This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
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 12 years or 24 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.||13.7||525||209||412||4,188||90.6|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||21.3||86||6||0||480||68.5|
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. The parting shot, however, was Kevin Harvick taking his first win at the oval during last season's Chase, and putting Chevrolet back into victory lane at the Magic Mile for the first time since 2012. Now that Stewart Haas Racing is using Ford instead of Chevrolet, it could be that Ford is poised to bounce back at Loudon.
In this event one year ago we witnessed Kenseth out-maneuver the field in what was a caution-filled final 40 laps of this race. He had the right pit and fuel strategy and used it to beat the faster Toyotas of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr for his third-career win at the New England short track. Kenseth led the final 31 laps and cruised to the easy 2-second victory over Tony Stewart. NASCAR returned to the small track in the fall of 2016 and Chevrolet took their first win at the oval in almost four years. Harvick out-battled Kenseth on the final restart and ran away to his first-ever win at the Magic Mile. Given the struggles that Harvick has had this season at getting into victory lane, it could be a real lift for the No. 4 Ford team to visit New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. Among the leading candidates unseat the Harvick-Kenseth duo, are Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. Both were strong in last September's Bad Boy Off Road 300. They should be players for the victory in the Overton's 301. Truex is coming off the big win at Kentucky last weekend, and that should favor the No. 78 team very well. If Chevrolet hopes to continue their winning ways at Loudon, those hopes will primarily rest with Kyle Larson. He's the hottest driver in the series for this camp and he did post a pair of Top-5 finishes his rookie year at this oval. 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 third 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 team to steal their first win at the Magic Mile. The Furniture Row Racing star seemed to figure things out here last season. Although Truex didn't win, he qualified in the Top 3 of each race and led a whopping 264 combined laps. The breaks didn't go his way to take the wins in those events, but he had the speed to dominate. You can guarantee that crew chief Cole Pearn has some tricks of his sleeve this weekend, and Truex is ready to win at this facility.
Kyle Larson – The championship standings leader bench pressed the moon last Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway. Larson would have to race from the back to the front twice in that 400-mile race. The result was a staggering 90 green-flag passes and 51 quality passes in that event, by far the most of anyone in the field. 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. His last start at the one-mile oval netted a Top-10 finish last September. With the speed this driver and team are displaying each week, it's hard not to give Larson contender status each week.
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 at this track as his performances have improved. 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 eight events there. Those efforts bring his Top-5 and Top-10 rates at Loudon to respectable 38- and 54-percent rates. Considering that the Joe Gibbs Racing star was dominant finishing runner-up at the flat short track in Martinsville earlier this season he has to be seen as one of the top contenders this Sunday afternoon.
Matt Kenseth – Kenseth hasn't had a good season to this point, but we have to keep him on the contender radar screen each time we visit the short track at Loudon. He has three-career victories, all since the 2013 season, at the Magic Mile. His last three trips to the facility have netted two wins and one runner-up finish. Kenseth has 19 Top-10 finishes in 34-career starts at the New Hampshire oval. That 56-percent rate is among the elite in NASCAR's top division. The No. 20 Toyota team is mired in a deep slump right now, but they're poised to rebound and even surprise in this 301-lap event. If you've been saving some starts for Kenseth in your weekly lineup fantasy leagues, this is the weekend to deploy the Joe Gibbs Racing star.
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 three 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 looking to break out of a minor slump this weekend, and this is the short track to count on Keselowski to turn in a strong performance.
Kevin Harvick – Our last Loudon winner owns 17-career Top-10 finishes in 32 starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That 53-percent rate at this flat oval ranks him among the best in the series. Harvick has led close to 400 laps in just his last five outings at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. During this recent span he's nabbed one victory and four Top-5 finishes at the Magic Mile. The Stewart Haas Racing star hasn't been lights out on these small ovals this season, but Harvick is good enough at Loudon to grind out yet another Top-10 finish. 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 the Overton's 301.
Chase Elliott – The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet is racing the best of the entire Hendrick Motorsports stable right now. Elliott has three Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in his last six races. He's running well as we pass mid-season and quickly approach the Chase. New Hampshire Motor Speedway was tough on the young driver in his rookie campaign last season. Finishes of 34th- and 13th- showed some improvement, but left a lot to be desired. We believe Elliott will incorporate what he learned this time around. Let's not forget that this young driver had a forgettable rookie campaign at the similar flat oval in Martinsville in 2016. Elliott erased those woes with a brilliant outside pole and third-place finish this spring at Martinsville. He's a quick study, and we believe he'll show what he learned last season in this Sunday's Overton's 301.
Denny Hamlin – Nine of Hamlin's 29-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 fresh off a strong 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 59-percent Top-10 rate at the New England short track. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has Top-10 finishes in two of his last three starts at this one-mile oval. He should be viewed as a strong play for a Top-10 finish and potentially more.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at New Hampshire who can provide a solid finish
Joey Logano – The driver of the No. 22 Ford has been one of the stronger performers on the small ovals in 2017. Logano has one pole, 180 laps led, one victory 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 four Top-10 finishes in his last five starts at the Magic Mile. The Penske Racing driver has struggled of late, but this is the type track that is an equalizer among the field of drivers. Logano should earn a hard fought Top-10 finish this Sunday afternoon.
