Just Win It: Drivers Outside The Chase Who Can Win at New Hampshire
The 2010 Chase for the Cup is set. We have 12 drivers who are going into the last 10 races knowing any one of them can win the championship.
Normally, we as writers at this point become tunnel-visioned and look at the Chase drivers as favorites to win every week. That's normal because each of those drivers earned that spot.
They are the best drivers in NASCAR this season, and rightfully should get the most attention.
But, we can't forget there are 31 other drivers on the track with them. Even NASCAR President Mike Helton tells the other drivers in the driver's meeting to be respectful of those in the Chase.
That does not mean the other drivers will lay off and not race them hard. They want to win just as much as the Chase contenders.
This weekend at New Hampshire, the Chase begins. There are many favorites in the top-12 who have won at this track.
That's nothing surprising as all but two drivers going for the 2010 championship have at least one victory at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
It's not a guarantee that one of these drivers will win, but it is a guarantee that they will run up front for most of the afternoon.
However, we cannot forget about the other 31 drivers that will take the green flag.
There are also some names outside the championship who could be the spoiler of the race. We have seen it happen before on more than one occasion.
It could happen again, especially at the first Chase event. The ones not going for the championship have nothing to lose, so they can push the envelope and go for a victory.
Here are a few drivers that could play spoiler in Sunday's Sylvania 300.
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It was not a bad season for "Rocket Man," but at the same time it could have gone differently.
Newman has one win this season, which came at Phoenix after he got a better restart than Jeff Gordon on a green-white-checkered finish.
That track is just over a mile in length, and extremely flat. Sounds familiar as New Hampshire as a very similar setup.
If anyone can play spoiler this weekend, it's this team and this driver.
New Hampshire has been a great track for Newman as he got his first career win here in 2002, and then backed it up three years later with a second victory.
He has five top-fives and 11 top-10s here, plus only two DNFs because of engine failures.
He can not only play spoiler on Sunday, he could start that run on Friday when teams qualify for positions.
The Chase drivers best be worried because they could be in for a huge surprise when the checkered flag flies.
If "Rocket Man" wants to play spoiler, this is the track to do it.
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In essence, the 2009 season for the Home Depot team was much like 1999. They had to start from scratch with a new driver, and new expectations.
Stepping in for Tony Stewart was rookie Joey Logano. It was obvious early in the year that Logano had much to learn about the Sprint Cup car and how it handled.
He tried and had some success, but he had just as many struggles.
The one highlight all year was when crew chief Greg Zipadelli made the gutsy pit call at New Hampshire that got Logano his first career Cup victory.
Fast forward to this season, and it's almost an entire turnaround for the No. 20 team. Logano has more confidence in his equipment and his crew. Most of all, he has more confidence in himself and his abilities.
That could be seen at Richmond when he drove right through the field to a fourth-place finish.
He has a lot of faith in his equipment, and his teammates have shown that they can help whenever he needs assistance.
Logano is capable of getting a victory, and he has surprised a lot of drivers on the track. He has also caught the eye of many media members as a potential spoiler at New Hampshire.
Can he get the job done? It is certainly a high probability that he can.
Juan Pablo Montoya
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When it comes to racing on the flat race tracks, Juan Pablo Montoya has been excellent. When it comes to this race last year, he almost had a complete sweep of the weekend.
The No. 42 team led every practice and qualified on the pole. They then led the most laps and found themselves in a prime position to get the victory.
What kept him from getting the checkered flag was simply his respect for eventual winner Mark Martin, as he just could not bring himself to spin him out or bump him out of the way.
Montoya went on to finish third that afternoon, but was not dwelling what could have been his first career Cup victory.
That race proved to be the only time Montoya would finish in the top-five at this track. Montoya has no other finishes above 12th at New Hampshire.
Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has experienced great success this year in getting the win at the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard. Montoya added to that success when he dominated at Watkins Glen.
No pun intended, but Montoya must be on target to surprised everyone this Sunday.
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In keeping with the flow of Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, the driver who has been up front when it mattered in the big races has been Jamie McMurray.
After years of struggling at Roush, he returned to Ganassi where he started his Cup career.
First race out of the box, he wins at Daytona. He then qualifies on the pole the next week at California. In April, he almost held on to win at Talladega.
Finally, at the Brickyard 400, McMurray had the honor of kneeling at the start/finish line and kissing the 100+ year-old bricks.
Unfortunately, he found himself on the outside looking in at the 2010 Chase, but that is not to say this season has been unsuccessful for the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops team.
They have a lot to be proud of, and can continue to make noise these last 10 weeks.
All the cameras and all the focus are on the first race in the Chase this weekend, which means McMurray has a chance to shine once again.
New Hampshire will set the tone for the rest of the Chase, but McMurray can possibly set the tone for his season and how 2011 could go for his team.
He won at Indianapolis, a very flat, very sweeping track. Although New Hampshire is shorter, it has the same characteristics.
Expect this team to be strong, and take some of the bright lights away from the top 12.
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To say this season has been sub-par for Mark Martin is quite an understatement.
Coming off a season where he finished runner-up in the points with five wins, he and the entire No. 5 team have not been on the same page.
That's not to say he is not trying, nor the team isn't working just as hard. They just have experienced bad luck, no other way to put it.
But, Martin can right many of those wrongs when the green flag waves on Sunday. Last year at New Hampshire, Martin stunned the field and went on to get his fifth win of the season.
It was a track where Martin himself admitted he couldn't drive very well, but he showed once more that the old veteran can get the job done.
This year, it's been a season of missed opportunities.
Now, Martin has the chance to be the driver who spoils everyone looking for a win this weekend.. Not exactly a role anyone expects this veteran to play, but he could be more comfortable in that spot.
No one expected Martin to have the season he did last year, so why would they think any different when he's outside the Chase?
One win, nine top-fives, 14 top-10's and an average finish of 11.1 mean Martin can get the job done. He's got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Don't be surprised if this old dog shows off some new tricks.
Yes They Can!
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In the end, it's all about capturing the victory. Whether the winner is going for a championship, or whether they just want a win, that's all that is important.
Sure, all 12 drivers will be the focus in Sunday's Sylvania 300, but they will not be the only thing talked about. It is, after all, NASCAR, and we've seen some incredible things all year long.
With 10 races left, things are just warming up.