Chris Estrada

NASCAR viewer’s guide: New Hampshire

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It’s on to New England for the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series, as they make their annual summer visit to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend.

The ‘Magic Mile’ produced a surprise for the Cup Series last July, when Aric Almirola vaulted from winless and 27th in points to the playoffs with a victory.

Almirola will try to repeat that feat Sunday, but comes to New Hampshire much closer to the cutline than he was a year ago.

Playoff hunt

Almirola is one of two playoff hopefuls that are outside the cutline but within a race’s worth of points to it. The other is Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick.

Harvick is 19 points behind Christopher Bell for the final playoff spot. Almirola is 42 points behind Bell.

Behind them are Erik Jones (-76) and Austin Dillon (-116), whose points deficits put them in ‘win or bust’ mode.

Last year at New Hampshire, it was Bell who chased Almirola to the checkered flag, which came eight laps short of the scheduled 301-lap distance due to darkness.

Should Sunday produce this season’s 14th different race winner, Bell likely would fall out of the top 16 in the playoff standings.

Ryan Blaney (+133 on the playoff cutline) and Martin Truex Jr. (+62) have bigger points cushions to work with. But another new winner would increase the pressure on them, too.

Blaney and Truex finished fifth and 12th respectively last year at New Hampshire.

Rolling along

The two most consistent drivers this season, 2020 Cup champion Chase Elliott and Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, will look to keep things rolling along at New Hampshire.

Elliott comes off his third win of the season last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Chastain finished second, albeit after involvement in several incidents – one of which included Denny Hamlin, with whom he clashed with in June at World Wide Technology Raceway outside St. Louis.

The two drivers have earned the most playoff points (Elliott – 20, Chastain – 13) among all drivers. They’re also tied for the most top-10 finishes (13 apiece), which in turn has given them the best average finishes altogether (Elliott – 10.8, Chastain – 11.4).

Elliott has not had great results at New Hampshire during his Cup career. He’s only had one top-five finish there in eight Cup starts. Last year at New Hampshire, he led 53 laps but finished 18th.

Chastain finished eighth in last year’s race at New Hampshire for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Find a rhythm

When NASCAR heads to New England, eyes naturally turn to Connecticut native and 2018 Cup champion Joey Logano.

Logano is locked into the playoffs with wins at Darlington and World Wide Technology Raceway. But they’ve both come within a 10-race stretch where he’s had just one other top-10 finish (ninth at Nashville) and seven finishes of 17th or worse.

He’s also failed to finish three races during that stretch, including last weekend at Atlanta.

With seven races to go before the playoffs, Logano could stand to build some momentum. Could his “home” track be the place to do it?

Logano is a two-time winner at New Hampshire but hasn’t won there since September 2014. He’s posted six top-five and nine top-10 finishes over his last 11 Cup starts there since.

On the other hand, Logano’s only led one lap at New Hampshire since its September 2015 race.

Entry lists

The Cup entry list for New Hampshire includes 36 cars. Along with series regulars, J.J. Yeley is listed in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford and A.J. Allmendinger is listed in the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Allmendinger has made nine Cup starts this season in the No. 16, posting a top finish of ninth in his last appearance at Road America.

New Hampshire Cup entry list

The Xfinity Series’ entry list for New Hampshire includes 39 cars.

Cup regulars William Byron (No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet) and Ty Dillon (No. 48 Big Machine Racing Chevrolet) are among those entered, as is NASCAR K&N Pro Series and Euro Series alum Julia Landauer (No. 45 Alpha Prime Racing Chevrolet).

