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NASCAR viewer’s guide: New Hampshire

Watch Dale Earnhardt Jr. react to crucial moments during the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Atlanta.

It’s on to New England for the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series, as they make their annual summer visit to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend.

The ‘Magic Mile’ produced a surprise for the Cup Series last July, when Aric Almirola vaulted from winless and 27th in points to the playoffs with a victory.

Almirola will try to repeat that feat Sunday, but comes to New Hampshire much closer to the cutline than he was a year ago.

Playoff hunt

Almirola is one of two playoff hopefuls that are outside the cutline but within a race’s worth of points to it. The other is Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick.

Harvick is 19 points behind Christopher Bell for the final playoff spot. Almirola is 42 points behind Bell.

Behind them are Erik Jones (-76) and Austin Dillon (-116), whose points deficits put them in ‘win or bust’ mode.

Last year at New Hampshire, it was Bell who chased Almirola to the checkered flag, which came eight laps short of the scheduled 301-lap distance due to darkness.

Should Sunday produce this season’s 14th different race winner, Bell likely would fall out of the top 16 in the playoff standings.

Ryan Blaney (+133 on the playoff cutline) and Martin Truex Jr. (+62) have bigger points cushions to work with. But another new winner would increase the pressure on them, too.

Blaney and Truex finished fifth and 12th respectively last year at New Hampshire.

Rolling along

The two most consistent drivers this season, 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott and Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, will look to keep things rolling along at New Hampshire.

Elliott comes off his third win of the season last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Chastain finished second, albeit after involvement in several incidents - one of which included Denny Hamlin, with whom he clashed with in June at World Wide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis.

The two drivers have earned the most playoff points (Elliott - 20, Chastain - 13) among all drivers. They’re also tied for the most top-10 finishes (13 apiece), which in turn has given them the best average finishes altogether (Elliott - 10.8, Chastain - 11.4).

Elliott has not had great results at New Hampshire during his Cup career. He’s only had one top-five finish there in eight Cup starts. Last year at New Hampshire, he led 53 laps but finished 18th.

Chastain finished eighth in last year’s race at New Hampshire for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Find a rhythm

When NASCAR heads to New England, eyes naturally turn to Connecticut native and 2018 Cup champion Joey Logano.

Logano is locked into the playoffs with wins at Darlington and World Wide Technology Raceway. But they’ve both come within a 10-race stretch where he’s had just one other top-10 finish (ninth at Nashville) and seven finishes of 17th or worse.

He’s also failed to finish three races during that stretch, including last weekend at Atlanta.

With seven races to go before the playoffs, Logano could stand to build some momentum. Could his “home” track be the place to do it?

Logano is a two-time winner at New Hampshire but hasn’t won there since September 2014. He’s posted six top-five and nine top-10 finishes over his last 11 Cup starts there since.

On the other hand, Logano’s only led one lap at New Hampshire since its September 2015 race.

Entry lists

The Cup entry list for New Hampshire includes 36 cars. Along with series regulars, J.J. Yeley is listed in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford and A.J. Allmendinger is listed in the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Allmendinger has made nine Cup starts this season in the No. 16, posting a top finish of ninth in his last appearance at Road America.

New Hampshire Cup entry list

The Xfinity Series’ entry list for New Hampshire includes 39 cars.

Cup regulars William Byron (No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet) and Ty Dillon (No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet) are among those entered, as is NASCAR K&N Pro Series and Euro Series alum Julia Landauer (No. 45 Alpha Prime Racing Chevrolet).

New Hampshire Xfinity entry list

Weekend schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, July 15

Forecast: Intervals of clouds and sunshine. High of 82 degrees and a 16% chance of rain

  • 5:05-6:30 p.m. – Xfinity practice/qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)

Saturday, July 16

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 86 degrees and 5% chance of rain

  • 11:35 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. – Cup practice/qualifying (NBC Sports App, USA Network joins at noon; PRN, SiriusXM)
  • 2:30 p.m. – Xfinity race (200 laps, 211.6 miles; USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM)

Sunday, July 17

Forecast: Possible showers in afternoon. High of 88 degrees and a 35% chance of rain

  • 3 p.m. – Cup race (301 laps, 318.46 miles; USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM)