COMMENTARY | Sunday's epic battle at Chicagoland Speedway - with Mother Nature, that is - proved one thing for certain in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup: Joe Gibbs Racing is going to be tough to beat over the next nine races. GEICO 400 winner Matt Kenseth and runner-up Kyle Busch - who had two other victories at the track this weekend - sit 1-2 in points after the first race of the Chase, and Denny Hamlin looked to be joining them in the top 10 at Chicagoland save for a late-race engine failure. Will the JGR duo be dominant again at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, or will one of the quartet of drivers with three wins apiece at NHMS take the checkered flag away from the Toyota crew? These six drivers, all top 10 finishers at Chicagoland, are the ones to watch this Sunday, September 22 in the Sylvania 300.
Matt Kenseth - Kenseth just took home his sixth checkered flag of the season - already a career-best season with nine races to go - but NHMS, with 13 top 10 finishes in 27 starts, is one of seven tracks on the schedule where Kenseth has yet to win, and one of two tracks in the Chase where he is winless. A plus in his favor: he finished ninth in the last race there in July - his first trip to the track with JGR.
Kyle Busch - Busch will only be running one race this weekend - the Truck Series is off and the Nationwide Series is in Kentucky - but his past experience at NHMS will make him a favorite to visit victory lane: in addition to his Cup Series win at the 1.058-mile track (17 starts), he has four Nationwide Series wins in eight starts and three Camping World Truck Series wins in seven starts.
Jimmie Johnson - The five-time champ bounced back from some rough finishes at the end of the "regular season" with a fifth-place finish at Chicagoland, and now the Cup Series heads to a track where Johnson has had success: he has 16 top 10 finishes, including three wins, in 23 starts at NHMS. His last win came in the June 2010 event, and he has a string of three-straight top 10 finishes at New Hampshire going into this weekend. Johnson also leads all Chase drivers with an average finish of 9.4 at NHMS.
Kurt Busch - That Busch finished fourth at Chicagoland should've come as a surprise to no-one - we've seen what Busch can do all season with the single-car Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, and that's why they're in the Chase. While the elder Busch brother has had past success at the track, with three wins and 11 top 10 finishes in 25 races, his recent stats have been less-than-spectacular: four-straight finishes outside the top 20 since his last top 10 finish in July 2011.
Jeff Gordon - Gordon, who finished sixth at Chicagoland after being an 11th-hour addition to the Chase as driver No. 13, is another three-time winner at NHMS who also has 22 top 10 finishes and four poles in 37 races at the track. He's working on a string of four-straight top 10 finishes at NHMS, and hasn't finished outside the top 15 since July 2005.
Ryan Newman - After a 10th-place finish at Chicagoland, Newman heads to a track he excels at: three wins, 16 top 10 finishes and six poles in 23 races in the Cup Series. NHMS is also one of the few tracks Newman "moonlights" at on a regular basis: nine of his 13 starts in the Whelen Modified Tour have come at New Hampshire, and he has five top 10 finishes, including two wins, and three poles in those races; he'll be making NHMS Modified start No. 10 on Saturday.
Source: "Statistical Advance: Analyzing the Sylvania 300," NASCAR Media, September 16, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.
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