Truex a Huge Favorite at New Hampshire
Martin Truex Jr. won last week's playoff opener at Chicago, and this week enters New Hampshire with 2-1 odds to make it 2 in a row, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. That would make him the biggest favorite in any of the 28 Cup Series races this season.
Truex has been the dominant driver over the last 2 years at New Hampshire. In 3 races at the Magic Mile, he's led more than 44% of the laps. But the one thing he hasn't done is win. He's winless in 23 career starts at New Hampshire. Before leading 401 laps in the last 3 races there, he had led 148 in his first 20 starts at the track.
Truex Jr. has already set career highs in wins (5), top 5 (11) and is nearing a career-high in laps led (he's at 1,723, career-high in 1,809 last season). 9 of his 12 career wins have come over the last 2 seasons.
Truex Jr. is trying to become the 4th driver to win the opening 2 races of the playoffs, only 1 of the previous 3 actually went on to win the championship.
Can Hamlin Recreate the Magic at "The Magic Mile"?
Denny Hamlin is looking to be the 3rd driver to win both races at New Hampshire in a season since the track started hosting 2 races a year in 1997. One, Kurt Busch in 2004, went on to win the championship. The other, Jimmie Johnson in 2003, didn't win the title that year but would go on to win 7 of them.
Hamlin is already one of the most-accomplished drivers in series history that has yet to win a championship. His 31 wins are the 4th-most among drivers with no titles.
Hamlin is among 5 active drivers with 3 New Hampshire wins. 1 more by any of them would tie Jeff Burton for the track record with 4. The others are Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.
Gibbs Drivers Feel Right at Home in Loudon
Hamlin isn't the only driver from Joe Gibbs Racing to excel at New Hampshire. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are former winners there, and Daniel Suárez finished 6th in his only career Cup start at the track. Overall, Gibbs has 10 wins at the track, the most by any Cup Series team.
Busch is coming off a rough race at Chicago. He won the pole early and led a lot of laps, but finished 15th. Busch has had an issue in his career coming through with wins in playoff races. His only wins in 123 starts came in 2005, when he didn't actually qualify for the playoffs, and the 2015 Homestead race, which won him the Cup Series championship.
Can Chase Elliott Recover From Penalty?
Chase Elliott finished 2nd at Chicago, tying the best finish of his Cup Series career. But he was penalized 15 points after the race for an illegal aerodynamic modification found after the race, sending him from 6th to 8th in the playoff standings. He also lost the playoff point he earned with his stage win. However, we now head to a track where first-time winners have been plentiful. There's been 5 first-time winners at New Hampshire since 1999, tied for the most at any track.
There's only been 2 first-time winners in playoff races, and none since 2007. But the last time there was one in a playoff race, it was at New Hampshire.
Elliott has 4 career 2nd-place finishes without a win. That wouldn't be in the top 10 for the most career 2nd-place finishes before a driver's first win. In fact, Chase's father Bill Elliott had 8 runner-up finishes before his first victory (the record is 12 by James Hylton).
Look for Winners Deeper in the Field
14 of this season's 27 Cup Series winners started in the top 5. But look for the winner to come from a little deeper in the field at New Hampshire. The last 2 winners of the playoff race at New Hampshire have started 13th or worse, and the last 6 started outside the top 5.
XFINITY, Truck Series Playoffs Both Get Underway
Along with the Cup Series running its 2nd playoff race, both the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series start their playoffs. XFINITY will be racing at Kentucky and the Trucks are at New Hampshire.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. might not be in the running for a Cup Series title in his final full season as a driver, but he could still go out a winner. JR Motorsports, which he owns, has the top-3 drivers in the XFINITY Series playoff standings, William Byron, Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler.
For Sadler, a title could be a long-time coming. In his XFINITY Series career, he's led the points after 67 races, easily the most for a driver to never to win a championship, and the 3rd-most in series history behind Jack Ingram (76) and Kevin Harvick (72).
The Truck Series championship race is a mixture of young and veteran drivers. 6 of the playoff drivers are 22 or younger. The other 2 are 39-year-old Johnny Sauter and 41-year-old Matt Crafton, winners of 3 of the last 4 series championships.
Who's Hot and Who's Not - New Hampshire (Playoff Driver Edition)
• Matt Kenseth: 3 wins, 5.4 Avg finish leads all drivers at New Hampshire over last 5 seasons
• Martin Truex Jr.: led at least 123 laps in the last 3 New Hampshire races (didn't win any of the 3)
• Denny Hamlin: won at New Hampshire earlier this season; 3 career New Hampshire Cup Series wins are 1 shy of Jeff Burton's track record
• Kyle Busch: finished 8th or better in 7 of last 9 New Hampshire races (1 win, 3 2nd-place finishes)
• Brad Keselowski: finished 12th or better in last 15 New Hampshire races (6.5 Avg finish in those races)
• Kevin Harvick: top-5 finishes in last 3 and 5 of last 6 New Hampshire races (won last season's playoff race)
• Jimmie Johnson: 14 straight races without a top-5 finish (longest streak of career)
• Ryan Blaney: hasn't finished better than 8th in 13 races since winning at Pocono on June 11
• Kasey Kahne: 1 top-20 finish in last 5 races (12th at Richmond)
• Chase Elliott: no top-10 finishes in 3 career New Hampshire races (was penalized 15 points after Chicago)
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: never finished better than 9th in 9 career New Hampshire races
--- ESPN Stats & Info ---