New Hampshire Viewer's Guide

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Steve Byrnes

Steve Byrnes is a host and reporter for NASCAR on FOX. A broadcast veteran, he has covered racing for more than 20 years. Follow him on Twitter.

New Hampshire International Speedway is a feel, or a finesse, racetrack. It's not a place that a driver can manhandle with horsepower. It requires drivers to hit their lines and be patient. That's especially true this weekend because it's the first Car of Tomorrow race at Loudon, N.H. Even though the mechanics are so smart and the drivers are so good, Jeff Burton said that the teams learn more about the new car each time they race it. In some ways, it's like racing for the first time at this track.

Who to Watch

  • Tony Stewart: A two-time winner at Loudon, Stewart has really come around to liking the Car of Tomorrow. He likes any racetrack, but he really gets pumped up for tracks that really provide a challenge. Winning at this track takes a lot of finesse and patience, which are qualities that put the race in the driver's hands so he's got a great shot to win.
  • Kurt Busch: Sweeping both New Hampshire races in 2004, Busch has a great front-row starting spot. He and Penske Racing South teammate Ryan Newman have really improved. I'll be calling Busch's race for DirecTV's HotPass.
  • Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon: Although neither driver really cares about proving a point, they both like a challenge. Winning a race without their crew chiefs would be extra sweet. Earlier this week, No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus was suspended for six races so Johnson will be with Ron Malec, his car chief for many years. No. 24 crew chief Steve Letarte was also suspended for six races, and he will be with car chief Jeff Meendering, who has been Letarte's righthand man. Working the No. 24 pits on several occasions, I've heard them talk on the radio, and I've heard Letarte ask Meendering questions. Gordon's confidence is still high in the race car so that's very important, too.
  • Richard Childress Racing: Clint Bowyer is extremely close to winning his first Cup race. Having watched Harvick win the Busch race, I'm going to pick all three RCR drivers. Jeff Burton leads all drivers with four Loudon wins, and his 2000 win was remarkable as he led all 300 laps.
  • What to Watch

  • Fast doesn't equal first: Pole-sitter Dave Blaney has been close to winning his first Nextel Cup race several times. Although I didn't pick him as a driver to watch, he has as good a chance as anybody to win the race. I didn't pick him because it's so difficult to win a race that you still look at the teams that have the total package: the best resources and the best pit crews. The No. 22 team has had trouble having a complete weekend and a complete race. We know that he's fast, but you also have to finish the deal.
  • Race dictates strategy: At Loudon, cautions come in bunches, and then you'll see long, green-flag runs. It's a really hard race to call because it's such a hard place to pass. It will come down to the team that makes the best adjustments. The race will dictate whether a team takes two tires or four for track position. It's very hard to go into this race with a game plan.
  • Get it straight: Driving the Car of Tomorrow in April at Phoenix International Raceway — another flat one-mile track — drivers were loose getting into a turn, tight in the middle and loose getting off. Drivers need more forward bite to get off of the corner. They want to be able to get on the accelerator, and — as Jamie McMurray said — "get it straight." Get the car pointed straight so they can make horsepower. Hooking up the car and planting tires to the track to get it pointed straight is the key.
  • Pit Perspectives

    Speed Mail Steve
    Johnson's interim crew chief, Ron Malec, is also a tire changer on the No. 48 team so veteran crew chief Lance McGrew will help Malec call the race. I'm not sure how that traffic is going to work, but McGrew is battle-tested. He won a Busch championship with Brian Vickers, and he's got Cup experience as a crew chief. Plus, he's been with Hendrick Motorsports for many years, which bodes very well for that race team because he knows how to put the organization's wealth of knowledge and resources to work.

    Finish Line

    New Hampshire International Speedway doesn't favor a type of driver. The teams that have won there seem to be the teams that unload the best. When you want to pick a winner, look at the drivers that have been good in qualifying and practice. If you're good when you get to the track, you're typically good in the race. There isn't a whole lot of magic that you can work during a race at the Magic Mile to make your car dramatically better. The driver who will go to victory lane will have won the race at the shop because it will come down to the best-prepared race car taking the checkered flag.

    NASCAR on FOX and SPEED host and reporter Steve Byrnes has covered racing for more than 20 years.

    Tagged: Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman, Dave Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers

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