Mash The Gas: New Hampshire Preview

Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson lead the field at the start of the 2014 Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. [Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images]

Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson lead the field at the start of the 2014 Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. [Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to a flat track this Sunday as the New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosts the 5-Hour Energy 301.

5-hour ENERGY 301
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
318.46 miles (301 laps)
Sunday, July 19 1:30pm ET
PRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
New Hampshire is a flat one mile oval that has characteristics similar to the tracks in Phoenix and Richmond and certain drivers have seemed to excel at racing on tracks with limited banking in the turns.

The aerodynamic rules package that was used last weekend at Kentucky is now gone until the Darlington race in September and this week it is back to the rules package used throughout most of the season to date. That should mean that drivers that raced well at Phoenix and Richmond should also perform well here at New Hampshire.

Here are a few drivers to watch in Sunday’s 5-Hour Energy 301 from the New Hampshire Motor Speedway…

Kevin Harvick (Dan Margetta)
Kevin Harvick didn’t fare so well last week under the less down force aero rules but he should love the return of the traditional package this week as he has been the dominating force on the flat tracks of late. He won going away at Phoenix earlier this year and also ran strong at Richmond. His New Hampshire record includes one win to go along with six top five finishes and 14 top ten results. He finished third here in the race last fall and enters this weekend’s event as a 7-2 odds on favorite to win. Harvick and the #4 team should set the bench mark for performance this week and they should be the ones everyone is chasing on Sunday.

Kyle Busch (John Wiedemann)
Well, Kyle Busch didn’t have the chance to race at either Phoenix or Richmond this season. But, those tracks as well as this weekend’s track, New Hampshire, are tracks he runs well at. Looking at Kyle’s results at the 1 mile oval, the thing you notice in starting and finishing positions is a lot of single digits. In 20 races at New Hampshire, Busch has 12 top 10 starts and 10 top 10 finishes including three poles and one win (2006). Busch has won two of the last three Sprint Cup Series races and now finds himself 87 points away from breaking into the top 30. With last week’s win the prediction is he will need to average a 17th place finish in the next eight races to make the Chase. I’m pretty sure Kyle isn’t worried about a 17th place average finish and is just thinking about winning this weekend, the points will take care of themselves.

Kurt Busch (DM)
Kurt Busch has been one of a few drivers to keep Kevin Harvick honest on the flat tracks this season and ironically he is Harvick’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch won the race at Richmond and did not participate in the Phoenix event. His New Hampshire record includes three wins and seven top five finishes among 11 top ten results. Last Fall he finished a dismal 36th beginning a string of events that spiraled his personal life out of control. Busch has come back strong though and he is a definite contender this weekend, coming into the race with enticing 10-1 odds. Kurt Busch may have something to prove this weekend at New Hampshire and he is in a good place to pick up his second win on the season.

Brad Keselowski (JW)
I’m thinking that Brad Keselowski will make some noise this weekend. Last season the Team Penske drivers swept the races at New Hampshire and at this point in the season, they are looking to return to dominance. Keselowski finished 6th last weekend at Kentucky after leading the second most laps of the race, a much needed result after two disappointing race weekends. Both Team Penske driver returned to the fast group with Keselowski 2nd quick and Joey Logano 4th in practice/qualifying. Showing speed in qualifying has been missing since the beginning of the season for drivers but should return this weekend. Keselowski set the track record at NH last fall scoring his third pole position at the track. If Keselowski’s #2 unloads with speed in practice and qualifying, look out.

Kyle Larson (DM)
In just two starts at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kyle Larson has been stellar finishing second and third respectively. While only having two starts here his 2.5 average finishing position is understandably tops in the garage and he enters this race at high 20-1 odds to win. Larson ran well at Phoenix and Richmond where he finished 10th and 12th and he could be looking at New Hampshire as the place to capture his first victory and qualify for the Chase. His performances have dropped off a bit the last few week but he does seem to have a knack for the flat tracks and Kyle Larson could very well be looking at his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory this Sunday. He will definitely be one to watch when the green flag drops.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (JW)
In 31 races at New Hampshire, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has 14 top ten finishes. On Sunday, all Junior has to do is finish 43rd and he will lock himself into a spot in the Chase. It has been a solid season for Earnhardt so far with eight top three runs including two wins to put himself fourth in point totals. Currently seeded third in the Chase Grid, Earnhardt wouldn’t mind a win or two more to rack up some bonus points when the Chase starts. Even though he hasn’t yet won at New Hampshire and didn’t run well at Richmond or Phoenix earlier this season, there is no reason to count him out. Junior has a way of working himself into the mix just when you don’t expect him to, and that could happen on Sunday at New Hampshire. With nothing to lose and a lot to gain with winning, Junior has positioned himself into a fun situation for him where he can completely race for the win.

Jamie McMurray (DM)
Another driver to watch on Sunday is Kyle Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray who is my long shot pick this week. McMurray is listed at 35-1 odds despite having a very good flat track record of late. He finished second at Phoenix, was fourth at Richmond, and finished fourth in the last race contested at New Hampshire last fall. McMurray and the #1 team have been flying under the radar a bit of late but they have been in position to pick up a victory. This could be a surprise winner on Sunday in the 5-Hour Energy 301 so don’t count him out.

Clint Bowyer (JW)
With two wins at New Hampshire, one would think that Clint Bowyer would be a favorite this weekend. But looking at his results in the last year and a half in the series put a damper on that thought. Bowyer is currently in the unenviable position of being on the bubble of the Chase Grid. Add the fact that Kyle Busch is making a hard push to get into the Chase Grid and Bowyer’s position looks worse. Bowyer finished sixth in this race last year and needs that type of run again this weekend. Things have looked better recently for Bowyer as he scored three top ten runs in his last four races and has spent more time near the front of the pack in recent races than he did earlier in the season. It’s all about points right now and Bowyer needs to beat drivers like Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Kasey Kahne to close the gap and climb in the standings.



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