One of the shortest races of the season is this weekend, as the Overton’s 301 is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway–otherwise known as Loudon. This is just a 1-mile race track, so the combination of a short race and a short track means the teams better have their cars set up correctly on Sunday morning, or it could be a long day once the green flag waves. As far as comparable tracks, the closest two are probably Martinsville and Richmond.
Yahoo! A Group Early Picks and Rankings for Loudon
Kevin Harvick (5 starts remaining) – Kevin Harvick is the most recent winner at this race track and has finished inside the top 5 in four of his last five starts here. Additionally, in those five races, Harvick has had an average running position of 4.6, which is not only incredible, but also the best in the series. From a momentum perspective, this #4 team is back to their normal ‘single digit result every week’ selves, but they have just a little more to get to the ‘weekly threat to win’ level. With that being said, this is an extremely short race that we’re set to run here on Sunday, and Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, is one of the best at setting up the car to start the race. That will pay dividends this weekend.
Kyle Busch (5 starts remaining) – Yeah, it seems like I’ve been saying it for a couple of months now, but a win is right around the corner for Kyle Busch. He once again could have gone to victory lane at Kentucky last weekend, but Martin Truex, Jr.’s #78 Toyota was just too good. Still, that was another top 5 finish for Rowdy Busch, and his sixth qualifying effort of 4th or better in the last seven races. Here at Loudon, Kyle is a consistent top 5 threat and he always performs better in the summer race than he does in the fall. Busch led 133 laps in this race one year ago and went to victory lane in the 2015 event.
Brad Keselowski is one of the most inconsistent performers as of late, but he won at Martinsville earlier this year and wound up 2nd at Richmond, which are the two closest tracks to Loudon on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit. Here in New Hampshire, Keselowski has one victory (back in 2014) and has wound up 7th or better in eight of his last eleven starts here. Look for him to make it nine of the last twelve this weekend. His teammate, Joey Logano, should be good for at least a top 10 on Sunday. He has four top 5s in the last five Loudon races. As far as winning, though? I just don’t see the #22 team on that level.
In the wacky world that is NASCAR, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the first win from the Joe Gibbs Racing camp came from Matt Kenseth this season. He’s an elite driver here at Loudon and has finished 1st or 2nd in each of the last three races here. If his ownership stays below 20% before lockdown this week, he’s probably going to make it on to my roster. As far as his teammate, Denny Hamlin, he has one top 5 finish in the last eight races here. He should be good for a top 10 finish here on Sunday, but I want a potential win out of my A Group drivers.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Kevin Harvick, (3) Martin Truex, Jr., (4) Brad Keselowski, (5) Denny Hamlin, (6) Matt Kenseth, (7) Joey Logano, (8) Jimmie Johnson, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Yahoo! B Group Early Picks and Rankings for Loudon
Chase Elliott (7 starts remaining) – The first two races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway didn’t end the way that Chase Elliott hoped that they would, but that’s not to say he didn’t run well; in this race last year, the #24 Chevrolet was was inside the top 10 with less than 50 laps remaining, but Chase ended up in the wall and finished 34th. In his second Cup start at Loudon, Elliott wound up finishing 13th but he had a 5th-place average running position so obviously he didn’t get the finish he deserved. Chase is coming off yet another top 5 finish at Kentucky last weekend and actually has the best average finish of all Cup drivers over the last six races. If you have plenty of starts left (as I do), there’s no reason why Elliott shouldn’t be on your Yahoo! roster this weekend.
Ryan Newman (8 starts remaining) – The #31 team had a rough go of things at Kentucky last weekend but this is still the same team that had six straight top 15 finishes heading into the race. Additionally, the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets have ran better on the shorter tracks this season as opposed to the cookie cutter venues. Here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, “The Rocketman” owns a career average finish of 13.5 (over 30 total starts) and has gone to victory lane three times here, the most recent time in 2011 from the pole. As far as “what have you done for me lately?”, Newman has finished 11th or better in four of the last six Loudon events, and should be good for a top 15 this weekend.
Austin Dillon (8 starts remaining) – As I said before, Richard Childress Racing is at the best on the shorter tracks this year, and that has been the case with Austin Dillon as well. Also, we’re now past the halfway point of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season, so it’s time to start thinking about the math to get to the end of the year. We have 36 starts left to fill in the B Group (2 per the last 18 races) and one restrictor plate track left, so that brings that number down to 34. Watkins Glen could bring that down to 32. So now the question becomes, how many starts do you have left with your B Group studs? As far as Austin Dillon goes, he’s a great ‘start save’ option this weekend, as he has just one finish worse than 16th in six career starts here at Loudon. He’s also finished 13th or better in all three short track races this year (Martinsville, Bristol, and Dover).
Kurt Busch (5 starts remaining) – The elder Busch brother is another 3-time winner at this race track, and while the #41 Ford hasn’t quite been in the conversation as a potential victor since the season-opening Daytona 500, that doesn’t mean Kurt is out of the running for a solid top 10 finish here on Sunday. He wound up finishing 5th here last September after coming in 22nd in last year’s Overton’s 301. If you remember back to that race, though, Kurt had a shot at a top 5 finish but got a flat tire late and that relegated him back to 22nd. The fact of the matter is that Busch has an average running position of 8.3 in the last four Loudon races and will have a car good enough to finish up front on Sunday.
News just broke on Wednesday that Kyle Larson was caught with an illegal rear brake cooling assembly at Kentucky last weekend, and his 2nd-place finish in that race is encumbered. He will also lose crew chief Chad Johnston for three races, although if they appeal the penalty this week, he could still be on the pit box for Loudon. With that being said, this is similar to the penalty that Joey Logano received at Richmond, and immediately after that, the #22 team struggled. That’s not to say that is the reason, but I’m not a person that believes in coincidences.
Still, Larson has a couple of top 5 finishes to his credit here at Loudon and could be a legitimate threat to win on Sunday. If I had more than 3 starts left with him, he’d probably be on my Yahoo! roster this weekend (and he still might make it). His teammate, Jamie McMurray, is also a solid B Group choice this weekend, as he has three finishes of 6th or better in the last seven races here at New Hampshire–including this event one year ago. That #1 team also has a bunch of momentum, as they keep piling on top 10 after top 10.
Ryan Blaney is, in my mind, far too valuable on the intermediate race tracks to use at a venue like Loudon, so I’m going to give him a break this weekend. With that being said, he did finish 11th and 12th here last season, so I can’t blame you for taking a shot with him. Clint Bowyer is another viable B Group option this weekend, as he’s a three-time winner at this track. I see him as more of a top 15 car than a top 10, though, so I’ll wait until this #14 team starts getting on a roll. When you take out Sonoma and Daytona, Bowyer has just one top 10 result in the last ten Cup races.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. excelled on flat tracks when he was in the Xfinity Series and with the way the #17 team is running this season, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he wound up inside the top 10 here at Loudon on Sunday. Ricky finished 10th in this race one year ago and has wound up 13th or better in three of his last six starts at this track. Also, as far as (somewhat) similar tracks this year, Stenhouse finished 10th at Martinsville and 4th at Richmond.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) Chase Elliott, (3) Jamie McMurray, (4) Kurt Busch, (5) Ryan Newman, (6) Clint Bowyer, (7) Ryan Blaney, (8) Austin Dillon, (9) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (10) A.J. Allmendinger, (11) Trevor Bayne, (12) Paul Menard, (13) Kasey Kahne, (14) Danica Patrick, (15) Chris Buescher
Yahoo! C Group Early Picks and Rankings for Loudon
We have 36 starts left in the B Group to finish out the year, so that means we have 18 starts left to fill in the C Group. Currently, I’m sitting with 16 starts left between Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, and Ty Dillon, and with Talladega 2 and Watkins Glen coming up, those will round out the final two. In other words, depending on your situation, it’s time to worry a little less about starts in this group. None of the three C Group studs have made a Cup start here at Loudon, and Michael McDowell is pretty awful at this race track, so forget about trying someone else. Momentum-wise, Erik Jones has back-to-back top 10s coming into this weekend and has wound up 15th or better in five of the last six Cup races. Daniel Suarez isn’t performing as well but he’s a solid ‘teens’ driver week in and week out. Therefore, Jones and Suarez will be my two C Group drivers this weekend. Ty Dillon has actually regressed a bit as of late (especially with qualifying) so hopefully that #13 team can figure things out before long.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Erik Jones, (2) Daniel Suarez, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Michael McDowell, (5) David Ragan, (6) Cole Whitt, (7) Landon Cassill, the rest