Drivers to watch in Sunday's NASCAR Cup race at NHMS

If Happy Hour is any indication of what to expect in the Overton’s 301 on Sunday, Toyota Racing will dominate the action at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Drivers to watch in Sunday's NASCAR Cup race at NHMS
Overall view of the race
New Hampshire atmosphere
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Race winner Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford

Kyle Busch was the fastest of six Camrys that posted the top-10 single-lap speeds. Martin Truex Jr., who starts from the pole after Kyle Larson’s time was disqualified, was second-quick in final practice and topped the Best 10 Consecutive Lap Average category. Busch was fourth on the list and his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Matt Kenseth — followed.

After winning the Xfinity race on Saturday at NHMS, Busch predicted the track will continue to change as the VHT applied to the track wears off as the race rolls on. 

“It’s going to be ever-changing and I think that’s just the theme of it that,” Busch said. “You can never know what to expect and you’ve always got to be ready for anything.”

While Larson will start from the rear of the 39-car field, he still exhibited speed in both single-lap runs (fourth) and in Best 10 Consecutive Lap Averages (ninth) in final practice. However, a 30-minute practice hold for failing pre-race inspection at Kentucky left the No. 42 Ganassi Racing team with just 25 minutes to dial in the car.

“It’s probably big,” Larson said. “It’s probably good for my attitude because I’d be double as frustrated if I had another run to do. So, I don’t know. We’ll work on it and we’ll get it better.”

Larson won’t have the cakewalk at Loudon that he enjoyed at Kentucky Speedway, where he came from the rear of the field and passed 38 cars to finish second. In post-race inspection at the R&D Center following Kentucky, NASCAR discovered the No. 42 Chevy had an unapproved rear brake cooling assembly that provided additional downforce to the car. Although Larson has two top fives and three top 10 finishes in six starts at the Magic Mile, he’s never started worse than 17th. On Sunday, he’ll start 39th.

“On long run stuff, I’m really bad,” Larson added. “I’ve got to get better at that. It’s just really loose in and really tight in the middle. And as the VHT is wearing off, I’m just getting worse and worse. So, I’ve got to work on that.”

Here are five others to watch on Sunday: 

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex has the speed. He has the track position. And he has the best pit stall for the Overton’s 301. Although Truex considers NHMS his second home track, he’s never won a Cup race on the flat one-mile oval. His last top-five finish at Loudon came behind the wheel of the No. 1 DEI Chevy in 2008. But Truex led a combined 264 laps in both events at here last year. Clearly, the Furniture Row Racing team knows what it takes to run up front. They could close the deal on Sunday.

Kyle Busch — Busch was also solid in every practice and starts seventh on Sunday. Traditionally, Busch runs better in the July race — where he’s scored both his New Hampshire wins. His most recent victory came here in 2015 but he’s also finished second in three of his last eight starts — with five podium finishes. In his last 10 starts at the track, he’s led 466 laps. 

Jimmie Johnson — The Champ is one of four drivers with three wins at NHMS. Only Brad Keselowski (10.3) and Denny Hamlin (10.4) have better average finishes at the Magic Mile than Johnson’s 10.5. The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy rolls off second on Sunday. It’s been seven years since his last win here. However, he’s tied with Matt Kenseth for most top fives (10) and leads the tour with 20 top-10 finishes.

Matt Kenseth — Kenseth has won three times in the last seven races. Not surprisingly, he has also earned the most points over the last eight races. He rolls off third on Sunday after running seventh in Best 10 Consecutive Lap Averages in Happy Hour and eight in single-lap runs. Without a ride for 2017, Kenseth will be in audition mode.

Joey Logano — Logano isn’t the best Ford of the bunch. Kurt Busch rolls off ninth. Ryan Blaney, the best Fusion in Happy Hour, was second-quick in Best 10 Consecutive Lap Averages and ninth in single-lap speeds. And Brad Keselowski, who dominated the Xfinity race prior to a pit road penalty, has the experience from the extra seat time entering Sunday’s Overton 301. Still, with Logano seated 12th in the standings — seven points behind Kenseth in the standings and with an encumbered win — the No. 22 Team Penske driver has to make something happen with eight races remaining before the Playoffs. Logano has two wins at Loudon, his home track. In his last five starts, he has one win, four top-fives and an average finish of 4.4.

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