New Hampshire key storylines: JGR success, Hendrick rebound, Tyler Reddick’s surge
Before NASCAR goes on a two-week break for the Tokyo Olympics, there’s one more race to run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
It’s also a historic race for the “Magic Mile” - the 50th race featuring NASCAR’s premier division there. Rusty Wallace beat fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin to win the inaugural event July 11, 1993.
New Hampshire’s flat, 1.058-mile circuit is a cornerstone of the Northeast’s racing culture, especially for the Modified crowd. For those drivers, it’s effectively their Daytona.
However, it’s much different for the Cup contingent. Passing is a challenge, so maintaining track position - whether on performance or on strategy - is a top priority.
One team in particular has mastered the art of staying up front there ...
For a while now, it’s been established that to win at New Hampshire, you have to beat Joe Gibbs Racing.
In all but one of the last 15 Cup races at New Hampshire, a JGR driver has finished first or second. That stretch includes seven victories.
Additionally, JGR drivers have led in all 15 of those races for a combined 1,981 laps - 44% of the total laps during that stretch.
If there’s a place for JGR’s Denny Hamlin finally to get his first win of the season, New Hampshire is it. Hamlin has recorded three wins and six runner-ups (including the past two races there).
A victory could go a long way toward holding off Kyle Larson for the regular-season championship and claiming 15 valuable playoff points.
Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. also look poised to do well Sunday. Busch has four consecutive top-three finishes, including a runner-up last week at Atlanta.
Truex still seeks his first Cup win at New Hampshire but has finished no worse than seventh in his last six appearances. A third place last year matched his career-best finish at the track.
Christopher Bell also is picking up the pace recently with a second at Road America and an eighth at Atlanta.
Last year at New Hampshire, Bell was enjoying a top-10 run for Leavine Family Racing before suffering a flat tire in Stage 2. A second flat tire relegated him to 28th.
Harvick, Keselowski need a “hit”
JGR’s body of work at New Hampshire is impressive, but the team hasn’t won there since September 2017 with Kyle Busch.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was victorious at New Hampshire in 2018 and 2019. Last year, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski took home the lobster.
Both Harvick and Keselowski have been on extended heaters at New Hampshire.
Harvick has three victories and six top fives in his last seven races at New Hampshire. As for Keselowski, he’s earned five top-10 finishes in his last six starts at New Hampshire.
But Harvick is still winless in 2021. And Keselowski, like the rest of the Penske stable, is seeking to recapture the early season form that enabled him to win the April 25 race at Talladega.
Down on performance, can Harvick and Keselowski take advantage of New Hampshire’s emphasis on track position and handling to contend Sunday?
It’s been a while
Hendrick Motorsports drivers have been the standard-bearers this summer in the Cup Series. But the four-car stable hasn’t solved New Hampshire in a long time.
The team’s last win at New Hampshire was all the way back on July 15, 2012 with Kasey Kahne. None of the team’s active drivers - reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman - had made their Cup debuts yet.
But while on a 14-race winless streak at New Hampshire, Hendrick already has halted extended skids at several tracks this season.
Racing Insights conveniently shows us where:
- Ended a 23-race winless streak at Richmond when Alex Bowman won this year
- Ended a 13-race winless streak at Las Vegas when Kyle Larson won this year
- Ended a 12-race winless streak at Pocono when Alex Bowman won this year
- Ended a nine-race winless streak at Sonoma when Kyle Larson won this year
Last year at New Hampshire, Elliott led the team with a ninth-place finish. Byron finished 11th. Jimmie Johnson finished 12th in the No. 48 car now occupied by Bowman. Bowman finished 15th in the former No. 88 car.
Teammates battle to get off playoff bubble
Thanks to Kurt Busch’s win last week at Atlanta, Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick now holds the 16th and final playoff position.
A win from someone behind the cut line in the final five regular-season races - a stretch that includes road course races at Watkins Glen and Indianapolis, plus a total crapshoot at Daytona as the finale - would knock Reddick out of the top 16.
Option One for Reddick, of course, is to win. Option Two? Put his teammate on the bubble.
Austin Dillon (15th) is only eight points ahead of Reddick in the playoff standings. Exiting the June 20 race at Nashville, Dillon had a 59-point gap over Reddick.
But Reddick has beaten Dillon on results and on points in each of the four races since. Over the past two races, Reddick has peeled 35 points away from Dillon.
At Road America, Reddick earned 46 points (including 17 stage points) on his way to eighth. Dillon finished three spots back in 11th place but scored only the minimum 26 points after failing to score in either stage. The 20-point gain pulled Reddick within 23 markers of Dillon in the standings.
Then last week at Atlanta, Reddick scored 42 points (including 11 stage points) in finishing sixth. Again, Dillon wasn’t far behind in finishing 12th but scored only 27 points (with just two from the stages) as Reddick closed the standings gap by 15 points.
As the series heads to New Hampshire, Reddick has the momentum in this head-to-head battle.
Reddick finished 10th at New Hampshire last year in his Cup debut there. Dillon has only one top 10 (eighth, July 2015) in 11 Cup starts at New Hampshire.