PLAYOFF PREVIEW: 2017 ISM Connect 300 At New Hampshire Motor Speedwayby Sarah Sedwick September 20, 2017
LOUDON, N.H. – While Martin Truex Jr.’s strong performance during the first NASCAR Playoff race resulted in a victory at Chicagoland, he will have stout competition as the series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the ISM Connect 300 on Sunday.
With his second consecutive win at Chicagoland, Truex automatically advances to the second round of the Playoffs. This season, Truex has obtained five wins, 11 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes. Despite his success thus far, Truex Jr., driver of the Furniture Row/Denver Mattress No. 78 Toyota, has never won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but he did win a NASCAR XIFINITY Series race at the Magic Mile back in 2005.
Kyle Larson, driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Target Chevrolet, has never won a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway either. Even with Larson’s fifth-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway, he has finished 18 races in the top-10 this year and is expected to keep that control throughout the Playoffs. Both, Truex and Larson sit first (Truex Jr.) and second (Larson) in the Playoff points standings, and both drivers are expected to maintain their successes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend.
“I was glad to see us have a solid start to the playoffs last weekend at Chicago,” Larson said. “We scored some points in each of the stages and came away with a top-five, and didn’t make mistakes, which was how we wanted to race this round. Loudon has been kind of a hit or miss track for us, but we’ve definitely been better there the last few races. We’ll look to get all we can out of our Target Chevy this weekend and hopefully have another solid race to put us in a good position coming down to the end of the first round of the playoffs.”
However, Kevin Harvick, driver of Stewart Haas Racing’s No. 4 Mobile 1 Ford, is the defending winner of the ISM Connect 300. Unlike Truex Jr. and Larson, Harvick only has one win this season, nine top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. He finished third at Chicagoland Speedway and is capable of pulling off another competitive finish this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Harvick is currently third in the Playoff standings and trails Truex Jr. by 35 points.
“I’ve been fortunate to be on the side of going into the first week and thinking you’re going to win the championship and I’ve learned that’s how you think every year,” Harvick said. “But the one thing about it that I have learned is you better think about it one week at a time and not break down anything until you get there because you might be broke down before you even make it to the end. So it’s a one-week-at-a-time battle, and the most important thing to do at this particular time of the season is control yourself from a mental capacity and try to keep yourself prepared going into each week because you don’t know what you’re going to have to approach next week until you get done with this week. Even if you’re running good or you’re running bad, it’s a one-week-at-a-time-and-survive mentality until you go as far as you can.”
Earlier this year, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin won the July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, while Larson placed second and Truex Jr. finished third. Hamlin finished fourth at Chicagoland last weekend and now ranks sixth in the Playoff standings. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota is a three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner in Loudon.
Hamlin’s teammate, Matt Kenseth, won the September race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2015, and he proceeded to win the first trip back to the track in 2016. In September of 2016, the 2003 series champion finished second and then fourth earlier this year in July. While Kenseth only ranks ninth in the Playoff standings, 63 points behind Truex Jr., he remains a favorite driver leading up to this weekend’s race. Kenseth has not won a race this year, but Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 may help catapult the Wisconsin native higher in the standings. While remaining ninth in the standings isn’t critical for Kenseth, winning at the track would ultimately ensure that he’d move on to the next round of the Playoffs.
The ISM Connect 300 will be held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, September 24 at 2 p.m. ET. The race will air live on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and the Performance Racing Network (PRN).
Photo Credit: Brenda Jane Photography