This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
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 challenger to the contender 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
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 challenger to the contender 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 23 races at the small oval in New Hampshire.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||13.5||703||273||201||4,989||97.4|
|Martin Truex Jr.||14.0||512||165||271||3,889||88.6|
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 Matt Kenseth's win in the early summer at the Magic Mile, a decided trend has begun to emerge. Toyota drivers have won six of the last eight events at the one-mile oval and Kenseth himself has won three of the last six. For the time being, Toyota has wrestled control of this small race track from Ford and Chevrolet. Kenseth has won two-straight at Loudon and completely reversed his career trend at this New England short track. Our last Chevrolet winner at this oval was Kasey Kahne in 2012. That was one of only two Hendrick Motorsports victories at the facility in the last seven years. So this super stable hasn't had much success here recently.
Championship contender Kevin Harvick will hope to reverse that trend for the Chevrolet camp and make his first trip to victory lane at the Magic Mile since way back in 2006. 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 his Toyota counterpart Kenseth could return and pull the season-sweep at Loudon. 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. 20 Toyota is regrouping at the right time and could be pointed towards his second-career championship this November. 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
Matt Kenseth – The king of the hill at the Magic Mile is Kenseth. Until someone beats him, we have to give him that due respect. 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 gone from a real struggle to a real joy for him over the last three seasons. Kenseth has three victories in his last six starts at the one-mile New England oval. That includes the last two in-a-row. With a win this Sunday afternoon, Loudon could be the rallying point Kenseth needs to challenge for the championship.
Kyle Busch – The Joe Gibbs Racing star is looking to defend his 2015 championship. He sits seventh overall at 12 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 four 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 of the last seven events here. Busch qualified on the outside pole here in July and led 133 laps before fading to finish eighth in the New Hampshire 301. He'll be fast again this weekend.
Kevin Harvick – Harvick comes to the Magic Mile seeking his second Sprint Cup Series championship. After a subpar finish at Chicago, the veteran driver is definitely on the offensive entering this New England 300. He comes to Loudon 13th in the Chase standings and looking to have a big rebound. Harvick is a one-time winner at the flat oval in New Hampshire, and he finishes in the Top 10 at about a 52-percent rate. His July appearance at NHMS yielded a strong fourth-place finish in the New Hampshire 301. Harvick has led close to 400 laps in his last four starts at this oval alone. The Chase is like the biggest "reset button" there is in the world of NASCAR, and racing for a championship can turn all things positive. Harvick's urgency to get back into the championship picture should fuel a very strong run at the Magic Mile.
Martin Truex Jr. – Everything the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 team touches seems to turn to gold right now. With wins at Darlington and Chicago in the last three races, 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 seven Top 10s in 21 career starts at this flat oval. Truex finished eighth in this event one year ago. The veteran driver returned to the Magic Mile this July and brought his fastest car ever to the famous short track. Truex qualified third and led 123 laps before some bad luck denied him a shot at victory lane in the closing stages of the race. Luck has decidedly turned the other way for Truex entering this very important race.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Brad Keselowski – The No. 2 Ford team is rounding out nicely into championship-contending form. Keselowski rides a nice four-race Top-10 streak that includes three Top-5 finishes coming to Loudon, and now set up well heading into the second race of the Chase. As the Penske Racing driver showed at Darlington just a few weeks ago, he can take over and dominate a race at any time. He finished 15th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway earlier this season, but that is the exception to his historical record at the Magic Mile. Keselowski has one victory and a 57-percent Top-10 rate at the New England oval. The momentum of this driver and team is huge coming to New Hampshire, and that's all you need to know entering the New England 300.
Denny Hamlin - Hamlin is a statistical leader among active drivers at New Hampshire. In his 21 career starts at NHMS he has been near flawless with two wins, eight Top 5s and 13 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 begun to click in the final third of the season. They ride a nine-race Top-10 streak into New Hampshire, including the win at the Richmond short track two weeks ago. Hamlin's last trip to Loudon yielded a solid ninth-place finish. He will do much better than that in Sunday's New England 300.
Jimmie Johnson – Johnson's quest for a seventh championship may be his toughest challenge to-date. The No. 48 team has not been in race-winning form for the last couple 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 66-percent Top-10 rate at this facility. Johnson has two Top 10s in his last four visits to the Magic Mile. The No. 48 team has shown encouraging strides the last two weeks, and they should be in good shape for this trip to Loudon. He should be up to the task of cracking the Top 10 again at the New Hampshire short track.
