MENCS: Final Practice Garage Talk Notes New Hampshire

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 The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this week in the Foxwoods 301. There was one practice Friday (mostly qualifying trim for all cars, followed by qualifying Friday evening. The teams had two practice sessions Saturday to dial in their cars. Since all cars where in race-trim Saturday, we should be able to use these two practice sessions to accurately predict the race Sunday.

Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at New Hampshire…

 

Track Notes

The weather for practice Saturday was partly cloudy and 74 degrees. The forecast for the race Sunday is cloudy and 64 degrees with a 20% chance of rain. The rain chances increase to 75% in the second-half of the race. I am not so concerned with the cooler temperatures affecting the track but if the race is shortened by rain it will change DFS NASCAR. A shortened race will mean fewer laps and fewer points for dominators. NASCAR moved up the start time of the race 1 hour to try and get it all in.

Teams received three sets of tires for the three practice sessions, 1 set of tires for qualifying and 8 sets of tires for the race. NASCAR will run the same tread at New Hampshire as they ran in both races at the track last year. The MENCS and Xfinity Series will run the same tires so the drivers who are pulling double-duty this weekend could have an advantage since they will understand how the tire wears during the race. Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon are the only two top drivers from the MENCS competing in both races.

NASCAR has been applying the PJ1 (grip strip) to the track all week. The track decided to get the input of the drivers to see where they wanted it to be applied. This is a lot better than last year when the track just applied it to where they thought it should be. Applying the PJ1 should improve the racing Sunday.

Stewart-Haas Racing made a lot of changes to their pit crews this week. Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer were losing a 3-4 spots on each pit stop. The team thinks the changes made will improve the No. 10 and No. 14 times on pit road and help them finish further upfront.

 

Driver Notes

Chase Elliott: Elliott finished both races at New Hampshire in the 11th spot last year. Elliott has been finishing most of the races this season between the 11th and 14th positions. He has been his best on the short-flat tracks. Elliott finished 3rd at Phoenix, 9th at Martinsville and 2nd at Richmond. Elliott did not say too much about what adjustments he was looking for. He did say, “It is an 8 right now (I am guessing out of 10). We can get the extra 2 by making the changes we were discussing.” Too tight was the biggest problem with the car. They worked to free him up.

Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has 3 wins and led and the 5th-best average finishing position (10.5) in the last four races at New Hampshire. Steve Latarte reported on NASCAR America this week that the No. 48 team told him they are point racing this summer in order to ensure they make the playoffs. This means the team will play it safe to ensure they finish in the top 15. Johnson looked pretty good in practice. Whenever the No. 48 team runs a lot of laps in practice, it means Jimmie is happy with the car. He made a lot of long runs and most of his laps were in the top-10 on the speed chart. Johnson is a good candidate to score place differential points this week.

Alex Bowman: Bowman will need a good race after crashing and finishing last at Kentucky. Before crashing last week, Bowman had a streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes going. Bowman has driven the No. 88 car in two races at New Hampshire. He finished 26th and 14th in the car in 2016. Bowman had brake failure last week and they unloaded with brake problems again this week. They changed the brakes before the practices Saturday. Bowman made some long runs and his car was too tight. They worked to free him up and had him work the trackbar in the car. His lap times were between 16th and 20th. Bowman went to 4th fastest at the end of practice but that is because they put new tires on to make a fast run.

William Byron: Byron has never competed in the MENCS at New Hapshire. He does have a 3rd-place finish in the Xfinity Series and a dominating win in the Camping World Truck Series at the Magic Mile. Byron has run well at the short-flat tracks this season. He finished 12th at Phoenix and at Richmond earlier this season. Byron made a lot of long runs. The team was trying to get Byron some more seat time in the car. They worked with the No. 48 team on their setup and Byron liked the way the car was driving.

Kyle Larson: If any driver is going to beat Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr. this week it should be Larson. He finished 2nd in both races at New Hampshire last year. He is still looking for his first win this season and he is high enough in the point standings to take a risk to gain track position and try to make it to Victory Lane Sunday. Larson went out to run the high-line and smacked the wall. It was only cosmetic damage but he missed most of final practice as they repaired the car.

