New Hampshire 300 Preview
September 19, 2017
By Micah Roberts
This year's NASCAR Playoffs can't be that easy, can it?
It's only one race in the Playoffs, but it went almost as scripted with Martin Truex Jr. winning at Chicagoland for his fourth win on six 1.5-mile tracks and fifth overall. The win gives him a pass in the final two race in the Round of 16. He can simply park his car if he wanted, but he won't. He's going to try and pile up more wins and put his stamp on the season in his quest to win his first Cup Championship. He's the overwhelming favorite to win it all at the Westgate SuperBook at 9/5 odds (Bet $100 to win $180), something Kyle Busch agrees with.
“(Martin) Truex, and he showed us last week already," said Busch who is the 11-to-4 second-choice to win it all. "Just the way they've run. Now they're picking it up everywhere they go to. They're a scary team. They're a threat, that's for sure. If you look at, okay, what is Truex's worst track, Martinsville maybe. Probably a sixth or a seventh, that's it. Everywhere else it's a win. That's pretty scary. For us, I think we look at it as every track is a pretty good track. You look at Talladega as just being an unknown. For us, I feel like Texas is probably our worst place just with the repave, trying to figure out what it takes to be fast there.”
The rest of the drivers are going to have to make their mark on different type of tracks like this week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which features a flat 1-mile layout. Of the nine races remaining on the season, four of them will be on 1.5-mile tracks and that's likely going to mean more Truex Jr. Even the Nov. 19 Championship Race at Homestead is a 1.5-mile layout.
But no need to crown Truex yet. Let's at least see how it plays out.
I've been waiting for some drama between the drivers and we got a little bit of it on Friday, albeit coming via Twitter. I guess that's the new way of talking smack in NASCAR. Whatever, I'll take it, because the physical altercations seem like a thing of the past.
Brad Keselowski saw the top-4 speeds in the first Chicagoland practice all being from Toyota and tweeted "We are all in for a rude awakening. Haven't seen NASCAR let a manufacturer get this far ahead since the 70's."
Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, who were both driving one of those top-4 Toyotas, responded with comments of their own and had attached an array of emoji's crying a river. Hamlin basically said "worry about your own program, bro."
The funny part about Keselowski's commentary in the tweet is that Joe Gibbs Racing didn't even win in the first 18 races of the season when Keselowski had won twice, but JGR has now won four in the past nine races and Keselowski hasn't won since April 2 at Martinsville. It's sour grapes and an Internet confrontation, but I'll take it. Better than nothing. Hopefully things get spicier as the stakes become higher; they usually do.
Hamlin should be considered one of the top candidates to win at NHMS on Sunday just because no active driver is better than him there. He loves flat tracks. This is just a bigger Martinsville, but the concept of what makes him successful on a flat paperclip shape is the same. He won his third career race there in the July race and his 10th-place average finish in 23 starts is the best in the Series. Keselowski is next at 10.1 in 16 starts with one win.
Kyle Busch has two NHMS wins over his career and nine Top-5 finishes in 25 starts and leads active drivers with 787 laps led. He was third in this race last season and his last win there was in 2015. At one juncture from 2013-14, he was runner-up three consecutive races. This is a race Busch really likes because of the strategy employed with only 300 miles.
“Essentially, at Loudon (NHMS), you’re looking at how good your fuel mileage is and you have to look at when you have to make your last pit stop, since that’s what everyone looks at," Busch, the native Las Vegan said. "You end up running it almost like a road-course race because you do want to be the first guy on the last round of pit stops to pit. You want to get in there, get your tires and fuel, and then stay out the rest of the race and keep your track position since it’s so important there. It’s just a challenging race because it’s so hard to pass there. You can be two-tenths faster than a guy and not be able to pass him because everyone typically runs the same speed. You’ll have it where the leader might be a tenth (of a second) better than the second-place guy, but everyone is separated by so little that it takes a mistake on someone’s part in order to pass them there.”
There have been lots of different drivers to experience success at NHMS over the years. Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch are all tied with Hamlin's three wins as the most among active drivers. However, I should note that Truex led the most laps (137) during the July race and finished third. He will be a factor again on Sunday.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #11 Denny Hamlin (6/1)
2) #42 Kyle Larson (6/1)
3) #18 Kyle Busch (7/1)
4) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (5/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (10/1)
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