The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Loudon, New Hampshire, after a nine-day break. That’s the most time off drivers have gotten since the sport resumed following its coronavirus shutdown! Catching back up with the schedule required a massive effort from everyone in the sport, and drivers and staff alike deserve props.
Denny Hamlin outfoxed the field and won last Thursday at Kansas, and he’s got one of his best tracks coming up this weekend. Despite his track record, I’m not convinced that he’s the best bet for this weekend — let’s crunch the numbers and see if we can find an edge. Sunday’s race gets underway at 3:00 PM EST on NBC Sports.
Past Performance at New Hampshire
New Hampshire Motor Speedway is just over a mile long, and it features long straightaways and tight, flat corners. It’s essentially a bigger Martinsville. But since no track compares directly to NHMS, I’ll work with it in isolation.
|Driver Name||Avg Finish||Races||Wins||Top 5’s||Top 10’s||Driver Rating (Last 5)|
|Martin Truex, Jr.||12.31||26||0||6||12||121.80|
*I calculated DiBenedetto’s stats based on only his start with Leavine Family Racing in 2019.
Matt DiBenedetto performed well here in decent equipment last year. He had never finished better than 28th before last year, however, but I think we can chalk that up to the backmarker teams he used to race for.
Denny Hamlin has the best average finish at NHMS of all drivers with double-digit starts, and only Harvick has more wins. Hamlin has earned top-10s in 57.7 percent of his starts at this track, and that’s impressive, but his top-5 rate of 38 percent is even more remarkable. In his last five races, he’s either finished top-2 with at least 50 laps led or he’s finished outside the top-10 with no laps led. While Hamlin isn’t a bad bet this week, he can be more hit-or-miss than the numbers immediately indicate.
Next, Brad Keselowski has the second-best average finish. That said, he’s only won here once, and his driver rating leaves something to be desired. He only finished tenth after starting on the pole here last year, and he’s only led 14 laps at NHMS since 2016. While he probably won’t dominate on Sunday, he should contend for a top-10 — he’s posted four top-10 finishes in his previous five New Hampshire races.
Recently, the two most dominant drivers at New Hampshire have been Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have combined for nine top-10s in the last five (the one miss belongs to Kyle Busch) along with 912 laps led. That’s 60 percent of the total laps run! While the duo only pulled off one win, that feels more like bad luck than anything else.
Veterans Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth are the last two drivers with driver ratings above 100. Harvick has the most wins of all active drivers here, and he’s won both of the prior two NHMS races. He’s won three of the previous five, and aside from a crash in the fall of 2017, he hasn’t finished worse than fifth. It’s worth noting that Harvick didn’t dominate in any of those three victories — he only led 61 laps across the trio of wins.
Kenseth doesn’t have a win in the last five NHMS races, but he won the two immediately before that. His previous six finishes here are first (2x), second, fourth, third, and fifteenth, so he should compete as long as he gets a good car.
This track rewards the grinders like Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, and Clint Bowyer. The three of them have multiple wins here, although all of those victories came before the current generation car (Newman’s 2011 win is the most recent. Bowyer won in 2010, and Kurt Busch won in 2008). These guys may not compete for wins anymore, but they do compete for top-10s –the trio combines for seven of them in the last five. That said, Newman has done more with less equipment-wise than both Kurt and Clint.
NASCAR drivers can only go as fast as their cars can go. As a result, we need to consider recent speed when making picks. I use driver ratings to do this, as the metric weighs stats like laps led and average running position. I’ve isolated only the races that used the new short-track package (Bristol, Martinsville, and Phoenix) to illustrate what we should expect on Sunday.
|Driver||Driver Rating (Short)|
|Martin Truex, Jr.||91.10|
Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski have impressive short-track driver ratings. The two drivers have the best average finishes this season, and they’re one-two in the standings. Despite Harvick’s high rating, he’s only posted one top-10 at a short track this year, so it’s safe to expect some correction on Sunday. In contrast, Keselowski’s lucky win at Bristol and third-place at Martinsville boost his numbers, so I’d expect him to finish below this mark on Sunday.
Kyle Busch has an impressive rating at short tracks despite his otherwise disappointing 2020. He still hasn’t won a race this year, but he posted a pair of top-5s at short tracks earlier this year. While he struggled at Martinsville, one of his Gibbs teammates earned the win, so it wasn’t a Toyota problem.
Martin Truex, Jr. won at Martinsville, but he crashed at Phoenix and finished 20th at Bristol. The small sample size probably hurts him more than it should.
Next, Clint Bowyer has a strong average driver rating across the three short-track races so far. He’s been unremarkable at intermediates, but he posted a top-5 at both Phoenix and Bristol. He seemed to struggle with tire fall-off more than other drivers. Fortunately, since the sport will use the same tire set-up that they used at Phoenix, that shouldn’t be a concern here.
Kurt Busch earned top-10 finishes in each of the three short-track races, and his driver rating reflects his consistency. He may not compete for a win, but he’ll bring his equipment home where it belongs.
Matt DiBenedetto hasn’t been as great on short-tracks as they can be. DiBenedetto has only one top-10 in this package, but he led laps at Bristol before a speeding penalty mired him in traffic and got him involved in a wreck. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a much-needed strong performance on Sunday.
I’ll end with Denny Hamlin. He’s won five races this year, but he hasn’t finished better than 17th in the new short-track package. That’s a good enough reason for me to rule him out this week.
Let’s take a look at the betting odds for our featured drivers over at DraftKings Sportsbook.
|Martin Truex, Jr.||+800||+120||-275|
Once again, Harvick is the betting favorite. Since DraftKings is more bullish on Hamlin than they should be, that opens up the value for other drivers lower on the board.
Best Bets for New Hampshire
To Win: Kevin Harvick (+400) AND To Win: Kyle Busch (+700)
If Kyle Busch doesn’t break through on Sunday, I think Harvick will get the win. Harvick’s three recent wins prove that he’s got the savvy to steal wins at this track, while Kyle Busch’s laps-led dominance and relative success at short tracks this year give him some appeal. It’s not often you can get a guy as talented as Kyle at +700 odds to win here, so punch it in and hope for the best.
To Finish Top-5: Kyle Busch (+115)
Even if Kyle can’t win, he should bring his car home in the top-5 — he did precisely that at Phoenix and Bristol. With his third-best short track rating and his past success at NHMS, look for him to turn his season around this weekend.
To Finish Top-10: Martin Truex, Jr. (-275)
Truex has five top-10s in the last five NHMS races. Three of those were also top-5s, so it’s tempting to take him to finish that high, but I’ll take the extra security here instead.
To Finish Top-10: Clint Bowyer (+130)
Bowyer’s short-track success should continue this weekend. He may not compete for the win, but he needs the points, so he’s got an extra incentive to take fewer risks and keep his car close to the front on Sunday.
To NOT Finish Top-5: Denny Hamlin (+100)
I don’t often recommend betting against a driver. That’s only because the lines are rarely that profitable, however, which isn’t the case for this one. Hamlin’s hit-or-miss record at NHMS makes this a smart line, and his five wins on the year mean that he doesn’t have to care as much about points. If he goes all-in for the win, he could take risks that keep him out of the top-5.
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