The New Hampshire 301 was scheduled to start at 2 pm on Sunday afternoon for the first day-race after a string of night races on the NASCAR circuit. However, Mother Nature, a known NASCAR hater, didn’t let the festivities go off as planned. After a two-and-a-half hour rain delay filled with off-and-on downpours that prevented track-drying efforts, NASCAR was finally able to get the jet dryers on track and then get the race underway.
With the track having undergone downpours and Air Titans, it was now without rubber and VH1 compound so it wasn’t long before cars got into the wall.
On Lap 14, the first caution of the day came out for Landon Cassill who spun in Turn 3. Cassill picked up enough damage to the right side of his #00 Chevrolet that it was necessary to exit the race early. He would go on to finish dead last in 37th position. Just four laps later, AJ Allmendinger cut the right-rear tire and spun into the outside wall. Allmendinger also retired from the race early and finished 36th. On Lap 35, the competition caution came out so teams could check tire wear after the heavy rain reconfigured the track surface. After another caution on Lap 52 for debris on the speedway, Martin Truex Jr jumped back to the lead and claimed the victory for Stage 1.
Compared to the first stage, the second was uneventful. However, it did allow teams to battle hard for every position. Most notable was Ryan Blaney in the #12 and Erik Jones in the #20 who bumped and banged in every turn for 3 laps before Blaney got around the #20.
In an unexpected change of pace this season, a Chevrolet driver made it into the Top Five, an extreme rarity given that 2018 has been dominated by Ford and Toyota. It had begun in Stage 1 when Chase Elliott in the #9 Chev had effectively made gains on Martin Truex Jr and had worked his way into the Top 5. But he didn’t stop there and pulled-off a surprise performance when, in Stage 2, he took the lead with 19 laps to go. A battle ensued when Kurt Busch began putting the pressure on the #9, but Elliott held on and captured his first stage win of 2018, giving him valuable playoff points as one of the “bubble drivers”.
The running order changed in Stage 3, with Elliott falling back to 4th in the field, and Stewart-Haas driver Aric Almirola taking the lead and essentially driving away with it. However, a caution flag for Clint Bowyer changed everything with just 45 laps to go, although we’re having trouble figuring out why. Sure, Bowyer was loose and scraped the wall in Turns 3 and 4, but he didn’t drop any debris or fluid nor did he require assistance to make it back to pit road. The caution seemed quite unnecessary with the exception of re-setting the field. And re-set it did, with a series of pit stops that managed to change up the running order once again. This year’s “Big Three” of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr lined up in P1, P2, and P3 and all took off like lightning the second the green flag dropped.
Though Kyle Busch in the #18 managed to stretch his lead to over 0.8 seconds, it wasn’t enough to hold off Kevin Harvick in the #4 who was coming fast. In every corner, Harvick made up just a little more time until he made it to Busch’s rear bumper. For 2 entire laps, Harvick kept his nose directly on the rear end of the #18 Toyota, repeatedly pushing Busch offside through the turns. Harvick eventually performed a graceful bump-and-run with 6 laps to go and moved the #18 out of the way. Busch slid up the track and had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the wall, thus allowing Harvick to sneak past on the outside and get his 6th win of the year. This win now makes him the biggest in the “Big Three”
Whether the bump-and-run was necessary depends on who you root for and which manufacturer you favor. Let us know in the comments what you think.
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