This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
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 is where the NASCAR adage "race the track, not the competition" was born. This short track embodies that statement
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 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 11 years or 22 races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
|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||501||123||148||3,614||87.1|
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. Last season, it was Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota rallying back at the flat short track. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth took both Loudon victories in 2015. So will Toyota extend their dominance here or will it be a new manufacturer and driver to win this weekend?
In this event one year ago we witnessed Busch outduel both Kevin Harvick and Keselowski in the closing laps at the New England short track. He had the right pit and fuel strategy and used it to beat them both and a handful of other strong teams. Busch led the final 49 laps and cruised to the easy victory, his second at the New England oval. NASCAR returned to the small track in the fall of 2015 and Toyota continued their win streak at Loudon. Kenseth out-smarted the field and Kevin Harvick to lead the final 3 laps in a fuel mileage race to his second-career Loudon victory and second in a row for manufacturer Toyota at this facility. Given the struggles that Kenseth has had this season at getting into victory lane, it could be a real lift for the No. 20 Toyota team to visit New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. Among the leading candidates unseat the Toyota camps, one-time New Hampshire winner Keselowski and his teammate and two-time Loudon winner Logano immediately come to mind. They should be players for the victory in the New Hampshire 301. Keselowski is currently riding a two-race win streak coming to New Hampshire, and that bodes well for the No. 2 team. If Chevrolet hopes to get back into victory lane at Loudon, those hopes will primarily rest with Stewart Haas Racing star Harvick. It's been a long dry spell for this manufacturer at the flat oval, but it could end Sunday afternoon if Harvick can get on a roll. We'll take a look at the loop stats, the past history of NHMS 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
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 four seasons. He won this event two years ago and that adds to a tally that includes three poles, well over 300 laps led and five Top-5 finishes in his last nine Loudon races. The driver of the No. 2 Ford is on a roll coming to New England with two-straight wins, and he may add another in Sunday afternoon's clash at the Magic Mile.
Kyle Busch - Years of inconsistency have marked Busch's record at New Hampshire, but he's been reversing those trends quickly the last few seasons. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has also been climbing the driver rating rankings in this track has his performances have bettered. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has one pole position, one victory and three runner-up finishes at the Magic Mile in the last six events there. Those efforts bring his Top-5 and Top-10 rates at Loudon to respectable 36- and 50-percent rates. Considering that the Joe Gibbs Racing star won at the flat short track in Martinsville earlier this season he has to be seen as one of the top contenders this Sunday afternoon.
Kevin Harvick - Harvick owns 15-career Top-10 finishes in 30 starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That 50-percent rate at this flat oval ranks him among the best in the series. He led 216 laps and had the victory almost in-hand at NHMS last September as his fuel tank ran dry just 2 laps shy of the finish in the Sylvania 300. The Stewart Haas Racing veteran has a whopping 287 laps led on the short-track circuit so far this season, with a Phoenix victory in his back pocket. Harvick has led close to 400 laps in just his last three outings at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. We should see a consistent and strong No. 4 Chevrolet throughout Sunday's 301-lap battle.
Joey Logano - The driver of the No. 22 Ford has been one of the stronger performers on the small ovals in 2016. Logano has one pole, 27 laps led and two 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 finishes of first-, third- and fourth-place in his last three trips to the Magic Mile. The Penske Racing driver should continue to build on his short-track success this weekend and challenge for the win in Sunday's New Hampshire 301.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Denny Hamlin - Eight of Hamlin's 27-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 Sprint Cup Series. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota is fresh off a steady performance at Kentucky and he should ride that momentum into New Hampshire this Sunday afternoon. Hamlin is a two-time winner at this facility, and he sports a lofty 40-percent Top-5 rate at the New England short track. The Joe Gibbs Racing star led 21 laps and finished runner-up here last September. He should be viewed as a strong play for a Top-10 finish and potentially more.
Jimmie Johnson - The Hendrick Motorsports star is a three-time winner at Loudon, including the victory in this event in 2010. He has finished in the Top 10 in six of the last eight races here, including a sixth-place finish in the fall of 2015. To underscore his abilities on flat short tracks, we need only look to his 12 combined Martinsville and Phoenix victories. The No. 48 team will be looking to rebound from their struggles at Kentucky Speedway this past weekend, so his eighth Top-10 finish of the season is very likely this Sunday afternoon at the Magic Mile.
Matt Kenseth - Kenseth hasn't been the lifetime performer of choice at this facility, but he's been redefining his abilities since the move to Joe Gibbs Racing. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota has already won on a one-mile oval this season with his surprising victory at Dover in the spring. The JGR star's Loudon resume is good as well. Kenseth has 17 Top-10 finishes in 32-career starts at the New Hampshire oval. Since moving to Gibbs in 2013, he's padded his New Hampshire stats with two wins and five Top-10 finishes in six starts at the Magic Mile. That includes his surprising victory here last September in the Sprint Cup Series' last visit to the New Hampshire oval.
