Mash The Gas: New Hampshire Preview

Will it be a battle of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers at New Hampshire this weekendin the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race? [Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images]

Will it be a battle of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers at New Hampshire this weekendin the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race? [Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The second of the ten races that make up the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs rolls into the New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon for the Bad Boy Off Road 300.

Bad Boy Off Road 300
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
317.4 miles (300 laps)
Sunday, Sept. 25, 2 p.m. ET
NBCSN, 1:30 p.m. ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
After the opening round last weekend in Chicagoland, winner Martin Truex Jr., is the only driver who is safe to advance to the next Chase round and those who didn’t perform so well in Chicago will be in desperate need of a good race at New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is a flat one mile oval with characteristics similar to the tracks in Phoenix and Richmond, and these types of facilities have heavily favored the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota teams this season. The Gibbs cars have won all but one of the races held on the shorter flat ovals and they should rule this weekend as well.

In another twist after Chicago, NASCAR has continued to crack down and tweak the post-race technical inspection process and it has already produced plenty of drama with both Truex’s race winning car and the one of Jimmie Johnson having failed the inspection by minimal parameters before having no penalties assessed mid-week. Now all the cars in the Chase will go through the inspection process no matter where they finish.

The Chase drama continues Sunday at New Hampshire with the New England 300 and here are some drivers to watch…

Matt Kenseth (Dan Margetta)
Matt Kenseth was the winner the last time the Series visited New Hampshire in July and he also is the defending champion of this event, having won last fall. In other words, two of his three wins at New Hampshire have occurred in the last two races held here and that makes him a strong favorite for Sunday’s race. Overall at New Hampshire, Kenseth has three victories and nine top five finishes. He also has eighteen top ten results and has only failed to finish one race in 33 starts. Also in his last seven races here, he has racked up six top ten finishes. And…he drives a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, which should be enough to convince you he is one to watch this weekend. Last week a pit road speeding penalty took Matt Kenseth out of contention for the victory but the team battled back for a top ten finish which means he is not desperate this week. However, this team has to be looking at the New Hampshire event this weekend as a prime opportunity to return to victory lane here for the third straight time and advance to the next Chase round.

Denny Hamlin (John Wiedemann)
Denny Hamlin continues to be one of the hottest drivers in the series. Riding a career best streak of nine top ten finishes, Hamlin’s consistency alone is set to drive him through the Chase. Hamlin’s average finish in 21 races at New Hampshire is 10.2, just about where he needs to be to continue his streak. I predict that the streak will continue not with just a top ten but a victory this weekend at New Hampshire. I think Hamlin will beat his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, who will be his main competition, and advance to the next round of the Chase. Hamlin already has two wins at NH (2007 & 2012) and has finished in the top three seven times in his career. He finished second to teammate Matt Kenseth in this race last season, but watch for the #11 in victory lane this weekend.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
It seems every year Kevin Harvick is on the ropes in the Chase and this year is no exception, as Harvick heads into New Hampshire needing a strong finish after a poor pit call last week left him down in the standings. The good news is Harvick is the only non-Toyota driver to win on the shorter flat oval tracks, having barely edged Carl Edwards for the win in Phoenix. Harvick does have a victory at New Hampshire to go along with eight top five finishes and sixteen top ten results. He also has three top five finishes in his last four races here and was a strong fourth back in July. Kevin Harvick needs a strong run this weekend to avoid being on the Chase bubble next week at Dover and the #4 team is plenty capable of running up front. Their Achilles heel continues to be issues from outside the driver’s seat and if everyone on this team finally gets on the same page, they could be very dangerous in the Chase as well as this weekend at New Hampshire.

Chase Elliott (JW)
Earlier this season at New Hampshire, Chase Elliott set the pace in pace in practice, qualified seventh and was running in sixth at the mid-point of the race. Tire issues spoiled a great run by the rookie in his first Cup race at the track and he finished 34th. Fast forward a couple months and Elliott returns to the track currently sixth in the Chase standings, twelve points ahead of dreaded 13th position. This is a great track for the youngster and barring any mechanical issues, Elliott could even contend for the victory here this weekend. With Dover next, a track where he finished 3rd earlier this season, you can write down Elliott’s name in the next Chase round. But you probably should use pencil. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in victory lane in either or both of the this and next week’s races.

Kyle Busch (DM)
Kyle Busch is another of the Gibbs Toyota drivers that have raced very well on the flat tracks this season and is a strong contender to win. Busch has a victory at New Hampshire that came in the summer of 2015 to go along with eight top five finishes and twelve top tens. He also led the most laps in the last race held here in July and won on the bigger flat track at Indianapolis. However there has been a few hiccups with this team over the summer months and while they won the most races in the “regular” season, they have had a few mechanical issues that caused some poor finishes which is something they can’t afford in the Chase. Last season a cool and calmer Kyle Busch mowed through the Chase field to win the Sprint Cup and this year the annoying issues have left him a bit more agitated. They are going to have to improve a bit on that front as the Chase pressure begins to ratchet up and New Hampshire would be a good place to relieve some of that stress with a victory and a pass to the next round.

Carl Edwards (JW)
Fun stat fact: In two out of three races at New Hampshire while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, Carl Edwards led 19 laps – the same number that is on the door of his Toyota. Those two races were last year where Edwards finished seventh and fifth after starting on the pole. Surprisingly, New Hampshire is one track where Edwards has yet to score a win. If he is going to get that first victory, he is going to need to run through his teammates first, they have a combined seven wins at the one mile track. Edwards has an average finish of 13.3 (same as his average start) which ranks in the top ten of current drivers. Currently ninth in the Chase standings after the first event, Edwards is just five points ahead of the thirteenth place driver. I expect a solid top ten run this weekend which should keep him about as safe as anyone in the Chase not named Martin.

Joey Logano (DM)
New Hampshire has been a real good track for Joey Logano as he has two victories and six top five finishes to go along with eight top ten results. In the last two races held here, Logano has finished a very strong third in both and in the two races prior to that he finished first and fourth. That’s four straight top five finishes here with a win included in that list for the Connecticut driver who has to consider New Hampshire somewhat of a “home” track. Joey Logano isn’t in Chase desperation mode this weekend so the team doesn’t need to take any unnecessary risks but if you’re looking for someone to steal the thunder from the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, Logano might be your guy.

Tony Stewart (JW)
He maybe on his way to retirement, but Tony Stewart is in the Chase and he is going to make it interesting. One way to make it interesting would be to win this weekend. New Hampshire is a track that Tony Stewart is very good at and he finished second there earlier this year. Currently on the “bubble” in 12th in the Chase standings, Stewart needs a good run to stay in contention for the next round of the Chase. In his career at New Hampshire Stewart has competed in 34 races with three wins (one shy of Jeff Burton’s record at the track), 15 top five and 19 top ten finishes. Stewart’s average finish in those races is 12.2. Look for Tony to better most of those stats in his final New Hampshire race this weekend.

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