Joe Gibbs Racing returns to New Hampshire, where dominance began last July

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The 2017 Cup season was not too kind to Joe Gibbs Racing through its first 18 races.

Then the series went to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

After entering last year’s July event at the 1-mile track winless, the race served as a launching pad for JGR, which leads the series in every major stat category in the 36 races since.

Counting Denny Hamlin‘s win in the July 16 race, the four-car team has won 14 times in the following year, which leads all other teams by five victories.

JGR closed out 2017 with eight wins in 19 races, compared to the Martin Truex Jr.‘s six wins in the same span.

Thanks to Racing Insights, here’s a look at JGR’s success against the competition since last July’s race at New Hampshire.

Ten of JGR’s wins in the last year belong to Kyle Busch, including the September playoff race in New Hampshire.

The rest belong to Denny Hamlin (two wins), Matt Kenseth (one) and Erik Jones (one).

Busch is one of six active drivers who have three wins at New Hampshire, including Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Kenseth.

Kyle Busch is the only one of those drivers with a win this season.

New Hampshire has been very kind to Busch and his fellow Toyota drivers.

In the last 11 races at the flat, 1-mile track, Toyota has won eight of them. In the last four races in Loudon, Toyota has led 1,168 laps (97.2 percent) out of a possible 1,202 laps. Chevrolet has led 31 and Ford has led 3.

Chevrolet has the only non-Toyota win in the last six New Hampshire races. That was won by Kevin Harvick in 2016 before Stewart-Haas Racing moved to Ford.

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NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 best at New Hampshire in last three seasons

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Flat tracks are among the most predictable in NASCAR and it seems that the shorter the distance, the more likely drivers are to find their rhythm. For the purpose of handicapping this week’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster, the tracks used as a comparative for New Hampshire Motor Speedway include ISM Raceway (Phoenix), Richmond Raceway, and Martinsville Speedway.

Kyle Busch has been the master of those tracks in recent years with 12 top fives in his last 18 starts. He’s finished outside the top 10 only twice. In that same span, eight drivers have finished among the top 10 in more than half of their attempts. In terms of top 15s, 17 drivers have a better than .500 average since the beginning of 2016 and that allows fantasy players to narrow the field considerably.

1. Matt Kenseth (three-year average: 2.83)
This week on NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman said that Roush Fenway Racing is using the No. 6 to test unproven parts and pieces in an effort to get Ricky Stenhouse Jr. into the playoffs. If that is true, starting Kenseth comes with greater than average risk.

2. Daniel Suarez (three-year average: 7.00 in two starts)
The short, flat tracks require rhythm to get around quickly. When a driver sweeps the top 10 on a minimally-banked course as rookie, it often means he is going to be strong there throughout his career. Suarez finished sixth in the spring and eighth in the fall at New Hampshire.

3. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 7.67)
It has been more than six years since Keselowski finished outside the top 15 at New Hampshire. If nothing goes wrong with his car, he is likely to extend that streak because all but three of his last 13 races ended inside the top 10 – including a victory in 2014.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (three-year average: 8.50)
Truex may still be looking for his first win at New Hampshire, but he has a better three-year average than Kevin Harvick or Busch. Along with Kenseth and Kyle Larson, he was one of three drivers last year to sweep the top five – and coming off a dominant win at Kentucky Speedway, he will challenge for the win this week in an effort to tie Harvick and Busch with five victories apiece.

5. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 8.83)
Hamlin is one of the drivers that must be considered every time NASCAR goes to a flat track. At the height of his career, he would regularly string top fives together on this course type. Lately, he’s been a little more prone to scoring results in the high single digits and low-teens, but he’s still a good value if he fits the right niche on one’s roster.

6. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 10.03)
Busch’s three-year average is marred by an accident in 2015 that cost him 38 laps. If one removes that outlier from his results, he has a 4.33 average over the past five years with wins in spring 2015 and fall 2017. There is no sign that he will slow down this week and a top five is virtually assured.

7. Joey Logano (three-year average: 11.33)
From fall 2014 through spring 2016, Logano scored four consecutive top fives that included one win. In the three races since that streak ended, he has one top 10 and an 11th, but what really hurt his average was a broken transmission in this race last year.

8. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 11.67)
Harvick is another driver for whom his average can be deceiving. An accident midway through last year’s ISM Connect 300 and a mistake on fuel calculations in 2015 dropped him outside of the top 20 twice in the past three years, but his other four efforts have all been top fives with a victory in fall 2016.

9. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 12.00)
It is hard to tell because he is still finishing outside of the top 10, but Johnson is slowly improving. That is encouraging on a track like New Hampshire where the driver is a bigger part of the equation than he is on an unrestricted, intermediate speedway. Johnson could be a great dark horse in the Foxwoods 301.

10. Kyle Larson (three-year average: 13.17)
Larson has been hit or miss at New Hampshire, but when he finds the target, he is close to the bullseye. In his rookie season, Laron finished third and second. Last year, he swept the runner-up position and with a car that is now set up to run the lower groove, he should challenge for the win.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Busch and Truex won last year’s poles at New Hampshire and the odds are good one of the Big 3 will lead the field to green this week as well. Suarez could be a surprising dark horse, however, because Carl Edwards swept the pole in 2015 in this car and grabbed another in 2016.

Segment Winners: In the past two years, four drivers have dominated the segment wins on minimally-banked flat tracks one mile or less in length. Busch, Truex and Logano have four stage wins apiece. Keselowski has three. The tiebreaker goes to Busch, however, because he has earned 146 points on short, flat tracks compared to Keselowski’s 114.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Cup teams to test Charlotte road course today

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The second half of Cup tests on Charlotte’s road course will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET today. It is open to the public.

Testing today are: Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Austin Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne and Ty Dillon. Chris Buescher is in a Chevy wheelforce car.

Last week, several Cup drivers tested on the course for a day. Bubba Wallace crashed early and left the test because his team did not have a backup car.

Jimmie Johnson had the fastest lap in last week’s session, according to NASCAR timing and scoring. Johnson had a lap at 1 minute, 17.4 seconds. Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin each had a lap at 1:17.5 last week.

 

 

 

Chad Knaus signs extension with Hendrick Motorsports through 2020 season

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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SPARTA, Kentucky – Champion crew chief Chad Knaus has signed a contract extension to remain at Hendrick Motorsports through the 2020 season, the team announced Saturday afternoon.

Knaus’ contract was to have expired after this season. Knaus said he signed the contract extension in the last couple of weeks. JImmie Johnson is signed through the 2020 season.

Johnson and Knaus have been together since Johnson’s rookie year in 2002, the longest current tenure in the sport. They’ve combined to win seven championships.

“I think I’ve got a lot of opportunities to do a lot of things in the future, but right now we are focused on trying to get the ship righted at Hendrick Motorsports and get our cars qualifying and racing a little bit better,” Knaus said in comments distributed by Hendrick Motorsports. “And that is my primary goal.”

Johnson enters Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) on a 41-race winless streak, the longest drought of his career.

“Obviously, I’m a very competitive person and if we go three weeks without winning I’m frustrated,” Knaus said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and competing. I love to compete. The winless streak right now, yeah although it’s not where we want to be by any stretch of the imagination it is where we are. It’s our reality right now and we’ve got to fight through it.”

Johnson starts 27th tonight.

Even with the struggles this season, the carrot of a record eighth championship remains.

“I would say that in years past it was maybe more just focusing on the next week,” Knaus said. “But I think I would be foolish and lying to not admit the fact that to get eight championships and to put Jimmie on a pedestal by himself at the top of the standings with championships is not a huge desire of mine and something I definitely want to try to achieve.”

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Martin Truex Jr. wins pole for Quaker State 400

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Martin Truex Jr. won the pole for Saturday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), claiming his series-best fourth pole of the season.

Truex, the defending winner of the Quaker State 400, posted a top speed of 188.890 mph. It’s his 19th career pole.

He is joined on the front row by Erik Jones (188.739 mph), who is coming off his first career Cup win last week.

The top five is completed by Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.

“It’s Turn 3, man. That sucker will get you every time,” Truex told NBCSN. “If you want to go fast you’ve got to put it on the edge. I’m talkin’ a half a MPH going into (Turn) 3 from over rolling the speed and just missing the bottom. It’s a treacherous corner but it’s a lot of fun when you get it right.”

Austin Dillon qualified 13th and was followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson.

Larson has started 11th or worse in seven of the last nine races.

Bubba Wallace qualified 25th followed by AJ Allmendinger and Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson has started 27th or worse four times this season.

Four drivers, including Denny Hamlin, Jesse Little, Timmy Hill and Matt DiBenedetto, did not make qualifying attempts after their cars failed to pass inspection in time.

Click here for the starting lineup.