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 intermediate ovals.  NASCAR's top division heads to the one-mile, flat oval of New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 on Sunday afternoon.  The bull ring at Loudon, N.H., is a true oval with variable banking of two to seven degrees in all turns, and one degree on both straightaways.  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 aerodynamic and easy-passing factors of intermediate 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

We make a return this week to the short-track circuit after a long stretch of intermediate ovals.  NASCAR's top division heads to the one-mile, flat oval of New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 on Sunday afternoon.  The bull ring at Loudon, N.H., is a true oval with variable banking of two to seven degrees in all turns, and one degree on both straightaways.  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 aerodynamic and easy-passing factors of intermediate 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 only time we race at the Magic Mile this season after NASCAR scheduling took away one of the track's two annual dates in 2018.  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 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 15 years or 28 races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Denny Hamlin9.98184856625,917103.6
Kyle Busch12.67545951,1286,187102.4
Jimmie Johnson11.88454632506,57799.1
Kevin Harvick12.47325006926,23398.5
Brad Keselowski11.05993863614,29398.4
Martin Truex Jr.12.36493667445,31495.0
Matt Kenseth11.76853403295,16492.7
Chase Elliott17.219346241,44590.7
Kurt Busch17.07552693635,60089.9
Ryan Newman14.47181773115,66488.2
Ryan Blaney12.12093201,39988.2
Clint Bowyer16.86822595164,65787.0
Erik Jones16.06445465683.0
Joey Logano15.2404971053,36081.7
Daniel Suarez13.89610048475.2
William Byron13.0610032873.9
Aric Almirola19.620976541,05067.6
Austin Dillon17.113414055367.2
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.22.1164101189266.7
Ty Dillon19.318304457.8

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 2012 to 2013 Toyota reeled off three-straight victories at the Magic Mile.  Brad Keselowski's victory in the summer of 2014 broke the Toyota string and set Ford up to win the next two events at the one-mile oval. More recently, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch swept the Magic Mile in the 2017 season and returned Toyota to dominance at the historic short track.  That would last until 2018 when Kevin Harvick won back-to-back Loudon victories for Ford in 2018-19.  Considering that Ford drivers have taken two of the three victories on the short tracks this season, this weekend sets up pretty well for Harvick and his Ford teammates to continue their dominance at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In this event one year ago we witnessed Kevin Harvick wrestle the lead from Denny Hamlin during the final green-flag run to the finish, and cruise the last 35 laps to the victory.  He came on strong late in the event and even used some creative pit strategy to get around the No. 11 Toyota for his fourth-career win at the New England short track.  There were several suitors for the win that afternoon in Loudon, but Harvick would rise above them all.  Hamlin dominated much of stage 3, but could not get around Harvick on the last lap that day.  Given that these two drivers have won three of the last four Loudon races, it's likely to be another battle between the No. 4 Ford and No. 11 Toyota this weekend. 

Among the leading candidates unseat the Hamlin-Harvick duo, are Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.  Both were strong in last season's Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.  They should be players for the victory once again at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  If Chevrolet hopes to revive their winning ways at Loudon, those hopes will primarily rest with Chase Elliott and William Byron.  Neither have won at this short track, but they've been the best short track drivers for the bowtie brand in 2020.  Their odds are long compared to the more experienced short track veterans in the Toyota and Ford camps.  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

Kevin Harvick – The four-time Loudon winner owns 12 career Top-5 finishes in 36 starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  That 33-percent Top-5 rate at this flat oval ranks him among the best in the series.  Harvick has led well over 750 laps for his career at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  Earlier in his career, this wasn't one of his better short tracks on the circuit.  However, the Stewart Haas Racing star has come on strong in recent seasons to reverse that trend.  Three of his four victories at the Magic Mile have come since 2016.  The flat oval in New Hampshire has become one of Harvick's best short tracks in this resume.  He'll be the top contender to defend his two-race win streak at the track this Sunday.  

Denny Hamlin – From an average finish standpoint, the bull rings are by far his most successful and consistent tracks in the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.  The driver of the No. 11 Toyota is coming off big victory this past week at Kansas Speedway, and he'll be looking to build on it this Sunday at the Magic Mile.  Hamlin is a three-time winner at this facility, including his last which came in 2017, and he sports a lofty 39-percent Top-5 rate at the New England short track.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star's last start at this facility saw him battle over the closing laps with Harvick and finish runner-up in last season's Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.  The two will do battle for the win again this weekend.

