ISM Connect 300 Preview: Toyota's Time to Shine

ISM Connect 300 Preview: Toyota's Time to Shine

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

For 16 Monster Energy Cup Series drivers, the quest for the championship continues this week at one of the circuit's many short tracks. The flat, one-mile oval of Loudon, N.H., sets the stage for the second race of NASCAR's Chase for the Cup. After racing the tricky banks of Chicago, we come to the schedule's version of a change of pace as drivers will have to slow down and battle the track as much as the competition for this second race of 10 that make up the playoffs. Patience is the key to success at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and for these eager, adrenaline-filled drivers, a battle of patience behind the wheel will be as important as racing the competitors on the track.

Those drivers who can race the track and not their opponents will reap the rewards and set themselves up for a run at the championship. If you over-drive a stock car at Loudon, you will likely end up in the wall or other serious trouble, so knowing how to pace yourself and not "force" the car are valuable traits. This second event of the 10-race Chase is one more step towards the first "cut" going from the first to the second round, so performing well in this event is very important. Since short track racing is a skill unlike the racing on intermediate ovals, the drivers who rule the bull rings of the series will have a leg up on the competition in pursuit of the championship.

For 16 Monster Energy Cup Series drivers, the quest for the championship continues this week at one of the circuit's many short tracks. The flat, one-mile oval of Loudon, N.H., sets the stage for the second race of NASCAR's Chase for the Cup. After racing the tricky banks of Chicago, we come to the schedule's version of a change of pace as drivers will have to slow down and battle the track as much as the competition for this second race of 10 that make up the playoffs. Patience is the key to success at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and for these eager, adrenaline-filled drivers, a battle of patience behind the wheel will be as important as racing the competitors on the track.

Those drivers who can race the track and not their opponents will reap the rewards and set themselves up for a run at the championship. If you over-drive a stock car at Loudon, you will likely end up in the wall or other serious trouble, so knowing how to pace yourself and not "force" the car are valuable traits. This second event of the 10-race Chase is one more step towards the first "cut" going from the first to the second round, so performing well in this event is very important. Since short track racing is a skill unlike the racing on intermediate ovals, the drivers who rule the bull rings of the series will have a leg up on the competition in pursuit of the championship. Many of our Chase drivers are skilled short track specialists, so we expect to see the Top 10 filled with championship contending names this Sunday afternoon.

We will be racing at a bull ring for the second time in three weeks, so we expect to see a lot of the same faces running up front this weekend that we saw at Richmond a couple weeks ago. However, NHMS has very flat banking which sets it apart from the higher banks of Richmond. We'll need to take a quick look at the recent history of New Hampshire Motor Speedway in order to get a feel for our driver lineup this week. This track tends to be a facility that spurs streaks so we can put a lot of confidence into the recent numbers at Loudon. Here are the loop stats for the last 25 races at the small oval in New Hampshire.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Denny Hamlin10.07314195495,282104.0
Jimmie Johnson11.17434542505,868100.8
Kyle Busch13.76634097875,29998.8
Brad Keselowski10.25043563493,47898.7
Kevin Harvick12.46394276395,48598.0
Dale Earnhardt Jr.13.77432742115,18096.4
Matt Kenseth11.96433103294,77192.8
Chase Elliott19.310728182792.6
Martin Truex Jr.13.35642855494,46792.5
Kurt Busch16.66942052694,93890.0
Kasey Kahne18.06773722744,74889.3
Ryan Newman15.16121753115,08088.9
Kyle Larson11.716457151,22388.3
Clint Bowyer16.35632515164,06887.9
Daniel Suarez6.0404014886.1
Joey Logano16.2279961042,59580.9
Ryan Blaney16.38414051678.2
Jamie McMurray20.538694183,05473.1
Austin Dillon14.11012039071.1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.20.41129061169.0

New Hampshire Motor Speedway had become a track of surprises in recent seasons. What used to be a quite predictable oval had become a track often won by wild cards. However, with Denny Hamlin's win in the early summer at the Magic Mile, a decided trend has begun to emerge. Toyota drivers have won four of the last five events at the one-mile oval and the last was Hamlin's third-career Loudon victory. For the time being, Toyota has wrestled control of this small race track from Ford and Chevrolet. Our last Chevrolet winner at this oval was Kevin Harvick in this event one year ago. That was one of only two Chevrolet victories at the facility since 2012. So this manufacturer hasn't had much success here recently. Considering that Harvick and Stewart Haas Racing have moved on from Chevrolet and switched to Ford, things good look pretty bleak for the bowtie brand. However, there is always Kyle Larson lurking in that No. 42 Chevrolet, and he represents the best hope for that brand at Loudon.

