Kyle Busch(18) won the pole for the ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Busch took the lead on the drop of the green flag and led for 39 laps. On lap 40 the circuit’s hottest driver, Martin Truex Jr.(78), passed Busch. Truex held on for the next 38 laps to win his 19th Stage of the year. Adding another playoff point to his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leading total of 59. Kyle Larson(42) started on the front row with Busch and passed him to take second in Stage One. Busch finished third.
Kyle Larson(42) started on the front row with Busch and passed him to take second in Stage One. Busch finished third. Byron, Michigan native and current Rookie of the Year points leader, Erik Jones(77) finished fourth. The only no-playoff driver in the top 10 at the end of Stage One. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) slapped the wall on lap seven. A similar incident at Chicagoland last week cost Stenhouse dearly. Forcing him to the pits and putting him laps down early. Stenhouse avoided pitting and stayed on the lead lap this week. But, was the lowest finisher of the playoff competitors in Stage One.
During the stage ending caution, everyone pitted for tires and fuel. Truex exited the pits, still in the lead. At the beginning of Stage Two, Truex restarted first and held the lead for the next 74 laps. Two laps from the end of the Second Stage, Kevin Harvick(4) spun coming off turn two. With the assistance of a slight tap from Austin Dillon(3). Harvick hit the gas trying to straighten the car out and covered the backstretch in heavy tire smoke.
Kurt Busch(41), unable to see through the dense cloud, plowed into Harvick’s car. Severe front end damage ended the day for the 41. Truex got caught up in the melee and spun around tapping Dale Earnhardt Jr.(88). As Truex worked to straighten his car and continue, he backed into the 88 car doing damage to the left rear near the fuel inlet. Kyle Busch snuck through the mess to win the Stage, with Matt Kenseth(20) taking second.
The race was red flagged as the cars of Harvick and Kurt Busch had to be pulled apart by track crewman. Attention from the wrecker prevented Harvick from attempting to repair the car and return to the race.
The Final Stage
Kyle Busch started the final stage in front. Martin Truex Jr.’s crew repaired the car in the pits as best they could. Truex started Stage Three in 18th, the last car on the lead lap. Kenseth started second and Jones third. On lap 214 of 300, Truex moved back into the top 10.
The caution flew on lap 221 for debris on the track. As the pits opened the leaders pitted for possibly the final time. Giving everyone fresh tires and enough fuel to finish the race. As the race went back to green, Busch again led with Larson second and Kenseth third. Erik Jones ran fourth and Brad Keselowski(2) worked himself into the fifth position.
With 37 laps to go, Kasey Kahne(5) stopped on the race track trying to enter the pits with a suspension issue. Forcing NASCAR to display the yellow flag. Kahne was penalized for intentionally causing a caution. The penalty was meaningless as Kahne’s crew took the car to the garage for repairs to the rear suspension. During the caution, again all the leaders pitted for fresh tires. Martin Truex only took two tires while the rest of the leaders took four. The move put the 78 car back in the lead with Kyle Busch second. Kenseth in third, Larson in fourth and Keselowski in fifth, coming to the restart.
David Ragan spun coming to the green, bringing out the caution again. Truex dropped to fourth sliding through turn one on older tires. While Clint Bowyer(14) surged into second. On the restart, Bowyer misjudged the green flag and Busch jumped to a big lead dragging Truex with him. Again the caution flew before they could complete a single lap. Trevor Bayne(6) spun coming off turn two.
The Sprint to the Finish
The final restart of the day saw the green flag drop with 23 laps to go. Busch keeping the lead with Larson taking second, Truex in third and Kenseth fourth. Busch held on for the victory. Punching his ticket into the next round of the playoffs. Larson finished second, Kenseth passed Truex for third, and the Ford of Brad Keselowski taking fourth. Truex finished fifth, his teammate Erik Jones sixth, and Bowyer’s Ford Fusion in seventh. Rookie of the Year contender, Daniel Suarez(19) placed eighth. With the Fords of Ryan Blaney(21), and Joey Logano(22) ninth and tenth.
Truex and Busch are on to the Round of 12 with wins. Larson and Keselowski are locked in, 81 and 62 points above the cut line respectively. Fifth thru 10 are likely to move on baring a major shakeup of the standings at Dover. Denny Hamlin(11) holds that fifth spot, 44 points above the cut line. Kenseth is +43, Jimmie Johnson(48) is +32, and Blaney is 26 points to the good. Chase Elliott(24), despite his 15 point penalty for cheating last week holds ninth +26. Harvick’s wreck dropped him to 10th, but still 25 points above the line.
Jamie McMurray moved to +9, but in 11th could still be in danger of dropping into the bottom four. Stenhouse Jr. and Dillon are virtually tied in the bubble position. Ryan Newman(31) is 14th only 1 point behind the pair fighting for the last advancement position. Kurt Busch -17 and Kahne -21 are in a must-win situation if they expect to advance out of round one.
Next week it’s back to the Monster Mile at Dover International Speedway. The Apache Warrior 400 Presented by Lucas Oil is scheduled for a 2 pm start. The high-banked track is known for the trouble it produces. The scramble for those final advancement spots is must-see racing.
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