New Hampshire Xfinity entry list

Weekend schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, July 15

Forecast: Intervals of clouds and sunshine. High of 82 degrees and a 16% chance of rain

  • 5:05-6:30 p.m. – Xfinity practice/qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)

Saturday, July 16

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 86 degrees and 5% chance of rain

  • 11:35 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. – Cup practice/qualifying (NBC Sports App, USA Network joins at noon; PRN, SiriusXM)
  • 2:30 p.m. – Xfinity race (200 laps, 211.6 miles; USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM)

Sunday, July 17

Forecast: Possible showers in afternoon. High of 88 degrees and a 35% chance of rain

  • 3 p.m. – Cup race (301 laps, 318.46 miles; USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM)

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott back at the top

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Following his third win of the season Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott has reclaimed the top spot in our NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott has won two of the last three Cup races, also winning at Nashville Superspeedway on June 26. He followed that with a second-place finish at Road America.

Ross Chastain, the previous No. 1, slips to No. 2 on the Power Rankings. His second-place finish Sunday continues a run of strong results for him, but it didn’t come without more controversy.

Ryan Blaney stays pat at No. 3. While continuing to seek his first win of the season, the Team Penske pilot is stringing together solid results.

The Cup Series season continues Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, USA Network).

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (Last week: No. 2) — Elliott swept both stages, led the most laps (96), and fended off Corey LaJoie‘s last-lap attack to preserve the win. Sunday’s triumph continues an impressively consistent run for Elliott in 2022.

2. Ross Chastain (Last week: No. 1) — Chastain’s second-place finish was his third consecutive top-five finish and his fifth in the last 10 races dating back to his win April 24 at Talladega Superspeedway. Over that same 10-race span, he’s posted eight top-10 finishes.

3. Ryan Blaney (Last week: No. 3) — Blaney only led two laps Sunday, but came away with a 46-point haul (second-highest of all drivers) on his way to finishing fifth. He still holds the biggest points cushion (+133) among the three drivers currently in the 16-driver Playoff field on points.

4. Kyle Larson (Last week: No. 4) – The reigning Cup champion did well to salvage a 13th-place finish Sunday. Larson suffered from early handling problems, then after those were sorted out, he was also involved in Sunday’s two major wrecks at Lap 91 and Lap 170. It could’ve been much worse.

5. Joey Logano (Last week: No. 5) — An innocent bystander in the Lap 91 wreck, Logano was able to climb back onto the lead lap and was inside the top 10 late in the final stage. But another accident with eight laps to go – this time with Denny Hamlin – ended his day and handed him a 26th-place finish.

6. Christopher Bell (Last week: No. 7) — Bell scored points in both stages, but his day went south at the worst possible time. He spun out of the top 10 with 25 laps to go, and then during pit stops on the ensuing caution, his left-rear tire came off while exiting his stall. Bell, whose pit crew had been revamped entering Sunday, finished 19th.

7. Kevin Harvick (Last week: No. 8) — A poor-handling car in traffic hindered Harvick, but his 12th-place finish still cut his gap to Christopher Bell for the 16th and final Playoff spot by one point (-20 to -19).

8. Kyle Busch (Last week: No. 6) — Tough day at the office for Busch, who slammed into Logano during the Lap 91 pileup and was later involved in another incident with Cody Ware and Landon Cassill at Lap 189. He got the car home, finishing 20th.

9. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: Unranked) – After getting turned by Chastain to start the major crash at Lap 91, Truex Jr. rallied back and was on the front row for Sunday’s final restart with 3 laps to go. But contact with Corey LaJoie sent Truex out of the pack and out of contention. Truex finished 11th.

10. Denny Hamlin (Last week: No. 9) — A potential top-five finish for Hamlin was dashed when Chastain came up the race track and clipped him with 14 laps to go, spinning him out. Hamlin wound up finishing 25th.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (Last week: No. 10)

Winners and losers at Atlanta

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Let’s run down the winners and losers from Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway…

WINNERS

Chase Elliott – Georgia peaches for everybody. Elliott, a native of Dawsonville, Georgia, finally notched his first Cup Series win at his home track. He and his father, Bill Elliott, are now the third father-son duo to win at Atlanta, joining the Earnhardts (Dale Sr. and Jr.) and the Jarretts (Ned and Dale).

Ross Chastain – Once again, Chastain left his mark on several other drivers on the way to a second-place finish Sunday. His transgressions in the regular season could be his undoing come playoff time. But right now, there’s no doubt he’s on a hot streak with three consecutive top-five finishes and no finishes worse than eighth in his last five outings.

