If the past two Chase races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway are any indication, Sunday's Sylvania 300 will come down to fuel mileage. And Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer should be in the mix.
Two years ago, Stewart was running first and Bowyer was second when Stewart ran out of fuel a lap from the finish. Bowyer finished first. Stewart was 24th and never really regained his title hopes. Bowyer's were looking good -- until his car failed post race inspection and he was docked 150 points. He went from being 35 points behind Chase leader Denny Hamlin to being 185 points behind. He finished 10th in the Chase.
In 2011, Stewart and Bowyer were dueling again, but this time the roles were reversed. Bowyer was leading and ran out of gas in turns 3 and 4 as the duo was coming to the white flag. Stewart drove by and took his second Chase win in two races on his way to the title. Bowyer, who wasn't in the Chase, finished 26th.
This year, nine Chasers enter with New Hampshire victories to their name:
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin's only win at Loudon came back in 2007, but he has the highest average finish of any Chaser at 8.3 and has four top three finishes in the last six races. In last year's Chase race, Hamlin finished 29th, two laps down.
Jimmie Johnson: After recovering from a 39th place finish at New Hampshire in the first race of the Chase in 2006 to win his first title, Johnson strung together seven straight top 10 finishes. His average finish is 9.9 and finished 18th last year.
Jeff Gordon: If it wasn't for so many other Chasers' success here, this would be a prime spot for Gordon to make up a lot of points. Gordon has three wins in 35 New Hampshire starts and hasn't finished outside the top 15 since the summer race at the track in 2005. His average finish is 10.7.
Stewart: Stewart has three wins at Loudon including last year's victory, and has an average finish of 11.6. He was average this summer at Loudon, finishing 12th. Random fact: his title hopes were dashed in the inaugural Chase in 2004 at New Hampshire when he got together with now-teammate Ryan Newman.
Kevin Harvick: Cupcake dominated in his only New Hampshire win in 2006 when he led 196 laps. He's got an average finish of 13.8 and finished eighth earlier in the year.
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth has never won at New Hampshire and he's led just 88 laps in 25 starts. His average finish is 14th, and he's got 12 top 10s. Like Stewart, he too was average at New Hampshire earlier in the year, as he finished 13th.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has an average finish of 14.8, but that's bouyed by his success at New Hampshire when he was with Dale Earnhardt Inc. when he didn't finish outside the top 10 in 2007 and 2008. Since he's been with Michael Waltrip Racing, his only top 10 came during last year's summer race, but as we've seen so far this year, we can heavily discount MWR's past performance.
Brad Keselowski: The Chaser with the fewest starts at New Hampshire also has the fewest laps led. In fact, he's got a lap led for every one of his 6 starts at the track. He's got an average finish of 15.3, but has finished second and fifth in the last two Loudon races.
Bowyer: Before getting his first Sprint Cup Series win at New Hampshire in 2007, Bowyer's best finish at the track was 24th, which contributes to his 15.9 average finish. In his first race with MWR at New Hampshire this summer, he finished third.
Greg Biffle: The Biff won this race in 2008, and generally runs better at New Hampshire in the fall than in the summer. His average finish is 16.2, but that's compromised by four finishes outside the top 25 in his first five starts.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Junior has 11 top 10s in 26 starts, and finished fourth earlier in the year. His highest finish at the track is third, and he hasn't led a lap at New Hampshire since 2008. His average finish is 16.2
Kasey Kahne: Can you believe that the driver who won this summer's New Hampshire race has the worst average finish among the 12 Chasers? That 16.8 average finish is because of a stretch of nine races from 2006-2010 in which Kahne finished inside the top 10 just once. And that was a 10th place finish. Given Kahne's win earlier this year and success with Hendrick, he probably won't be the worst finishing Chaser Sunday.
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