NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN)

Can Loudon Kickstart SHR Once Again?

Kevin Harvick entered New Hampshire in 2019 0-for-19 to start the year off. He won in Loudon and propelled himself to a hot end of the season to where he marched all the way to the Championship 4. In the first 19 races of that year, Harvick had just five top five finishes, none of which better than fours. In the final 17 races, he had 10 top fives including three wins. He had almost as many wins in 17 races than he had top fives in the first 19.

This year has been a similar start. In fact, the entire organization has been down in performance compared to the other big teams that they’re consistently fighting for wins again. But, like in years past, is Loudon the place to kickstart SHR into another great end of the season?

Harvick, has won two of the last three New Hampshire races including six top fives in his last seven tries there. Aric Almirola was third in 2018, 11th in 2019 and seventh last year. Cole Custer was eighth a year ago too.

As you can see, Loudon is a great track for SHR. It will be very telling this Sunday if they don’t resemble the past because we’d know that they still have a lot to work on.

Which HMS Shows Up?

Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t won at race at Loudon in nearly a decade. It was 2012 to be exact. In fact, their overall performance has been lacking in New Hampshire lately. Chase Elliott has one top five in seven tries. William Byron and Alex Bowman have each made three starts for HMS on the Magic Mile and neither have yet to score a top 10. Kyle Larson will be making his first HMS start on the track this weekend, so you can’t factor in his past stats yet.

But, HMS has also been really good on the season now though too. Does that translate well over to this weekend?

Kyle Larson was seventh in Phoenix, fifth in Martinsville, 20th in Richmond and eighth in Dover. Elliott was fifth, second, 12th and third on the same tracks. Byron was eighth, fourth, seventh and fourth respectively while Bowman actually won twice (Richmond, Dover) and was 13th and 34th in the other two.

So, which HMS shows up on Sunday?

They have won 15 of the last 35 races now after winning 14 of the previous 133. They’re 10-for-21 on the season in general and have won eight of the last 10 including last month’s All-Star race too.

Is This A Championship 4 Preview?

Since New Hampshire went down from two races each year to one annually, this race has ended up being a Championship 4 preview. Last year especially since Loudon can translate over to Phoenix. In fact, with Richmond, Martinsville and Phoenix all being in the playoffs, that’s 30% of the postseason being on like tracks to Loudon. That’s why this race is arguably so important.

But, in general though, all four drivers to make the Championship 4 in 2018, 2019 and 2020 have all finished in the top 10 at New Hampshire. Furthermore, they’ve went 1-2 in each of those three years at the checkered flag in this race including taking three of the top four spots in two of the three years overall.

Last year, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott combined to lead 285 of the 301 laps in New Hampshire. They finished 1-2-4-9. In 2019, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch finished 1-2-6-8 and led 272 of the 301 laps. In 2018, Harvick, Busch, Truex Jr. and Logano went 1-2-4-9 and led 131 of 301 laps.

Also, 12 of the last 13 New Hampshire winners are Cup champions.

What does 2021 hold? Will three of the top four finishers on Sunday be in the Championship 4 at Phoenix?

The odd trend is, among the four Championship 4 drivers the last three years, the one that finished last among the four at New Hampshire won the title. Logano was ninth in 2018, Busch eighth in 2019 and Elliott ninth in 2020.

Is This Toyota’s Race To Lose?

We talked above about the stats for Stewart-Haas Racing. They’ve been great in the past in Loudon but not so much on the season. Hendrick Motorsports has been great on the season but not so great recently in New Hampshire. Team Penske won last year with Brad Keselowski, but he and Ryan Blaney have struggled on 750 tracks this season. So, does this hand the race to Joe Gibbs Racing?

Since 2015, there’s been nine races on the Magic Mile. JGR has won four of them. In the other five races, they had a car finish runner-up.

They’ve finished runner-up in each of the last three years at that. Kyle Busch in 2018 and Denny Hamlin in 2019 and 2020. Busch, ended up winning in the 2017 playoff race with Hamlin victorious in the first of the two races on the 1-mile track earlier that season. In 2016, Matt Kenseth won the first race for JGR and was runner-up in the second one. In the 2015 playoff race they went 1-2 with the earlier race Busch winning.

So, with how this season has gone for SHR and how Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney have struggled on 750 tracks so far, is this JGR’s race to lose?

Hamlin does have two straight runner-ups to go along with being third in Phoenix, third in Martinsville, second in Richmond and seventh in Dover.

Busch has 10 top 10’s in his last 13 starts in New Hampshire with seven of which being in the top three.

Martin Truex Jr. has six straight top seven finishes there including being third last year. On short tracks this season, he’s won two of them (Phoenix, Martinsville) and was fifth in Richmond.

Christopher Bell is making his first Loudon start with JGR on the Cup side but he was ninth in Phoenix, seventh in Martinsville and fourth in Richmond. He’s won a race though on this track in the three years prior with a Truck win in 2017 and back-to-back NXS wins in 2018 and again in 2019. He finished runner-up in Truck competition in 2016 too.

This could be the group to watch. They’re heating up on the season too with Bell having two straight top 10’s, Truex finally getting back in the top five last Sunday, Busch having four straight top three results and Hamlin having a top five car again last weekend after having two top fives in the previous three weeks before as well.

Late Race Battle?

We saw Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch’s late race battle in 2018 for the win. It happened again a year later in a thrilling shootout between Harvick and Denny Hamlin. Last year’s wasn’t a thrilling as the two preceding it, but Brad Keselowski and Hamlin had themselves a duel still.

Will we see another battle on Sunday to the finish?

New Hampshire is known as a track position track where it’s hard to pass. That’s why the ending of these races has been kind of shocking in the sense that you do get an intense battle for the win. With lapped traffic almost always playing a role, it bunched the top few up and allows for some end of the race chaos. Will it happen again on Sunday?

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