Corey LaJoie – LaJoie and the No. 7 Spire Motorsports team came close to scoring a massive upset. While LaJoie’s bid to take the win from Elliott on the final lap ended in the wall, he still had the strongest performance of his Cup career. Even Elliott’s boss, Rick Hendrick, gave LaJoie props, saying: “If we couldn’t win, I wanted them to win. He drove a heck of a race. He looked as good as anybody in this field.”

Austin Cindric – An ill-handling race car sent Cindric dropping like a rock early, but after his No. 2 Team Penske crew made the right adjustments, the Daytona 500 winner climbed back toward the front and finished third. Cindric has earned four straight top-10 finishes (fifth at Sonoma, seventh at Nashville and Road America).

Cole Custer – It took 19 races, but Custer finally has a top 10 on the board in 2022 after finishing ninth Sunday.

Harrison Burton – The rookie’s 10th-place finish is his first top 10 in the Cup Series. He earned it in his 20th Cup start.

LOSERS

Denny HamlinFor the second time in a little over a month, Hamlin clashed with Chastain on the track. In Sunday’s case, an ill-placed nudge from Chastain sent Hamlin spinning out of a likely top-five finish. After the race, Hamlin declared he had “reached [his] peak” with Chastain. He discussed things further with NBC Sports’ Dave Burns (see below).

Austin Dillon – Dillon took the hardest shot among the nine drivers involved in Sunday’s first big wreck at Lap 91 (touched off by contact between Chastain and Martin Truex Jr.). A sliding Michael McDowell clipped Dillon, which sent him straight into the SAFER Barrier with major impact. Dillon escaped injury and later dubbed himself “a casualty of Ross Chastain once again.”

Tyler Reddick – Reddick was among Sunday’s top contenders, but things went awry after he finished second in Stage 2. During the subsequent caution, he overshot his pit box and came off pit road 19th. Shortly after the final stage went green, Reddick was eliminated in a nine-car wreck set off by contact between Garrett Smithley and Ty Dillon. Said Reddick: “We had nowhere to go, but that is the situation I put us in.”

Chris Buescher – Sunday’s race is one the Texan will likely want to forget. Early in Stage 2, B.J. McLeod broke loose and spun in front of him, leading to Buescher spinning himself. He kept going without serious damage, but on Lap 107, he blew a right front tire and hit the SAFER Barrier to end his day.

What drivers said at Atlanta

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Here is what drivers said following Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, won by Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott – WINNER: “Obviously, I knew (LaJoie) was going to have a big run (on the final lap). I didn’t really want to give him the bottom, and I tried to give it one real good aggressive block. I felt like I had enough room to kind of give it a second one, and he was just right there on the right side of my back bumper, so was far enough to the backside of the bumper to launch me forward. I hate I tore up some cars, but I don’t know what you do.. either go for the win or don’t. I’m going to choose option A every day of the week.”

Ross Chastain – Finished 2nd: “I hate that I took the best car here and I tore it up a couple of times. Hats off to Chevrolet and Trackhouse Racing for bringing this fast of a Jockey Chevrolet. Our road crew and our pit crew did an awesome job to rebound through all of the damage repair. We had a shot and I got inside of the No. 9 (Chase Elliott) coming off of (Turn) 2 coming to the checkered and the caution came out. I hope everyone is alright back there. Awesome job to Corey LaJoie and Spire Motorsports. I really thought into (turn) one when we took the white that I was going to push him to the win. They all just fought for the top and almost gave it to us.”

Austin Cindric – Finished 3rd: “It came to life. We had to do a little CPR there early. We were struggling pretty bad. We were pretty loose to start the race and I’m just proud of the effort from the guys on the 2 car, being able to make the right adjustments and get us out of a hole there. We went from not being able to go full throttle by myself on the racetrack to being able to run close behind other guys wide-open, so I’m proud of that effort and proud of a top-three finish. I felt like we deserved to be up there by the end of the race after we established track position. It was a solid day. I wish we could have gotten the Quaker State Ford in victory lane in the Quaker State 400, but a top-three is pretty good.”

