By David Morgan, Associate Editor
New England here we come.
A week removed from a thrilling showing on the high banks at Atlanta, the NASCAR Cup Series heads back to a flat oval this weekend for Sunday’s running of the Ambetter 301, as the march to the end of the regular season continues on.
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.
Thus far this season, the Next Gen car has been hit or miss on the flatter tracks, so how it will perform this weekend is somewhat of an unknown.
Just seven races remain until the end of the regular season with three Playoff spots still up for grabs and a number of winners from last season still winless at this point in the year. Among those are some of the previous winners at New Hampshire, including Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola, who stole a win at this track in 2021 to punch his ticket to the postseason.
301 laps on Sunday will tell the tale on how everything will shake out at the Magic Mile.
By the Numbers
What: Ambetter 301, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 20 of 36
Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Loudon, New Hampshire (First race: 1993)
TV/Radio: USA 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 stage: 70 laps; Second stage: 115 laps; Final Stage: 116 laps
July 2021 Race Winner: Aric Almirola – No. 10 Ford (Started 22nd, 25 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 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 104.0
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 102.3
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 99.6
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 98.1
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 94.8
- Christopher Bell – No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 93.9
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 91.9
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 90.6
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 88.8
- Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 88.8
From the Driver’s Seat
“I feel like the short tracks, this car has been kind of harder to pass and I think guys know that now,” Chase Briscoe said. “Especially now that we’ve ran a couple of ’em. So, I think you’re definitely going to see more aggression and I think Loudon’s going to be a handful just from how rough the racetrack is in this car, getting on the limiters and things like that.
“I think into Turn 3 is going to be so rough in these cars. Kind of like we had at Fontana where the cars are just bouncing all over the place, coming off the ground, almost, with the rear tires. I think it’ll be the same at Loudon… Into [Turn] 3 in the simulator, it’s like ripping your teeth out. It’s bad. So, it’ll be interesting when we get there for real, how bad it is because I feel like the simulator doesn’t even show how bad it really is. In the old car, it was rough, so this car I think, would be really, really rough, for sure.
Last Time at New Hampshire
The 2021 edition of the NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire started off on the wrong foot when rain moved in shortly after the green flag dropped, causing a crash on Lap 7 involving polesitter Kyle Busch and others.
One hour and 41 minutes later, the race resumed, with Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski winning the first two stages of the race.
However, as the final stage played out, the looming sunset brought a new challenge due to the lack of lights around the one-mile oval.
Aric Almirola worked his way to the front at the right time, keeping his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford up front for the final 20 laps of the event, which was called eight laps from the finish due to darkness.
“This is by far one of my favorite racetracks,” Almirola said. “I love coming up to the New England area and racing. I love this racetrack. I had this race won a couple years ago and I gave it away. I lost it, and I am so glad to win a race here with this race team. God is so good. We’ve been through so much and I’ve just stood the test and kept the faith.
“The team, everybody, they’ve just been working so hard…There have been so many people that have just continued to support us through the crappiest year ever, and, man, this feels so good for them. My pit crew, they did a phenomenal job on pit road. All the guys that work on this car, they just keep fighting. They just keep digging, bringing the best race car they can bring every week and it is no doubt, we have struggled, but, guess what? We’re going playoff racing.”
Christopher Bell was hot on Almirola’s heels when the race was called, having to settle for second place and wonder how things had played out over the final eight laps.
“I didn’t know how may laps they cut it short, but definitely whenever I saw the board and saw that we were eight laps short, it stings man,” Bell said. “I felt like I probably had a little better pace than him and I was able to get to him. I know lapped cars were giving him a bad time, but I was able to get to him. It was going to be a heck of a race, but really proud of everyone on this Rheel Pristine Auction Camry.”
The remainder of the top-five went to the Team Penske trio of Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Blaney.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, July 16
- NCS Practice (11:35 am (Coverage starts at Noon) – USA Network)
- NCS Qualifying (12:20 pm – USA Network)
Sunday, July 17
- Ambetter 301 at NHMS (3:00 pm – 301 laps, 318.46 miles – USA Network)