The temperatures in the New England area may be dropping as fall approaches, but when NASCAR drivers and teams arrive for the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., this weekend—competition will heat up.
The second race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship will commence on the 1.058-mile oval with seven-degree banking Sept. 22. Fans without one of the 93,000-plus seats can view the short-track action on ESPN at 2 p.m. ET.
The Chase playoffs have already been kind and mean to the top 13 contenders. Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch in Joe Gibbs Racing cars roared to No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the playoffs with their top Chicago finishes. Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped to the bottom of the contender class after mechanical and track failures.
Drivers in the mid-point range, like Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, are poised to catch the leaders if wins and top runs come their way in the next nine races.
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are always a threat to muscle their way up the line with a consistent, smart performance.
Kenseth shared his thoughts before heading north.
“New Hampshire hasn’t necessarily been one of my best tracks, but historically JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has done really well there,” Kenseth said. “I’m looking forward to getting there.”
Kenseth understood what is at stake with the nature of NSCS competition.
“All those cars you're trying to race for a championship are so incredibly good,” he said. “If you let your guard down a little bit, or if you're off for one week, they're going to eat you up in a hurry.”
Teammate Kyle Busch was confident but cautious.
“Loudon is tricky for me," Kyle said. “I know this team is focused, and we’ll try to have another good race at New Hampshire and keep up some positive momentum from last week.”
Johnson seemed ready to roll.
“We had a great race car there earlier this year,” Johnson said. “I’m optimistic. The way the race unfolds, it’s a different game when you get into the top 10. Restarts were important, and the lane you were in made a difference on how you could pass.”
As he often does, Harvick shared his take on the track effects.
“The hardest thing is just making your car turn in the middle of the corner and being able to have enough forward drive up off,” Harvick said. “Track position will play a big part, but getting your car to handle right will probably play an equal part.”
Edwards added his thoughts about racing the tough, confined racetrack at NHMS.
“New Hampshire is an opportunity for us to showcase our short track strength,” Edwards said. “Track position is important, the restarts are extremely tough at New Hampshire and there’s door-to-door racing as close as any track that we race on.”
The other Busch brother wasn’t expected to join the Chase class with his single-car Furniture Row Racing team. But he is a past NSCS champion. Kurt Busch shared his upbeat thoughts about NHMS and the Chase.
“We have momentum heading into New Hampshire with top fives in the last three races,” Kurt said. “It's one down and nine to go. The key to New Hampshire is usually how well you can roll the center of the corners.”
One or more of the 13 Chase contenders may take a hard fall this race, and one or two may finish well and move up. The key to abundant shifting in the points is if the leader and top seeds take big hits with mechanical failures or crashes that send them to the rear or to the garage at NHMS.
Lower contenders can move up fast with good results then.
Consistency is king in playoff turf. Drivers and teams who roll on with top performance and good racing luck are sure to be near the top heading into the final race at Homestead.
Those leading at the start of the Chase are not always there at the end of the Chase.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.