NASCAR Cup Series
By Pat DeCola
8 Minute Read
Everything you need to know for Sunday’s race, the 22nd points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season.
Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a 1.058-mile layout located in Loudon, New Hampshire
Green flag: 3:18 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: NBCSN/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Showers. High near 73. Calm wind becoming northeast around 5 mph in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 80%, according to NOAA.gov
Race Distance: 301 laps, 318.46 miles
Stages: Stage 1 – 75 laps | Stage 2 – 110 laps (ends at Lap 185) | Final Stage – 116 laps (scheduled to end at Lap 301)
Pit-road speed: 45 mph
Caution car speed: 50 mph
New Hampshire 101: Get the full lowdown
Starting lineup: See the full lineup
Pit-stall assignments: See who is pitting where | Expert breaks down pit selections
Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
1. It certainly was a NASCAR week to remember, and we now know officially Brad Keselowski and Matt DiBenedetto will no longer be with Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing, respectively, after the season. Now what? Well, there are still 15 races left for each of them with their respective teams, and they’re each capable of winning – particularly at New Hampshire. The 2012 champ Keselowski is the defending winner of the race, showing last season his proclivity with this rules package, extending his top-10 run at the “Magic Mile” to five in the last six there. DiBenedetto, while up and down this season, is currently on the rise and has finished sixth or better in the last two NHMS jaunts. With plenty to prove, look for these two Ford drivers to come out swinging this weekend.
2. It’s kind of hard to believe given the blistering start to the season he had, but Denny Hamlin may be looking to prove himself this weekend, as well. Despite still narrowly holding onto the points lead, last year’s seven-time winner is still mysteriously winless in 2021, but that could change Sunday. He has been in contention there lately – he was passed for the win in each of the last two Loudon races – and it has been a productive track for him in general. With three wins and six runner-up finishes at New Hampshire, he has finished top two in a third of his NHMS starts. Beyond Hamlin, this could be a boon of a weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole – all four of its drivers are excellent there.
3. In a vein similar to that of Hamlin, his fellow 2020 dominator in Kevin Harvick will be looking to rock out big time Sunday in the Granite State. Arguably the best driver at Loudon the past decade, Harvick has arguably also had the most head-scratching, winless season after he put up nine victories last year. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has won three of the last six NHMS events, has finished top five in six of the last seven and crew chief Rodney Childers has four wins there – most among all crew chiefs and at least one for all three manufacturers. You’d think this is where he puts it all together, but we’re well past the halfway point and Childers has implied there isn’t much left speed to be found in the No. 4’s last 15 races with the Gen 6 car. Still, Harvick is an all-world talent behind the wheel and could out-maneuver faster cars Sunday for what would be a strong statement victory.
4. OK, so if so many other drivers and teams have a shot to win – consider all Penske/Gibbs drivers as legitimate contenders -where does that leave the season’s best team in Hendrick Motorsports? Well, it’s tough to say. On one hand, it has been so dominant in this middle portion of the season it’s unrealistic to expect the powerhouse team to just bow down to Loudon’s typical magicians. On the other, it was unrealistic to expect the other teams to not catch up at some point, and this weekend might be when we really start to see shades of that. Hendrick drivers have just three total top 10s among them the past two weeks (of course, one of them was Chase Elliott‘s Road America win) and New Hampshire hasn’t been a strong track for Rick Hendricks’ group in quite some time. Kyle Larson still has the second-best odds out there at 21-4, but it seems oddsmakers are favoring the Fords and Toyotas overall. And they’re probably right.
5. How about a different Chevrolet driver landing in Victory Lane, though? How about the one who did last week? Kurt Busch shocked the world last Sunday – well, not if you read Power Rankings every week – when the 42-year-old out-dueled his younger brother for the win at Atlanta, but the question remains if Busch will find the fountain of youth again this weekend. He’ll certainly need it, as his three NHMS wins all came in 2008 or earlier, having finished 17th or worse in three of the last four races there. He has also only won back-to-back races once in his career, at Martinsville/Atlanta in 2002. Perhaps we’ll see another new winner this weekend (relatively likely considering what we said about Hamlin/Harvick), and apart from the drivers already mentioned it wouldn’t be too surprising to see a Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon or Ross Chastain victory Sunday, though those feel much less certain than Busch looked entering Atlanta. Either way, with five races remaining before the playoffs, there’s plenty to watch and Sunday should be a thrill ride.
