By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
After taking on Chicagoland Speedway to kick off the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s premier division heads to New England for the second time in 2016 to take on the flat one mile oval that is the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in this weekend’s Bad Boy Off Road 300.
First joining the Cup Series circuit in 1993, the 1.058 mile oval that has progressively banked turns from two to seven degrees is one of the more difficult tracks on the schedule as the flat nature of the track makes track position key with passing at a premium. With the high degree of difficulty that comes with racing at New Hampshire, this weekend’s race will be a key test for the drivers that are competing in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as New Hampshire will play a huge role in determining which drivers are likely to advance to the Round of 12 and which ones will have their hands full at Dover next weekend.
By the Numbers
Race Length: 300 laps, 317.4 miles
Track Size: 1.058 mile oval
July 2016 Race Winner: Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota (Started 18th, 38 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (140.598 mph, 27.090 seconds – 9/21/2014)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings:
- No. 11 Toyota – Denny Hamlin – 103.3
- No. 14 Chevrolet – Tony Stewart – 103.0
- No. 48 Chevrolet – Jimmie Johnson – 100.8
- No. 2 Ford – Brad Keselowski – 99.8
- No. 18 Toyota – Kyle Busch – 97.2
- No. 4 Chevrolet – Kevin Harvick – 96.7
- No. 31 Chevrolet – Ryan Newman – 90.5
- No. 5 Chevrolet – Kasey Kahne – 90.4
- No. 20 Toyota – Matt Kenseth – 90.3
- No. 41 Chevrolet – Kurt Busch – 89.6
Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings:
- Martin Truex, Jr. (Clinched Round of 12 berth with Chicago win)
- Brad Keselowski (+22 points on 13th)
- Kyle Busch (+19)
- Denny Hamlin (+18)
- Joey Logano (+16)
- Chase Elliott (+12)
- Matt Kenseth (+11)
- Jimmie Johnson (+10)
- Carl Edwards (+5)
- Kurt Busch (+4)
- Jamie McMurray (+3)
- Tony Stewart (+1)
- Austin Dillon (-1 from 12th)
- Kevin Harvick (-1)
- Kyle Larson (-2)
- Chris Buescher (-12)
From the Driver’s Seat
“New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a track where you need to be extremely aggressive and extremely conservative at the same time. So you have to be patient and you have to be aggressive. It’s such a finesse track but at the same time the restarts are very critical because it’s hard to pass and you have to know when to go and you have to know when to hold. It’s a fun track. It’s challenging because it’s difficult to pass,” said Ryan Newman.
“The biggest part about Loudon challenge wise for a driver is to make sure the car is good getting into the corner. You need to be able to get in confidently so you get past somebody and that’s a big part of connecting the corner on entry, middle and exit. Entry stability and the ability to commit to a pass and getting into the corner is huge there.”
Last Time at New Hampshire
Though Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. dominated for the majority of the race, leading 133 and 123 laps, respectively, it was another Toyota driver that found themselves in Victory Lane the last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visited New Hampshire.
As Busch struggled to hold onto an eighth place finish and Truex battled shifter problems that relegated him to a 16th place finish, Matt Kenseth charged to the race lead late in the going and held on through a flurry of late cautions to score his second straight win at New Hampshire and third win of the season.
“You’re always pleased to be in victory lane. The farther down the road you get, the better they feel for sure. Thanks to everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing – I’ve said it a million times, but I’m blessed with this opportunity to be over here with the guys I get to work with and my great sponsors – Dollar General and of course can’t do it without Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Interstate Batteries, WileyX, Gatorade. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the team over there made great, great adjustments today. I didn’t do a very good job qualifying and after round one today it was pretty much money, we just had to get there. It was a fun day,” said Kenseth.
Who to Watch
- Denny Hamlin – After winning three races prior to the Chase, Hamlin and his No. 11 team headed into the playoffs with a ton of momentum and got their Chase off on the right foot with a sixth place finish last week at Chicago. Hamlin will be looking to punch his ticket to the Round of 12 this weekend and New Hampshire could definitely serve that purpose. In 21 starts, Hamlin has two wins (2007 and 2012), eight top-five finishes, 13 top-10 finishes, 495 laps led, and an average finish of 10.2.
- Jimmie Johnson – After a late race speeding penalty at Chicago that relegated him from a top-five finish to a 12th place result, Johnson will be looking for redemption at New Hampshire. That redemption has a high likelihood of coming this weekend, where he has three wins (2003 sweep and 2010), 10 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, one pole, 323 laps led, and an average finish of 10.5 in 29 starts.
- Brad Keselowski – Keselowski kicked off the Chase with a top-five finish at Chicago and heads to one of his better race tracks this weekend at New Hampshire looking to win his way into the Round of 12. Keselowski may only have one win at the track (2014), but always finds himself in the mix for the win. Along with his 2014 win, Keselowski has five top-five finishes, eight top-10 finishes, three poles, 348 laps led, and an average finish of 10.7 in 14 starts.
- Tony Stewart – Making his final start at New Hampshire, Stewart will be looking for his fourth win at the track and his second win of the season this weekend. With wins in 2000, 2005, and 2011, as well as 15 top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, two poles, 1302 laps led, and an average finish of 12.2 in 34 starts, Stewart should be able to find himself in the mix this go around in New Hampshire.
- Matt Kenseth – Kenseth rolls into New Hampshire hoping to continue his hot streak at the Magic Mile after winning in his last two outings at the track. In addition to his wins in 2013, 2015 and earlier this season, Kenseth also has nine top-five finishes, 18 top-10 finishes, 305 laps led, and an average finish of 12.3 in 33 starts.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, September 23
- NSCS Practice (11:30 am to 12:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- NSCS Qualifying (4:45 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, September 24
- NSCS Practice (9:00 am to 9:55 am – CNBC)
- NSCS Final Practice (11:30 pm to 12:20 pm – CNBC)
Sunday, September 25
- NSCS Bad Boy Off Road 300 (2:00 pm – 300 laps, 317.4 miles – NBC Sports Network)