by M Roberts
Martin Truex Jr was spectacular in both of Saturday’s practice sessions in preparation for Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Truex Jr ran 37 laps in the early session and was fourth fastest with top-10 average speed times. During Happy Hour, Truex Jr was even better laying down the fastest lap overall at 128.186 mph.
The top times overall shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because Truex Jr has done better on the combined tracks of New Hampshire, Richmond, and Phoenix than other similar group of tracks on the circuit since NASCAR started using the car of tomorrow.
Truex Jr had his second best finish of the season at Phoenix this season with a seventh and if we look at what he did last year in the six combined races, he finished in the top-10 in four of the six starts including both New Hampshire starts.
The biggest surprise of the day easily was the performance of Reed Sorenson who had the fastest single lap and average lap speed in the first session. During happy hour, Sorenson backed up his strong early performance by laying down the fourth fastest lap overall.
Here’s a look at the top rated drivers after all New Hampshire practice sessions are complete using a mix of past history, current history, and a big nod towards Saturday’s practice.
1) Jimmie Johnson brought a brand new car for this race and it was extremely fast in both practice sessions especially on the long runs. He ran the second most laps in the early session with the sixth fastest lap. In Happy Hour, he was second fastest overall with great average times running the most laps.
2) Mark Martin brought his winning chassis from Phoenix to Loudon this week and it looks equally as fast as it did then. He only ran 22 laps in the first practice, but out strong in happy hour with the fifth fastest lap. Hard to believe that Martin could be on his way his fourth win of 2009 after not winning for the previous three seasons, but he is well on his way to doing so.
3) Greg Biffle was the one Roush-Fenway driver to excel in the entire day of practices, which is surprising because of how well they have collectively done in front of the Red Sox Nation crowd. Biffle ran his fastest lap, the third fastest overall, late in the happy hour session and had excellent average times which should carry over on long runs Sunday. He won the last New Hampshire race run there last fall and has a great shot at doing again for his first win of 2009.
4) Kurt Busch ran the most laps in the first session and had the third best average times. In happy hour, Busch came back to run almost identically with running the second most laps and having the best average speeds overall among drivers who ran at least 45 laps. Busch won this race last season thanks to rain, but the chassis he has this week is much superior.
5) Martin Truex Jr - Ran 43 laps in happy hour with fastest lap overall.
6) Kevin Harvick hasn’t been considered a contender in any race other restrictor plate races this season based on practices. Whatever the team did this week, it’s working. Harvick ran the tenth fastest lap in the early practice and then built on that for an exceptional happy hour where they laid down the sixth fastest lap and best average speed overall while running 43 laps. This is a team that desperately needs a great run and he just might get it this week.
Best of the Rest
Juan Pablo Montoya and David Reutimann had terrific practices and could be in for another top-10 run in the midst of their best Cup seasons.
Kyle Busch wasn’t bad in practice, but wasn’t great either. Much was expected out of him this week because of winning at Richmond, but he could muster only the 11th fastest lap in each of the two Saturday sessions.
Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart are in their own class because they are just about the drivers who exceed what they did in practice out on the track on a weekly basis. Just looking at the times, they are very average, but it’s likely that Stewart will finish second again just like at Phoenix and Richmond this season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr gets a mention just because the team shows no signs of getting better. He brought his Richmond chassis and based on the times, it looks like he’ll finish close to 27th just like he did in that race. Hate to see it, but probably not more than Rick Hendrick.
Happy Hour practice top five:
1) #1-Truex Jr. 128.186
2) #48-Johnson 127.795
3) #16-Biffle 127.709
4) #43-Sorenson 127.666
5) #5-Martin 127.662
slowest: #37-Raines 123.743 and #34-Andretti 125.203
Saturday’s first practice top five:
1) #43-Sorenson 128.472
2) #87-Nemechek 128.208
3) #07-Mears 128.135
4) #1-Treux Jr. 128.126
5) #00-Reutimann 128.027
slowest: #37-Raines 124.029 and #34-Andretti 125.463