LOUDON, N.H. – NASCAR ventures into the Land of Lobster for some wicked action-packed racing this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This is the first, of two, stops to the New England track during the summer heat.
With seven races left to decide the top-16 drivers to make the Playoffs, the “win and you’re in” option seems more and more attractive to those far enough outside the points cutoff. For those above the cutoff, the key is to survive to stay there.
New Hampshire is a fast one-mile track with multi-level banking and demands a different driving style than most other tracks. Because it is a true oval that doesn’t have a dog leg on the front stretch like most of the 1.5-mile tracks, getting into Turns 1 and 3, and out of Turns 2 and 4, are the keys to keeping forward momentum going and not washing up in those turns.
“Loudon is a Martinsville-like short track,’’ Kyle Busch said. “It’s a little more spread out, but there’s some rooting and gouging going on because it’s a one-lane track and everybody fights for that particular groove.”
Another new 2019 Cup winner?
In the past few races, Alex Bowman and Justin Haley won their first-ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. Kurt Busch made a return to Victory Lane last week with his new No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
If past success at New Hampshire is a factor, then look no farther than the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Kevin Harvick. Still winless this year, he won this event in 2018 as his sixth, of eight, trips to Victory Lane last season.
His 11 top-five finishes at New Hampshire ties him with Kurt Busch for most among active drivers. He has 19 top 10s in 35 starts – tying him with Ryan Newman for second-most in Sunday’s field. Harvick’s finished in the top-five in four of the last five races.
Harvick is ranked third in points and is the only driver in the top nine without a victory this year.
Another to keep an eye on, and would benefit from the “win and you’re in” theory, is seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson. The three-time New Hampshire winner hasn’t visited Victory Lane since Dover, Del. in 2017.
He’s finished in the top 10 in four of the last six visits to Loudon and won the pole position for the 2016 summer race. He finished 10th here last year and is ranked 15th in points
Ryan Newman is in a new ride this year driving the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. He’s been having good results the last month and sits only a mere two points out of the Playoffs. New Hampshire has been a good track for the ever-competitive driver.
His three wins ties him with Johnson, Harvick, both Busch Brothers and Denny Hamlin for most among active drivers. His seven Busch Pole positions leads the series for most at the track. He won from two of those poles (2002 and 2011) and is the only driver to do that multiple times.
He comes to Loudon only two points behind Erik Jones, who holds the 16th and final Playoff qualifying position.
“We want to be in the Playoffs and have a shot at the championship,’’ Newman said. “There are two ways of doing that. We want to lock ourselves in with a win, but we haven’t had the performance this year to be in the top-five consistently in order to do that.
“I feel like we have made progress and I look forward to getting back to these race tracks a second time and show the experience we have gained as a rookie team. It has been a new experience and we have hopefully shown some progress when we get to these places.
“The goal is always to win, but if you can’t win or don’t think you can win, you hopefully get yourself in on points and show enough progression to win in the Playoffs and keep moving up.’’
Sunday is race day at 3 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBCSN-TV and heard on PRN Radio
Xfinity Action is on Saturday
The NASCAR Xfinity Series takes part in the action-packed weekend with all eyes on the domination of Joe Gibbs racing at New Hampshire.
They lead all teams with eight wins, four consecutively, and are the defending winner’s with Christopher Bell taking the checkers last season. Bell will be leading the JGR brigade this weekend as the 24-year-old will be joined by teammates Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton.
Bell made his series track debut last season starting second and winning the event. Bell’s teammate, Jones, has made three starts at New Hampshire, posting a best finish of sixth last season.
Burton is back in the No. 18 Toyota for the third time this season, making his series track debut. If JGR history is on his side, he could be the one besting Bell for the checkers.
But, if SHR driver Cole Custer has anything to say about that, he can let his stats speak for him. He is currently third in points with a series high four poles and five wins, six stage wins, 10 top fives, 11 top 10s and has collected 31 Playoff points.
Oh, and one other stat in Custer’s favor, he earned his first-career NASCAR national series win at New Hampshire in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2014 at the age of just 16-years old.
Race time for them is Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN-TV and PRN Radio.
The Truck Series is off this weekend, but will return to racing next weekend at Pocono Raceway.