While it wasn’t necessarily a race of follow the leader all day, it sure was a statement race by two of the most dominant drivers on the track today, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.
Hamlin won the first Stage and led 92 laps during the day. And when he wasn’t leading, Brad Keselowski was, winning Stage 2 and the final laps while leading a whopping 184 all day. Sure a handful of other drivers led a few laps here and there, but this was a but whooping by the 11 and 2 cars.
The race had several cautions for flat tires. New Hampshire is a relatively flat track and just ate the tires of a number of cars all day. Was it camber or contact? Seems like both were in play. Kyle Busch started the parade of wrecks early on when his right front blew out and he crashed into the wall. Far too early for building up too much heat in the brakes so it was either something on track he ran over or he, like other teams, perhaps had a little too much camber in their set up.
The cautions gave teams the opportunity to change strategies all race long. It seemed like every time you turned around, Ryan Blaney was pitting and trying to advance his position via pit stops at the end of each stage and at every caution. It worked just enough for him to gain some stage points but he finished 20th, certainly not the day they were hoping for considering just how much better his teammates ran.
But this was Keselowski’s race and makes you scratch your head a little when it comes to the final race at Phoenix. Similar tracks, similar tire compounds probably and Joey Logano won at Phoenix in the Spring while Special K won at New Hampshire. Could be a special time for the Penske teams.
Hamlin appears to be in the groove right now. He hasn’t been making the kind of mistakes that have plagued every title run he has made in his career. He may be sitting third in points but he is seeded number one the playoff picture.
Kevin Harvick is the top dog still with his 4 wins and lead in Top 5 and Top 10 finishes and no DNFs. Those are the kind of numbers that keep you in the playoff hunt till the end. He finished 5th and led just 6 laps.
Looking across the Top 15 I am pleased to once again report Matt DiBenedetto finishing 6th and still in the playoff picture. Rookies Cole Custer finished 8th, Tyler Reddick 10th, Ryan Preece 16th and Christopher Bell 28th.
It was a banner day for the blue oval teams putting 6 cars in the Top 10. Toyota ran 2-3 and Chevy rounded out the Top 10 with Chase Elliott (9) and Tyler Reddick. Chevy teams had a lock on the Top 20 though owning positions 9-17.
Next up is a double header at Michigan International Speedway. Both races will only 156 laps so they should be good to watch drivers race to the front since they are shorter by nearly 100 miles. This has been a historically good track for the Joe Gibbs and Stewart-Haas racing teams.
Maybe this will be the weekend Kyle Busch redeems his season or Martin Truex, Jr. gets another win. Or will Denny Hamlin steal the show? Either way, they will need to best Kevin Harvick with 2 wins at Michigan since 2017 while the others above have none.
My dark horse is Aric Almirola winning one of these races. Who do you have?
(Image courtesy of NASCARMedia/Maddie Meyer | Getty Images, and used with permission)