Erik Jones – Finished 4th: “I thought our day was good. Our No. 43 FOCUSfactor Chevy was quick. We needed a tick more speed. I think we had to do some things for handling that slowed us down a little bit. We were up there, but I couldn’t really break out and do much. When I got in the lead there, I wasn’t really quick enough to hold it myself. We were close. It feels good to just have a good race. We’ve had a rough month, so it’s nice to get a top-five and get some points.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 5th: “It was a pretty good day. We got back in traffic there a little bit and it was just hard to make it back up. You just can’t go anywhere. It gets two-wide and you’re just stuck and you can’t really go anywhere, unless you were the 9 and you were the fastest car out there by a mile. It was pretty easy for him to go wherever he wanted. That looked fun, but, I’m just happy to end up decent. This race is just like a survival race pretty much. That’s what you’re gonna get when you’re speedway racing on a mile-and-a-half, so luckily we were able to survive it and get out of here with an OK finish.”

Justin Haley – Finished 7th: “It was a good day again here in Atlanta. I feel like this No. 31 LeafFilter Chevrolet team has succeeded in finding a good, fast, stable setup for the new Atlanta track. So overall it was a good day and just a little bit better than where we were in the spring.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 8th: “We just didn’t have the speed we needed to go up and compete. That one restart where I was leading the bottom lane we didn’t have what we needed to keep up. Our car was pretty good. We got it driving good there at the end, but we couldn’t muster up the speed we needed to go hang with those Chevrolets. The Chevrolets were really, really fast.”

Cole Custer – Finished 9th: “We got the car way better. The guys worked really hard and made great adjustments throughout the day. By the end, I thought we were just as good as anybody. We could have had a shot to win there. I think we were running in the top five on the last lap, but somebody wrecked in front of us and we got knocked back a little bit, but overall it was a good day of hopefully finding a direction and I think it was nice to go up there and run with those guys and show that we can have some speed.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 12th: “I just couldn’t do anything in traffic. The car was really tight in traffic, which made it hard to race close to anybody. When they were side-by-side I would lose the nose really bad. We hung around and finished the race. Sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do at these places.”

Chase Briscoe – Finished 16th: “I felt like balance was definitely more of an issue than the first race, for sure, with the hotter temperatures. I felt like we got it to where we were pretty decent and I was able to start working the wall a little more than a couple other guys. I went to pass the 10 and as soon as I did I guess I just got too high and got to where it was dirty still and killed the right-rear quarter panel and everything else so that kind of affected the rest of our day. I’m happy we were able to somewhat salvage a 16th, but I felt like if we didn’t have the damage, it would have been a lot better day. We’ll go on to New Hampshire next week and see if we can improve on it.”

Corey LaJoie – Finished 21st: “I was going to school. That was the first time I’d been leading a restart at one of these superspeedway-style race tracks. How much you have to drag back, time your runs, cover the lanes – it’s all new to me. So when I get myself in that position again, I’ll be a little more prepared and hopefully, we can do a little better job and be the one to control the blocks as opposed to the one that’s trying to make that late-race move, because that guy usually is in the catbird’s seat. I just had some fun, I know that. Hopefully, we can have that 7 car up front more often.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 25th: “We were in really good position and we were about to be clear of the 1 (Ross Chastain) and be in third in the outside line. I was really happy with where I was at for sure. I think the 1 probably sensed that we were about to clear him so he chased us up there and got into us.”

Tyler Reddick – Finished 29th: “We had a great Alsco Chevrolet today at Atlanta Motor Speedway, so it’s a shame that we weren’t able to capitalize on it. The day was going well. We were running up front and competitive. We made a mistake in Stage 3 when I overshot my pit box. That hurt a lot because we didn’t have a lot of time to recover, and it put us far enough back to get caught up in a wreck. We had nowhere to go, but that is the situation I put ourselves in. It’s pretty frustrating because it was very obvious that we had a fantastic car. We’ll head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway to try and rebound.”