Carl Edwards - With Edwards' surprising runner-up performance at Kentucky Speedway last weekend, there are some signs of life stirring in the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. This veteran driver doesn't have great career numbers at the Magic Mile, but his performances have turned north of late. Edwards won pole positions in both Loudon races last season and claimed seventh- and fifth-place finishes. He's never posted a DNF at this historic short track, and that's across 23-career starts. Edwards has finished on the lead lap of every Loudon race since the 2011 season. That bodes well for this driver and team with some newfound momentum.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at New Hampshire who can provide a solid finish
Kurt Busch - With three career victories and a solid 40-percent Top-10 rate at the track, Busch has to consider Loudon one of his best short tracks. The driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet has always had success on the series' short tracks. Good evidence of that was Busch's strong performance and third-place finish at Bristol earlier this season. The veteran driver qualified 26th, but charged to the front to lead 41 laps and be in contention for the win at the Tennessee short track. He finished 10th in this event one year ago at New Hampshire, and we bet he'll be at least that good this time around. Busch will look like the short-track driver of old at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this Sunday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - The NASCAR icon has never been a top performer at this small oval, but he's been coming on stronger in later years and building the consistency we look for in fantasy racing. Earnhardt has four Top 10s in his last five trips to New Hampshire and that has only bolstered his career Top-10 rate to 46-percent overall (15 in 33 starts). His last start at the one-mile oval in this event one year ago netted a hard-fought and impressive fifth-place finish. The No. 88 team has a lot on the line as the series comes to Loudon, so Earnhardt should be at his best.
Chase Elliott - The rookie driver is looking to get back in a groove this weekend after some tough weeks at Sonoma, Daytona and Kentucky. Short-track racing should be just what the doctor ordered for the No. 24 team. Elliott has been consistent and impressive in his short-track outings this season. He has a pair of Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in five starts on ovals of one-mile or less than size. Elliott will be making his Sprint Cup Series debut at Loudon this Sunday, but not to worry. He's seen this oval in two prior Xfinity Series starts and claimed Top-10 finishes in both those starts. The Magic Mile could prove to be some good tonic for the currently struggling rookie.
Ryan Newman - Newman and the No. 31 team have been coming on in the last couple races. That's a good sign for the RCR veteran coming to one of his favorite short tracks. Newman owns some impressive Loudon stats. He has three-career victories and 17 Top-10 finishes at the one-mile flat track. That checks in at a strong 61-percent career rate which ranks him among the elite in the Sprint Cup Series at this oval. A surging Newman should be licking his chops for a start at New Hampshire this week. The veteran driver should claim his third Top 10 in the last four races after the checkered flag waves this Sunday afternoon at the New England short track.
Kyle Larson - With only four-career starts the sample size is small, but the results have been respectable none-the-less. Larson made his debut at the Magic Mile two seasons ago and opened some eyes with a pair of impressive performances. The CGR driver led 14 laps and finished a brilliant third-place in this event two years ago. Larson returned in the fall and one-upped that performance with an even more impressive runner-up finish in the Sylvania 300. The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has a pair of Top-5 finishes on short tracks this season, so he should be poised for another good Loudon performance.
Trevor Bayne - The Roush Fenway Racing driver has been improving on the short tracks this season. Bayne has historically struggled on the small ovals, but he's beginning to turn that around in 2016. He has a fifth-place finish at Bristol and a 10th-place finish at Dover this season, which is considerably better than he's ever finished at those tracks. While Bayne has only two-career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he showed great improvement in his last start here last September. He claimed a respectable 16th-place finish in the Sylvania 300. We expect Bayne to be a Top-15 threat again in Sunday's New Hampshire 301.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Aric Almirola - The Richard Petty Motorsports veteran has had a tough 2016 season. Almirola has yet to crack the Top 10 this season in 18 starts and sits a lowly 25th in the driver standings coming to the Magic Mile. When we combine his struggles with his Loudon record it becomes clear that he's a driver to avoid in fantasy lineups this weekend. In 11-career starts he has only two Top-10 finishes and an average finish of 21.3. Almirola's short-track performance this season have checked in around a 27.8 average finish. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the No. 43 team this weekend.
Martin Truex Jr. - While he's been an ace among aces on the intermediate ovals this season, Truex has struggled to be relevant on the short-track circuit. He does have two Top 10s in those five starts, but they were tail-end Top 10s. The average finish checks in around 12.8, which is not that bad in and of itself. Still, there is a clear and discernable downgrade in power and performance when the No. 78 team visits the bull rings. Truex's last four starts at the New Hampshire short track have only netted one Top-10 finish. There are better weeks to deploy Truex to get the most bang for the buck. Save his starts in weekly lineup leagues for a late-season push on the intermediate ovals.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. - Stenhouse has truly been the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Sprint Cup Series this season. One week he'll post an impressive and surprising performance, and then he'll follow the next week with a disappointing finish or DNF. Consistency has been hard to come by for the No. 17 team. Stenhouse has seen most of his struggles on the circuit's short tracks, while his highlights have mostly come on the intermediate and larger ovals. His Loudon resume shows one Top-10 finish in six-career starts and a 22.7 average finish. The numbers point to a struggle to crack the Top 25 this week at the Magic Mile. Don't expect any Hail Mary's from Stenhouse this week.
Paul Menard - The Richard Childress Racing veteran is having one of his toughest seasons since becoming a Sprint Cup Series regular. One Top-10 finish is all Menard has been able to claim in the first half of NASCAR's season. That places him 23rd in the driver standings coming to New England this week. Prospects for a rebound or upturn in performance at Loudon are slim. In 18-career starts Menard has yet to crack the Top 10 at this oval. That places his average finish at 23.3 here. While recent outings at NHMS have been improved in recent seasons, it's not enough to warrant fantasy racing consideration this Sunday afternoon.