Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 Preview: Short Track Change Up

Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 Preview: Short Track Change Up

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

We make a return this week to the short track circuit after a long stretch of large ovals and road course racing. NASCAR's top division heads to the one-mile, flat oval of New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 this Sunday afternoon. The bull ring at Loudon, New Hampshire is a true oval with variable banking of two to seven degrees in all turns, and one degree on both straight aways. It is a flat track in the purest sense. The handling of the race car is very important at this oval. How the car turns, how it exits the corners and how it holds the turns will dictate the driver's ability to pass or be passed at NHMS. A driver and crew chief's patience is tested to the max at this challenging short track. If adjustments can be made and an ill-handling car can be corrected over the course of a run, that driver and crew chief will reap the rewards of their persistence and patience. A lack of patience will usually end up in a wreck at this short track, as this typically leads to over-driving the car and pushing the speed/handling envelope a bit too far. Considering that the last several weeks leading up to this event have seen the wide open lanes of large ovals, we could see a lack of patience manifest itself this weekend at Loudon. This oval is where the NASCAR adage "race the track, not the competition" was born.
We make a return this week to the short track circuit after a long stretch of large ovals and road course racing. NASCAR's top division heads to the one-mile, flat oval of New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 this Sunday afternoon. The bull ring at Loudon, New Hampshire is a true oval with variable banking of two to seven degrees in all turns, and one degree on both straight aways. It is a flat track in the purest sense. The handling of the race car is very important at this oval. How the car turns, how it exits the corners and how it holds the turns will dictate the driver's ability to pass or be passed at NHMS. A driver and crew chief's patience is tested to the max at this challenging short track. If adjustments can be made and an ill-handling car can be corrected over the course of a run, that driver and crew chief will reap the rewards of their persistence and patience. A lack of patience will usually end up in a wreck at this short track, as this typically leads to over-driving the car and pushing the speed/handling envelope a bit too far. Considering that the last several weeks leading up to this event have seen the wide open lanes of large ovals, we could see a lack of patience manifest itself this weekend at Loudon. This oval is where the NASCAR adage "race the track, not the competition" was born. This short track embodies that statement to the highest degree.

This event is the first of two races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this season. For tips on what we might expect this weekend, look no further than the earlier races at Martinsville and Phoenix. All are flat tracks, and while Martinsville is smaller, the handling, setup and racing are quite similar to Loudon. Phoenix has more speed than NHMS, but the flat track in Arizona boasts some similar characteristics to the oval in New England. While keeping these recent races in mind, it will still be helpful to take a look back at the recent historical statistics at the Loudon oval. The loop stats shown below cover the last 13 years or 26 races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Denny Hamlin10.17544245495,465103.6
Kyle Busch13.26674989745,599100.8
Jimmie Johnson11.27734572506,168100.5
Brad Keselowski9.85313673493,77899.1
Kevin Harvick13.36504306395,63396.5
Matt Kenseth11.66653393295,07093.7
Martin Truex Jr.12.95833216614,75993.5
Kyle Larson10.517992161,52392.5
Chase Elliott17.31362811,06690.4
Kurt Busch17.37062052695,05788.5
Ryan Newman15.06311753115,27188.5
Kasey Kahne18.77023722744,90688.4
Clint Bowyer15.95982525164,29387.9
Daniel Suarez7.0624035484.4
Ryan Blaney14.810614081682.3
Joey Logano15.8298971042,82081.0
Erik Jones22.51733033975.5
Jamie McMurray20.341195183,32873.6
Austin Dillon14.81142045470.7
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.19.91239063468.9

New Hampshire Motor Speedway has turned into a track of streaks the last few seasons. Once a manufacturer gets this place figured out, the teams tend to pile up the wins until the competition catches up and unseats them. From 2009 to 2012 Chevrolet reeled off six straight victories at the Magic Mile. Denny Hamlin's victory in the fall of 2012 broke the Chevy string and set Toyota up to win three-straight at the one-mile oval. More recently, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano's victories here in 2014 turned the streak over to Ford and briefly ended Toyota's dominance at the track. In 2015 and 2016, it was Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota rallying back at the flat short track. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth took three of four Loudon victories in those two campaigns. That Toyota dominance has largely continued, only interrupted by a Kevin Harvick (Chevrolet) victory at the Magic Mile in 2016. Toyota drivers have won the last two, and five of the last six races at the Loudon short track. Considering that Ford drivers (Harvick and Clint Bowyer) won earlier this season at the small ovals of Phoenix and Martinsville, could we be in for a shift in control this weekend? Given those results, one could argue that Ford will likely upend Toyota this Sunday at New Hampshire.

