We’re back to some good, old fashioned short track racing this weekend, as the Monster Energy Cup Series strolls into New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the ISM Connect 300 on Sunday. New Hampshire–or Loudon, as many people call it–is a flat, 1-mile race track, and with there only being 300 scheduled laps on Sunday, it’s also one of the shortest races of the year. That means mistakes can be even more costly on race day, especially considering a driver can go multiple laps down in a matter of a minute at this track. We were last here at Loudon back in July, and if you don’t remember that race, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch led for over 2/3rds of the event, but it was Denny Hamlin who took the lead for last part of the race and ended up in victory lane.
I will post my official Yahoo! roster for Loudon 2 on Twitter on Thursday evening before lockdown on Friday. Please follow me there: @FanRacingOnline
PLEASE NOTE: We have a similar schedule this weekend as we did in Chicagoland last weekend, with a practice session and qualifying happening on Friday followed by two more practice sessions on Saturday. Be sure to check back to this post on Saturday evening for my final notes and my official starters for Sunday afternoon’s race at New Hampshire.
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Loudon 2
Martin Truex, Jr. (4 starts remaining) – Martin Truex, Jr. has yet to win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but it’s going to happen soon. Over the last three races at this track, Truex has arguably had the best car in the field, with an average starting spot of 2nd and an average of 133.7 laps led per event. With that being said, the #78 Toyota hasn’t really finished as high as it should have in those races, but the good news is that Truex tied his career best here back in July when he came home 3rd. This #78 team is firing on all cylinders right now, and just because they’re already locked into Playoff Round #2 doesn’t mean they’re going to take their foot off the gas. Truex will be one of the favorites this weekend at Loudon.
Denny Hamlin (9 starts remaining) – The #11 team left Chicagoland last weekend with yet another top 5 finish, and that now makes it ten in the last thirteen races for this crew. Now we’re heading to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a track where Denny Hamlin has won at three times in his Cup Series career, including the first race this season, which was back in July. Seems like a no-brainer, right? The only possible negative thing about Hamlin this weekend is that he hasn’t dominated a race here since 2012, but at the same time this #11 crew is performing at their best right now, and could easily sweep the 2017 Loudon races here on Sunday. Hamlin might not have the same amount of speed as Truex and Kyle Busch right now, but he’s close.
It’s really a toss-up between Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch for who the #1 driver is heading into the weekend. I give the edge (slightly) to Kyle Busch, simply because he’s a two-time winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and he has finished 3rd or better in five of his last nine starts here. Additionally, the #18 pit crew may have had a few mistakes on pit road last weekend, but it’s rare for those to repeat with a playoff team. Also, if Adam Stevens and his crew get another rocket ship ready for Rowdy like he had last weekend, he just might run away with this one.
Kevin Harvick is the only non-Toyota driver to win here in the last five races–he’s the defending winner of this event–and that #4 team has to have a good amount of confidence after their performance at Chicagoland last weekend. If Rodney Childers was holding their best cars for the playoffs this year, it definitely wouldn’t be surprising to see Kevin Harvick challenge for the win here at Loudon on Sunday. “Happy” has finished inside the top 5 in five of the last six races at this track, and the only exception was this race two years ago, when he dominated but ended up running out of gas.
It’s also close between Harvick and Matt Kenseth, who has won three times at this track in the nine races he’s ran here with Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth is also on a four-race streak of top 5 finishes at Loudon and has just one result worse than 9th here since the 2012 season. If you’re looking for an off-sequence pick in the A Group that could end up winning the race, Matt Kenseth is your guy. Keep an eye on his ownership percentage before lockdown, as of Monday afternoon it was under 10%.
The rest of the A Group drivers all have top 10 potential this weekend, they’re just not running as well as the other five right now. Brad Keselowski won here at Loudon back in 2014 but has just two top 5 finishes in the six races since. Jimmie Johnson is a three-time winner here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway but has never really dominated a race at this track and combined 7 laps led in the last twelve races here. He also hasn’t had a top 5 finish here since 2014. Joey Logano is starting to get his groove back in the race car, but he’s not on race-winning level by any means. He does have four top 5 finishes in the last six Loudon races, but generally he’s been pretty hit or miss here throughout his career.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Martin Truex, Jr., (3) Denny Hamlin, (4) Kevin Harvick, (5) Matt Kenseth, (6) Brad Keselowski, (7) Jimmie Johnson, (8) Joey Logano, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Post-Qualifying A Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Busch, (2) Martin Truex, Jr., (3) Denny Hamlin, (4) Kevin Harvick, (5) Matt Kenseth, (6) Jimmie Johnson, (7) Brad Keselowski, (8) Joey Logano, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Final Notes: This race on Sunday should come down to either Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., or Kyle Larson. Those three cars are, by far and away, the best heading into Sunday’s ISM Connect 300. With that being said, Kevin Harvick looked really good in Happy Hour on Saturday, and his record here at Loudon speaks for itself. If you want to take the contrarian approach on Sunday, and you have “Happy” on your Yahoo! roster, I’d seriously consider it. Other than that, the most laps led is probably going to be either Kyle Busch or Truex. Rowdy qualified on the pole, though, so I have to give a tiny bit of an edge to him in the rankings. When the cars are this close, it really comes down to the pit crew, and Kyle Busch gets the advantage there, too (although Kyle Larson’s pit crew has been pretty damn fast as of late as well).
My Starter: Martin Truex, Jr. over Denny Hamlin
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Loudon 2
Kyle Larson (2 starts remaining) – I’m down to 2 starts left with Kyle Larson, and chances are you are in the same boat (or at least close). That means that we’re going to have to be extremely selective at when to deploy Larson in these final nine races. My goal, personally, is to hold on to one of those starts for Homestead in November, but if there’s any races in between that Larson looks like he can dominate, it’s going to be hard to sit him. As far as Loudon goes, the #42 Chevrolet came from the back of the field to finish 2nd here back in July, and that gives Larson three finishes of 3rd or better in seven career starts here. He’s probably going to make my roster just based on the possibility of him dominating on Sunday.
Kurt Busch (2 starts remaining) – The #41 team didn’t have a very good finish at Chicagoland, but don’t forget that Kurt Busch was running inside the top 5 until he had a tire issue and subsequent penalty. The point being, the #41 Ford continues to be a solid top 10 car week in and week out, and now we’re at Loudon, where Kurt has three career wins. Now, his last trip to victory lane here was back in the 2008 season, but still. Busch finished 8th at New Hampshire earlier this year and ran 5th in this event one year ago. He probably won’t challenge for the win on Sunday but he should be a solid top 10 threat.
Clint Bowyer (3 starts remaining) – Stewart-Haas Racing might not be in Toyotas, but they should have a strong showing in this weekend’s ISM Connect 300. Clint Bowyer is an established flat track racer and came home 7th here at Loudon back in July despite starting back in 19th. His recent record at this track is a bit rocky–four finishes outside of the top 20 in the last five races–but don’t forget that Bowyer didn’t have the best equipment for some of those events. Clint is still a two-time winner at this race track and has finished inside the top 10 in a little over a third of his 23 career starts here.
Ryan Newman (7 starts remaining) – The Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets of Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon showed more speed at Chicagoland last weekend than they have pretty much all season. And while neither of them really got a good finish to show for it, it’ll be interesting to see how they look in practice this weekend. The flat tracks is where this organization has excelled at in 2017–remember, Newman won at Phoenix–and if they have found just a little bit more speed, they might not need luck to get a good finish here on Sunday. As far as Loudon goes for Ryan Newman, he’s a three-time winner here and has posted 18 finishes inside the top 10 over a total of 31 career starts (58.1%).
Speaking of Austin Dillon, he kind of gets forgot about at a lot of tracks simply because there’s seven or eight drivers that are better than him in this Yahoo! Grouping. Still, Austin is capable of pulling off a good finish every now and then, and he’s actually been incredibly consistent here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway throughout his career; in the seven total Cup Series starts that Dillon has made at this race track, he has finished 16th or better in all but one of them, and even had a career-best 8th-place run here in 2015. Now, as far as viability in Yahoo!, it’s hard to take him unless you’re really running low on starts with the “stud” drivers. But is he worth a roster spot in case the #3 Chevrolet looks really good in practice this weekend? Absolutely.
Chase Elliott is coming off of a great race at Chicagoland, but don’t get overly excited about that–and try to remember that that is one of those tracks where he runs really well at. There haven’t been many tracks that we’ve seen Chase significantly improve at, and so far here at Loudon, he’s posted finishes of 34th, 13th, and 11th. With that being said, Elliott has averaged a driver rating of 99.3 over the last two races at this track, so there’s definitely room for optimism this weekend. However, I still like the #24 Chevrolet better on the “cookie cutter” race tracks, and with 3 starts left, I want to get max points out of him in the final nine races.
