Jimmie Johnson & Co. a threat at Loudon

July, 14, 2011

You know what's odd? Maybe even downright strange?

Here we are at the midway point of the season, and I don't remember spending too much of my blog space talking about the Hendrick Motorsports drivers. Considering they have a five-time champ, a four-time champ and NASCAR's fan favorite, it stood out a little bit.

But I'm a stats guy at heart, so, when their performance tailed off slightly, I had other things to write about. At New Hampshire, however, I think the three Hendrick drivers currently in Chase position will solidify their spots for the playoff run, maybe even take that precious checkered flag.

Let's break down this three-pronged attack, driver by driver:

• Jimmie Johnson -- Johnson has three career New Hampshire wins, but only one of those has come in the past 14 races at Loudon, that being last spring's race. However, his finishes haven't matched how well he's run, especially in the spring races.

In the past three spring races, nobody's run more fastest laps than Johnson, who has ranked first, first and second in fastest laps run in those races. But his finishes in those three races are first, second and ninth.

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- Junior has never won at New Hampshire, but it doesn't mean he hasn't been fast. Last year, despite his struggles, he finished eighth and fourth in the two Loudon races.

So, ignore Earnhardt's finishes and instead focus on the fact that at the midrace point, he's been running in the top 11 in the past nine races there, and in the top three in four of those events.

• Jeff Gordon -- Like Johnson, Gordon has won thrice at New Hampshire, but those wins came in 1995, '97 and '98. But don't let that get you thinking he won't be a strong contender Sunday.

Gordon has finished sixth or better in six of the past nine New Hampshire races, taking second in three of those. Plus, his loop data marks are strong -- check out the chart:

So, don't focus just on the wins, and look beyond the numbers for Hendrick Motorsports' strength.

Eliminator: New Hampshire edition

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats, and some by just picking names off the top of their heads.

I don't pick winners -- I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

And while my winless streak is at nine races, the Eliminator's picks have finished eighth or better in five of the past six races. But it's time to get a winner. And I just need two steps:

1. Twelve of the past 13 New Hampshire winners finished 19th or better in the race leading into Loudon (29 eliminated, 19 remaining).

2. The past three New Hampshire winners had a top-10 finish in the most recent Richmond, Martinsville and Phoenix races (18 eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kyle Busch.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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