While some surprises could be in store, it might be just as likely that Chicago winner Martin Truex Jr. comes steam rolling into Loudon and pulls another dominant performance for Toyota at the Magic Mile, or one of his Toyota counterparts at Joe Gibbs Racing could return and pull the big win. Hamlin is poised for the season sweep of this oval. It's not unheard of at this short track, but it hasn't been done since Kurt Busch last did it in 2004. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota is surging at the right time and could be pointed towards his first-career championship this November. JGR put three drivers inside the Top-6 and Hamlin in victory lane here in July, so anything is possible. There are several drivers who perform well at Loudon, and some of those are "Chasers" so you know they'll be racing hard this weekend. We'll turn you onto the drivers that you need to win this second race of the Chase for the Cup this Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Martin Truex Jr. -
Everything the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 team touches seems to turn to gold right now. Coming off his second-career Chicago victory to start the Chase, Truex comes to Loudon on fire. The New Jersey native has been a steady performer at the one-mile oval over the years. He boasts nine Top 10s in 23-career starts at this flat oval. Truex has started on the front 2 rows for his last three New Hampshire races, and he's led over 400 laps in that short span. In July, he claimed the pole, led 137 laps and finished a career-best third at the short track. The time to win his first Loudon race is now, and given the recent outings here, it wouldn't be a surprise at all.

Kyle Larson -
Despite the small sample size, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver sports some strong stats at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Larson picked up third- and second-place finishes at this oval in his rookie 2014 season. His outing here this past July started off poor by failing to qualify, but the CGR star would drive meticulously through the field to claim the runner-up finish. With a pair of victories in his last five starts leading up to this weekend, it's clear that the No. 42 team is in top form with the Chase for the Cup getting started. Larson ran away with the win in our last short track race at Richmond two weeks ago, he could be just as strong again this weekend.

Kyle Busch -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is looking to collect his second championship trophy. He sits fifth-place overall at 41 points behind leader Martin Truex Jr. coming to Loudon this week. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has been pretty strong at this short track over the last five seasons. Busch should get down to some serious business this Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire. He is a two-time winner at NHMS and he has finished first or second at this small flat track in four times since the 2013 season. Busch qualified seventh on the grid here in July and led 95 laps before fading to finish 12th in the Overton's 301. He'll be fast again this weekend.

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin is a statistical leader among active drivers at New Hampshire. In his 23-career starts at NHMS he has been near flawless with three wins, nine Top 5s and 14 Top 10s. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team has recently been trying to gather some momentum, and last week at Chicago we got a glimpse of this team's capabilities. Crew chief Mike Wheeler and Hamlin have really built some momentum over the latter half of the summer. They ride a four-race Top-5 streak into New Hampshire, including the win at the Darlington three weeks ago. Hamlin's last trip to Loudon yielded his third-career win at the track, so the season-sweep of the Magic Mile is on the line.

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

Kevin Harvick -
Harvick comes to the Magic Mile seeking his second Monster Energy Cup Series championship. After a third-place finish at Chicago, the veteran driver is definitely on the offensive entering this ISM Connect 300. He comes to Loudon third in the Chase standings and looking to have a big performance. Harvick is a two-time winner at the flat oval in New Hampshire, and he finishes in the Top 10 at about a 55-percent rate. His July appearance at NHMS yielded a strong fifth-place finish in the Overton's 301. Harvick has led over 700-career laps at this one-mile oval, so he knows how to race up front here. The Chase brings out the best in this No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing team, so we expect Harvick to answer the call this Sunday afternoon.

