This weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Loudon’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the twenty-eighth round of the 2017 championship and the second round of the all-important playoffs; the 2017 ISM Connect 300.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a one-mile oval, nicknamed ‘The Magic Mile’. What makes New Hampshire relatively unique for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is that the speedway is basically flat. The corners have a mere two to seven degrees of variable banking, with the straightaways only banked at one degree.
The circuit opened in 1990 and hosted its first NASCAR Cup Series race three years later in 1993. In the circuit’s fourth year of Cup series competition, NASCAR added a second race at New Hampshire to the calendar.
In the circuit’s forty-three races in the Cup series, twenty-four different drivers have gone to victory lane. Jeff Burton holds the record for most wins at the speedway with four to his name, with Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth leading the way for active drivers with three wins each across the two race events. Newman also holds the record for most pole positions having taken four during his career.
In the last few years, Joe Gibbs Racing has held a stranglehold over New Hampshire. In the eight races held since the start of the 2012 Cup Series, JGR Toyota drivers have won six times; adding up to ten total races won at the circuit in their history.
Last time out:
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last took to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July for their first visit to Loudon of the year. Martin Truex Jr inherited pole position after the previous pole-sitter Kyle Larson was dropped to the rear of the field following post-qualifying technical inspection. Truex would go on to win the first stage.
Kyle Busch would take the lead and the stage two victory mid-race, but two late pit-road speeding penalties would write him out of contention and hand the late-race lead to his team-mate Matt Kenseth.
A late race caution would cause a headache for the leaders as their crew chiefs debated on taking fresh tyres. Kenseth stayed out on track, with team-mate Denny Hamlin taking new tyres that would see him able to usurp Kenseth for the lead and with it, the race win and a spot in the playoffs. The win proved to be crucial for Hamlin’s championship; as his only other win at Darlington would later be encumbered.
The race also proved to be the turning point for Joe Gibbs Racing this year. The win was the team’s first of the 2017 season, with their form noticeably improving in the following events.
Last week’s win at Chicagoland for Martin Truex Jr earned him a guaranteed spot in the next round of the playoffs; despite that fact that he was all but certain of a spot based on a number of playoff points he earned during the regular season. This leaves two opportunities for two more playoff contenders in the next two races to get a confirmed spot in the next round of three.
Chase Elliott took second place last time out and got his playoffs off to a solid start. However, his #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed post-race inspection and the subsequent points penalty dropped him from sixth to eighth in the standings.
Luckily for Elliott, his points drop was lessened due to the fact that many of the other playoff contenders had mid-field finishes last time out. Ryan Newman currently sits last of the sixteen playoff drivers on 2019 points, but Austin Dillon – the first driver above the elimination cut-line – is just seven points on 2026. Between them are Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Kasey Kahne. One strong finish could see any of the drivers move above the cut-line, with Dillon as well as Jamie McMurray and Ryan Blaney currently at risk of falling below should fortunes change.
With Joe Gibbs Racing’s undeniable recent record at New Hampshire; it’s hard to look past any of their drivers for the win this weekend. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth are all former winners who could do the job again; but even Daniel Suarez could have a shot having run reasonably well to take sixth back in July.
Outside of the Joe Gibbs Racing stable, Martin Truex Jr also has to be considered. Whilst the Furniture Row Racing driver has never taken a win at New Hampshire, he started on pole position back in July and led the most laps en-route to third place. Truex also has eight other top ten finishes to his credit throughout his Cup series career.
A race win could also come out of Team Penske. Both Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have recently had wins at Loudon, with the pair winning both races in 2014; Keselowski in the July race and Logano in the fall. The Penske Ford drivers have shown a slight improvement in form over the last few races, just in time for the playoffs. Keselowski is still in contention, however, a win for Logano this weekend would purely be for pride having failed to make the cut.
Track action for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at New Hampshire will be televised by Premier Sports, NBCSN and CNBC this weekend. First practice and Coors-Light Pole Qualifying will take place on Friday. Two more practice sessions will follow on Saturday, with the 2017 ISM Connect 300 finishing the weekend on Sunday.