By Jared Turner
Six of the past seven races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway have been won by a Joe Gibbs Racing car or Team Penske car.
Considering that JGR and Team Penske have combined to win 12 of this season’s first 18 events, there’s no compelling reason to expect a driver from one these organizations won’t wind up in Victory Lane on Sunday afternoon at NHMS.
Oh, sure, there are multiple drivers with a chance to win on any given weekend, but all signs point toward a JGR-Team Penske clash on Sunday afternoon at the 1.058-mile oval dubbed “The Magic Mile.”
“Loudon has been a great track for our FedEx team over the years,” said JGR’s Denny Hamlin, a winner at NHMS in 2007 and 2012.
“We have excelled at the short tracks, and New Hampshire is a flat oval that really suits my driving style. We have had some races there where we were the dominant car, and others where we’ve had to work a bit to stay up front.”
Hamlin’s JGR teammate, reigning Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch, is the defending winner of the July race at Loudon where last year he led 95 of 301 laps to beat second-place Brad Keselowski – no surprise, a Team Penske driver.
In that race one year ago, JGR and Penske drivers held five of the top seven finishing positions.
“Loudon is a Martinsville-like short track but it’s just over a mile,” said Busch, who won at Martinsville for the first time in the spring of this year. “It’s a little more spread out, but there’s some rooting and gouging going on because it’s a one-lane track and everybody fights for that particular groove. To be fast at Loudon, you have to have good brakes and you have to roll the center really well and get that good forward bite off the corners and make sure it sticks.
“The biggest thing about Loudon is, you keep losing front turn and that’s why the brakes go away, just because the corners are longer and more sweeping that you need to keep those front tires around you.”
With Sunday’s race being one of the shortest of the season in terms of overall distance, Busch believes there’s no time to take a breath and let the race come to you.
“Essentially, at Loudon, you’re looking at how good your fuel mileage is and you have to look at when you have to make your last pit stop since that’s what everyone looks at,” he said. “You end up running it almost like a road-course race because you do want to be the first guy on the last round of pit stops to pit. You want to get in there, get your tires and fuel, and then stay out the rest of the race and keep your track position since it’s so important there. It’s just a challenging race because it is so hard to pass there.
“You can’t be two-tenths faster than a guy and be able to pass him because everyone typically runs the same speed. You’ll have it where the leader might be a tenth better than the second-place guy, but everyone is separated by so little that it takes a mistake on someone’s part in order to pass them there.”
Over on the Team Penske side of the ledger, Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano – who joined to sweep the New Hampshire races in 2014 – have high hopes of their own.
This weekend is especially big for Logano, a two-time Loudon winner who hails from Middletown, Connecticut and notched his first career Sprint Cup win here back in 2009.
“This is probably the most important track to me on the schedule because it really is my home track,” Logano said.