Stewart, Gordon should be strong

September, 22, 2011

Color me intrigued by the Chase so far (or for our international friends, colour me intrigued)

Chicago provided a wild start, with fuel-mileage issues and penalties resulting in a shuffled Chase field in a year with a new points system in which poor finishes are punished even more and consistency is even more valuable.

New Hampshire marks the start of an interesting stretch of the schedule. First of all, it starts a stretch of distinctive tracks, after the flat magic mile, we get the high banks of Dover and then a couple of intermediates before heading to Talladega.

But it's also the stretch of eight straight tracks that the series has already visited this year. So it's time to use what we've learned. I hope you've been studying.

At New Hampshire, I like one driver near the top of the Chase to stay near the top, while I like a guy near the bottom to start making his way back up.

Earlier this year, it was Ryan Newman getting the win at New Hampshire in a race in which he had the most laps led and best driver rating. But I like his owner and teammate, Tony Stewart, to excel Sunday.

Dating back to 2005, Stewart leads the field in fastest laps run, and has the fastest average speed early in runs and in traffic. Plus, despite finishing second to Newman, Stewart has the best overall speed, plus the most fastest laps run.

And in the category that appeared to be Smoke's great weakness, speed late in runs (in which he ranks sixth since 2005), he was the strongest in the field earlier this year.

But don't rule out Mr. Four-Time, Jeff Gordon. Despite a ho-hum 11th-place finish at Loudon earlier this year, Gordon was running fourth with 10 percent of the race left.

Since 2005, Gordon ranks in the top four in all speed categories at New Hampshire, including first in overall speed and second in speed in traffic.

With six championships among them, I expect one of those two to come out on top Sunday (and hopefully not Monday again).

The Eliminator: New Hampshire

Most people just pick winners, some by hunches, some by stats, and some by just picking a name off the top of their head. 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.

1. The last nine fall New Hampshire winners had a top-15 finish in the last Richmond race (31 drivers eliminated, 15 remaining).

2. The last five New Hampshire winners had a top-seven finish in the previous Sprint Cup race (10 eliminated, five remaining).

3. The last four New Hampshire winners finished 14th or better in the previous two New Hampshire races (three eliminated, two remaining).

4. The last four New Hampshire winners had a top-10 in the last Phoenix race (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kurt 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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