Martin Truex Jr. – The Joe Gibbs Racing star is coming off second- and third-place finishes in the last three events.  It seems he and crew chief James Small are finally developing some chemistry.  Truex still has a lot to prove on the short tracks, but this weekend the timing could be right for the No. 19 Toyota team to steal their first win at the Magic Mile.  The veteran driver has really upped his game at this oval the last four seasons.  Although Truex hasn't won, he's led a staggering 596 laps in the last six races at this facility.  He's riding a five-race Loudon Top-10 streak into Sunday's action.  Considering that Truex won on the small, flat oval of Martinsville just a few weeks ago, we have to give this driver and team contender status for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

Kyle Busch – Years of inconsistency 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, and he now sits only second to teammate Denny Hamlin in that category with a lofty 102.4 rating.  The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has two pole positions, two victories and four runner-up finishes at the Magic Mile in the last 12 events there.  Those efforts bring his Top-5 and Top-10 rates at Loudon to impressive 39- and 57-percent rates.  In the last visit the NASCAR Cup Series made to Loudon, Busch led a whopping 118 laps and battled for the win before eventually finishing eighth-place that day.  He'll seek career win number four at Loudon this weekend.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Ryan Blaney – Blaney was one of the young drivers who was very impressive earlier this season in his start on the flat short track in Martinsville.  The driver of the No. 12 Ford started on the pole, led 34 laps and battled among the leaders all night before finishing runner-up to Martin Truex Jr.  Blaney failed to crack the Top 10 in his first four starts at the one-mile oval, but he's rallied to post a three-race Loudon Top-10 streak entering this weekend's action.  The young Penske Racing driver turned in his best Magic Mile finish in last July's Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 when he qualified fifth on the grid and finished a strong fourth-place last season. 

Joey Logano – The driver of the No. 22 Ford has been a decent performer on the small ovals in 2020.  Logano led 60 laps and won at Phoenix earlier this season and he followed that up with a strong Top-5 finish at Martinsville in June.  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 11-career Top-10 finishes at the Magic Mile.  He rides a three-race Loudon Top-10 streak into Sunday's race, so the success and consistency have been quite recent.  The Penske Racing driver has been finding some more speed 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.   

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 taken a bit longer to grow his Loudon resume.  Keselowski won the 2014 installment of this event and that adds to a tally that includes four poles, 361 laps led and 12 Top-10 finishes in 19-career starts.  The driver of the No. 2 Ford has four Top 10's in his last five starts at the Magic Mile heading into this weekend's action.  The Top-5 finish at Martinsville earlier this summer is a very good indicator for Keselowski heading into the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

Chase Elliott – The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet has dealt with some inconsistencies of late, but his short track performances this season have been pretty good.  The highlights include a pole and seventh-place finish at Phoenix and a strong Top-5 finish at the flat oval in Martinsville.  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.  Two seasons ago he turned in his best performance at the Magic Mile with 23 laps led a fifth-place finish.  The short tracks have been a real highlight for this young driver in 2020, and we expect Elliott to take full advantage of that fact in Sunday's Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at New Hampshire & solid upside

Aric Almirola – One of the hottest drivers of the past couple months has been Almirola and the No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing team.  He's piled up five Top-5 and eight Top-10 finishes in his last eight events, and collected a series-best 312 championship points over that time.  Almirola is fresh off a strong sixth-place finish at Kansas Speedway and now sets his sights on New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  This veteran driver doesn't have the career-long success at Loudon that some people look for, but his recent outings have been pretty competitive.  Almirola has led a combined 54 laps and collected third- and 11th-place finishes in his last two trips to New Hampshire alone.  Those results are well better than his career averages at this facility.  Almirola is a driver to depend on in his 301-lap battle.        

William Byron – It's been an inconsistent season for Byron at best in 2020.  The young driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet did snap a three-race Top-10 drought with his Top 10 at Kansas Speedway this past week.  Byron will look to keep the momentum rolling with his effort at Loudon this Sunday.  His two-career starts at the Magic Mile have netted respectable 14th- and 12th-place finishes.  Byron's start at the similar flat short track of Martinsville in June is also encouraging.  It was one of his best performances of the season.  Byron peddled the team's Chevy Camaro to a solid eighth-place finish in the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.  He appears to be a Top-10 threat for this race as well.   

