including his 20th-place finish this spring.

Kenseth’s recent finishes at Loudon are far from promising. But Kenseth is a focused racer who knows what he needs to do to stay in the championship hunt, and he has a strong team behind him. Don’t count the No. 17 out just yet.

11. Jeff Gordon (- 25 points) - Gordon hopes to climb out of hole - By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 14, Top 10s: 18, Wins: 3    

Even champions have bad races every now and then, case and point was last week's race at Chicagoland for the No. 24 team and crew chief Alan Gustafson. Gordon was just one of many drivers to run out of fuel within the closing laps of Monday's race and this has impacted him in the points standings. Headed into NHMS, Gordon now sits 11 in the points, -25 behind Kevin Harvick.

Can Gordon claim a win and a lobster? Yes, looking at the stats. In his 33 starts at the Magic Mile, Gordon has an average finish of 11.0 and a series-best average running position of 7.8, which means keep an eye out for "Big Papa" Jeff Gordon on Sunday.

12. Denny Hamlin (- 41 points) - Can Hamlin bounce back after tough race at Chicagoland? - By Lacy Keyser
Top 5s: 5, Top 10: 8, Win: 1

Denny Hamlin has an average finish of 7.2 in 11 races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His average running position of 10.9 is fourth best among all drivers. Hamlin does not look to be a Chase contender after a very bad day in Chicagoland, but will Hamlin and his team be able to overcome this and contend for the Cup? After falling deeper into 12th in the Chase and not gaining any points on the other drivers, one has to truly wonder if Denny will be a contender.

Stay with Skirts and Scuffs throughout the weekend as Kristina LaFountain and Debbie Ross report from the track. Don’t forget to check back Tuesday morning for our weekend wrap-up report from Loudon.
Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: Harvick leads points as series heads to New Hampshire Skirts and Scuffs Takes on the Chase: Harvick leads points as series heads to New Hampshire Reviewed by Admin on Friday, September 23, 2011 Rating: 5