Jamie McMurray: McMurray has been mediocre in his last 4 races at New Hampshire and he has been mediocre this season. His average finishing position in the last 4 races at the track is 14.5 and his average finishing position in the last 10 races this season is 17.4.

Kevin Harvick: Harvick has been good but not great at New Hampshire since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. He won at the Magic Mile in 2016 and he has 5 finishes in the top 5 in his 7 races with SHR at the track. Pretty good stats! But he has only led 8 laps in the last 4 races. Harvick ran more laps than any driver in the two practices Saturday. The team was working on their long-run speed and Harvick was trying a lot of different lines around the track. It sounds like they liked their car and were working on perfecting it. Joey Logano told NBC Sports that Harvick has the car to beat Sunday.

Clint Bowyer: New Hampshire was one of the best tracks for Bowyer in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing. He finished 7th in the two races last and had a 8.6 average running position. Bowyer has been good on the short-flat tracks this season. He won at Martinsville, finished 6th at Phoenix and 9th at Richmond. He has also led 250 laps in these races. Bowyer told PRN that his team just missed the setup in qualifying. They car was way too tight getting into the corner. He ran most of his laps between 12th and 15th on the speed chart.

Kurt Busch: Busch is trying to get his name into the championship race conversation. He has run well in his last 10 non-plate races (8 finishes in the top-10) and the No. 4 car has been good at leading laps (led at least 20 laps in 3 of the last 4 non-plate races). Busch finished 8th at New Hampshire last year. Busch won the pole and they liked their long-run speed in their car. Busch told the team, “I can run really well in the PJ1 but I am worried about when it wears off. It we free it up a bit I can get to the bottom easier.”

Aric Almirola: New Hampshire ranks as one of the worst tracks for Almirola but I would not worry about it. He has never been in cars as fast as what he has this season. Almirola has a 12th-place average finishing position in his last 10 races this season. The No. 10 team made long runs with 3 different setups in the morning practice. They chose the best setup and tried to dial it in during the final practice.

Brad Keselowski: Keselowski will be competing in the Xfinity Series race this week and that should help him in the race Sunday. Keselowski has not been to Victory Lane at New Hampshire since 2014 but he does have the 2nd-best average finishing position in the last 4 races at the track. Keselowski will start from the pole in Xfinity Series race and the extra track time should help him on Sunday. The No. 2 car ws fast in final practice. They worked on their long-run speed and seemed pretty happy with the car.

Joey Logano: Logano has been one of the most consistent drivers in the MENCS this season. He has finished 14 of the 19 races in the top 10. Logano has been pretty consistent at New Hampshire too. He has finished 6 of the last 7 races at the track in the top 11, including a trip to Victory Lane in 2014. Logano and Ryan Blaney started practice with the same setup. They were running 2nd and 3rd in the morning practice. They worked to perfect the setup in final practice. Logano came out and posted the fasted speed in Final Practice.

Ryan Blaney: Blaney has been good but not great at the Magic Mile in his 5 races at the track. His average starting position is 13th and his average finishing position is 14th. He has been running well this season so I expect those numbers to improve. The No. 12 team liked their car this week. Blaney said, “The balance is exactly where we need it.”

Paul Menard: Don’t forget about Menard this week, especially in DFS and salary cap games. The No. 21 team continues to improve. Menard has an average finishing position of 10th in the last 6 non-road-course and non-plate races. The No. 21 was working on their long-run speed. Menard liked the way the car drove.

Kyle Busch: Busch should be the co-favorite with Martin Truex Jr. to win the race Sunday. He dominated the last race a New Hampshire by winning the pole and leading 187 laps on his way to Victory Lane. Busch has led at least 95 laps in 3 of the last 4 races at the track. Busch complained the car was bouncing, too tight and did not rotate…. But he was top 3 on the speed chart when he was complaining. The No. 18 car will be fine and will be one of the cars to beat Sunday.

Erik Jones: Jones will be a very good pick this week. The No. 20 team has a lot of momentum. Jones has finished the last 4 races in the top 10. He also ran well in the last race at New Hampshire. Jones qualified 8th and finished 6th. Jones made some long runs and said, “Rotation is good and I have decent throttle response. I just need a little help over the bumps in turn 3.” The car was fast.

