Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: How Will Sitting Out NHMS Impact Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?

With Alex Bowman in the No. 88, how will Sunday impact Dale, Jr.?

Sitting out Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will have a number of factors that could make the rest of the season quite a haul.

Entering New Hampshire just 32 points above the 16th-place cutoff, Earnhardt’s Chase chances will take a blow when he sits on the sidelines with another possible concussion. However, the possibility of missing a second race will most likely turn the rest of his regular season into a must-win scenario.

That’s the short-term screen.

Shifting to the long-term focus, I have a certain level of concern in terms of Earnhardt’s NASCAR career in the years to come. Suffering a concussion in 2002, it took the then-27-year-old five months to announce his injuries. Jump to 2012, it was a testing crash at Kansas and a further wreck at Talladega to get driver No. 88 to step away from the scene for a couple races.

Photo: Zach Catanzareti
The focus gets foggy beyond one race missed for Dale Jr. [Photo: Zach Catanzareti]
With another concussion scare, possibly sparked by a semi-hard hit a few weeks back at Michigan, Earnhardt is doing the right thing by placing health over a racing season. However, soon, will he have to put his health ahead of his career?

Until his return is set, a pot of unfortunate gold has been found by Alex Bowman, who will fill the Hendrick Motorsports ride Sunday at Loudon.

Making his first Cup start of the year, the 23-year-old will fall back on his four XFINITY starts for JR Motorsports this season – not including his fifth start in Saturday’s XFINITY race at Loudon – to better prep for his big time in the spotlight.

Though the No. 88 has struggled in recent races this year, with Earnhardt having only one top 10 in the last 10 races, Bowman could show that an opportunity given could be a future ride taken away.

Will JGR get back to winning in Loudon?

Leave it to the wonderfully fickle sport of NASCAR to turn the headlines a full 180 degrees in the matter of about six weeks.

Joe Gibbs Racing on a losing streak? Are you serious? I thought NASCAR was going downward because of those stinkin’ Toyotas who wont let anyone else win. What happened?

Questions like these and more are currently being chucked around the NASCAR world, as the seven-time race winner this season in JGR has been on the sidelines while Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing taking the last five victories.

However, as the field rolls into the flat 1-mile track on Sunday, it’s important to remember that JGR’s drivers have grabbed ahold of the Magic Mile in solid form over the past few races.

Winning the last two events at Loudon, JGR has a packed house of speed no matter what track you drive into. Matt Kenseth has two of the last five race wins under his belt to join his eight top 5s in 32 starts.

Kyle Busch won this race one year ago and, not too long ago, had a run of three straight second-place results from 2013-14. Though Carl Edwards doesn’t sport a Loudon win, he has taken the last two poles, while Denny Hamlin, the two-time track winner, comes off a second place last season.

Following an unexpected winless run for the tenacious Toyotas, Loudon could continue the drought if its drivers don’t step up against the field.

Are Expectations Too High for Christopher Bell in Eldora?

Christopher Bell may be a soft-spoken, kind young man, but he knows how to get dirty on the racetrack.

That is, of course when the Camping World Truck Series enters the gates of Eldora Speedway for the Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby Wednesday night.

Though many drivers look forward to the lone dirt race in NASCAR national competition, 21-year-old Bell, who is a successful dirt racer long before his current NASCAR gig, is hot off the most recent victory at Eldora and has earned seven top 10s in the last eight races in 2016.

2015 Eldora CWTS Christopher Bell checkered flag credit NASCAR via Getty Images
Beaten and scuffed, expect no less next Wednesday from the dirt racing pro. [Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images]
With the momentum of a Gateway victory two races ago, Bell has high expectations leading into his favorite stop on the calendar.

“Eldora is a place where I feel like we can go there and run good at no matter what momentum we have,” Bell said. “Having some good runs in the past is going to help us going there.”

To join an uptick in performance for the No. 4 team, all eyes have been on his even younger teammate in William Byron, who already has four wins in his rookie campaign. Together, they combine for the last four Truck Series wins and 1/4th of the Chase for the championship.

Coming into one of the most unpredictable nights of NASCAR racing, back-to-back Eldora victories for Kyle Busch Motorsports make next Wednesday a must-win for Christopher Bell.

Will Brad Keselowski Win His Third Straight Cup Race?

Brad Keselowski will be going for a fairly rare feat this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In bowling, they call it a turkey. Many stick-and-ball sports use hat-trick, while the Los Angeles Lakers called it a three-peat. Triple Crown has also made its rounds on the racing side of sports

For Keselowski, however, he’ll just call it winning three consecutive races in the country’s top racing profession.

After a commanding checkered flag two weeks back at Daytona, the fuel-mileage thriller at Kentucky sets Keselowski up for a possible third-straight win Sunday at Loudon.

Based off his track stats, it’s likely that he’ll accomplish it.

Bad Brad sure hasn’t been bad at New Hampshire throughout his Cup career, with a strong run of nine consecutive finishes of 12th or better – which all include laps led from the driver of the No. 2 Ford. A win in 2014 puts a cherry on top of his five top 5s and 347 laps out front.

Hitting the ultimate in success the last two weeks, Loudon is arguably the best track Keselowski could see if he wants that third straight trophy.

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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