Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Preview

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continues with the second race of their playoffs in the ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, September 24th at 2 pm ET. Coverage begins on NBCSN at 1:30 pm. ET with radio coverage on PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Drivers will race 317.4 miles over 300 laps with Stage 1 ending on lap 75, Stage 2 on lap 150, and the last Stage ends on the last lap 300.

What to Watch for: Martin Truex Jr. opened up the Playoffs with a win at Chicagoland to advance to the Round of 12.

Denny Hamlin tries for a second consecutive victory at New Hampshire.

Kevin Harvick attempts to win at New Hampshire for the second fall race in a row.

Nine of the 16 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff drivers have won at New Hampshire: Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski.

Short Strokes

Happy Hour was anything but happy for Joey Logano. While other drivers practiced during Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series final practice, Logano sat on pit road, serving the entire 55 minutes in NASCAR’s version of a penalty box. Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford failed in repeated attempts to get through pre-qualifying inspection on Friday and did not make an attempt during time trials. He’ll start last in Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 with no practice during Happy Hour.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 15th on Friday, was eighth fastest in final practice at 131.112 mph, second-best among non-Playoff drivers. Earnhardt is racing at New Hampshire for the last time in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Ty Dillon scraped the wall with his No. 13 Chevrolet in Happy Hour and will start Sunday’s race from the rear in a backup car. Jimmie Johnson (seventh in final practice) and Chase Elliott (13th) also are in backup cars because of accidents in Friday’s opening practice but will start where they qualified (12th and 14th, respectively) because their wrecks occurred before time trials.

Truex Wins Playoff Opener

Martin Truex continued his winning ways in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs opener by taking the checkered flag at Chicagoland Speedway – his second consecutive victory. Because of his win, he advances to the second round automatically.

Truex increased his series-leading playoff point total to 58. Kyle Larson has the next-highest total with 33.

The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing driver ranks first in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in wins (5), stage wins (18), top-tens (18), average finish (10.6), average running position (7.3), driver rating (115.8), fastest laps run (1,023, 16.7%) and laps led (1,723, 24.0%).

He’ll go for back-to-back wins in the 2017 Playoffs in Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Truex has four top-fives, nine top-tens and a 13.3 average finish in 23 starts at New Hampshire. He placed third there in the spring. 

Truex Tops Playoff Grid Coming Out of Chicagoland

Martin Truex Jr. kept his spot on top-of-the Playoff Grid following his win at Chicagoland. Following him are 2. Kyle Larson (49 points above Kurt Busch in 13thplace, on the outside of advancing), 3. Kevin Harvick (+41), 4. Brad Keselowski (+35), 5. Kyle Busch (+35), 6. Denny Hamlin (+32), 7. Jimmie Johnson (+20), 8. Chase Elliott (+18), 9. Matt Kenseth (+13), 10. Ryan Blaney (+8), 11. Jamie McMurray (+5), 12. Austin Dillon (even, 16th-place finish at Chicagoland was better than Kurt Busch’s 19th), 13. Kurt Busch (even, 19th-place finish at Chicagoland was worse than Austin Dillon’s 16th), 14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (four points below Austin Dillon on the cutoff line), 15. Kasey Kahne (-5), 16. Ryan Newman (-7).

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s 25th-place finish was the lowest by a Playoff driver at Chicagoland.

Playoff contenders produced all but one of the top-ten finishes at Chicagoland. Joey Logano finished seventh to lead drivers outside of the Playoff field. 

Hamlin Hopes for New Hampshire Sweep

Denny Hamlin will go for the season sweep of New Hampshire on Sunday. He led 54 laps on his way to the checkered flag there in July, beating out second-place Kyle Larson by .509 seconds. Martin Truex Jr. finished third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.

The No. 11 Toyota driver enters Sunday’s race carrying a ton of momentum. He has finished in the top-five in ten of his last 13 races and has scored four consecutive top-fives.

In 23 career New Hampshire starts, Hamlin owns three wins, nine top-fives, 14 top-tens and a 10.0 average finish (second best among active drivers). His 104.0 New Hampshire driver rating tops the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Harvick Goes for Second Straight New Hampshire Playoff Win

Another driver performing well right now with little fanfare is Kevin Harvick – last year’s fall New Hampshire winner. The No. 4 Ford driver has eight top-ten finishes in his last 12 starts, including a third-place showing at Chicagoland last weekend where he led 59 laps.

In 33 career starts at New Hampshire, Harvick claims two wins, ten top-fives, 18 top-tens and a 12.8 average finish. He has produced a top-five result in five of his last six starts at The Magic Mile. His 10.9 average running position at New Hampshire ranks third among active drivers. 

Past New Hampshire Winners Look to Gain Automatic Berth in Second Round

Nine of the 16 playoff drivers have previously visited Victory Lane at New Hampshire. They’ll try to channel their experience to do it again and earn an automatic bid to the second round. Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson lead active drivers with three wins apiece at The Magic Mile. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick have won at New Hampshire twice. Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski have each lifted the lobster in Victory Lane once at the New England track. 

Logano Can Play Spoiler at Home Track

Just because a driver didn’t make the playoffs doesn’t mean he/she stops racing. Drivers can play spoiler in a race, taking away an automatic transfer spot.

A competitor with a good shot at playing the role of spoiler this weekend is Joey Logano. He placed second at Richmond two weeks ago and seventh last weekend at Chicagoland (best among non-Playoff drivers).

Logano, from nearby Middletown, Connecticut, has two wins, six top-fives and eight top-tens in 18 career starts at New Hampshire.