Lobster up for grabs at New Hampshire

Lobstah, anyone?

This weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to New England for the Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The NASCAR XFINITY, K&N Pro Series East and Whelen Modified Tour will also be in action from NHMS this weekend. The race marks the first of two dates this season at “The Magic Mile” and always puts on a good show in the Northeast.

WHAT: Overton’s 301. 318.46 miles, 301 laps (stages of 75, 75 and 151 laps, respectively)

WHEN: Sunday, July 16, 2017. Green flag scheduled to fly at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

WHERE: New Hampshire Motor Speedway, one-mile asphalt oval in Loudon, NH

FAVORITES: Kyle Busch (4-1), Martin Truex Jr. (5-1) and Kevin Harvick (6-1)


LAST YEAR’S WINNER

Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Matt Kenseth won for the second time in 2016 and third time in his career at NHMS last season in the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. He led 38 laps and survived three late-race restarts en route to victory lane. The win was his 38th of his MENCS career.


THE FIELD

Qualifying for the Overton’s 301 went like most of the season has: Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. leading the rest of the field and running away with the top two spots. Or so Larson thought. His qualifying time was disallowed due to a rear deck fin issue. It passed inspection before qualifying, but apparently was modified that it failed post-qualifying inspection. This means that the second place qualifier, Truex Jr., earned the pole.

Larson and MTJ sit first and second in the championship points standings.

Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five qualifiers, with Kasey Kahne, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch rounding out the top 10. Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez also nabbed top 15 starting spots. Some other notable starters include Ryan Blaney in 16th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 19th, Clint Bowyer in 20th, Austin Dillon in 27th and Danica Patrick in 31st.


TRUEX JR. GOING FOR TWO

Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Coming off his dominating performance last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. looks to go back-to-back and earn his first career win at “The Magic Mile.” In his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, Truex Jr. has zero wins, three top fives and eight top 10 finishes. His average finish in 22 starts at New Hampshire is 13.7.

Kyle L

arson’s No. 42 team was penalized earlier this week for a rear brake cooling assembly violation. The penalty entailed a 35-point penalty and a three-race suspension and $75,000 fine for crew chief Chad Johnston. After the penalty, Larson now sits second in the standings, one point behind Truex Jr. The leader in the standings after the regular season ends gets 15 playoff points, with second place earning 10. It appears it’s going to come down to one of these two.


SILLY SEASON DOMINOES BEGINNING TO FALL

The dominoes are beginning to fall, and the Silly Season picture is starting to look clearer.

Matt Kenseth’s nonchalant announcement that he wouldn’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing forced JGR’s hand this week, and they bit. The four-car Toyota powerhouse team announced that Erik Jones, current driver of the No. 77 Toyota for satellite team Furniture Row Racing, would pilot the No. 20 car next season full-time. No sponsorship or crew chief arrangements have been released or made quite yet, but THINGS ARE HAPPENING, FOLKS.

The No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports is still open, and whoever fills that seat could determine who fills the others that may become open. Such as the No. 21 for the Wood Brothers, No. 5 for HMS, No.’s 10 and 41 for Stewart-Haas Racing and some other notable rides.


ARIC IS BACK

After missing two months and eight races, the full-time driver of the No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports will be back behind the wheel this weekend in New Hampshire.

Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Aric Almirola has been cleared by medical professionals to return to NASCAR racing. He suffered a T5 compression fracture in his back at Kansas Speedway in May.

“My doctors told me right from the beginning that they weren’t going to let me go back in the race car before they felt confident that I could withstand another accident,” Almirola said at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday afternoon. “It wasn’t about how I felt, if I could go actually drive the race car. It was about whether or not my body could withstand another accident.”

Almirola participated in a test earlier in the week at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the No. 43 car. With crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, Almirola tested for four hours and ran laps (longest stint of 30 laps) before ultimately feeling 100 percent comfortable and safe behind the wheel.

Almirola is a one-time winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, back in Daytona in 2014. If he wants to make the playoffs this season, he must win before the regular season ends.


STICKY SITUATION

VHT, sticky stuff, glue, PJ1—whatever you want to call it, it’s back.

Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The race track and NASCAR have put down PJ1, another form of the sticky substance, in all four corners of the race track in efforts to improve the on-track product throughout the weekend. Charlotte Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway have previously put down the same sort of substance, and it was well received both times. Charlotte is asphalt, Bristol is concrete.

NHMS applied a five foot strip along the bottom lane and a 10 foot strip in the top lane. They left the middle alone, which is the preferred racing groove. This should please drivers, who previously asked tracks to treat their respective surfaces outside the preferred racing groove. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is doing just that. We’ll see how it plays out on Sunday.


PREDICTION

As stated this week on Victory Lane, I am going with Joey Logano to grab his second of the 2017 season this weekend at New Hampshire. He has won twice at NHMS, including his first career victory back in 2009, and needs another win if he wants to guarantee himself a spot in the playoffs. His win at Richmond earlier this season has been labeled as encumbered.