Race Preview Update: New Hampshire II

Clint Bowyer had plenty of reason to smile during practice: The 33 looked like greased lightning. (Photo Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The Sprint Cup teams got in all three practices and qualifying at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Friday and Saturday, providing handicappers a plentiful amount of prelim data to review. Add that data to the solid historical data from the earlier races at New Hampshire and other short-flat tracks this year, plus the warm-dry weather prediction for today at Weather.com, and I think all signs point to above-average predictability for today’s race.

Fantasy players should therefore generally abstain from saving starts today, and bettors can consider taking slightly tighter lines than normal.

Handicapping Richmond II
I ran the numbers from the three practices and qualifying to produce new rankings, and then I merged those rankings with my mid-week rankings (heavily weighting the results toward the new rankings). I tweaked those results per the 10-lap averages from both practices, and then I did one final fine-tuning after reading the opinions of other online experts and considering starting positions.

I came up with this top seven:

  1. Clint Bowyer
  2. Tony Stewart
  3. Jamie McMurray
  4. Jimmie Johnson
  5. Juan Pablo Montoya
  6. Denny Hamlin
  7. Jeff Burton

On paper, Bowyer or Stewart have already won the race. In my mid-week preview, I rated Bowyer #2, and his performances in the prelims Friday and Saturday move him into the top spot. Bowyer’s car appears to have excellent overall speed and good long-run speed, and he has an excellent starting position.

I rated Stewart just inside my top 10 in my preview, but he looked so good in the prelims I now rate him just a hair behind Bowyer. Like the 33, the 14 appears to have excellent speed and good long-run speed, and he has an excellent starting position. Plus, Stewart appeared to be quite happy with his car during TV interviews.

McMurray makes a fine dark horse today. He wasn’t on my radar at all earlier this week, but he put up some outstanding numbers Friday and Saturday, including the fastest lap in Happy Hour and the second-fastest 10-lap average in Happy Hour. He starts fourth, and a very quick look at one online sportsbook suggests bettors can find terrific value betting the 1 to win: He’s at 15-1 at The Greek this morning.

Johnson slipped to my #4 spot. He looked good in the prelims but not quite as good as the 33, 14 and 1, and he’s hampered by a bad starting position: He’ll take the green flag 26th on the grid today.

If you’re betting today, make sure you shop around to get the best possible line on your driver(s). Picking up an extra point or two for one race may not seem like much, but it’s crucial if you want to make money in the long run.

My Yahoo! Fantasy Picks
Group A
I wish I had ’em available: Stewart, Johnson, Montoya, Hamlin and maybe Kurt Busch, in that order.

I’ve got Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon, and both looked relatively weak in the prelims. I think Kyle has a slight edge on Gordon (due in part to his better starting position), so I’ll go with the 18.

Group B
I will happily run my #1 guy, Clint Bowyer. I will also go with Burton over Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman, both of whom failed to impress me much in the prelims.

As noted above, McMurray offers excellent value today. If you need to reach deeper, I like Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne and David Reutimann, in that order.

Group C
A.J. Allmendinger looks fantastic by Group C standards, and there’s a real chance he’ll score a top 10 today.

I have Sam Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith, and Hornish looks better by a wide margin (I like him #2 in C). I’ll start Slammin’ Sam with fingers crossed.

Paul Menard also looks pretty good; he’s my solid #3 pick in C this morning.