NASCAR National Series News & Notes for New Hampshire

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Overton's 301
The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, July 16
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 318.46 miles (301 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on lap 301)

Tried And Truex: #78 Toyota Driver Goes For Second Straight Win Following Dominant Kentucky Performance

Martin Truex Jr. was the class of the field at Kentucky, leading a race-high 152 laps and winning every stage on his way to Victory Lane. He is now tied with Jimmie Johnson for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins lead with three. Truex leads second-place Kyle Larson in the points standings by 34 points.

With the two stage wins and victory at Kentucky, Truex increased his playoff point total to 28 - 12 points better than the next-best competitor (Johnson).

The #78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota driver will attempt to earn his second consecutive win in Sunday's Overton's 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). In 22 starts at the Magic Mile, Truex has no wins, three top fives, eight top 10s and a 13.7 average finish.

Statistically, Truex has been the most dominant driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season. In addition to being tied for the wins lead, he ranks first in average running positon (8.3), fastest laps (626), laps led (1,115, 21.4%) and driver rating (105.9).

Joe Gibbs Racing Still Searching For First Win

One year after winning a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series-high 12 races, Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to have a driver visit Victory Lane this season.

Based on history, there's a strong chance that win comes in Sunday's Overton's 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

JGR's Matt Kenseth is the defending race winner. In 34 starts at the 1.058-mile track, he boasts three victories, 10 top fives 19 top 10s and a 12.0 average finish (fourth in the series).

Kyle Busch boasts two wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s and a 13.8 average finish in 24 starts at New Hampshire. His 98.1 driver rating ranks fourth-best at the New England track.

Denny Hamlin is the third JGR driver who's visited Victory Lane at New Hampshire. In 22 starts there, he claims two wins, eight top fives, 13 top 10s and a 10.4 average finish (second in the series). He boasts the top driver rating 102.7 and the second-best average running position (11.1).

Daniel Suarez rounds out the effort for JGR. On Sunday, he'll make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series track debut at New Hampshire. He finished in the top five in his two NASCAR XFINITY Series starts at the Magic Mile.

JGR has won three of the last four races at New Hampshire with Kenseth (fall 2015, spring 2016) and Busch (spring 2015).

Lurking In The Grass: Quietly Consistent Elliott Eyes First Win

Most pundits expected Chase Elliott to get his first win by now. Although that hasn't happened yet, the 21-year-old Chevrolet driver has quietly secured five top-eight finishes in his last six starts.

That elusive victory should come soon for Elliott, who ranks fifth in the Monster Energy points standings and owns two playoff points via his two stage wins this season.

Coming off a third-place finish at Kentucky, Elliott eyes Victory Lane at New Hampshire where he finished 34th (July) and 13th (September) last season.

Larson Sits In Second, Continues To Race Like Title Contender

Kyle Larson notched his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series-best sixth runner-up finish of the season, yet trails Martin Truex Jr. by 34 points in the standings.

Competing in his fourth full-time season, Larson has proven he's a bona fide championship contender. Through 18 races, he owns two wins, eight top fives, 11 top 10s and a series-best 9.8 average finish. His 13 playoff points are tied for third-most in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The #42 Chevrolet driver will attempt to cut into Truex Jr.'s points lead in Sunday's Overton's 300 at New Hampshire. In six starts at the Magic Mile, Larson has two top fives, three top 10s, a 13.3 average finish and a high showing of second (fall 2014).

Halfway Point: Eight Races Left For Drivers To Earn Postseason Berths

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has reached its halfway point. The first half has featured three first-time winners, parity, youngsters giving fans a glimpse into the sport's future, dominant performances from some familiar faces and the enhanced racing format elevating the competition.

Eight races remain for drivers to earn berths in NASCAR's playoffs.

The following drivers would get in if the season ended today: Martin Truex Jr. (three, 28 playoff points), Jimmie Johnson (three wins, 16), Kyle Larson (two, 13), Brad Keselowski (two, 13), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (two, 10), Kevin Harvick (one, eight), Ryan Blaney (one, eight), Kurt Busch (one, five), Ryan Newman (one, five), Austin Dillon (one, five), Kyle Busch (138 points above Joey Logano on the cutoff line, four playoff points), Chase Elliott (+89, two), Jamie McMurray (+74), Denny Hamlin (+67, 2), Clint Bowyer (+24), Matt Kenseth (+7, two).

The first four out would be: Logano (seven points below Matt Kenseth on the cutoff line), Erik Jones (-52), Daniel Suarez (-98) and Trevor Bayne (-119).

Remember, a win gets a driver into the playoffs. Below is a list of winless drivers who have visited Victory Lane at upcoming tracks:

New Hampshire: Ky. Busch, Kenseth, Bowyer, Hamlin, Kasey Kahne
Indianapolis: Ky. Busch, McMurray, Paul Menard
Pocono: Hamlin, Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kahne, Chris Buescher
Watkins Glen: Hamlin, Ky. Busch, AJ Allmendinger
Michigan: Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth, Kahne
Bristol: Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth, Earnhardt Jr., Kahne
Darlington: Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth
Richmond: Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth, Bowyer, Earnhardt Jr., Kahne

Almirola Returns To #43 Ford

Two months after injuring his back in an incident at Kansas Speedway, Aric Almirola returns to pilot the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford this weekend at New Hampshire.

Almirola was cleared to race again after driving in a private test session Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. At the test session he obtained clearance to return to competition from medical personal and NASCAR officials.

In 11 starts this season, Almirola has two top fives, three top 10s and a 17.3 average finish.

"It felt great to be back in the race car yesterday," Almirola said. "After racing in the Monster Energy Series for five and a half years, it got to be routine, and I took it for granted. When something gets taken away from you at a moment's notice like that, it has certainly made me appreciate my passion for racing and my desire to compete at this level. The thrill of running 200 miles per hour in a stock car was something that I had honestly lost a little bit. After being out of the car for eight weeks, the passion is back, now more than ever."

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

New England Patriots Super Bowl Champion Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels To Serve As Official Pace Car Driver: New England Patriots Super Bowl Champion Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will serve as the official pace car driver for the Overton's 301 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"I enjoy NASCAR and love coming up to New Hampshire Motor Speedway whenever I get a chance," McDaniels said. "Driving the pace car to start the race is about as exciting as it gets. I know we have had players at the Patriots take a turn in the pace car, and I heard how much they enjoyed the experience. I look forward to my chance to do it. It will be fun to spend the day at the track."

McDaniels is the second member of the Patriots organization to have an enhanced presence at the track this season. Monster Energy athlete/Patriots All-Pro Tight End Rob Gronkowski participated in the DAYTONA 500 festivities and even celebrated with Kurt Busch in Victory Lane.

--- NASCAR ---