Tim Nwachukwu | Getty Images
As the weekend began, many industry insiders believed the same drivers who had raced much earlier in the year at Phoenix Raceway, Richmond Raceway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway would stand out at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. However, the Penske team was an outlier, with none of their cars making the final qualifying lap. On the other hand, Kurt Busch found a speed he hadn’t had in years at the “Magic Mile” and so skyrocketed on my fantasy board.
Dustin Albino’s race day lineup:
Rookie 1: Martin Truex Jr.
Initiator 2: Ryan Blaney
Initiator 3: Kevin Harvick
Initiator 4: Kurt Busch
Initiator 5: Christopher Bell
Garage Pick: Joey Logano
NEXT IN LINE: Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson
RELATED: Complete New Hampshire weekend results | Betting odds
RISING: Kurt Busch’s speed at Gateway appears to have correlated to New Hampshire in Saturday’s New Hampshire qualifying session, as the #45 car will start third on Sunday. As he said, he found a prancing unicorn in turns 1 and 2 on his first lap, which is reasonable to think given his lack of success recently at the “Magic Mile”.
Chase Elliott admitted on Saturday morning that he has struggled to get a feel for New Hampshire since joining the Cup Series in 2016. But his No. 9 Chevrolet was fast in practice (sixth) and will start first line for the race. Chances are Elliott is one of your most used drivers. If so, save it for one of the last six races of the regular season.
FALL: For many betting sites, Ryan Blaney is listed as the favorite for Sunday’s race. However, the #12 car missed the final round of qualifying – as did its two Team Penske teammates – and will start 11th. Blaney told media he was surprised at the lack of speed and how far his car was. But looking at Gateway and recent flat runs, Blaney should be in your lineup.
Speaking of Team Penske, Joey Logano was the fastest car on paper at Gateway. He will form row 6 with Blaney for the green flag, as he qualified 12th. More worryingly, the #22 car was 24th in practice, although tied for most laps completed with 29.
Ryan Blaney vs. Chase Elliott: Ah, two besties clashing in fantasy. Based on his recent success in New Hampshire, Blaney would be the pick this weekend. But with Elliott having his best ever qualifying effort at the 1.058-mile track and improving the #12 car in practice, theories would suggest picking Elliott. Difficult selection, but don’t count on the Fords. My pick, as my lineup indicates, is Blaney.
Alex Bowman vs. William Byron: As noted in Fantasy Fastlane earlier this week, both of these drivers have struggled in the past in New Hampshire. However, Byron was fastest in practice and will start sixth while Bowman will line up 27th. Byron is the clear favorite in this battle between teammates, as his results from Martinsville Speedway are no true indicator of the speed displayed by the #24 car.
Ross Chastain vs. Denny Hamlin: We like to light fuel for this flame, don’t we? Chastain’s 18th place in qualifying is one of his worst of the 2022 season, although Hamlin’s lap wasn’t much better in 14th. On experience alone, the #11 car takes the lead, as Hamlin is one of New Hampshire’s most successful drivers of all time with three wins.
Aric Almirola vs Austin Cindric: Almirola enters the weekend as defending winner New Hampshire, which was arguably the biggest upset of the 2021 Cup season. Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018 – and indeed since his days at Richard Petty Motorsports – Almirola has a knack for racing well on small flat tracks. Cindric, meanwhile, will start 28th.