The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series somehow got the race in on Sunday as we only waited for about two hours past the original scheduled green flag to get the race started. When it did, we were treated to a thrilling 301 Laps of action in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Here are my top five takeaways.
NBC Getting Treated To Thrilling Finishes
Since NBC Sports took over the broadcasting rights for the 2018 NASCAR season, nearly every race has seen a thrilling ending. It all started at Chicagoland when Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson had a late race battle for the ages. Larson got into Busch on the final lap and Busch retaliated en route to an edge of your seat win.
The next week in Daytona, Erik Jones passed his former teammate Martin Truex Jr. on the last lap of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 for his first career Cup Series victory.
On Sunday, Busch and Kevin Harvick had a thrilling battle in the closing stages of the race on the Magic Mile in which Harvick pushed Busch out of the way with eight laps left to give NBC Sports three thrilling finishes in four weeks.
Just imagine what could be coming the rest of the way.
Harvick’s Win Over Busch More About Bigger Picture
When Harvick was told to get by Busch at all costs in the end, it wasn’t just about going for another trophy. Yes, a lobster is a cool gift to receive in victory lane, but this has bigger implications. This had playoff points written all over it.
If Busch won, he’d have 35 playoff points compared to Harvick’s 27. But, if Harvick could get by, that would be an big swing.
His win give him 32 playoff points now compared to Busch’s 30. Those extra five points could be needed at some point in the playoffs, which is why we saw the move Harvick made on Busch.
This new format NASCAR adopted was the only reason why Harvick didn’t pack it in.
Toyota’s Momentum Halted On Sunday
Heading into Sunday’s race, Toyota had won the last four consecutive Cup races on the season and six of the last seven. At New Hampshire, they had won five of the last six overall there too and combined to lead 97.1-percent of the overall laps at the Magic Mile since 2016.
They were even dominating all the speed charts this weekend too.
But, Harvick’s Ford stole the win for just the second non Toyota winner in the Granite State since 2015.
Toyota drivers only led 119 of the 301 laps on Sunday.
Big 3 Dominate, Playoff Spots Becoming Clearer
We’re now 20 races into the 2018 season and it’s looking more and more like no one other than Harvick, Busch or Truex are going to win again over the final six regular season races. I mean, they’ve won 15 races already and if you take out the restrictor plate races, they’re 15-for-17. With no plate races left in the regular season, good luck stopping them.
Harvick now has six wins in 2018 while Busch has five. Truex, is next best with four. If you go back to this very race last year, they’ve won 26 of the 38 races. Four of those races were on plate tracks, so they’re really 26-for-34.
Good luck stopping them.
On the bottom half of the standings, it’s becoming clearer who’s going to be among the top 16 competing for the title. Aric Almirola is 13th and 150 points ahead of the cutoff. He’s not really in any danger. Jimmie Johnson is one spot below him but still 97 points clear. His teammate Chase Elliott is one spot behind Johnson and 95 points up. Barring a disaster, none of those three are in the danger zone.
Alex Bowman leads Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by 28 points for the final spot. Stenhouse, is slumping with five straight finishes outside of the top 15. Menard is the next one out, 29 points behind. He has one top 10 finish over the last eight races. Newman (-74) and Suarez (-94) likely need to win.
With how this season and the last 42 races overall have gone, good luck winning a race if you’re not named Harvick, Busch or Truex.
Hendrick’s Winless Streak Extends To A Full Year, But Promising Times Coming
It’s now been one full year since Hendrick Motorsports last visited victory lane in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Kasey Kahne last won for the storied organization in the 2017 Brickyard 400.
That was July 23, 2017.
Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 was July 22, 2018. So, on Monday, a date with no race, marks the one year mark since Kahne’s last win. That’s why Hendrick needed to send one of their four drivers to victory lane on Sunday to ensure that their longest winless streak since 1985 didn’t happen.
Unfortunately, it did.
But, it’s not like all is lost. This weekend was actually a pretty decent weekend for the organization as a whole as all four drivers were respectable all the way through.
Chase Elliott even won a Stage on Sunday giving Chevrolet three in total for the season. He was also second in the first stage too. Elliott, led 23 laps on Sunday to earn his first top five finish in a month (4th at Sonoma). He was in contention all day and finished fifth in his No. 9 Chevrolet.
He wasn’t the only Hendrick driver in the top 10 either.
Jimmie Johnson earned his first top 10 finish since an eighth place run at Pocono in early June finishing 10th in his No. 48 Chevrolet. He came home third and eighth respectively in the stages too. Johnson, hasn’t won in 42 races but Sunday was a day that looked more like himself again. He was in the top 10 in two of the three practice sessions this weekend too.
Alex Bowman had a great points day in bringing his No. 88 Chevrolet home 11th for his fourth top 11 in the last five races on the season. He now holds a 28 point advantage on the final playoff spot with just six races to go in the regular season. Bowman, was in the top 11 in all but one session this weekend, including qualifying.
Rookie William Byron finished 14th for his best finish since a 13th place result at Michigan last month.
As you can see, it wasn’t a win but HMS is feeling like they secured a victory as they were competitive all day and put all four cars in the top 15. That’s the first time that they’ve done that all year.