By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After a rare Thursday night race last weekend at Kansas, it’s back to regularly scheduled programming as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s running of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.
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.
As has been done in previous trips to the Magic Mile, traction compound will be applied in the turns, with all but the second groove getting dosed in an effort to improve passing during the 301-lap race.
For the third time since NASCAR returned to racing, Aric Almirola will start from pole after a random draw set the field earlier in the week. Denny Hamlin will start alongside, with Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch rounding out the top-five starters.
Just seven races remain in the regular season with a number of Playoff berths still up for grabs, so a good showing Sunday will go a long way in making the postseason a reality for those drivers on the bubble and the ones currently on the outside looking in.
By the Numbers
What: Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 20 of 36
Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Loudon, New Hampshire (First race: 1993)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 3:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.058-mile oval
Banking: 12 degrees in turns, 2 degrees on straightaways
Race Length: 301 laps, 318.46 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages: 75 laps each; Final Stage: 150 laps
Fuel Window: 75-80 laps
July 2019 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford (Started 14th, 41 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (27.090 seconds, 140.598 mph – 09/21/2014)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at New Hampshire:
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 103.6
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 102.4
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 99.1
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 98.5
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 98.4
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 95.0
- Matt Kenseth – No. 42 Chevrolet – 92.7
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 90.7
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 89.9
- Ryan Newman – No. 6 Ford – 88.2
From the Driver’s Seat
“It’s a challenging track and has honestly become more of a challenge for me since they’ve put the PJ1 down,” said William Byron. “It was already a slick track, but with the traction compound it almost has more of a slick feeling. You’re also on the brakes hard at New Hampshire and there’s a lot of bumps under braking. Managing all those bumps and oscillations in the track is important as well. Some guys are really good at that and it shows in their ability to make speed. I think understanding what your car needs to be able to do to run well there is the key.
“New Hampshire is a really line sensitive track already, but the traction compound makes it even more so especially with the way the marbles accumulate outside the preferred groove. I think as a driver you try to keep your car within that line that is really fast but also try to give the best feedback you can on how to adjust. Thankfully you can manage the line more though as the race goes on. Typically, with our race cars, as soon as rubber gets laid down the groove starts to widen out and the room for error becomes greater. You can drive the car a little bit looser at that point. We just have to see how the track progresses and keep up with it.”
Last Time at New Hampshire
Unlike this season, in which Kevin Harvick has won four races, the four-time New Hampshire winner came into the 2019 running of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 with a goose-egg on the season and a 21 race winless streak that he desperately wanted to break.
A dominant run by Denny Hamlin was thrown for a loop when Kyle Larson spun in Turn 2 on lap 266, bringing pit strategy into play for the final run to the finish.
Rodney Childers made the call to keep Harvick on track, while Hamlin and his team elected to make a trip down pit road for right-side tires. The differing strategy calls vaulted Harvick to the lead and dropped Hamlin to fourth place for the upcoming restart.
Harvick took off with the lead when the green flag flew with 29 laps to go, but Hamlin was quick to follow in his tracks, moving up to second-place in short order and setting his sights on the defending New Hampshire winner.
The two drivers remained 1-2 when the white flag flew, but it was still anyone’s race as Hamlin got into Harvick’s rear bumper entering Turn 1, shoving Harvick up the track. While Hamlin was able to pull alongside Harvick, he wasn’t able to clear him as the two started down the backstretch for the final time.
Entering Turns 3 and 4 heading back to the finish, Harvick pulled his Ford to the bottom of the track, taking the shortest route around, while Hamlin moved to the outside, making use of the traction compound to try and get around him and take the lead in the final moments of the race.
Ultimately, Harvick would be able to hold the advantage as the two made contact off Turn 4, beating Hamlin to the line by .210 seconds to take the victory.
“We’ve run well enough a few times this year to win, but we’ve just made mistakes and to finally battle and get over that hump is a great day for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing and everybody on the 4 car,” Harvick said. “I was really questionable about how that was gonna go and the thing took right off. The only thing that wasn’t good was we got the traffic and my car started pushing.
“I knew that he was gonna take a shot. I would have taken a shot. I stood on the brakes and just tried to keep it straight. I just didn’t want to get him back from the inside and let him have another shot. I wanted to at least be in control of who was gonna have contact in turn three and four. It was a heck of a finish, closer than what we wanted, but it was our only chance. I would have never done it, but that’s why he’s on the box and not me.”