Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in NASCAR: New Hampshire Edition

Admit it, you thought we were done with the Big One after leaving Daytona, but Kentucky Speedway provided us with another crash that took out a big chunk of the field. It also provided us with a true fuel strategy race that caused plenty of drama without the help of a late caution. You’ve got to love that.

So the question we have to ask now is if Brad Keselowski is the most skilled driver currently on the Sprint Cup circuit. Last week at Daytona, he used his rearview mirror to know when to dive down low or pull up high to stay ahead of the fastest line and win at Daytona. Restrictor plate racing is certainly its own skill set. But then, with the lead well in hand in the closing laps Saturday night at Kentucky, Keselowski was in major fuel-saving mode (it looked like a Ford Fusion off the street could go faster than what he was doing), then when Carl Edwards closed and thought he was going to slide by Keselowski for the win, Keselowski had enough fuel to go fast enough for one more lap to beat Edwards. That, too, is its own skill, knowing how to save and then not being caught by surprise when doing so.

Martin Truex, Jr. seems to find the most bizarre, and sometimes excruciating, ways to not win races. While Saturday night’s 10th-place finish was not devastating for the No. 78 team as Truex has a win and is in the Chase, he appeared to have the fastest car late in the race. But in what turned out to be the final yellow flag pit stop, Truex was assessed a drive-through penalty for passing leader Kevin Harvick on the inside while they were entering pit road. Now, what Truex did was what every driver does, playing a little game with the speed timing lines, speeding up after crossing one just before heading to his pit stall. But this time, he did indeed pass Harvick. The question here though, is that little timing line game is played by every driver on pit road and is especially noticeable during a yellow flag pit stop. That Truex happened to pass the leader didn’t help his protest case. It was entertaining to watch Truex drive up through the field after his penalty, but he finally ran out of good tires when he got to third and then he had to pit for fuel late as he was not close to being in fuel saving mode.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)
Furniture Row Racing’s title hopes weren’t wounded Saturday but a pit road mistake probably stung their pride. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

It was great to see NASCAR give Marlana VanHoose the opportunity to sing the national anthem. VanHoose is blind and has cerebral palsy and she’s got a great singing voice. And as she has done at other major sporting events this year, including the NBA Finals, she did a great job with the anthem on Saturday night.

I have to admit that one of my fears when going to any sporting event is that something will happen to my vehicle during the event. That fear was realized for at least one car owner on Saturday night when it parked next to a white pickup truck that reportedly caught fire when someone was in it. Thankfully no one was injured, but I have to admit if my car was the one next to the truck that was all burnt up too, I’d probably have been angrier than a helmet-throwing Tony Stewart.

And speaking of Mr. Smoke himself, Stewart had a pretty good fuel mileage night, finishing fifth in his 600th career Sprint Cup start. Stewart said he knew his car’s handling was too tight right after his final pit stop to make progress through the field, so he started playing the fuel mileage game right away for those final 50 or so laps. The better news for Stewart is that he now has a 31-point cushion over 31st place Brian Scott in the points. That gives him a little breathing room in his quest to make the Chase.

At times this year it’s been easy to forget that Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are rookies. Elliott has been close to winning in at least three races and Blaney has been a regular competitor inside the top 10. But Saturday night, on a restart on a tight and slick track, Blaney was in the second lane and Elliott in a precarious third lane as they headed into a corner. Elliott, worried he was going to spin, was a little tight on Blaney’s driver’s door, and then Blaney spun anyway, taking them both out. They’ll surely learn from it and it was a pure racing accident. The wreck really hurt Blaney’s Chase chances though as he finished 35th and went from the 16th and final spot in the Chase to 18th, now 14 behind 16th place Trevor Bayne.

This week the Sprint Cup series heads to New Hampshire. Since Brad Keselowski has won two straight, maybe it’s time for his teammate to get a second win this season. So we’ll go with Joey Logano this week. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about pick this week is Kyle Larson. In the last four trips to New Hampshire he has an average finish of 13.25 with two top 10 finishes.

About the author

Jeff is in his fifth year with Frontstretch and in his third year of writing the Hot and Not column after having been the fantasy writer in his first two seasons. After spending all of his post-collegiate career in sports and news at newspapers, he changed professions three years ago, but remains a faithful fan of NASCAR and other forms of racing allowing him to give us his unique take on NASCAR each week.

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