Brad Keselowski -
The No. 2 Ford team is rounding out nicely into championship-contending form. Keselowski turned in a strong sixth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway this past weekend, and looks to build more momentum and points as we visit New Hampshire for race 2 of the Chase. As the Penske Racing driver has demonstrated over his NASCAR career, he can navigate short tracks with the very best in the series. His ninth-place finish at Loudon earlier this summer would seem to be the floor as far as potential goes for this weekend. Keselowski has one victory and a 63-percent Top-10 rate at the New England oval. The momentum of this driver and team is building coming to New Hampshire, and that's all you need to know entering the ISM Connect 300.

Matt Kenseth -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star was the driver to beat at the Magic Mile for quite a while. Kenseth won three races at the New England short track between 2013 and 2016, but has cooled a bit of late. Kenseth is coming off a workmanlike Top 10 at Chicagoland Speedway this past weekend to start the Chase. This team has struggled in the latter half of the summer, but could be starting to heat up at just the right time. New Hampshire Motor Speedway has yielded five consecutive Top-10 finishes to the driver of the No. 20 Toyota. That has boosted Kenseth's career rate here to 57-percent. While he's not a major threat to win, he's always lurking near the front. If the race turns into a fuel mileage battle, you can almost guarantee Kenseth will be there at the end.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson's quest for an eighth championship may be his toughest challenge to-date. The No. 48 team has not been in race-winning form for the last three months, and the competition is as tough at the top as it has been in recent years. Still, we expect Johnson to challenge for the title and to defend his turf this Sunday afternoon. He has won three times in his career at Loudon, and has managed a stellar 68-percent Top-10 rate at this facility. Johnson has three Top 10s in his last four visits to the Magic Mile. The No. 48 team has shown encouraging strides the last two weeks with a pair of eighth-place finishes at Richmond and Chicago. Johnson should be up to the task of cracking the Top 10 again at the New Hampshire short track.

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

Joey Logano -
The ISM Connect 300 is a great opportunity to roll out Logano in your fantasy racing lineups, and he has performed well on the short tracks this season. He has one win and four Top 10s in the seven events on ovals one-mile or less in size in 2017. That includes his recent runner-up finish at Richmond a couple weeks ago. Logano won this event in 2014 and is a two-time Loudon victor. With eight Top-10 finishes in 18 starts, the Top-10 rate stands a respectable 44-percent. The No. 22 team has had their issues this season, but things have been looking up of late. Riding a two-race Top-10 streak into New Hampshire should sooth everyone's concerns going forward.

Kurt Busch -
If you're willing to gamble a bit, veteran driver Busch should pay great returns this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Stewart Haas Racing star stumbled a bit last week in the Chase for the Cup kickoff at Chicago, but he should rebound nicely in race number two of the Chase. The veteran driver has a great history at this facility and will do his best to revive that tradition this Sunday afternoon. Busch is a three-time winner at New Hampshire and as recently as 2008. He has 14-career Top-10 finishes at this facility and rides a two-race Loudon Top-10 streak into this weekend's action. His last two starts on short tracks yielded Top 10s at Bristol and Richmond, so Busch should have his game face on for this very important race.

Chase Elliott -
The No. 24 Chevrolet team racked up the runner-up finish at Chicago to start the Chase, but NASCAR found them to be in violation of the rules during post-race inspection. The team really got whacked this week by the sanctioning body, and both the crew chief and car chief will be sitting this race out. Still, we expect Elliott to dig deep and make up for that debacle this weekend. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has finishes of 13th- and 11th-place in his last two outings at the Magic Mile. Elliott has been pretty consistent on the bull rings this season with four Top 10s in seven races and an average finish at 11.1. That indicates that he's running on the lead lap and the end of these tough battles, and bringing the car home with good finishes.

Erik Jones -
The Furniture Row Racing rookie saw his six-race Top-10 streak snapped at Chicago last weekend, but he should be able to rally this week at the Magic Mile. Jones' streak included Top-10 finishes at Bristol and Richmond so the No. 77 team has been carving up these small ovals. His appearance here in July saw the young driver qualify sixth on the grid, but crash during the event and finish 39th. There were a lot of lessons learned that day about patience and racing this oval. Jones will show what he learned in Sunday afternoon's 300-lap battle. The rookie driver had been racing among the leaders on a weekly basis for several weeks, and Jones should resume that at Loudon.