In this event one year ago we witnessed Hamlin wrestle the lead from Matt Kenseth after the final pit stops, and cruise the last 34 laps to the victory. He had the right pit and fuel strategy and used it to beat the faster Toyota of Martin Truex Jr for his third-career win at the New England short track. NASCAR returned to the small oval in the fall of 2017 and Toyota, specifically Joe Gibbs Racing, continued their dominance at the Magic Mile. Busch dominated from the pole and absolutely pounded the field into submission in an impressive performance. He led 187 of 300 laps and cruised to his third-career win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Given Busch's last two weeks of racing at Daytona and Kentucky, it could be a real boost for the No. 18 Toyota team to visit Loudon this weekend. Among the leading candidates unseat the Busch-Hamlin duo, are Kyle Larson and Truex Jr. Both were strong in last September's ISM Connect 300. They should be players for the victory in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. Truex is coming off the big win at Kentucky last weekend, and that should favor the No. 78 team very well. If Ford hopes to get back to their winning ways at Loudon, those hopes will primarily rest with Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Both are two-time winners at this short track, and we can't argue with what they've both done on the bull ring circuit this season. We'll take a look at the loop stats, the past history of New Hampshire Motor Speedway and current trends to determine who will dominate this Sunday afternoon at the one-mile oval in Loudon.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Martin Truex Jr. -
The hottest driver in NASCAR is coming off his fourth win of the season at Kentucky and hopes to keep that momentum rolling as we visit the short track in Loudon, New Hampshire. Truex still has a lot to prove on the short tracks, but this weekend the timing could be right for the No. 78 Toyota team to steal their first win at the Magic Mile. The Furniture Row Racing star seemed to figure things out here the last two seasons. Although Truex hasn't won, he's led a staggering 513 laps in the last four races at this facility. He's riding a three-race Loudon Top-10 streak into Sunday's action. You can guarantee that crew chief Cole Pearn has some tricks of his sleeve this weekend, and Truex is ready to win at this one-mile oval.

Kyle Busch -
Years of inconsistency have marked Busch's record at New Hampshire, but he's been reversing those trends dramatically over the last few seasons. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has also been climbing the driver rating rankings at this track as his performances have improved. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has two pole positions, two victories and three runner-up finishes at the Magic Mile in the last 10 events there. Those efforts bring his Top-5 and Top-10 rates at Loudon to respectable 39- and 54-percent rates. In the last visit the Monster Energy Cup Series made to Loudon, it was Busch who led 187 laps and won from the pole in last September's ISM Connect 300. He'll be ready to defend his turf this Sunday afternoon.

Kyle Larson -
The Chip Ganassi Racing star had to race through the field and fight hard after missing the driver's pre-race meeting, but he rallied and finished ninth at Kentucky Speedway last weekend. Hopefully this week the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet won't have the handicap of starting from the back. Larson likes racing the Magic Mile. He nabbed a pair of Top-5 finishes here his rookie season. Last year he nabbed a pair of runner-up finishes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That brings Larson's Top-5 rate at this oval to a lofty 50-percent. With the speed this driver and team are displaying, it's hard not to give Larson contender status each week. The No. 42 team will be in the mix for the win in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

Kevin Harvick -
The two-time Loudon winner owns 10-career Top-5 finishes in 34 starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That 29-percent Top-5 rate at this flat oval ranks him among the best in the series. Harvick has led well over 700 laps for his career at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. While this isn't one of his better short tracks, Harvick generally penetrates the Top 5 here, and occasionally has a car capable of winning. The Stewart Haas Racing star's win at Phoenix and Top 5 at Martinsville earlier this year are about the best barometers for this event. This is a track for veteran drivers and not for young inexperienced drivers, and that will give the driver of the No. 4 Ford a huge edge in this 301-lap battle.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Brad Keselowski -
When we think of short tracks we normally think of Keselowski. He's known for his Bristol and Dover victories, and he's also known for his solid starts and Top-10 finishes on the other small ovals of the circuit. However, the Penske Racing star has just started building his Loudon resume. Keselowski enters the weekend with the best finishing stats at this oval over the last five seasons. He won this event four years ago and that adds to a tally that includes two poles, nearly 350 laps led and five Top-5 finishes in his last 10 Loudon races. The driver of the No. 2 Ford is riding a three-race New Hampshire Top-10 streak into this weekend's action, and this is the short track to count on Keselowski to turn in a strong performance.

