An intense, and extremely eventful, weekend at Daytona set the tone for a big summer run for NASCAR. Drama was seen on the track, as well as outside the track and even in the garage before the race began.
Now, the restrictor plates have been taken off and the big spoilers have been put back on. Only this time, drivers will need a little "magic" to get to victory.
That means it's a trip to the New England states as Loudon, New Hampshire, welcomes the stars of NASCAR to the 1-mile, flat track known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway. A track that has given some great racing, and rather unfortunate memories, has been a grand staple in NASCAR for years.
Last season, one team swept both races at the track, with one beginning his pursuit of a championship. This season, it's just getting warmed up as the Chase run begins.
This has all the writers on edge and some in need of both wins and points, as the Chase means new rules for choosing.
But for this week, things have been finalized. Here's a look at the pool picks for Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301:
Misan Akuya: Ryan Newman
Looks like it has been a bad week for Ryan Newman. He just lost his sponsorship at Stewart Haas racing with the U.S Army much to the delight of a congress lady. But Newman did grab a top five at Daytonawhich was his first top ten in four months. Now the rocketman could use another win to lock himself into a wildcard spot.
Newman won the pole at both races last year and lead the most laps in both races as well. He lead 152 laps and won with his boss and teammate Tony Stewart finishing second who also started second alongside Newman giving Stewart Haas a weekend that most team will never achieve. Newman won at Martinsville another small flat track.
If things can transfer over he will be very fast on Sunday.
James Broomhead: Tony Stewart
Anybody else thinks were headed for another Summer full of Smoke?
Kelly Crandall: Tony Stewart
No reason given.
Billy Fellin: Tony Stewart
It's mid-summer, so of course Smoke will be catching fire here, especially after winning at Daytona last week. He's been money at New Hampshire, posting four wins and has top-5 finishes, including three top-2 finishes in four of his last five at the Magic Mile.
Michael Hirshbein: Kyle Busch
No reason given.
Christopher Leone: Joey Logano
Sure, his Loudon win in his rookie season was a rain-aided fluke, but he's been strong all season, quietly climbed into a Chase spot at Daytona, and Loudon is somewhat of a home track for the Connecticut native.
Kara Martin: Tony Stewart
No reason given.
Ryan O'Hara: Jeff Gordon
He had the winning car in both of the Loudon races last year if not for engine woes and bad luck on cautions. Looking for more wins coming to the Chase.
Dustin Parks: Ryan Newman
Well, it was a high and low week for Stewart-Haas Racing. Tony Stewart took his third win of the season at Daytona, but it cost him as well thanks to the open air duct in the car after qualifying, so penalties were coming no matter what. Then, the Rocketman loses footing, sponsor-wise, as the U.S. Army announced it would not sponsor the No. 39 car after Homestead (I'm sure the congressman and congresswoman are extremely happy there).
In a contract year, that certainly is a huge blow to Newman's agenda. But he returns to the track where he won last season, and had his boss finish right behind him. Chances are, if he wants to make a statement now so he can secure his contract for the next season, now is certainly the time.
Patti Rodisch: Tony Stewart
I was a little torn on this pick as I was leaning more toward a Chevy driver and Stewart Haas Racing dominated here last year, correction- HMS power dominated here last season. Still, I went with Stewart as he has shown strength at this style of track.
After winning his third race of the season last week at Daytona, Stewart has momentum on his side this week. Stewart will notch me my third win in the pool this week at NHMS.
Sal Sigala Jr: Brad Keselowski
No reason given.
Rob Tiongson: Tony Stewart
Could this be shades of 2002, '05, and '11 all in one for Stewart? When he wins in the summer months, like a heat wave in the Midwest, it seemingly seems like there's no relief when NASCAR racing goes up in "Smoke."
Look for him to capture some Granite State magic at NHMS on Sunday, essentially establishing himself not only as a Chase seed contender but the points leader when we get to Chicagoland in September.
Standings following Daytona:
Billy Fellin (664) Matt Kenseth finished 3rd (3)
Sal Sigala Jr. (627) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 15th (1)
Christopher Leone (598) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 15th (1)
Misan Akuya (596) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 15th (1)
James Broomhead (593) Kevin Harvick finished 23rd (2)
Kelly Crandall (589) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 15th (2)
Kara Martin (576) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 15th (1)
Patti Rodisch (575) Matt Kenseth finished 3rd (2)
Rob Tiongson (571) Jeff Gordon finished 12th (3)
Dustin Parks (568) Jeff Gordon finished 12th (1)
Ryan O'Hara (555) Jeff Gordon finished 12th (1)
Michael Hirshbein (524) Kyle Busch finished 24th (1)
Final Thoughts: This track is as flat as Martinsville, but has sweeping corners much like Michigan. It has been a one-groove race track for the most part, and usually provides some excitement despite being one of the shorter oval-track events on the schedule.
So anything is possible, and with the Chase drawing near, it's certain that drivers outside the top-10 will be going after wins, by any means necessary.
It's the final race of TNT's "Summer Series" as coverage kicks off at 12 noon ET on Sunday with Countdown to Green, and then the green flag waves just over an hour later.
Summary of Picks: