Saturday, September 20, 2014

New Hampshire Practice Notes: Keselowski class of field, but a few others are close

Brian Vickers has his car dialed in for New Hampshire
Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway looks to be a three horse race with the jockey in the Miller Lite silks having a substantial edge. If it wasn’t enough that Brad Keselowski has won the past two races -- and a series leading five overall -- he had to bring his winning chassis from the July New Hampshire race and show off some more during Friday and Saturday practices.

He knows he’s the driver to beat, every driver in the garage knows he’s the driver to beat and every fan in the stands wearing gear supporting another driver knows Keselowski is the driver to beat. The only thing left to do is for him to go out and finish the job and become the first driver to sweep a New Hampshire season since Kurt Busch in 2004.

On Friday, Keselowski had the fastest lap (138.421 mph) in practice then later won his fifth pole of the season. The speed continued Saturday morning when he topped the charts again (135.622) and was second fastest (135.256) to Jeff Gordon (135.357) during happy hour.

If those practice speeds were the only piece of data we had to go on, Keselowski would be an overwhelming favorite. But wait, there’s more. This type of flat track has been money for him lately, winning at Richmond two weeks ago and then winning the first New Hampshire race in July. There’s also a big asterisk attached to the Richmond race because he led 383 of the 400 laps.

So is there any reason to wager on any other driver to win? We’ve seen drivers in the past look dominant in practice at New Hampshire and then carry on to easy wins on race day. Denny Hamlin was so confident in this 2012 race, that he called his shot and said he would win, and did. Keselowski hasn’t been that brash, but no one would disagree if he was.

In situations like this, I like to shorten my field of candidates to win or I go all in on one driver. Instead of betting my normal five to six drivers that can show me a profit, I shorten it down to three or four. And sometimes if I have my doubts about a driver completing a dominant weekend, I’ll leave him out of the betting equation altogether and swing for the fences with a couple that showed a few signs of competing. Keselowski is not one of those drivers this week.

However, three drivers gave me an indication that they might have something for Keselowski and his blue deuce this weekend and one of them is a choice way out there on the deep end.

Let’s begin with the top two contenders who are in the upper-echelon weekly:

Jeff Gordon: He may not have a victory at New Hampshire since his magical 1998 season when he won just about everywhere, but he does have speed on short and long runs that indicate he’ll be chasing Keselowski down probably better than anyone. He had the second-best 10-consecutive lap average in both of Saturday’s practices -- each better than Keselowski. Seeing him win on Sunday would be in-line with all the retro-Gordon stuff we’ve been watching all season that reminds us of his glory years.

Kevin Harvick: He had the best 10-consecutive lap average during happy hour and also has a win at Phoenix in March, which runs similar to the flat tracks at Richmond and New Hampshire. He’s getting tired of chasing Keselowski around, but if the No. 2 has one slip up late in the race, Harvick will be right there to take advantage.

Brian Vickers: He shocked the heck out of me last July when he won at New Hampshire and then when I saw the speeds this morning, all I could do was smile, somehow hoping that no sports book looked at the speeds before adjusting their odds -- no such luck.

In the morning session, Vickers had the third fastest single lap (134.916), but had the fastest 10-consecutive laps average. That’s better than Keselowski, Gordon and Harvick and a great indicator that he’s ready to have his name called several times by the ESPN broadcasters on Sunday.

There has been a vast improvement lately from Toyota. We’ve seen it from the Joe Gibbs Racing cars and we also saw it with Vickers’ teammate Clint Bowyer two weeks ago at Richmond when he finished third.

Yes, Keselowski is far and away the driver to beat Sunday, but the best car doesn't always win. So why not take a shot with the second, third or fourth best car?

Read More Here........Final Driver Ratings

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