Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Up-Down Drill, New Hampshire Motor Speedway Edition

Round 2 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs takes place Sunday at 2 p.m. ET with the running of the ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

So far, after Friday’s qualifying session and a total of three rounds of practice on Friday and Saturday, some clear trends are emerging about who’s up and who’s down at the Granite Mile.

With that in mind, here’s this week’s up-down drill.

UP: Kyle Larson

So far this year, Larson has been the second-best driver in the series behind only Martin Truex Jr. So far this weekend, Larson has shown typical speed, qualifying second in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. He kept it up on Saturday, leading the field in the second practice and finishing a solid fifth in Happy Hour.

DOWN: Joey Logano

Four times, Team Penske tried to get Logano’s Ford through qualifying and four times it flunked, which means he never got to make a qualifying attempt. Logano will start the race in last place, and because his car flunked inspection four times, he was not allowed to practice at all in Happy Hour. Brutal.

UP: Ryan Blaney

After qualifying fourth on Friday, Blaney had the best 10 consecutive-lap average speed during Saturday’s final practice at NHMS. In four starts here, Blaney’s best finish is 11th. His Wood Brothers Racing Ford has had good speed throughout the weekend.

DOWN: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

NHMS isn’t a great track for Stenhouse, who has an average finish here of 20.444. Stenhouse qualified 24th, worst of the playoff drivers, and he was 23rd and 22nd in Saturday’s two practices. Not good numbers for the Roush Fenway Racing driver.

UP: Martin Truex Jr.

Well, duh. The Cup regular-season champion has another fast Furniture Row Racing Toyota. In Saturday morning’s first practice, Truex had the best 10 consecutive-lap average speed and in the final practice, he had the fastest single lap. So he will certainly be in the mix to win again.

DOWN: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Not a great weekend so far for NASCAR’s 14-time Most Popular Driver. On Sunday, Earnhardt will start back in 15th place and practice on Saturday initially didn’t go much better, as he was 19th in the first session, although he improved to eighth in the final practice.

UP: Kyle Busch

Two playoff races, two poles for Busch, who also has two victories at NMHS, and has led 787 laps, most of any active Cup racer. With the critical first pit stall at his disposal, Busch absolutely will be one of the favorites to win on Sunday.

DOWN: Richard Childress Racing

RCR teammates Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman qualified 17th and 18th, respectively, which certainly isn’t where the team wants to be. Saturday didn’t go any better, as Dillon was 22nd and 18th in the two practices, while Newman was 18th and 25th. No bueno.

UP: Denny Hamlin

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has three victories at NHMS, including earlier this year. And he’s been fast all weekend, qualifying fourth and running decently in both practices Saturday.

UP: Kevin Harvick

Ford’s best hope this weekend might just be Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, which will roll off sixth on the grid and has good long-run speed. Harvick was sixth and second in best 10 consecutive-lap average speed during Saturday’s two practices.

DOWN: Danica Patrick

In her final appearance at NHMS for Stewart-Haas Racing, Patrick qualified back in 27th place and on Saturday, she finished 26th and 21st in the two practices. Her  10 consecutive-lap average speed in the morning practice was 18th among 22 drivers who ran 10 consecutive laps.

UP: Kasey Kahne

Maybe getting a new crew chief will help Kahne. He qualified ninth, best of the four Hendrick drivers and was a respectable ninth and 11th in the two practices. He probably won’t be a threat to win, but he might help his chances of advancing in the playoffs with a top-five or top-10 finish.

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Categories
Trucks

KBM Makes Statement With One-Two Finish in First Chase Race

If Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race was any indication of how the Chase will play out, then teams other than Kyle Busch Motorsports will have to step their game up if they want a chance at the 2016 title.

William Byron won the series’ first ever Chase race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after starting from the pole and leading 161 of 175 laps. His KBM teammate, Christopher Bell, finished second and led 11 laps. Even Cody Coughlin, although not a series regular, led three laps in the No. 51 Toyota for KBM but finished 20th after running out of fuel mid-race.

