NASCAR at New Hampshire 2014: Preview, Prediction for Camping World RV Sales 301
After a rainy and crash-filled race at Daytona last weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to a much flatter track in Loudon, New Hampshire, for Sunday's race.
Last year, Brian Vickers was the surprise winner at the Camping World RV Sales 301, and the 30-year-old will be trying to defend his lobster this season. He'll have plenty of challengers, as everyone from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Tony Stewart will try to bounce back from disappointment at Daytona.
With only eight races to go before the postseason, drivers without a victory in 2013 will be hungrier than ever to find themselves in Victory Lane.
So heat up the clam chowder and get ready for a weekend in New England at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Here's everything you need to know before the race.
By the Numbers: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Date: Sunday, July 13
Time: 1 p.m. ET
TV: TNT, Noon ET (Countdown to Green pre-race show)
Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN), SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 317.4 miles (300 laps)
Defending Race Winner: Bryan Vickers
Defending Pole Winner: Brad Keselowski
Race Record: Jeff Burton, Ford, 117.134 mph, 7-13-97
Qualifying Record: Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 136.497 mph, 9-20-13
Races Won from the Pole: five
Youngest New Hampshire Pole Winner: Brian Vickers (7/17/2005—21 years, 8 months, 23 days)
Oldest New Hampshire Pole Winner: Bill Elliott (7/21/2002—46 years, 9 months, 13 days)
Youngest New Hampshire Winner: Joey Logano (6/28/2009—19 years, 1 month, 4 days)
Oldest New Hampshire Winner: Mark Martin (9/20/2009—50 years, 8 months, 11 days)
All-Time Winner: Jeff Burton (four)
Can the Top Guys Recover Quickly from Their Bad Week at Daytona?
Last week's race at Daytona was, to put it nicely, a mess. It was shortened by rain and mostly notable for two big wrecks that took out the biggest names in the sport.
David Caraviello of NASCAR.com summed up the race:
Track officials may have fired off their huge July 4 weekend fireworks show Saturday night after the Coke Zero 400 was postponed by rain, but there were plenty of blow-ups in Sunday's rescheduled event, and all of them were on the asphalt. Frenzied competition at the front of the pack resulted in a 16-car melee early on, which only served as an appetizer to the massive 26-car pileup that reshuffled the field before Aric Almirola's rain-shortened victory.
Drivers such as Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth were all negatively affected—or taken out altogether—by the wrecks. They will be looking for a strong finish at New Hampshire to make up for lost points.
Can Danica Patrick Carry Over Her Daytona Momentum?
One of the people who benefited heavily from the wreckage at Daytona was Danica Patrick, who ended up finishing eighth. One of the most popular drivers on the circuit, all eyes will be on Patrick to see if she can back that up this Sunday.
Jeff Olson from USA Today reported on Patrick's excitement in Daytona after her second top-10 finish of the season:
The car was fast. It has just been a matter of attrition and getting a little lucky and making it through things. We were in two crashes and the car has been OK to keep going, which is hard to do here at Daytona because the splitter height is so critical.
Will Anyone New Qualify for the Chase?
This might sound familiar from my past previews, but as the season goes on and the Chase heats up, this topic is not going away.
There are 11 spots already filled in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. That means there are five spots available and only eight races left to clinch a spot. Drivers such as Stewart, Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle are still looking to get a win this season and secure their spot in the postseason.
Drivers to Watch
Logano won his first race at New Hampshire in 2009, and he is still the youngest winner of the Camping World RV Sales 301. He grew up nearby in Connecticut, so the 24-year-old feels at home on this track.
But according to Micah Roberts of Sporting News, that's not why he's in the conversation this week. He has a good chance for a great race because of his success at similar tracks this season:
It's all about what the Penske Racing program has provided for him on these types of tracks, just like his teammate [Brad] Keselowski. He is the third driver to have top-5s at both Phoenix and Richmond this season. At Phoenix, he led 71 laps before finishing fourth and then at Richmond he took the checkers, despite [Jeff] Gordon and Keselowski having better runs.