William Byron – Finished 30th: “The racing was fine. I thought the track had a little bit less grip. Our No. 24 Axalta Chevy was good out front. We could hang around the top-five. We struggled a little bit there on the pit stop sequence. We took four tires and we started way back, and we just got into someone else’s mess. We were eighth to finish the stage. Thinking that in the final stage some guys would stay out, we just seemed to net out further back than we thought we would. We ended up like 18th or 19th and had to restart there, and that’s where the wreck happened. It was just unfortunate that we were back there. I don’t know if there is anything we could have really done because we had taken right side tires before then and our tires were pretty old. We kind of hovered around the top-eight all day and unfortunately we’re out. Thank you to Axalta, Chevrolet and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We’ll keep working hard and it will change soon.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 32nd: “I don’t think we had a tire go down in March. Fortunately, I was one of the guys that didn’t have an issue. But it sounds like I’m the one guy that had an issue today. No warning, we were just cruising around. We had a phenomenal race car. Really proud of Greg (Ives, Crew Chief) and the No. 48 team. We struggled pretty bad back here in March and our Chevy was really, really good today. (The) No. 48 Ally Milestone Chevy was getting up through the field pretty good there. Bummer that it ended like that, but at least we had a fast race car.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 33rd: “It’s a different racetrack. It’s not the Atlanta that I grew up loving, but BJ came over and apologized already. I think coming off of Turn 2, it flattens out a little bit and it took off on him. While we all checked up and spun out we made just a little bit of contact with him while we were sliding and it sounds like it may have been enough to bend a right-front component and ultimately ended up blowing a tire.”

Noah Gragson – Finished 34th: “We had an early end to our day in the No. 16 Gold Fish Casino Slots Camaro. We were on track to have a really solid day and showed some speed. Unfortunately, we couldn’t avoid a wreck in front of us that caused heavy damage to the right front. We had nowhere to go, but I hate it for everyone at Kaulig Racing who have been working hard on these cars.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 35th: “Man, I’m so bummed out for this entire Bass Pro Shops / TRACKER Off Road team. We had a fast Chevy today – just ended up a victim of someone else’s mess. Our Chevy was really tight on the first run, then loose on the second run. After that, we were really good and coming. We just had nowhere to go. Thank the Good Lord above that we were okay. The hit looked bad, but the impact wasn’t as bad as it looked. I told myself that we were going to race hard all day rather than riding in the back, but when you got guys out there wrecking half the field, you might as well pick a different strategy. These Next Gen cars are hard to drive, and you’ve got to make them drive better when it’s hot outside. I thought we did a good job making my car get to the bottom. We were making a lot of headway in the race before we got caught up in someone else’s mess. We’re going to keep on keeping on, and work each week to get to Victory Lane. I want to thank Johnny Morris and all of the guys at Bass Pro Shops and TRACKER Off Road, along with everyone at RCR and ECR. We will get there.”

Atlanta Cup race results, driver points

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On Sunday, Chase Elliott scored his third win of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season and his first career Cup win at home track Atlanta Motor Speedway.

MORE: NASCAR Cup Series at Atlanta – Race Results

Elliott won Sunday’s race under caution after he narrowly defended the lead against Corey LaJoie.

LaJoie’s attempt to pass Elliott on the final lap ended with contact between them, causing LaJoie to crash in Turn 2. LaJoie was credited with a 21st-place finish.

Ross Chastain finished second, followed by rookie Austin Cindric in third, Erik Jones in fourth and Ryan Blaney in fifth.

POINTS REPORT

Elliott leads the Cup regular season standings by 47 points over Blaney (684-637) with seven races left before the playoffs begin.

MORE: NASCAR Cup Series driver points after Atlanta

Chastain (634) is third in points, followed by reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson (579) in fourth, and Kyle Busch (569) in fifth. On Sunday, Larson and Busch finished 13th and 20th respectively.