Not a single lap was led by a non-KBM truck at the mile-long track. What does this mean for teams such as ThorSport Racing, Brad Keselowski Racing, Red Horse Racing and GMS Racing, who are all in the championship hunt? They’ve got some work to do.

Byron’s victory was his sixth of the season; a record for a Truck Series rookie. His No. 9 Toyota is fast no matter where the series goes, and he entered the Chase as the favorite for the championship. Now he’s guaranteed into the next Chase round.

Bell had a rocky start to his first full-time season with four finishes outside the top 15 in the first seven events. But he now has three consecutive top fives and only one finish outside the top 10 in the last 10 races. He also won at Gateway Motorsports Park in June.

Of the 17 races completed thus far, KBM has won nine of them. If veterans such as ThorSport’s two-time champion Matt Crafton, GMS driver Johnny Sauter, or RHR racer Timothy Peters want to spoil the KBM young gun party, they’ll need to find more speed in the six remaining races.

BKR’s Daniel Hemric had trouble at New Hampshire and already finds himself in a must-win situation. He had brakes issues and spun on Lap 25. His No. 19 Ford was taken behind the wall during the race and wound up 28th.

As for John Hunter Nemechek and Ben Kennedy, their respective finishes of ninth and 11th on Saturday won’t be enough to win it all at the season finale in November.

As long as Byron and Bell stay out of trouble and barring any bad luck, they’ll be the drivers everyone will chase for the trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Larson Feeling Pressure As Chase Nears

LOUDON, N.H. — Kyle Larson started and finished 17th in the New Hampshire 301, but it could have been worse for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who now sits 25 points outside the Chase cutoff in 19th.

Larson spun into the grass along the backstretch on Lap 285, bringing out the seventh and final caution of the race. Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman were also involved, but no one suffered major damage from the incident, allowing the No. 42 driver to work his way back into the top 20.

“I’m not sure what happened, but I got hooked and spun,” Larson told POPULAR SPEED. “I thought we were going to have a good points day, but it didn’t end up that way.”

The 23-year-old, who looked so impressive as NASCAR began the summer stretch, has fallen off since the beginning of July. Larson showed speed and had opportunities to win at Kansas, Dover, the All-Star race at Charlotte, and Michigan. But since then, he’s finished in the top 10 just once, which was a sixth-place finish at Daytona earlier this month.

Larson ran as high as 13th on Sunday, but the thought of having any more late-race problems before the Chase begins creates the concern of missing it in his third season. At this point, his focus is just winning his first career Cup race — especially after coming so close earlier this year — and not trying to ‘point’ his way into the playoffs.

“[Wrecking] certainly didn’t help us,” Larson said. “A lot of the guys around us in the points had decent days, so we have some more work to do.”

The next race on the Cup schedule is Indianapolis, where Larson has two top 10s in as many starts. In 2014, he finished seventh and in 2015, he finished ninth. Another strong performance at the Brickyard is a must-have for him.

“A win fixes everything, and we’ll go for it next week,” Larson said. “We had a good test at Indianapolis, so we need to have a good race.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

New Hampshire Winner Kenseth Fails Inspection

After winning Sunday’s New Hampshire 301, Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota failed post-race inspection at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

According to NASCAR, Kenseth’s car failed the laser inspection station and will be taken to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina for further inspection. Runner-up finisher Tony Stewart’s car passed the LIS platform after the race and will also be taken to the R&D center for evaluation, which is standard protocol.

Sunday’s win was Kenseth’s second victory of the season and third career win at New Hampshire.

Typically, the penalty for failing LIS has been 15 points and a fine for the crew chief. Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 failed after the Dover race, and Kyle Larson’s No. 42 was penalized after last month’s race at Michigan.

Categories
Commentary NASCAR Cup Series

Harvick ‘Disgusted’ with Recurring Pit Road Mistakes

After four races that featured a road course, restrictor plate racing, a repaved track and the all-new low downforce package, Sunday’s race at New Hampshire looked to be a preview of what’s to come when the Sprint Cup Series returns in September during the Chase.