Kyle Busch has had a lot of success on this track in all three NASCAR series. In the Sprint Cup Series, he has one win, six top-fives, eight top-10s and one pole.
Busch sits ninth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, and the 29-year-old is trying to bounce back after having his car flipped in a bad wreck last week at Daytona.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Always keep an eye on Junior. No. 88 leads active drivers in an unflattering stat—he has 29 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at New Hampshire without a win. However, that doesn't mean he hasn't had success. He has seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s. No. 88 is having a great season, and that could carry over to Loudon.
History of New Hampshire Motor Speedway
The New Hampshire Motor Speedway opened in 1990 and has been housing NASCAR races annually ever since.
Located in Loudon, New Hampshire, the track is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc.
The one-mile flat and oval track is aptly nicknamed the "Magic Mile" and is often converted into a road course as well.
The track has its own mascot, Milo the Moose. According to the NHMS website, Milo is quite busy:
In 2011, Milo begin his acting career with a few promotions to get fans excited for the race season. His stage life took off in 2012, when he visited track sponsors throughout New Hampshire for episodes of "Where's Milo?"
He loves working with children in various capacities and has been known to show up at various sports camps to help promote physical fitness among youth.
Johnson is still No. 3 in the standings, but his three wins in the last seven weeks make him the hottest driver on the circuit right now. As he chases his teammates Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the points race, he'll be looking to recover quickly from his DNF at Daytona.
He hasn't won in New Hampshire since 2010, but he is still the odds-on favorite to win.
Gordon's average finish of 8.6 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the highest of any driver with 20 starts at the track.
The Sprint Cup Series points leader is feeling great headed into the weekend, as reported by Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore of Newton Citizen:
Loudon has always been a good and consistent track for us, and I’m really looking forward to this weekend. Hendrick Motorsports tested at New Hampshire a few weeks ago and I thought the No. 24 team had a really good test. We’ve had some good cars and some strong runs at Loudon recently, but that doesn’t make a weekend any easier. We still have to work hard from Friday morning through the end of the race on Sunday.
Keselowski has had success this year at similar tracks in Phoenix and Richmond, finishing in the top five in both. He has also done well at New Hampshire in the past, winning the pole for the Camping World RV Sales 301 last year and finishing sixth or better in four of his past five races on this track.
It's only a matter of time before the controversial figure crosses the finish line first in a Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire.
Tony Stewart won the September race in New Hampshire back in 2011, the same year that he finished as runner-up at the Camping World RV Sales 301. It's safe to say that he likes this track.
The 43-year-old made headlines last weekend after publicly expressing annoyance at his friend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. about the wreck that took him out of Daytona. As reported by David Caraviello of NASCAR.com, Stewart said:
I guess it was just Stenhouse being an idiot. It didn't make much sense when we're coming to (a competition) caution. We're like a quarter of a lap from getting to the caution, and he does something stupid. It tore up a lot of people's cars and a lot of people's days. (We) get here on Wednesday night and sit here all day and run 19 and three-quarter laps and get wrecked by somebody who's doing something stupid.
Stewart is currently ranked 20th in the standings and therefore is still fighting for his postseason life. He could very well recapture his past glory here in New Hampshire and book his ticket to the Chase.
My pick this week at New Hampshire is none other than Kevin Harvick. With one win, five top-fives, 13 top-10s and one pole at the track, he certainly has the pedigree for success. He won on a similar track in Phoenix earlier this year, which is a good sign too.
Harvick talked about his love for the New Hampshire track, as reported by Paddock Talk:
I always look forward to going to New Hampshire. I like that type of track because it's flat, similar to the tracks out west where I started my racing career. There's a lot of braking and you have to really work on getting your car through the center of the corner and still have the forward drive you need up off the corner.
No. 4 already has two wins on the season and five top-five finishes. Look for him to make a good season even better Sunday.