NASCAR Starts Second Half At New Hampshire Motor Speedway

The second half of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series schedule begins Sunday in New Hampshire (Noon ET, TNT) with the running of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, and last week gave some signs that we might see a repeat of 2011’s finish.

Tony Stewart struggled through the first half of 2011, just as he has this year, lamenting bad luck and staring up in the standings. Last year he managed to qualify for the playoffs and eventually won the championship. After struggling through this year, with inconsistent performances surrounding a couple wins, Stewart racked up a win last Saturday night in Daytona. His three wins lead the circuit, he’s moved up to fifth in the standings and is positioning himself for another big second half run.

Speaking of positioning, it’s going to be vital for this week’s race. That’s the word of TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR guru, my brother Bill. “It’s a very flat track,” Bill said of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “There’s no banking and because of that it’s tough to pass.” The lack of banking on the side requires drivers to exercise more caution on the turns, thereby increasing the importance of early position.

Clint Bowyer is a driver who’s had success in this venue, the only two-time winner here over the past five years (there’s also a race run in September). Bowyer is running 10th, marking him the last driver to automatically qualify for the playoffs before the two wild-card selections and a strong finish on Sunday would obviously aid his cause considerably.

One driver who’s going to require a lot more than a little push here in the second half is Jeff Gordon. “If he didn’t have bad luck this year he’d have no luck at all,” Bill said of the famed driver who’s running 17th and is likely to need multiple wins just to get wild-card consideration. Last Saturday was a case in point. Gordon was running a good race, sitting on third, was cruising into a pit stop when a wreck he had nothing to do with caught him in its crosshairs and ended his night.

Matt Kenseth remains atop the standings and by a widening margin, as he’s out to a 25-point lead on Dale Earnhardt Jr and with only ten races to go before the playoffs, Kenseth is well situated to hold the #1 seeding position, which in racing means a higher point total when the postseason begins.