Lenox Industrial Tools 301: 10 Drivers Who'll Be in the Running at New Hampshire

Ben Montedonico@@NASCARBRBenContributor IIIJuly 12, 2012

Lenox Industrial Tools 301: 10 Drivers Who'll Be in the Running at New Hampshire

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    The boys of NASCAR take to the "Magic Mile" this weekend for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301.

    Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway will mark the first visit to the one-mile oval from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2012.

    Many expect the usual suspects to be up toward the front in the closing laps on Sunday. In this week's "10 Drivers," we'll highlight some of those drivers as well as a few sleepers you may need to keep your eye on.

    Here are 10 drivers who are sure to be in the running this Sunday at New Hampshire.

1. Tony Stewart

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    Last time the Sprint Cup Series raced, Tony Stewart stood in Victory Lane. Last time the Sprint Cup Series raced at New Hampshire, Stewart claimed the checkered flag.

    So how could we not start this list with Tony Stewart?

    Smoke is the hottest driver in the sport right now, earning four top-three finishes in the last five Sprint Cup races. He also has three finishes of second or better in his last four starts at NHMS, including a win last September.

    If you're making your weekly picks in a Fantasy NASCAR league, make sure Stewart is in your lineup.

2. Ryan Newman

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    Tony Stewart's teammate may not be a bad pick this weekend, either.

    Ryan Newman is the defending winner of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, claiming the checkers a year ago after dominating from the pole position. Newman also started first in the fall race at NHMS last year.

    Newman has finished in the top 10 in four of his last five starts at the "Magic Mile" and has claimed three of his 16 career wins there.

    Newman should be a force to be reckoned with, especially if qualifying goes his way. 

3. Jimmie Johnson

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    It goes without saying that Jimmie Johnson is a threat to win every single week. But to cover all of our bases, we'll go ahead and bring his name up anyway.

    Johnson is a three-time winner at New Hampshire, claiming victory most recently in this event two years ago after a thrilling duel with Kurt Busch.

    For his career, Johnson has 13 top 10s in 20 starts at NHMS, with an average finish of 10.1 at the one-mile flat track.

    Johnson was on a tear before a vicious crash took him out of contention last week at Daytona, but look for "Five-Time" to bounce back this weekend.

4. Denny Hamlin

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    One of the best flat-track racers on the circuit, Denny Hamlin is a threat to win any time the circuit hits the "Magic Mile."

    Hamlin won the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 back in 2007, when it was a 300-mile race. In his last four starts at NHMS, Hamlin boasts two top fives, including a runner-up finish in September 2010.

    Hamlin also has the best record on flat tracks in 2012, earning a sixth at Martinsville, a fifth at Pocono (which is one-third flat) and a win at Phoenix.

    Look for Hamlin to challenge for the victory this Sunday at New Hampshire.

5. Clint Bowyer

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    Clint Bowyer has the one-mile track in New England figured out.

    The latest addition to the Michael Waltrip Racing stable has two wins at the "Magic Mile," with the most recent in September 2010.

    Bowyer nearly won the fall race at New Hampshire a year ago before running out of fuel while leading with two laps to go.

    Bowyer looks to be having the best year of his career in 2012, and there's no reason to believe he can't add to it this Sunday—especially at a track which has proven to be one of his best.

6. Greg Biffle

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    Greg Biffle boasts one career win at New Hampshire, which came in his best-career year of 2008.

    This year, Biffle has looked even better. And after finishing third in the circuit's last visit to the "Magic Mile," there's no reason to believe "The Biff" can't work a little magic of his own this Sunday.

    Biffle has five top fives at NHMS, and earlier this year at the one-mile flat track in Phoenix, Biffle picked up a third-place finish.

    Look for Biffle to gain ground on teammate and point leader Matt Kenseth with a solid run on Sunday.

7. Brad Keselowski

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    Brad Keselowski is the first driver on this list without a win at New Hampshire. That could change on Sunday.

    Keselowski has gone from breakout driver of the year in 2011 to legitimate title contender in 2012. With his win two weeks ago at Kentucky, Keselowski became the first driver in 2012 with three wins, with all three coming on different types of tracks.

    Sunday's race will be on a different type of track from the three he's won on this season, and Keselowski did bring home the runner-up spot when the series visited the "Magic Mile" last fall.

    Don't be surprised if Sunday marks Keselowski's first win on the one-mile flat track.

8. Joey Logano

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    Like Keselowski a year ago, Joey Logano is trying to make himself known as a breakout candidate in 2012.

    He's done a fine job so far, claiming his second-career win a few weeks ago at Pocono after starting from the pole and earning four top 10 finishes in his last six starts.

    Logano also knows how to find Victory Lane at his home track, albeit in inclement weather. Logano won this event three years ago after catching a lucky break when the rains came while he was leading.

    Logano finished fourth in this race a year ago and could win again. This time, the right way.

9. Brian Vickers

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    Racing without the pressure of points, Brian Vickers may just be the biggest sleeper in the field on Sunday.

    In a limited schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012, Vickers has two top fives in three races, including a fifth at Bristol, where he led 125 laps.

    It's that kind of performance we could expect from Vickers at NHMS, where he finished fifth last fall, driving for the now-defunct Red Bull Racing team.

    If Vickers and crew unload well on Friday, we may see a surprise winner in Victory Lane on Sunday.

10. Aric Almirola

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    Aric Almirola may not be a favorite to win in the eyes of many, but a top 10 run isn't out of the question for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver.

    New Hampshire is the type of race track where Almirola usually excels: short and flat. He finished 12th at Phoenix and improved on that with an eighth-place run at Martinsville.

    Almirola has also run well at the tracks where A.J. Allmendinger, who drove the No. 43 car a year ago, ran well, including Dover, where Almirola earned a season-best sixth-place finish.

    If you're in a Fantasy NASCAR league and need a buy-low driver for this week, Almirola is your guy.