Three hundred one laps in Loudon are scheduled for this Sunday on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit in the 20th race of the season. This is the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 and the only stop at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Magic Mile was a twice-a-year stop until 2017, but Las Vegas was granted another date and the town of Loudon drew the short straw in that decision.
It is fair to say that the playoff chase is officially on, so we have a lot to discuss regarding the race on July 21. Odds are posted on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers as we break this one down.
Three straight wins for Chevrolet. Chevrolet drivers won three races in the regular season all of last year. Chevy drivers haven’t won three straight races since the “Eliminator Round” of the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. That was Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Two of those guys are retired now, but all are legends of the sport.
We can’t say the same about Alex Bowman, Justin Haley, and Kurt Busch, but those are your three most recent winners. Haley won the rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400. Bowman won the rain-delayed Camping World 400. Busch won last week by besting his brother, Kyle, who finished second.
That is six wins for Chevy this season and NASCAR fans have to love the parity. Toyota, and Joe Gibbs Racing, in particular, was developing a run of dominance, but Ford closed the gap last season and now Chevy has leveled the playing field among the three manufacturers.
How We Stand
To a degree, anyway. The top six spots in the standings all belong to Ford or Toyota drivers, but still. It isn’t as lopsided as it once was. Joey Logano leads by 11 points over Kyle Busch. Kevin Harvick is 90 points behind Busch as he continues to search for his first win of the season. Brad Keselowski is 15 points behind Harvick and Denny Hamlin is three points behind Keselowski.
Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, and Aric Almirola, the only other top-10 driver without a win, is 10th. If the playoffs started today, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, and Erik Jones would be in.
Haley has the win, but he is not eligible for Cup Series points because he is running for Xfinity Series points. Ryan Newman is only two points behind Jones for the last playoff spot, but if somebody outside the top 16, but inside the top 30 wins, then that will eliminate a playoff spot. With Pocono and Watkins Glen coming up, you just never know what will happen.
Laugh Out Loudon
Maybe not, but the subheading is creative. There are betting odds for this race. Of course, you can’t actually bet them at Foxwoods Resort Casino, but they are still out there. Kyle Busch is the race favorite at +285. Truex Jr. is second at +450, with Harvick at +650 and Keselowski at +970. Everybody else is in double digits until you get to the super long shots.
It is a tad interesting to see Busch such a clear-cut favorite. He’s a two-time winner in this race in 2006 and 2015. He also won the last ISM Connect 300 back in 2017. But this is a track that has a lot of parity to it. There are four active two-time winners in both Busches, Johnson, and Hamlin, but Hamlin went 10 years between wins, Kyle went nine, Kurt hasn’t won since 2008, and Johnson hasn’t won since 2010.
Kyle has been runner-up three times since 2013 and had that 2015 victory. He also led the most laps in 2016 and finished eighth. So, he’s a fine favorite, but the price point seems a little overexaggerated. That being said, he has six wins in the Xfinity/Nationwide Series race here.
Truex hasn’t won here, but he won at Richmond and Dover earlier this year, so his much improved short track game is getting some respect. He’s got four straight top-five finishes here and led the most laps in this race in 2017 and then in the fall of 2016. He used to be more of a one-trick pony on 1.5-milers, but his short track game has really improved.
Keselowski was better here in the past, with a win in 2014 and the most laps led in a runner-up effort the following year. He hasn’t finished better than fourth since. Harvick won this race last year and has four top-five finishes in a row in this race. He won the late summer race in 2016 after leading the most laps the year prior. He just hasn’t been able to break through for a win this season and that scares me.
Loudon Long Shots
Household names have won this race the last five years, but Brian Vickers won in 2013 for Michael Waltrip Racing. Ryan Newman won in 2011 and also won the September race in 2005. That’s not to say that I’d bet him at +22000, but it’s simply to say that somebody off the board could very well take the checkered flag.
Kyle Larson is the guy I’m looking at. He’s +2500 this week. He was runner-up in this race in 2017 and also in the last September race that year. He ran really well at Dover earlier in the year on the one-mile track and has been better on short tracks than he was earlier in his career.
With that in mind, along with Larson at +2500, I’ll be throwing some scratch on Truex Jr. at +450. He’s been steadily improving on the short tracks and this is one that he has run very well at in the recent past. He just hasn’t been able to get to the winner’s circle. It’ll be a low-exposure race for me with the lack of consistency from the drivers that aren’t at short prices. From a matchup standpoint, I do think Harvick runs well here, though probably not well enough to win. Harvick over Busch isn’t a bad gamble and he’s a decent grab as a short favorite against the other guys priced around him.