Jamie McMurray is another driver that is valuable on the 1.5-mile race tracks. That #1 Chevrolet has finished inside the top 12 in all of them this season, and we still have Charlotte, Kansas, and Texas coming up. Plus, McMurray has just three top 10 finishes in his last thirteen starts here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Ryan Blaney finished 11th and 12th here at Loudon last year and he’s really been middle-of-the-road in his four career starts here. Like McMurray, he’s far too valuable elsewhere for me to roster him this weekend.
If you’re looking for somewhat of a sleeper, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is your guy. Ricky is a flat track racer through and through, and earlier this year he came home 14th here at Loudon. That’s actually three results of 14th or better for Stenhouse in the last four races at this track, so don’t sleep on him this weekend. Ricky’s girlfriend, Danica Patrick, must be learning a few things from her man because she wound up 13th here back in July and has three straight finishes of 18th or better at this track. Viable in Yahoo!, though? Absolutely not.
Finally, if you’re looking for a sleeper that will probably be under 30% owned, Kasey Kahne is your guy. It was just announced this week that Darian Grubb will be taking over as crew chief for the #5 team, and he will be on top of the pit box this weekend. Grubb has had success here at Loudon in the past, and Kahne actually hasn’t been too bad in this race over the last couple of years, as he has 9th-place finishes to his credit in the last two September Loudon events.
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) Kurt Busch, (3) Clint Bowyer, (4) Chase Elliott, (5) Ryan Newman, (6) Jamie McMurray, (7) Ryan Blaney, (8) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Danica Patrick, (11) Kasey Kahne, (12) Aric Almirola, (13) Trevor Bayne, (14) Paul Menard, (15) A.J. Allmendinger, (16) Chris Buescher
Post-Qualifying B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) Kurt Busch, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Clint Bowyer, (5) Chase Elliott, (6) Kasey Kahne (7) Ryan Newman, (8) Jamie McMurray, (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (11) Danica Patrick, (12) A.J. Allmendinger, (13) Paul Menard, (14) Aric Almirola, (15) Trevor Bayne, (16) Chris Buescher
Final Notes: The #42 Chevrolet looks really fast this weekend, and is a legitimate threat to not only win, but could lead the most laps as well. Larson doesn’t really like this track, but he has a fast race car, and that will change a driver’s mind in a hurry. If you have 3+ starts left with Larson, I think you have to run him this weekend. I personally only have 2 left and I’m 50/50 on running him, but leaning toward doing so. As far as the rest of the B Group, Kurt Busch comes in as the 2nd-best option again and could challenge for a top 5. Ryan Blaney was the real surprise this weekend, though, as that #21 Ford looks to have top 5 speed and should challenge for a top 10. Kasey Kahne has also looked solid with his crew chief change, but it comes down to whether or not you trust him, as mentioned before.
My Starters: Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch over Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Loudon 2
Hopefully this weekend’s race at Loudon is similar to the one we ran here back in July–at least when it comes to Ty Dillon. In that race, the #13 Chevrolet ended up finishing 16th, which is a decent points day in Yahoo! for the C Group. Remember, there are still nine races left in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and unless you’re sitting on a bunch of Suarez and Jones starts, you’re going to have to use Dillon in the races that make the most sense. Of course, Daniel Suarez finished 6th here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway earlier this year, which was a bit surprising, but not really when you consider how strong the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have been here over the last few year. I have him penciled in for around a 10th- to 13th-place finish heading into this race weekend. As far as Erik Jones goes, he qualified 6th here at Loudon back in July but wound up finishing 39th after problems early in the race. This #77 has been on such a hot streak lately that they could very well come away with a good finish this weekend, too. The question then becomes, is your remaining Erik Jones start worth more at other tracks? For me, the answer is definitely yes.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Michael McDowell, (5) Landon Cassill, (6) David Ragan, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
Post-Qualifying C Group Rankings: (1) Daniel Suarez, (2) Erik Jones, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) David Ragan, (5) Michael McDowell, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
Final Notes: Daniel Suarez would be a lock to start if it wasn’t for the botched qualifying effort on Friday. Still, the #19 Toyota legitimate looks like a top 10 threat, so if Daniel can keep the fenders clean, on Sunday, he should be fine. Erik Jones qualified top 10 but didn’t really back that speed up in practice. Still, the #77 team has been on fire lately, and we all know what Jones can do with a fast race car. As far as the rest of the C Group goes, I’d be surprised if any of them posted a top 20 finish on Sunday.
My Starter: Daniel Suarez over Ty Dillon