Daniel Suarez -
In his New Hampshire debut this past July, Suarez was very impressive. The Joe Gibbs Racing rookie ran among the Top 10 most of the day at the one-mile flat oval, and looked like a driver well beyond his years. Loudon is a tough test for young, inexperienced drivers and Suarez passed with flying colors in his debut at the track. He crossed the finish line sixth at the checkered flag and picked up one of his three Top 10s this season on the circuit's bull rings. That mark may be hard to duplicate given how many drivers are competing in the Chase and racing for the championship now. However, Suarez should still slot somewhere between the Top 10 and Top 15 at day's end this Sunday afternoon.

Clint Bowyer -
Although he's not racing in the Chase, Bowyer has not thrown in the towel this season. The veteran driver is looking to make the No. 14 team better as they prepare for the 2018 season. These final 9 races are a good tune up to make that happen. Bowyer had a very good outing in his last Loudon race. He drove all the way from 19th starting spot to finish seventh in the Overton's 301. That performance snapped a five-race Top-10 drought for Bowyer at the Magic Mile, but was also his eighth-career Top 10 at the facility. The No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing team should be up to the task of replicating that effort in Sunday's second race of the Chase.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Ryan Newman -
The No. 31 Chevrolet team had a tough start to the Chase this past week at Chicago, posting an improbable 23rd-place finish and snapping a four-race Top-10 streak. That cooled off this driver and team in an instant. Despite being a three-time winner at Loudon, it has been the only short track this season to give him problems. Newman finished a distant 27th here in July and that is by far his worst outing on a short track in 2017. It is also a disturbing trend for the veteran driver. His last two outings at the Magic Mile have been finishes outside the Top 20. Even with all that is on the line this weekend, and Newman's strong Loudon history, we have to advise against gambling on this team that is showing some cracks in their armor at the wrong time.

Ryan Blaney -
The Wood Brothers Racing driver has been fantastic this season, but his lone weakness has been the short tracks. Blaney has just one Top-10 in the seven events on ovals of one-mile or less in size in 2017. That was a 10th-place finish at Bristol recently. His average finish on the short track stands at a lofty 24.7 which pales in comparison to his respectable average finish across the full season (18.5). Blaney peddled hard to finish 19th at this oval in July, and he's still 0-for-4 in Top 10s in career starts at this facility. Even with the pressure of the Chase it will be difficult for Blaney to overcome his challenges on small ovals this weekend.

Jamie McMurray -
The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran is a participant in the Chase for the Cup and that's a fact that should not be overlooked in a fantasy racing perspective. McMurray has ridden a strong streak of finishes into this season's playoff. However, he's likely poised for a struggle this Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet doesn't have the best career numbers at this facility. Only seven of his 29 starts here have netted Top-10 finishes (24-percent), and only one of his last five starts at the New England short track has netted a Top 10. Finishes of 19th- and 17th-place have been his recent body of work. That's well below where McMurray has been recently placing, and makes him a downgrade, at least for this week at Loudon.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
It's been a nightmarish season for Earnhardt and the No. 88 team, and it's really a shame that this is how he's wrapping up his long NASCAR career. With only four Top 10s to this point in the season he stands a lowly 22nd in the driver standings coming to Loudon for his last-career start at this short track. Earnhardt led 10 laps here in July, but struggled to an 18th-place finish. That's well below his career marks at the Magic Mile. His 44-percent Top-10 rate at this oval and 15.4 career average finish demand better. Earnhardt is 0-for-7 in Top 10s on the short track circuit this season, with a lofty 23.9 average finish. The No. 88 team will once again be a team to avoid in this second race of the Chase.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
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.
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks selections for the Pennzoil 400 and Bahrain Grand Prix
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks selections for the Pennzoil 400 and Bahrain Grand Prix
NASCAR DFS:  Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube
NASCAR DFS: Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube
NASCAR Xfinity DFS: The LiUNA!
NASCAR Xfinity DFS: The LiUNA!
Pennzoil 400 Preview: West Coast Swing Begins
Pennzoil 400 Preview: West Coast Swing Begins