Jacksonville Sports Day

NASCAR: Harvick Looking to Crack Win Column by Defending Lobster

Kevin Harvick arrives at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) certainly feeling optimistic about his chances of – at last – scoring that first victory of 2019.

An eight-race winner in 2018 and sure-bet championship challenger this season, Harvick has done everything but celebrate in Victory Lane. And New Hampshire’s version – giant lobster and all – is one he is familiar with. A three-time winner himself – including two of the last four races – his crew chief Rodney Childers scored his first victory as crew chief at the Loudon mile, as well (2013 with driver Brian Vickers).

His 11 top-five finishes at New Hampshire ties him with Kurt Busch for most among active drivers. He has 19 top 10s in 35 starts – tying him with Ryan Newman for second-most in Sunday’s field. (Jimmie Johnson leads with 22 top 10s.) Harvick’s finished in the top-five in four of the last five races.

Rekindling that success this week would be well-timed for Harvick’s upcoming Playoff launch. He’s ranked third in the points standings – the only driver ranked among the top nine without a race victory this season. That he’s retained that mark in the standings without the benefit of a win only shows how strong his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team has been.

Last year’s dramatic victory over Kyle Busch was Harvick’s then-series-best sixth of the year. He would win two more races and finish third in the championship. Only twice before has Harvick gone this long into an eventual winning season without a victory. In 2003, his only win came at Indianapolis in August. And in 2012, when his only win came in November at Phoenix.

Over the course of his 19-year Cup career, Harvick has had only three winless seasons – 2004, 2008 and 2009. In each of those years, however, he still won a race in one of NASCAR’s other two top series – Xfinity or Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

A First For Truex

Martin Truex Jr. has four victories this year – his first season driving the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – and shows up at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this week likely wondering what it’s going to take to score his first win at the track.

He’s led at least 100 laps in four of the last five races on the Loudon one-miler. Of his 744 career laps led at the facility, he’s led 596 laps in that five-race span. He finished top-10 in five of the last six races and has 11 top-10 showings in 25 total starts. Yet third place (in 2007 and 2017) marks his highest finish.

However, the 2017 Monster Energy Series champ’s 11.0 average starting position and 12.6 average finishing position at New Hampshire are tops among tracks where he has yet to win a Cup race.

The Loudon mile has actually been a very positive part of Truex’s personal racing history. He earned his first ever NASCAR K&N Pro Series East win there from the pole position in 2000 – leading all 101 laps of the race – and won again from pole in 2003. He answered with a victory in the 2005 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

And there’s plenty of reason to believe this may be the year Truex earns a Cup trophy. He has certainly delivered on great expectations in 2019. After winning his first race this year – at Richmond in mid-April – Truex was winning about every other week. It’s been nearly a month, however, since his last visit to Victory Lane – at Sonoma, Calif. He finished ninth at Chicagoland, 22nd at Daytona, and 19th at Kentucky last weekend.

“New Hampshire has been one of our better tracks the past few years,’’ Truex said. “It’s kind of like Richmond in that we have run up front and led a lot of laps, just haven’t closed the deal to get to victory lane. Obviously we were able to finally win at Richmond this year, so hopefully we can do the same this week.’’

Kyle Busch in championship form

Kyle Busch came a literal split-second away from earning a season-best fifth win last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, instead finishing runner-up to his older brother Kurt in one of the most exciting final-lap duels of the 2019 season.

He shows up at this week’s New Hampshire venue only 11 points behind Monster Energy NASCAR Cup points leader Joey Logano and full of hard-earned confidence on the traditionally tough Loudon mile.

Busch’s three wins (2006, 2015, 2017) here ties him with five other drivers for most victories among the current field. He is one of only five drivers to win at New Hampshire from the pole (2017). (It’s been done six times, as Newman accomplished the feat twice – 2002, 2011.)

In addition to his impressive Victory Lane total, Busch has four runner-up finishes including three-straight from 2013-14. And the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was runner-up to Kevin Harvick in this race last year. His 11 top-five finishes ties him with Harvick for most among the field and his 15 top-10 finishes trails only Jimmie Johnson (22), Harvick (19) and Ryan Newman (19). Busch, however, has only 27 career starts compared to 33 for Harvick and Johnson, and 35 for Newman. And Busch’s 1,010 laps led is most in the field.

The 2015 Monster Energy Series champ is the only driver on the grid with New Hampshire victories in all three of NASCAR’s premier series. In addition to his three Cup wins, he has a historic six in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and three in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He won both the Xfinity and truck races for three consecutive seasons (2009-11).

“Loudon is a Martinsville-like short track,’’ Busch said. “It’s a little more spread out, but there’s some rooting and gouging going on because it’s a one-lane track and everybody fights for that particular groove.

Trio to watch this weekend

Three of the historically best drivers at this weekend’s New Hampshire venue arrive in New England equally, if diversely, motivated to visit Victory Lane.

Veteran Denny Hamlin boasts the best average finish (10.2) and top driver rating (102.7) and his statistical work at the Loudon mile is impressive on any count. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has three wins, nine top-fives and 14 top-10s in 25 starts and is ranked top-five in all past performance statistical categories. This year’s Daytona 500 winner has two victories on the season, but not since Texas in April. He has wins at New Hampshire in 2007, 2012 and 2017. He’s currently ranked sixth in the championship and coming off a fifth-place finish at Kentucky on Saturday.

A seven-time Monster Energy Series champion and three-time New Hampshire winner, Jimmie Johnson hasn’t visited Victory Lane since Dover, Del. in 2017. He has finished in the top 10 in four of the last six visits to Loudon and won the pole position for the 2016 summer race. He finished 10th here last year and with only seven races remaining to set the 16-driver Playoff field, Johnson is ranked 15th in the points, needing a good boost to keep his title hopes viable. He’s coming off a tough-to-swallow 30th-place finish at Kentucky last week after back-to-back top-five showings prior to that.

Kyle Larson, the popular driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet, boasts the third-best average finish (10.7) at New Hampshire. He has four top-five and five top-10 finishes in nine starts at the oval. Among those results are three runner-up finishes – including both 2017 races.  He was 12th last year and is highly motivated to hoist a trophy this weekend – his first of the year – after watching his Ganassi teammate Kurt Busch win at Kentucky last Saturday.

Kurt Busch brings the No. 1 back to Victory Lane

Prior to this past Saturday night in Kentucky, the last time the No. 1 car visited a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Victory Lane was October 10, 2013 when Jamie McMurray piloted it to the win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Fast forward though 202 winless races (184 with McMurray, 18 with Kurt Busch) and the Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was covered in confetti once again.

The win came in Busch’s 19th race with his new team and was also the first victory for crew chief Matt McCall after 163 races atop a pit box (144 with McMurray from 2015-2018, one with Jeff Burton in 2013 and the 18 with Busch earlier this season).

Over 20 seasons, Busch has tallied 31 Monster Energy Series wins through 667 starts.

To break it down –  he has visited Victory Lane in three different makes (Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet), for four different teams (Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing), in five different car numbers (Nos. 97, 2, 22, 41, 1), and with nine different crew chiefs (Jimmy Fennig – 14 wins, Pat Tryson – 5, Steve Addington – 4, Tony Gibson – 3, Billy Scott – 1, Daniel Knost – 1, John Klausmeier – 1, Roy McCauley – 1, Matt McCall – 1).


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