Erik Jones – The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has been heating up in recent races.  Jones is coming off sixth- and fifth-place finishes at Fort Worth and Kansas.  The driver of the No. 20 Toyota will look to carry that success over to the short tracks with our visit to Loudon this week.  The New Hampshire oval has yielded two Top-10 finishes in four-career starts to this driver and team.  The last outing was a New Hampshire career-best third-place finish in last summer's Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.  After a slow start to the season, Jones has turned things around.  He's climbed from 18th- to 16th-place in the driver standings in just the last two events, and rides a two-race Top-10 streak coming to New England this weekend.     

Kurt Busch – With three-career victories and a solid 42-percent Top-10 rate at the track, Busch has to consider Loudon one of his best short tracks.  The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has always had success on the series' short tracks.  Good evidence of that was Busch's sixth- and ninth-place finishes at Phoenix and Martinsville this season.  As for his recent success at the Magic Mile, he won the pole position, led 94 laps and finished eighth in this event two years ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  Currently riding a three-race Top-10 streak coming to Loudon, Busch should easily stay on a roll a the one-mile New England short track.

Jimmie Johnson –  Johnson's accomplishments at this oval are nothing short of phenomenal.  He owns three-career wins, 10 Top-5 and 22 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 10's 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 two of the three races on ovals one-mile or less in size, and registered a strong 8.3 average finish across those starts.  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 – Bowman has been wildly inconsistent this season, but he showed some promise this past week at Kansas Speedway. He piloted the No. 88 Chevrolet to a surprising eighth-place finish in the Super Start Batteries 400.  Speaking of surprises, Bowman was a surprise Top-10 finisher at the flat short track in Martinsville earlier this summer.  The Hendrick Motorsports driver slugged his way to a strong sixth-place finish in the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.  That effort dovetails nicely with his steady 14th-place finish at Phoenix earlier this season.  The Loudon short track has been a bit stingy with this driver over the years.  However, Bowman does have steady finishes of 14th-, 11th- and 14th-place in his last three Loudon starts.  There's ample potential for him to collect his first-career Top 10 at this facility this weekend.  

Slow Down – Driver to avoid this week

Clint Bowyer – The wildcard in the deck is Bowyer and the No. 14 Ford team.  They have been up-and-down on short tracks this season, and that gives us some pause coming to New Hampshire.  Bowyer was good at Phoenix and Bristol this season, but he had a power outage at Martinsville.  That performance is our primary concern coming into the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.  Bowyer is a two-time winner at this New England short track, but his last two efforts here have been 35th- and 20th-place finishes the last two seasons.  Those have dropped his career Top-10 rate at NHMS to a subpar 35-percent.  Bowyer is most likely facing a 20th-place finish Sunday, and that's far from fantasy-worthy racing.    

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – While Stenhouse had a lot of optimism coming into the 2020 campaign, this season has been anything but a dream for the veteran driver.  His last four races have all been finishes outside the Top 25 and have dropped him from 19th- to 25th-place in the driver standings.  Stenhouse has had a tough racing career at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  In 12 starts he's grabbed just two Top-10 finishes (17-percent) and his last came way back in 2016.  With an average finish of 22.1 at Loudon, we can't see Stenhouse managing any better than this mark.  At the end of the day it's not fantasy racing-worthy potential.        

Matt Kenseth – Despite Kenseth's truck-load of accomplishments at New Hampshire, we have to stay away from the No. 42 team this weekend.  The veteran driver is a three-time Loudon winner and sports a strong 57-percent Top-10 rate at the New England short track.  However, his rebooted NASCAR career isn't going quite as well as hoped.  Kenseth's 15 starts for Chip Ganassi Racing this season have yielded only two Top-10 finishes and an average finish of 19.5.  The 2020 racing format of no qualifying and no practice is really hurting the 48-year-old driver's ability to improve a car and race competitively in these events.  Based on his Bristol and Martinsville results, Kenseth is likely facing another subpar 20th-place finish this week. 

Austin Dillon – The Richard Childress Racing veteran has had a really nice season so far.  However, short tracks haven't been much of that equation so far.  The No. 3 Chevy team has really made their success in 2020 on the intermediate and larger ovals.  That's something to remember entering the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.  Dillon's career numbers at this facility lack a lot to be desired.  He has just one Top-10 finish in 10-career starts and a 17.1 average finish across the span.  His last two outings at the New England short track have been forgettable with 21st- and 32nd-place finishes the last two seasons.  All indications seem to point to the fantasy racing bench this week for Dillon and the No. 3 team.   

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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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