Along with a return to the standard 2016 rules package and Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas dominating the top five, the New Hampshire 301 also saw the return of Kevin Harvick’s frustration on pit road.

The Bakersfield, Calif. native started in eighth and quickly worked his way into the top five. When the competition caution flew on Lap 35, Harvick found himself third behind Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr.

The No. 4 Chevrolet exited the pits in 13th after a reported problem with the rear tire changer’s air gun. When the race restarted, Harvick again worked his through the back half of the top 10 despite reporting water temperature in excess of 260 degrees.

On the second round of pit stops, Harvick came to pit road in fourth and left in 11th. Crew chief Rodney Childers radioed to his driver that the team had an issue removing the left rear tire, which caused a longer stop on pit road.

Harvick’s team did hold serve during a round of yellow-flag pit stops just after Lap 220, keeping their driver in the fifth position with an opportunity to race with the leaders down the stretch.

After a spirited battle with Kyle Busch in the closing stages, Harvick settled for a fourth-place finish in the Granite State. Most drivers would consider themselves fortunate to leave with a top-five finish after experiencing some setbacks in one of the season’s shortest races. Not Harvick.

“I’m disgusted to tell you the truth. It’s the same thing every week,” Harvick told PRN. “We just make mistake after mistake and until we clean that up we don’t have a chance to win races putting ourselves in a hole every time we make a mistake. It sucks because the cars are plenty fast, but we are just not executing.”

The numbers support Harvick’s claim, too. The 2014 Sprint Cup champion has led 829 laps, which is third behind Kyle Busch and Truex. He boasts the series’ best average finish at 8.7 and holds a 14-point gap over Brad Keselowski. Unfortunately for Harvick, that will be rendered meaningless when the Chase grid is set by wins, as he currently has just one victory in 2016.

After the race, Harvick said changes will need to be made by the organization if they want to contend for another championship.

“It’s really going to have to come from the top. I mean, they are going to have to clamp down and there is no way we can win a championship like this unless they straighten some of this stuff out.

“We just have to perform better. We under-execute as a team on a weekly basis and got to do a better job.”

EMAIL HANK AT editors@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Bowman: “They Knew We Were Here.”

LOUDON, N.H. — Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet was without its usual driver at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, but the team still looked impressive despite a 26th-place result.

Part-time JR Motorsports racer Alex Bowman filled in for fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the New Hampshire 301, who sat out with concussion-like symptoms. Knowing he would only have Sunday’s race to show what he could do, the substituting 23-year-old ran in the top 10 for a significant portion of the race after qualifying 20th.

While running near the front with less than 30 laps remaining, Bowman had a tire rub and hit the wall going into Turn 1, while HMS teammate Chase Elliott had an unrelated tire problem of his own and wrecked, too. Both drivers wound up outside the top 25.

Bowman’s issue was caused by a pit road incident with Carl Edwards as the No. 88 was pulling out of his stall.

“The 19 [Edwards] was backing up as I was going forward leaving pit road, and he caught us on the left rear and the tire started going down,” Bowman told POPULAR SPEED. “ It’s really unfortunate — the worst we would have finished was about seventh or eighth. I hate the circumstances obviously, and I hope Dale Jr. is feeling better, but we had a top-10 car all day long.”

Although this was Bowman’s first Sprint Cup Series race of 2016, he has been impressive in the XFINITY Series. In five starts in the JRM No. 88, he has five top 10s and a pole, which came at Michigan International Speedway last month.

The Tucson, Ariz. native ran full-time in the Cup Series the last two years, but for the smaller, less-funded BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing teams. Bowman’s best career Cup finish is 13th, which came at Daytona International Speedway in July 2014 for BKR, and feels he impressed people following Sunday’s event.

“This was really my first experience of running in the top-10 all day,” Bowman said. “and [NHMS] has never been at the top of my performance list. We didn’t get the finish we should have but it felt good to be in the mix and running with championship drivers. They knew we were here.”

