Column By: AMY HARROP / RPW – LOUDON, NH – Rain plagued New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday morning and early afternoon, pushing the start of the race back by 3 hours.
After the cars finally got fired up and running, pole sitter Kurt Busch took off with the early lead. Busch, a Cup Series veteran, is no stranger to Victory Lane at NHMS. A win at the track in the Fall of 2004 solidified his first championship run of his career.
After going into a backup car due to a wreck in practice, Landon Cassill faced more troubles early into the race on Sunday, making hard impact with the wall on lap 15. AJ Allmendinger also experienced issues early on in the race, having a left rear tire go down on lap 19, which sent him into the turn 1 wall.
After a wet start to the day, the competition caution was brought out on lap 35.
The competition caution brought pit strategy into play, with Jimmie Johnson and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. electing not to pit. Truex Jr. took 2 tires, resulting in him coming off of pit road first in his #78 machine. Race leader, Kurt Busch, took 4 tires, causing him to lose a handful of spots.
Truex proved strong midway through the first stage, taking over the lead on lap 48.
A debris caution was brought out on lap 52, a result of a large chunk of debris sitting on the frontstretch, directly in the drivers’ line of fire.
Truex wound up capturing the stage victory, collecting ten driver points and one playoff point.
Big movers in the first stage included Chase Elliott, who went from tenth to second, and New England native Joey Logano, who made his way from 19th to 9th.
Kyle Larson experienced issues during the stage break, having to come down to the pits for a second time under caution so the #42 crew could re-check his lugnuts.
Truex took off with the lead once more, but his two fellow “Big 3” drivers, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, had snuck their way into the top five on the restart.
Lap cars split the two leaders on lap 129, with Chase Elliott making it a 4-wide battle at the front of the field. The lap traffic allowed Elliott to gain ground on Truex, granting him the ability to get right on his tail the following lap.
Chase Elliott captured the lead the following lap, pulling away from the field.
As Kurt Busch advanced into the runner-up spot, Aric Almirola made a late-stage pass on the #18 of Kyle Busch, breaking into the top five on lap 143 after starting the race back in thirteenth.
Chase Elliott fought off Kurt Busch to capture the win in stage 2, making it his first stage victory of the season and just the third stage victory for Team Chevy in 2018.
While the #88 of Alex Bowman experienced mechanical issues on pit road under the caution that caused him to lose a handful of spots, Kurt Busch won the race off of pit road by inches over the #9 of Chase Elliott.
As Kurt Busch took off with the lead once more on the restart, Aric Almirola made his way into the runner-up spot.
Kevin Harvick was on the move, making his way around Kyle Busch for fourth on lap 194 and later around Chase Elliott for third.
Brad Keselowski experienced an uncharacteristic bad day, losing his brakes around lap 200 and going a lap down.
Almirola had tracked down Kurt Busch by lap 210, taking advantage of the lap traffic. He captured the lead the following lap, taking over the top spot for the first time of the day.
Daniel Suarez began the round of green flag pit stops on lap 222. The leaders followed shortly after, with Almirola briefly losing the lead to Kevin Harvick. Kurt Busch experienced pit miscommunication during his green flag pit stop, causing the #41 car to lose a handful of spots.
Almirola made his way back around Harvick on lap 232, pulling back into the lead.
Clint Bowyer was penalized for pitting outside his pit box during his pit stop, going a lap down after running in the top ten all day. His problems continued on lap 256, where he slapped the turn 3 wall after experiencing tire issues. Bowyer’s incident led to a late-race caution with under 50 laps to go.
Aric Almirola’s pit crew bobbled with his left side tires during his pit stop, a mistake that cost Almirola the lead (plus a few more positions) as Kyle Busch took over the top spot.
The leaders, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, began to approach lap traffic on lap 185 as the rain started to come down on pit road.
The two drivers made slight contact on lap 291 in turn 2, followed by Harvick moving Busch into the outside groove on lap 294 in turn 2, powering into the lead.
Harvick took home the victory, taking home his sixth win of the season. The win made 2018 his winningest season to date, even with a handful of races still remaining in the 2018 season. The victory also solidified Harvick at the top of the Cup standings over Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Kyle Busch expressed his frustrations in his post-race interview, saying, “How you raced is how you get raced, it’s fine,” about Harvick’s last-minute move.
“Winning is important, and you’ve got to take every opportunity that you can…getting that “W” is what it’s all about,” Harvick shared in his Victory Lane interview when asked about his last-ditch effort to capture the top spot with just 7 laps to go.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will not return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway again in 2018, but the series will roll on next Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
With just a handful of races remaining until the playoffs begin, it’ll be interesting to see if the “Big 3” will continue their dominance, or if another big league hot shot will rise to the top in the Cup Series.
Only time will tell…
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Loudon, New Hampshire
Sunday, July 22, 2018
1. (14) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 301.
2. (3) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 301.
3. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, 301.
4. (2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 301.
5. (10) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 301.
6. (18) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 301.
7. (5) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 301.
8. (1) Kurt Busch, Ford, 301.
9. (19) Joey Logano, Ford, 301.
10. (21) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 301.
11. (8) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 301.
12. (20) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 301.
13. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 301.
14. (11) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 301.
15. (31) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 301.
16. (7) Erik Jones, Toyota, 301.
17. (12) Paul Menard, Ford, 301.
18. (22) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 301.
19. (26) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 301.
20. (24) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 300.
21. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 300.
22. (9) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 300.
23. (25) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 300.
24. (27) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 299.
25. (32) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 298.
26. (29) Michael McDowell, Ford, 298.
27. (33) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 298.
28. (28) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 298.
29. (30) David Ragan, Ford, 298.
30. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 296.
31. (35) * Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 294.
32. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 293.
33. (37) Blake Jones, Toyota, 289.
34. (36) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 267.
35. (15) Clint Bowyer, Ford, Accident, 255.
36. (16) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Accident, 19.
37. (34) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, Accident, 13.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 110.49 mph.
Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 52 Mins, 56 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.877 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 7 for 31 laps.
Lead Changes: 10 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: Kurt Busch 1-37; R. Stenhouse Jr. 38-48; M. Truex Jr. 49-131; C. Elliott 132-154; Kurt Busch 155-211; A. Almirola 212-228; K. Harvick 229-232; A. Almirola 233-257; K. Harvick 258; Kyle Busch 259-294; K. Harvick 295-301.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kurt Busch 2 times for 94 laps; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 83 laps; A. Almirola 2 times for 42 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 36 laps; C. Elliott 1 time for 23 laps; K. Harvick 3 times for 12 laps; R. Stenhouse Jr. 1 time for 11 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 78,9,48,41,12,18,4,14,22,10
Stage #2 Top Ten: 9,41,78,4,10,18,14,48,12,22