Setting The Scene: Monster Energy Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 At NHMS

(Press Release from NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, July 22
The Time: 2 p.m.
TV: NBCSN, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 318.46 miles (301 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 301)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Tried and Truex
Martin Truex Jr.’s victory late Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway gives the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion four trophies on the year, establishing him unquestionably among the top-tier threesome of 2018.

Counting the season’s other two big winners Kevin Harvick (five wins) and Kyle Busch (five wins) – three drivers have earned 14 of the 19 trophies given out so far. The three have combined to lead 2,552 laps to date – Busch – 948, Truex – 564 and Harvick – a series-best 1,040.

A win in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) would be Truex’ first at the track. He was the polesitter at New Hampshire last July and shows up in New England in the wake of three straight top-10 finishes there.

Truex has a series-best four pole positions this year and has clearly demonstrated that his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota team excels “in bunches”. He won three straight pole positions (at Phoenix, Fontana, Calif. and Martinsville, Va.) early in the year. And two (at Fontana and Kentucky) of his four victories have come from the pole.

Truex has led at least 100 laps in each of the last four New Hampshire races – 513 laps of his career-total 661 laps led at the track.

Pushing for the Playoffs

With just seven races remaining in the regular season, and only seven drivers locked in on wins, the pressure is on to get to Victory Lane for the chance at postseason glory.

Here’s a look at active, championship-contending drivers who have wins at upcoming tracks but have yet to visit Victory Lane in 2018:

New Hampshire: Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman
Pocono: Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher, Ku. Busch, Hamlin, Johnson, Kahne, Keselowski, Newman
Watkins Glen: AJ Allmendinger, Hamlin
Michigan: Ku. Busch, Hamlin, Johnson, Kahne, Kyle Larson, Newman
Bristol: Ku. Busch, Hamlin, Johnson, Kahne, Keselowski
Darlington: Hamlin, Johnson
Indianapolis: Kahne, Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard, Newman

On a Roll

Count Monster Energy championship points leader Kyle Busch among those excited to head north this weekend. Busch is a three-time winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and won last fall’s race from the Busch Pole position. He has eight top-10 finishes in the last 10 races there, including a streak of three runner-up showings between 2013-14.

Busch has six top-five finishes in the last seven races of this season – the Daytona race, the lone exception. His 15 top 10s in 19 races ties Kevin Harvick for best in the sport right now.

Looking for Six

Kevin Harvick has won five trophies already this season, but it’s been eight weeks (at Kansas) since he last hoisted one. Harvick’s 14 top fives and 1,040 laps led are tops among the competition, but there’s no doubt the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is getting a little anxious to return to Victory Lane.

And it’s not that he hasn’t been competitive in that winless streak – he’s had five top fives in the last seven races, including a pair of runner-ups (Michigan, Sonoma).

New Hampshire has been a good place for Harvick. He’s earned two wins in the fall edition (2006 from pole and 2016) and five top-five finishes in the last seven races overall there. Between 2014-15 he led a series best 379 laps at the track, but only had a pair of third-place finishes to show for all the work up front.

He’s led an impressive 706 laps total at New Hampshire, but only eight laps in the last four races – all in his 2016 win.

Back to Defend

Denny Hamlin is the defending winner of the July New Hampshire event, leading 54 of the 301 laps last year and bettering Kyle Larson by half a second at the checkered flag. It was the first of two wins in 2017 (the other came at Darlington).

The veteran could use a bit of that New England magic this weekend and the track has been good to Hamlin, who has three wins there and has led a solid 549 laps. His 14 top-10 finishes in 24 starts is among the best statistically, too. He led a dominating 193 laps in the fall race en route to the 2012 win.

And the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will take all that good mojo, considering he’s had only two top 10 runs in the last six races, leading only one time for four laps in that span (at Sonoma). He’s led only 239 laps on the year.