Piloting the No. 88 was a one-time deal for Bowman. He was announced by HMS as Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement on Thursday only for New Hampshire, and there are no further plans for Bowman to race in the Cup Series in 2016.

If Earnhardt Jr. is unable to compete in the next Cup race at Indianapolis, retired NASCAR icon and former HMS driver Jeff Gordon has been named the No. 88 driver for the track which he has five career victories.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Dale Jr. to Miss New Hampshire

Hendrick Motorsports announced on Thursday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not race this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. JR Motorsports driver Alex Bowman will serve as the substitute in the No. 88 Chevrolet.

Earnhardt Jr. will sit out the New Hampshire 301 because of concussion-like symptoms. Concussions aren’t anything new to the HMS driver — the issue forced him to miss two races in October of 2012.

“I wasn’t feeling great the week going into Kentucky (Speedway) and thought it was possibly severe allergies,” Earnhardt said. “I saw a family doctor and was given medication for allergies and a sinus infection. When that didn’t help, I decided to dig a little deeper. Because of my symptoms and my history with concussions, and after my recent wrecks at Michigan and Daytona, I reached out and met with a neurological specialist. After further evaluation, they felt it was best for me to sit out.”

There is no timetable for Earnhardt Jr.’s return. Although not racing this weekend will deflate his 32-point cushion in the Chase standings, team owner Rick Hendrick is glad to see that the 41-year-old driver made his health a priority before competing.

“I’m proud of Dale for standing up,” Hendrick said. “The number-one priority is his health, so we’re going to give him all the time he needs. We completely support the decision by the doctors and will be ready to go win races when he’s 100 percent. In the meantime, we have full confidence in Greg (Ives) and the team, and we know they’ll do a great job.”

Bowman, a part-time driver of the No. 88 in the XFINITY Series, will make his 2016 Sprint Cup Series debut at the one-mile track. The Tucson, Ariz. native ran full time in Cup the last two years, but signed with JR Motorsports to run a limited 2016 schedule.

In four races, Bowman has scored four top 10s and one pole, which came at Michigan. He will be running double duty this weekend at New Hampshire as he will also run the XFINITY AutoLotto 200 race.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Preece Eager for NHMS Weekend Following Kentucky Rebound

After a blown tire and a 32nd-place finish in Iowa followed by an engine failure at Daytona, Ryan Preece appeared to be stumbling into the summer stretch. But with a 15th-place finish at Kentucky and his home track next on the schedule, the Connecticut native feels his luck is about to turn for the better.

Preece’s result in the Alsco 300 on Friday night tied his best finish of the season, which came at Talladega in April. The XFINITY Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next — a track that brings positive memories for the JD Motorsports rookie.

“It was definitely a good week to have a good run,” Preece told POPULAR SPEED. “Especially heading into a place like New Hampshire, which I consider to be my home track among the three [national] series.”

Preece has five top fives and a pole at New Hampshire in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, amidst his career totals of 80 top 10s and 14 poles in the series. The 2013 Modified champion also made his Sprint Cup Series debut there in 2015 driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the No. 98 Chevrolet.

Preece called the first half of his season “a tough pill to swallow.” He and team owner Johnny Davis want the No. 01 to be a top-20 car every week, and have scored six of them in 16 races. 

“There’s been a lot of misfortune,” Preece said. “But I had a good feeling about this weekend, in terms of a really good car. We’ve been looking for a feel in the car, and I think we found it tonight.”

The 25-year-old will compete in two Modified events before the XFINITY race at New Hampshire — the Modified All-Star Shootout on Friday and the New England 100 on Saturday. He hopes the extra track time will benefit him for the AutoLotto 200, which will take place after Saturday’s Modified race.

“We’re all making good progress,” Preece said. “I’ve learned that I can’t drive a tight racecar — I need it a little free. I had a car like that tonight, and it’ll work really well there, too.”

Preece sits 18th in the XFINITY standings. He is 19 points behind his rookie teammate Garrett Smithley and 100 points outside the Chase cutoff with 10 races left until the series’ inaugural playoffs begin.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.