Set in Loudon, NH – New Hampshire Motor Speedway is one of the flattest tracks the Cup circuit visits. “The Magic Mile” is just that, barely over the threshold of one mile. A dark cloud hung over this place for a while, as a result of some happenings in the year 2000. In a Busch Series (now Xfinity) practice session, tragedy struck when Kyle Petty’s son, Adam, died as the result of a throttle sticking down the straightaway, head-on into the wall between turns 3 and 4. Kenny Irwin Jr., with the Cup Series, had a similar fate when they visited a few months later. In response, the NASCAR brass slapped restrictor plates on the cars to keep the speeds down, and Jeff Burton went wire-to-wire in the Dura Lube 300. The departed drivers are definitely missed (Petty wears a hat with a black piece of tape across the #45), and Burton’s win was the first (and last) time a race has gone without a lead change in NASCAR’s Premier Series( since the 1970s when Cale Yarborough did it twice). Safety measures have improved immensely since then – namely SAFER barriers installed in 2003. Could we be in for another dominating race in the fashion of Burton and Yarborough? Truex flat out crushed it last week at Kentucky for max points, seems like another epic performance could be on deck for someone else tomorrow.
Here’s what to look for:
–Kurt Busch was fastest in Friday’s Qualifying session and will lead the field to the green. A tough hill to climb for the Elder Busch though; some solid success back in 2008-2010 (when he got his last win here), but it’s been nothing like that since then. Fall 2010 through Summer 2016 saw nothing but double digit finishes here, but he followed that up with a 5th and 8th. His last run here ended early, 37th after crashing out halfway last year. However, he’s never started 1st, and we’ll now find out what sort of finish that yields.
–Martin Truex Jr. claims this as one of his home tracks. Also Pocono. And Dover. Can you have ’em all? I’m not sure, but that doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. What does is his performance there: a 12.9 average finish, ten Top 10s (in 24 attempts, two of those in the form of a 3rd and 5th last year); not the best, but he’s riding the high of a shellacking at Kentucky, and success in NASCAR usually breeds more success. Outside Pole for the #78, and fastest in Happy Hour.
–Kyle Busch was quickest in first Practice, and led the first two rounds of Qualifying before settling in 3rd. He won the 2017 Fall race here, too. That’s got to help when you’re the last guy to take the checkers at a track, right? Just a 13.2 average finish, but three wins. Wins are great.
–Denny Hamlin was our 2017 Summer winner, leading 54 of 301 laps. He started 8th for that one, this time he rolls off 4th. He’s shown great fear of large crustaceans and the ceremonial lobster that shows up in Victory Lane at the end of the race, but that won’t stop him from trying to get there again. 10.1 average finish, and three wins for Hamlin, too.
–Daniel Suarez will be making just his third Cup start at New Hampshire tomorrow, but his first two attempts have gone pretty well. In his rookie campaign, Suarez finished 6th and 8th respectively, greatly improving on where he started each of those races. He’ll start 9th tomorrow, the best of each of those. Suarez is also the third Joe Gibbs Racing driver on this list; something in the water over there when they head to New England.
Coverage of the race starts on NBCSN at 1:00pm – green flag scheduled for 1:15pm, moved up an hour, to get ahead of an expected weather front moving in.