Jamie McMurray – With McMurray's Top-10 finish at Kentucky this past weekend, he now has 11 Top 10s for the season and three in his last four starts. The surging No. 1 team comes to New Hampshire this week looking to keep this roll going onto a short track. McMurray has decent stats at the one-mile Loudon oval during recent seasons. He has three Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes in his last eight starts at the Magic Mile. Additionally, the veteran driver hasn't had a DNF here since the 2008 season and is running at the end of most every race here. McMurray piloted the No. 1 Chevrolet to a sixth-place finish in this event one year ago, and it's certainly a possibility again in this 301-lap short track battle.
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 and eighth-place finish at Richmond back in April. The veteran driver qualified ninth and raced among the Top 10 for the entirety of that 400-lap event. He finished fifth in his last start at this flat oval last September in the Bad Boy Off Road 300. 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.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – One of the more surprising names this season with short track success through five events is Stenhouse. The Roush Fenway Racing veteran has nabbed four Top 10s in the five events on ovals of one-mile or less in size this season. That includes impressive fourth- and 10th-place finishes on the flat ovals of Phoenix and Martinsville. New Hampshire hasn't been one of Stenhouse's more successful ovals, but he's been pretty respectable there of late. He has one Top-10 and two Top-15 finishes at Loudon in his last three starts at the flat short track. Considering that the driver of the No. 17 Ford has one win, two Top-10 and three Top-15 finishes in his last four races entering this weekend, you have to like the consistency of this driver and team right now no matter what style of track they're racing.
Ryan Newman – Newman and the No. 31 team have been very impressive on the short track circuit in 2017, scoring four Top 10s in the five events to-date. 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 18 Top-10 finishes at the one-mile flat track. That checks in at a strong 60-percent career rate which ranks him among the elite in the Monster Energy Cup Series at this oval. Newman has been inconsistent this season on the intermediate and larger ovals, so he'll be looking forward to this start at the Magic Mile. The chances for a Top-10 finish in the Overton's 301 are above average for this veteran driver.
Erik Jones – This is a weekend for veteran drivers to shine. However, there is at least one rookie in the field who should be poised to have a good afternoon this Sunday at Loudon. Jones has been coming on strong the last few weeks. The Furniture Row Racing rookie has earned three of his five Top-10 finishes in the last five races entering this weekend. The No. 77 Toyota has been strong and the talented youngster has been quite skillful racing among the best drivers in NASCAR each week. Jones has been equally impressive on the short tracks this season. Eighth- and 12th-place finishes at the flat ovals in Phoenix and Martinsville foretell the possibilities for this young driver Sunday afternoon at Loudon.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Jimmie Johnson – Johnson has struggled incredibly since his win at Dover at the beginning of June. He has only one Top-10 finish in the five starts since that victory, and he has two DNF's. The Hendrick Motorsports star is a three-time winner at Loudon, including the victory in this event in 2010. However, more recent outings show a chink in Johnson's armor at this one-mile oval. He has a 50-percent Top-10 rate at Loudon in his last six starts, but he also has finishes of 42nd-, 22nd- and 12th-place in that mix. Years of dominance at this oval are turning less consistent with time. The short tracks in general this season have been a struggle for the No. 48 team. His improbable 15th-place finish at the flat oval of Martinsville earlier this season came at a track where he cracks the Top 10 at a phenomenal 77-percent rate.
Ryan Blaney – While Blaney has been pounding heads into the pavement the last five races (one win and three Top 10s) a return to the short tracks should signal some caution for the No. 21 team. The young Wood Brothers Racing driver has been dynamite this season on the intermediate and larger ovals, but the bull rings have been a huge struggle. Finishes of 23rd-, 25th-, 33rd-, 36th- and 32nd-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. 21 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 will be a struggle for Blaney.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – The NASCAR icon scored a somewhat respectable 12th-place finish this past weekend at Kentucky, and continued to keep us off balance with his uneven performances this season. New Hampshire Motor Speedway has held career-long success for the driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet. Earnhardt's 15 Top-10 finishes in 33-career starts works out to a respectable 46-percent rate. However, he did not race at all at this oval in 2016 due to injury. The Hendrick Motorsports star's last start at Loudon came in the fall of 2015 and was a lackluster 25th-place finish. The short tracks have been tough on Earnhardt in 2017. There have been two Top-15 and three outside the Top-30 finishes through five events. That works out to a 25.4 average, or just about where Earnhardt last finished the last time he raced at the Magic Mile.
David Ragan – Ragan has proved his fantasy racing worth and utility on the larger and intermediate ovals this season. The Front Row Motorsports driver has a pair of Top 10s on the superspeedways, and he's generally been Top 20 or 25 on the intermediate ovals. However, the short tracks have been a puzzle for the No. 38 Ford team. Ragan's five starts on ovals one-mile or less in size this year has netted only one Top-20 finish and two DNF's. The average finish in those five events stands at a swelled 26.2 average. Ragan's 20-career starts at New Hampshire have been no more inspiring. The veteran driver has one Top-10 finish vs. five DNF's in those starts. The 26.8 average finish at the Magic Mile almost mirrors his recent performance on short tracks.