Denny Hamlin -
Nine of Hamlin's 31-career victories have come on the circuit's short tracks. From an average finish standpoint, the bull rings are by far his most successful and consistent tracks in the Monster Energy Cup Series. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota is coming off a couple disappointing performances at Daytona and Kentucky, and he'll be looking for a rebound performance this Sunday at the Magic Mile. Hamlin is a three-time winner at this facility, including this event one year ago, and he sports a lofty 58-percent Top-10 rate at the New England short track. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has Top-10 finishes in three of his last five starts at this one-mile oval. He should be viewed as a strong play for a Top-10 finish and potentially more.

Clint Bowyer -
The wildcard in the deck is Bowyer and the No. 14 Ford team. They have been excellent on short tracks this season, and that teases some pretty big potential at New Hampshire. Bowyer won at the flat Martinsville short track, and he finished a strong sixth at Phoenix earlier this season. He should bring that same speed to the Magic Mile this weekend. Bowyer is a two-time winner at this New England short track, and he nabbed a pair of seventh-place finishes at Loudon last season. We believe the timing could be right for the No. 14 team to swing for the fences this Sunday and potentially come up big. Bowyer is a great fantasy racing play with a ton of upside.

Joey Logano -
The driver of the No. 22 Ford has been a decent performer on the small ovals in 2018. Logano has 94 laps led, one Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes on the tracks one-mile in length and less this season. He has always liked racing at the Loudon short track, and it's shown in his finishes there. Logano is a two-time winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and he has five Top-10 finishes in his last seven starts at the Magic Mile. The Penske Racing driver has been pretty consistent of late, so this is a timely visit to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Logano should earn a hard fought Top-10 finish this Sunday afternoon.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at New Hampshire who can provide a solid finish

Kurt Busch -
With three-career victories and a solid 41-percent Top-10 rate at the track, Busch has to consider Loudon one of his best short tracks. The driver of the No. 41 Ford has always had success on the series' short tracks. Good evidence of that was Busch's strong performance of 98 laps led and 11th-place finish at Richmond back in April. The veteran driver qualified sixth and raced among the Top 10 for the entirety of that 400-lap event. He finished eighth in this event one year ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and it gave Busch two Top 10s in his last three starts at the facility. It might be a stretch to expect a Top-5 finish this weekend, but this savvy short track driver can still deliver a good performance at this oval.

Chase Elliott -
The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet has had an uneven season at best, but his short track performances have been about the best of the bunch. The highlights include a runner-up finish at Richmond and third-place effort at Phoenix, and they form the core of his three Top 10s on ovals of one-mile or less in size. New Hampshire has been a track of gradual improvement for the young Hendrick Motorsports driver. Elliott was very poor here in his rookie campaign, but rebounded nicely here in 2017 to grab a pair of 11th-place finishes. The short tracks have been a bit of an equalizer for Chevrolet drivers this season, and we expect Elliott to take full advantage of that fact in Sunday's Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson's accomplishments at this oval are nothing short of phenomenal. He owns three-career wins, 10 Top-5 and 21 Top-10 finishes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. While those numbers have cooled just a bit in more recent years, Johnson has still posted three Top 10s in his last five trips to New Hampshire. The short tracks have been pretty reliable for the No. 48 team this season, even though they've dealt with some consistency issues. Johnson has visited the Top 10 in three of the five races on ovals one-mile or less in size, and registered a strong 9.4 average finish. Sunday's race could prove to be an event where most don't see Johnson and the No. 48 team coming, and that makes them a valuable fantasy racing asset.