Joey Logano – The New England 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 won this event in 2014 and is a two-time Loudon victor. Logano's most recent trip to NHMS in July saw the Penske Racing star qualify sixth on the grid and finish third in the New Hampshire 301. The veteran driver of the No. 22 Ford carries a four-race Loudon Top-5 streak into Sunday's contest. Considering all the variables, and the pressure to perform in the championship chase, the upside and Loudon history with Logano is just too good to ignore.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Loudon who can provide a solid finish
Chase Elliott – The No. 24 Chevrolet team has had their ups-and-downs this season, but Elliott has held pretty strong leading into the Chase. The rookie's third-place finish this past week at Chicago to kickoff the Chase for the Cup is good evidence of that. While Elliott has struggled a bit on the circuit's short tracks, we expect to see a much sharper driver in his second visit to the Magic Mile this weekend. He qualified seventh on the starting grid here in July, so speed was not a problem. We expect his luck to equal his speed this time around.
Ryan Newman – The No. 31 Chevrolet team has had a pretty tough season. Newman missed the cut for the Chase and he's only posted a lowly eight Top 10s to this point in the season. However, the veteran driver has posted some good finishes at his very best tracks. The second race of the Chase is a great venue for Rocket Man. Newman is a three-time winner at Loudon, and he sports a 62-percent rate of cracking the Top 10 at the New Hampshire short track. The Richard Childress Racing veteran has Top 10s in his last two starts at the Magic Mile. Newman seems to find ways to get to the front at this one-mile oval, no matter the circumstances.
Kurt Busch – If you're willing to gamble a bit, veteran driver Busch could pay great returns this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Stewart Haas Racing star has spent most of 2016 exceeding expectations and the Chase for the Cup should be no different. The veteran driver has a great history at this facility and will 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 12-career Top-10 finishes at this facility and the last as recently as last season. His last start on a short track yielded an eighth-place finish at Richmond two weeks ago, so Busch should have his game face on for this short track battle.
Kasey Kahne – The No. 5 team's revival continued at Chicago last week. Kahne racked up his ninth Top 10 of the season and third-straight leading into the Chase. While the Hendrick Motorsports veteran is not in the championship playoff, he'll continue to post good runs as a tune up for next season. Kahne has a bit of an inconsistent history at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with only a 36-percent Top-10 rate here. However, he does have one-career victory at this oval and he cracked the Top 10 at the one-mile track as recently as this event one year ago. We expect the No. 5 team to stay on a roll and race with the leaders this Sunday afternoon in the New England 300.
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 didn't go as well, with struggles that led to a subpar 17th-place finish. With a victory and three Top-5 finishes in his last four 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 posted a strong runner-up finish in our last short track race at Richmond two weeks ago, he could be just as strong again 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. His four Top 10s and six Top 15s in the last six events have firmly placed the No. 1 Chevrolet team in the mix for a deep run into the Chase. McMurray's record at this New England short track has improved dramatically in recent seasons. Three of his seven-career Top-10 finishes at the Magic Mile have come in just the last six events there. That includes his impressive sixth-place finish here in July. McMurray should be a Top-10 performer again in the New England 300.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Carl Edwards – With the other three teams of Joe Gibbs Racing performing well right now, it's a bit perplexing to see Edwards' recent struggles. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has failed to crack the Top 10 in his last three races, and he's posted those subpar finishes on some of his better ovals. New Hampshire Motor Speedway has been a pretty decent venue for the Joe Gibbs Racing star, but some inconsistency at this short track has marked his 12-season career. Only two of his last five visits to Loudon have netted Top-10 finishes. Edwards' most recent performance here in July only netted a disappointing 20th-place finish.
Paul Menard – The Richard Childress Racing veteran has 10 years of racing experience at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. However, the results have just never improved or moved along for the driver of the No. 27 Chevrolet. In 19-career starts Menard has no Top-10 finishes and only three Top-15 finishes. It all adds up to a career average finish of 23.0 at the Magic Mile. His last Loudon outing was a slightly above average 18th-place finish in July's New Hampshire 301. Considering this driver and team's current level of performance, a Top-20 finish this Sunday would be highly unlikely.
Aric Almirola – It's been a nightmarish season for Almirola and the No. 43 team. The Richard Petty Motorsports veteran missed the Chase for the Cup and is poised to post career-lows in Top-10 finishes and standings ranking. Almirola limps into Loudon mired in a season-long Top-10 drought and just looking for anything positive. New Hampshire Motor Speedway hasn't been one of his better tracks over the years. With two Top 10s in 12 starts he checks in at a lowly 17-percent rate. Almirola hasn't visited the Top 10 in his last three trips to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Tony Stewart – Smoke is a three-time winner at the Magic Mile and has 19-career Top 10s to his credit. That speaks volumes of his history at this one-mile oval, but it's his most recent racing that concerns us the most. After a nice summer hot streak, the No. 14 team seems to have fallen back into a rut entering the final third of the season. Stewart has no Top 10s in his last five events, and three of those have resulted in finishes outside the Top 30. Only one of his last four starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway has netted a Top-10 finish. The record is far too inconsistent to pin any fantasy racing expectations on in this crucial event.