There is precedent for Hamlin’s New England grand arrival. He had led only 178 laps on the 2017 season before winning last July.

Newman Looking to Break Through in 2018

The most prolific driver at New Hampshire is three-time winner Ryan Newman, who leads all drivers with 722 laps out front on the circuit. His seven pole positions is also tops among the competition this week. Twice he’s won from the pole – in the fall of 2002 as a rookie in his second start at the track and again in the summer race of 2011.

He has 18 top-10 finishes in 32 starts, his last such, a seventh-place showing in 2016. In a seven-race span from 2009-2012 he finished 10th or better six times.

Newman is getting a head start on his racing this week, running the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday – his first start on the famed dirt track since a third-place in the inaugural NASCAR trucks race there in 2013.

A good showing at Eldora would only bolster Newman’s hopes at New Hampshire, where the Richard Childress Racing driver would gladly take his first top five of the season. He has two top 10s in the last 10 races – both coming on restrictor-plate tracks at Talladega and Daytona. He’s ranked 19th in the points standings.

Rising Up

After 22-year old Erik Jones’ win at Daytona two weeks ago, NASCAR’s group of young Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers is both encouraged and reenergized. And they bring some positive vibes to New England.

Jones’ best finish in two previous New Hampshire starts is sixth-place last fall. He was runner-up in the 2016 Xfinity race there. Alex Bowman has a best showing of 14th also last fall, filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. And last week’s race runner-up Ryan Blaney has a best showing of ninth place at New Hampshire in the 2017 fall race.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader William Byron is the only previous NASCAR national series race winner at NHMS among the young crop of talent. He won a 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the track, leading a dominating 161 of the 175 laps. He was third in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race last year.

As with Byron, fellow rookie Bubba Wallace will be making his first Cup start at the track. His best previous showing was a runner-up in the 2014 truck race.

Both rookies are coming off mid-pack results at Kentucky and 22nd ranked Byron holds a 33-point edge over 25th ranked Wallace in the standings.

And Kyle Larson is already considered a favorite at many of the race tracks the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visits. But after runner-up finishes in both New Hampshire races last year, the 25-year old must certainly feel confident returning this weekend.

He has two second-place finishes (at Pocono and Chicago) in the last six races and a total of four on the season. He’s led 365 laps, but only 10 laps in the eight races since Kansas.

Turning the Corner

Two members of Team Penske’s talented driver trio are still looking for wins in 2018 and both arrive in New England fresh off encouraging results. The team’s newest driver, 24-year old Ryan Blaney, was runner-up to Kentucky race winner Martin Truex Jr. His veteran Penske teammate Brad Keselowski led 38 laps and finished third.

It was Blaney’s best finish of the season and just as importantly snapped a three-week streak of frustration and subpar finishes – all 18th or worse. He’s had three DNFs in the last eight races. He’s hopeful he and the No. 12 Ford can seize the momentum gained in Kentucky. He has only one top-10 finish (ninth last fall) in five New Hampshire starts and he’s still looking to lead his first lap there.

Keselowski’s third-place Kentucky finish marked his fifth top-10 in the last seven races and was his best effort since a runner-up at Atlanta, the second week of the season. He won at New Hampshire in the 2014 July race and has three career pole positions there. He’s riding a streak of three straight top-10s in the Granite State coming to Sunday’s race.

Kenseth Back in the Seat

Matt Kenseth is set to make his sixth start of the season in the No. 6 Roush Racing Ford. And New Hampshire has been a good place historically for the 2003 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

He joins Jimmie Johnson (swept 2003 season) and Kurt Busch (swept 2004 season) as the only three drivers to ever win back-to-back races on the track. Kenseth won in the fall of 2015 then in July the next year, and his three victories in the last nine races is the highest winning percentage in that time.

Although Kenseth remains very cautious about his expectations as a part-time driver this season, he is hopeful to guide the car to its first top-10 finish of the year at a track where he has especially excelled.

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