Alex Bowman -
In between the ups-and-downs this season, Bowman has managed to be impressive on the short tracks. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has posted two Top 10s, and three Top 15s in the five short track races of this season. That included Bowman's impressive seventh-place finish at the flat short track in Martinsville, Virginia. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet will be making his seventh Cup start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, so that experience should be starting to pay off. Bowman's last visit to the Magic Mile netted a respectable 14th-place finish in last September's ISM Connect 300. We'd be willing to bet Bowman will be at least that good this weekend.

Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth's five-start experiment in the No. 6 Ford has been a work of patience so far. The rough start at Kansas has given way to one Top-15 and three Top-20 finishes since. While they're still a long way off from making major waves, we have to cast a curious eye towards the veteran driver at one of his better small ovals. Kenseth has made a great career racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His three victories, 12 Top-5 and 21 Top-10 (58-percent) finishes command major respect. He left Joe Gibbs Racing on a six-race Top-10 streak at the oval that included two victories. While he won't be up to that task this weekend, we bet he'll use those short track skills to penetrate the Top 15. Loudon is a driver's track, and you'll be challenged to find a better wheel man than Kenseth.

Daniel Suarez -
This is a weekend for veteran drivers to shine. However, there is at least one youngster in the field who should be poised to have a good afternoon this Sunday at Loudon. Suarez has had some struggles this season, but those have certainly not come on short tracks. He has one Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes on the bull ring circuit. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota showed his love of this oval last season with sixth- and eighth-place finishes at the Magic Mile in his rookie season. Coming off a hard-fought Top-15 finish at Kentucky this past weekend, you can guarantee Suarez is looking forward to racing at Loudon. This could be the event that snaps his current eight-race Top-10 drought.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Jamie McMurray -
McMurray has been at odds with the short tracks all season long. His five starts have produced three Top-20 and two finishes outside the Top-25 on the bull ring circuit for a 21.2 average finish. The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has better short tracks in his resume than New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Only seven of McMurray's 30-career starts at Loudon have netted Top-10 finishes. That works out to a lowly 23-percent rate. Only one of his last six trips to New England have brought home a Top-10 finish for the No. 1 Chevrolet team. McMurray appears to be racing towards a low 20s finish this Sunday afternoon, and that's not quite helpful enough to warrant fantasy racing consideration.

Ryan Blaney -
Blaney has been like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season. He's really had very little consistency, but can still turn in big performances between the disappointments. The young Penske Racing driver has been dynamite for the most part this season on the intermediate and larger ovals, but the bull rings have been a real mixed bag. Finishes of 16th-, third-, 35th-, 22nd- and eighth-place have been Blaney's body of work on the ovals of one-mile and less in size this year. Those finishes came despite pretty good qualifying efforts in those events. Speed has not been a problem for the No. 12 Ford team this year, but Blaney's maturity and patience has been an issue. No track in NASCAR embodies the statement of "racing the track" more than Loudon. It could be a real struggle for Blaney Sunday at New Hampshire.

Paul Menard -
Considering that Menard is coming off a pole position and 13th-place finish at Chicago three weeks ago, and a strong 11th-place finish at Kentucky this past weekend, it's difficult to call the slump this week. However, that's exactly what we're doing. The intermediate ovals have been kind to the veteran driver this season, but the short tracks not so much. That seems to match recent history for the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford team as well. Menard has a pair of Top 15s, but he also has three finishes outside the Top 20 on the short track circuit this season. That works out to a 24.0 average finish across the five-race span. Loudon has not been an oval of success for Menard over the years. 22-career starts have yet to offer a Top-10 finish, and his average finish at the Magic Mile stands at a subpar 22.9.

Erik Jones -
The surging youngster will cool off a bit at Loudon this weekend, and it won't be those cooler New England temperatures to blame. Jones has been a near-lock for Top 10s on intermediate ovals this season, but the Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has been less effective on the short tracks. Finishes of ninth-, 17th-, 26th-, 13th- and 18th-place still work out to a decent 16.6 average, but well below his intermediate oval average of 8.9 this season. Jones has the potential to bust this prognostication to pieces, but we'd prefer to err toward the more conservative side. Keep the No. 20 Toyota team benched this week, and redeploy Jones later in the schedule on a cookie cutter oval.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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