Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LOUDON, NH – Is it just a coincidence that six current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers share the distinction as three-time winners at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
No, says reigning series champion Joey Logano, who will try to add his name to the list in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at the Magic Mile (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“This race track is one that, for me earlier in my career, was the most frustrating track for me to go to, which always was awful because it’s my home track, and it’s where you want to run the best,” Logano said on Friday at New Hampshire.
“There are tracks like New Hampshire or Richmond or Martinsville that it seems like – and Sonoma is a little bit like this – but once you get something that works and the driver and the team understand what you need to be really good, not just in practice and not just in qualifying, but in the race when you have a long run or trying to pass cars and what traffic and restarts are, and once you figure out that balance, (you can be successful).”
In fact, New Hampshire is such a “feel” race track that, once a driver and team unlocks the secret, the likelihood of repeated success rises exponentially. That’s why Kevin Harvick could win in 2006 in a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and find success in both a Chevrolet (2016) and a Ford (2018) for Stewart-Haas Racing.
“You go through spells of capitalizing on things and having good cars and mediocre cars and circumstances, and I think that part of this sport is those streaks come and go at certain race tracks,” said Harvick, the defending winner at Loudon. “At RCR we had a lot of good, flat-track races at Richmond and Loudon, and we only won here one time, and I thought this was one of our better tracks.
“So I think as you look at different race tracks, I feel like we’ve always run fairly well here. I feel like we probably should have been to Victory Lane 10 times here, but you look at the results, and it’s just hard to win these races, but over the last few years it’s gone OK and we’ve been on the right side of it.”
Of the active three-time winners, Ryan Newman got his first victory at the Magic Mile in 2002, his rookie season. Jimmie Johnson swept both races at the track in 2003, and Kurt Busch followed with a sweep in his 2004 championship season.
“There are certain tracks that, when you find a nice setup, it stays hot for a while, and you’re able to use it the next time you come back, because not much changed, whether it’s been aero or the tires,” said Busch, last Sunday’s winner at Kentucky Speedway. “I remember in 2004 when I swept the two races here, the second race had a lot of weather issues and we didn’t get a lot of practice time.
“So, we were all forced to use the setup that we used at the first race. That helped us as a race-winning team to be able to sweep the races that year. It’s similar to Bristol. If you find that right setup, it works for a little bit.”
Or, as Logano said, you can develop a knack that can last for a decade or more, as three-time winners Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have done.
KYLE BUSCH FEELS RIGHT AT HOME AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
New Hampshire Motor Speedway may be a long way from Kyle Busch’s native Las Vegas, but the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has developed a fondness for the Magic Mile and its environs, dating to his days of racing Late Models.
“I love coming up here,” Busch said Friday at NHMS. “I’ve got a lot of friends from the area. I’ve raced over at Thunder Road (Barre, Vermont) before. I’ve race over at Oxford (Maine) before, so I’ve been around this area a little bit racing the short tracks and stuff.
“A few of those friends come on over here sometimes and visit a little bit, so that’s good.”
Then there’s the racing itself at the one-mile flat track. Busch got the third of his 55 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories at Loudon in 2006, driving for Rick Hendrick. He won again during his 2015 championship season and once more in 2017, both in the No. 18 JGR Toyota.
Small wonder Busch relishes his trips to New England.
“I enjoy coming to New Hampshire,” he said. “This has been a pretty successful place for us. We tend to qualify well here, race well here. We’ve won here a couple of times. We’ve been kind of the car to beat, one of the guys to beat here for about, I don’t know, the last two, three, four years maybe.
“Sometimes guys really, really hit on it, and the they’re better than us, (but) we’re just always consistently good here. So hopefully we can keep that pattern going at least and be consistently good here again, but maybe we can hit on it better than somebody else and try to win.”
OUT OF HIS ELEMENT ON PAVEMENT, CHRISTOPHER BELL STILL SCORES TOP 10
NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contender Christopher Bell kicked off his weekend in New England by stepping out of his comfort zone.
The driver who has won three straight Chili Bowl titles and grew up racing sprint cars on dirt took a side trip to Thunder Road in Barre, Vermont to try his hand in a Late Model on a paved short track. Bell was there as a de facto ambassador, but his expectations in the race itself were somewhat lower than his usual standards.
“Ultimately, I’m just there to have a good time and hopefully draw a crowd,” Bell said on Friday at NHMS, site of Saturday’s ROXOR 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“It seemed to work. There were a lot of people there. I just didn’t want to go in there and make enemies. I wanted to go in there and have fun and put on a good show.”
Bell finished ninth against a strong field at the high-banked quarter-mile.
“Whenever I go sprint car racing, that’s my bread and butter, right?” Bell said. “I grew up doing that, and whenever I go there, I expect to win. I wanted to win last night, but I just don’t have a lot of experience in those things. Expectations were just a little bit different.”