2021 NASCAR Cup Series preview: New Hampshire

Sunday is a day of opportunity in the NASCAR Cup Series as drivers will look for a haul of momentum prior to the Olympic break that will put the motorsports organization on pause for three weeks. 

The destination? 

New Hampshire Motor Speedway, also known as the “Magic Mile.” The 1-mile track is the closest test championship contenders will have to see the equipment they’ll set up for the finale at Phoenix Raceway as New Hampshire has similar wide and flat corners like turns 1 & 2 in the Arizona desert.

With no PJ1 traction compound being laid down after a late decision from NASCAR earlier this week, the first 30 laps could be a trip into the unknown for drivers until the competition caution to properly adjust their cars. 

Kurt Busch became the 12th driver to win in 2021 and clinch a spot in the postseason. The win at Atlanta last weekend was important for the 42-year old as his plans for the future are unknown with Trackhouse Racing purchasing Chip Ganassi Racing’s NASCAR assets. 

The older Busch sets himself up for a good run at New Hampshire as he starts fourth. 

The younger Busch in Kyle came runner-up to his brother and was frustrated in the post-race as Kyle felt he was held up by Kurt’s teammate Ross Chastain. However, Kyle will be separated from Chastain, at least on the lead lap, and will lead the field to green for the first time this season. 

One driver who is always opportunistic prior to the postseason is Brad Keselowski. 

He’s the defending winner at New Hampshire and gave the fans a show in 2020 as he outdueled Denny Hamlin in the process to earn the victory. However, outside of Kansas and Pocono, Keselowski has failed to score a top-five finish since his victory at Talladega. He will attempt to change that as he starts 11th. 

Kevin Harvick has been known to provide entertainment at the “Magic Mile.” 

In 2018, he moved Kyle Busch in the closing laps to beat his bitter rival. A year later, Harvick held off a charging Hamlin in what was nearly a photo finish

While Harvick has yet to win in 2021, he sits a comfortable 158 points above the playoff cutline, but will need to start racking up wins and playoff points to not be under pressure in the first round. He will start 12th Sunday. 

Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing are taking a different route in 2022 with 2020 Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric taking over the No. 2 and Joe Gibbs Racing product Harrison Burton replacing Matt DiBenedetto in the famed No. 21. 

Entering New Hampshire, DiBenedetto sits 138 points below the cutline and has failed to win his Cup Series tenure. If he wants to prove that he still belongs in the Cup Series, he will need to begin a string of great runs Sunday and a playoff spot is, arguably, required if other teams are to consider DiBenedetto for a ride next season. DiBenedetto will roll off 14th. 

The gap at the playoff cutline grew tremendously after the Kurt Busch victory. 

What was once a reasonable distance for Chris Buescher is now a 96-point abyss to Tyler Reddick with just five races left until the playoffs. 

Stages for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 end on lap 75, lap 185 and the finish on lap 301. NBC Sports Network will provide TV coverage beginning at 3:00 p.m. EST while the Performance Racing Network takes care of audio duties.

Quin Houff, Corey LaJoie, Ryan Preece and B.J. McLeod will all drop to the rear of the field at the start of the race due to multiple inspection failures.

Starting lineup:

Pit stall assignments:

Goodyear tire notes: https://www.jayski.com/2021/07/13/goodyear-fast-facts-new-hampshire-4/

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