Our biggest pieces of the week – get covered for race day from all angles.
– Power Rankings: Ryan Blaney heating up before strong Penske track | Scope the ranks
– Paint Scheme Preview: Magical paint schemes for Loudon | See the schemes
– Fantasy Fastlane: See which drivers to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice | Set your roster
– Preview Show: Jonathan Merryman and Alex Weaver preview the race | Watch the show
– Bubble Watch: Where drivers closest to the cutline stand before New Hampshire | See the bubble
Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.
– Betting odds for New Hampshire race | See the odds
– New Hampshire race provides teaching moments for NASCAR bettors | Find out why
– One-stop shop for NASCAR betting information | Check it out
– Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
– Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ
NASCAR is back in New England with a race at the “Magic Mile.” Take a look at some track history and what happened last time out.
– Remember this?: Memorable moments from New Hampshire | See the moments
– Boy, oh boy: Relive Clint Bowyer’s first career Cup Series win | Watch the 2007 Sylvania 300
– A lot of lobster: All-time wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway | See the winners
– Locked in at Loudon: How JGR has put together history NHMS run | Analysis
– Throwback ‘2’ last year: Keselowski victorious at the Magic Mile in ’20 | See how Kes won
Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.
– Chevrolet has only won one of the last 14 NHMS races (Harvick, 2016). The last time by a current Chevy driver? Kurt Busch, 2008.
– The Stage 1 winner has never gone on to win the race at NHMS. The Stage 2 winner has won twice.
– The race winner led 54 laps or fewer in six of the last eight races at NHMS. In the other two they led more than 180 in each.
– The average green flag stretch at NHMS in 2020 was 21 laps, the shortest in the last nine races there.
– The final lead change came with 30 or more laps to go in nine of the last 12 races at the “Magic Mile.”
Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Sunday’s race.
– You’re up, kids: Cindric, Burton making move to Cup in 2022 | See the details
– Like family: Harrison Burton teams with Wood Brothers | Read more
– DiBenedetto opens up: Matt DiBenedetto on losing Wood Brothers Racing ride: ‘It does suck’ | See what he said
– From 21 to 2: Why Roger Penske switched Austin Cindric’s 2022 Cup plans | Read more
– Silly Season tracker: Keep tabs on who’s headed where for next season | See the details
– Blueprint followed?: Did Team Penske, Wood Brothers follow Hendrick in driver shuffle | Full analysis
– Extending the pact: Kyle Larson to stay at Hendrick through 2023 | Read more
– Evolving stance: Rick Hendrick explains how he’s changed his mind on letting drivers run other disciplines | Read more
– Long-term view: Rick Hendrick aims “to keep the band together” in current lineup | See what he said
Notable quotes from the stars of the sport heading into Sunday’s race.
“New Hampshire has been a really hit-or-miss place for us. It’s just a different track. It takes a differing driving style, I feel like, than some of the other places. I look at Loudon as being more of its own animal. We’ve had a couple solid runs here, but never a dominating performance. I don’t feel like personally it has been my best place.” — Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
“I’m not crazy about touching the lobster. My wife (Morgan) is excited about it. I will probably let her hold it (if I win).” — Christopher Bell, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
“New Hampshire is fairly difficult. I feel like it’s a track that, historically, the veteran drivers do really well at with their experience there. It’s just a tough racetrack. You have to have a lot of grip in your car to run well. And honestly, this is one of the tracks that Rudy (Fugle) and I have done the best at in our careers. We have some testing notes there and know what works well and what the car needs to do. I’m honestly pretty excited about going to New Hampshire this weekend. It’s a track that Rudy and I have been looking forward to going to all season long.” — William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
“New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a track that I’ve had to work really hard at to understand how to run better and get around there properly. I put a lot of work in over the off-season to be better at places like short tracks and road courses where you use a lot of brake, and New Hampshire is a track where you definitely need to manage your brakes well. We’ve done a really good job this year improving at tracks I found challenging before, so I’m excited to see what that means for New Hampshire this Sunday.” — Tyler Reddick, driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet