Here we are back in action in New Hampshire. Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (2 p.m. ET/NBCSN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) features a ton of storylines around it. Here are the top five.
Back To 1 Race
The first four years that the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series came to New Hampshire, it was a single date annually. From 1993 to 1996, it was always the 16th date on the Cup schedule. Then, in 1997, NASCAR gave the Magic Mile two races a year. It remained that way until this season. NASCAR took away the playoff date and gave it to Las Vegas. That left New Hampshire with one race a year ago which completely changes the way this race in July in ran.
See, in years past, some playoff teams that have already won a race could treat this as a throwaway race. They already knew that they would be in the postseason so they’d work on setups for that playoff race. Now, without a return trip to the northeast track, everyone has to go all in on Sunday’s race.
Toyota’s Race To Lose
Its no secret, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway has become Toyota’s playground. Out of the last six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races on the Magic Mile, Toyota drivers have won five of them. Can they add their ninth New Hampshire victory since 2012 in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301?
Heading into this weekend’s race, Toyota drivers have won each of the last four races on the season and six of the last seven. That dates back to Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte. With how they’ve stacked up heading into Sunday’s race and how well that this group of five have done at New Hampshire in the past, why pick against them?
Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch split New Hampshire wins a year ago. Hamlin, has six straight top 15 finishes at New Hampshire while Busch has eight top 10’s in his last 10 New Hampshire starts. Furthermore, six of those eight resulted in a top three finishes, three of those runner-ups and another two were wins. He led 85 laps in the July race last year and 187 in the September visit. In fact, the July race is where Busch thrives. Over his last six July starts, Busch has led 72, 57, 62, 96, 133 and 85 laps led respectively.
With how this season has gone for him, want to pick against Busch’s No. 18 Toyota?
Their other two teammates have been strong at the 1-mile track too. Daniel Suarez finished sixth and eighth respectively last year there while Erik Jones started in the top 10 in both races but finished sixth in the September event. He’s surging recently and his No. 20 Toyota has visited victory lane at New Hampshire three times since 2013.
You also can’t count out Martin Truex Jr. He’s been up and down but in a hot streak now. Truex, had four top 10 finishes in his first six New Hampshire starts, two in the next 13 then four of the last five. In his first 20 New Hampshire starts, Truex led just 152 laps. 98 of those came in one race alone. But, over his last four starts, he’s led 123, 141, 133 and 112 laps respectively.
His No. 78 Toyota will be strong too. He dominated just last weekend in Kentucky.
Larson Eyeing 1st New Hampshire Victory
After 19 races, it’s clear that Chevrolet’s best shot of winning the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship is through Kyle Larson. He’s been the top Chevy driver all year. While he’s yet to win a race, he’s been close. Now, with this weekend’s race being on a track where pure speed isn’t high on the priority list, this could be his shot to land back in victory lane.
Yes, Larson has never won at the Magic Mile before. Yes, he’s winless in 2018. But, Larson also has four runner-up finishes this season alone. At New Hampshire, Larson has three runner-up efforts in his No. 42 Chevrolet in eight tries.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished second in both races last year as he watched Denny Hamlin win in July and Kyle Busch in September. He was also second in the 2014 playoff race too. Also, in that same 2014 season, Larson came home third in the July race on the northeast track. Moral of the story here, he’s got a shot to finish in the top three again on Sunday. Can he top the Toyota’s is the biggest factor?
Toyota’s have won all but two races on the season since Charlotte in May and five of the last six New Hampshire races overall. Larson, has been their biggest threat in all.
He’s due for a win.
Penske Looking For Past Strength To Come Back
We all know that Sunday’s Foxwood Resort Casino 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway will likely be Toyota dominated. That manufacturer has won all but two races since Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte and has also won five of the last six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at the Magic Mile. But, with how this season has gone, the Team Penske trio are hoping to remain in the hunt.
See, only Joey Logano has stamped his name into the playoffs among the bunch. He did that in his win back at Talladega in April. Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney have been solid enough to remain as wildcard drivers and they hope to remain that way leaving New Hampshire on Sunday too.
New Hampshire overall, has been a solid track for Penske as a whole.
Keselowski, won this race in 2014 and has 10 top 10 finishes in his last 13 starts. All of which resulted in a top 15 day. He was ninth and fourth respectively in the two races last year. Logano, well he was dominant there from 2014 through 2016. His finishes were first, fourth, third and third respectively. Since though, he was 11th, 37th and 10th.
Blaney has been solid too with three top 12 finishes in his last four Magic Mile starts.
All three want to obviously win, but if they can’t beat the Toyota’s, they’ll have solid top 12 days behind.
Paul Menard made major strides in closing the gap on the playoff bubble last weekend in Kentucky while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman struggled. The three of them are separated by just 23 points with only one likely making the playoffs come this fall. The only wildcard left in the regular season is Watkins Glen as I can’t see anyone 16th or further in the standings winning a race other than at WGI before the checkered flag falls at Indy in September. So, the race between these three is starting to heat up and will be an intense fight.