Denny Hamlin: Hamlin is always one of the first names that come to mind when the MENCS competes at the short-flat tracks. 16 of his 31 career wins have come on the flat tracks. Hamlin qualified 8th and led 54 laps on his way to Victory Lane in this race last year. He has run well on the short-flat tracks this season. He finished 4th at Phoenix and 3rd at Richmond, while leading 46 laps. Hamlin complained his car was wheel-hopping and bouncy in turn 3. They worked to make changes but Hamlin lost some track time because he had a 15-minute penalty. The car was still fastest in both practices.

Daniel Suarez: New Hampshire ranks as the 2nd-best track for Suarez. He finished 6th and 8th in his two races t the track last year. He also he 2 finishes in the top 5 in the Xfinity Series at the Magic Mile. Suarez is starting to run better after finishing 11th at Chicago and 15th at Kentucky. Suarez qualified 9th and he spent most of the two practice sessions inside the top 10 on the speed chart. It looks like the No. 19 team gave Suarez another fast Toyota.

Martin Truex Jr.: If you are looking for Truex this week, look up front. He has led at least 112 laps in the last 4 races at the Magic Mile. Truex also has more momentum than any other driver in the field. He has finished 1st or 2nd in 6 of the last 8 races. Truex ran most of his laps in the top 5 in practice. They made a lot of long runs which means they were working on his long-run speed.

Ryan Newman: Newman has not been very good this season. His average finishing position in 2018 is 20.4. He has been hit or miss in his last 4 races at New Hampshire. Newman has two finishes inside the top 13 and two finishes outside the top 20. This team really needs to find some speed. Newman told his team, “The front is riding horrible. It should be a lot more stable than it is.” They made some changes and Newman said, “That is a lot better.”

Austin Dillon: Dillon has finished the last 4 races at New Hampshire between the 13th and 20th positions. That is about the same positions he has been running this season. Dillon will have some extra track time this week since he is running the Xfinity Series race. This should help him understand how the tires wear in the race. Dillon tells his team, “The run with the scuffs was too tight. It was good in stickers though.” It sounds like they were working on their tire falloff in practice.

Ty Dillon: Dillon has not finished any non-plate races in the top 20 since the race at Texas in early April. He two races at New Hampshire last year were his only races in the MENCS at the track. Dillon finished 16th and 22nd in the two races but his team does not have the same speed they had in 2017. I did not get any data about the No. 13 car but they ran most of their laps outside the top 30 on the speed chart.

Kasey Kahne: The No. 95 team is going through a lot of transitions. The team changed crew chiefs a few weeks ago and now they are talking about changing to Toyota and lining up with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019. Kahne is trying to weather the storm but it is getting harder for him. His average finishing position in the last 7 non-plate races is 24.5. Kahne told his team, “It starts off perfect. It rolls through the center really well but it gets tighter the deeper we get into the run.” They worked on improving their long-run speed.

AJ Allmendinger: There is a good chance that Allmendinger finishes 21st Sunday. He has finished 17th, 21st, 21st, 21st and 21st in his last 5 races at New Hampshire. Allmendinger qualified 16th and he had a hard time running in the top 20 in practice. He told the team that the, “nose of the car is sliding through the corner.”

Chris Buescher: Buescher has competed in 4 races in the MENCS at New Hampshire and his average finishing position is 26.5. He has not been very good on the short-flat tracks this season. Buescher finished 29th at Phoenix, 23rd at Martinsville and 26th at Richmond. Buescher made a lot of short runs and kept bringing the car into the garage. The car was “bouncy.”

Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace Jr. will be making his first start in the MENCS at New Hampshire this week. Wallace has 2 starts in the Xfinity Series (finished 8th and 12th) and 1 start in the Camping World Truck Series (finished 2nd) at the Magic Mile.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse Jr. was decent at New Hampshire last year. He finished 14th and 15th in the two races. This team needs points since they are sitting right outside the cut line. I expect the No. 17 team to lean on Matt Kenseth to help them finish inside the top 15 Sunday.

Matt Kenseth: Parker Klingerman said on NASCAR America last Tuesday that the No. 6 team told him they are not concerned about running up front or winning races. The No. 6 car will be used as a test car for Roush-Fenway racing. They will put one setup in the car to begin the race and change the setups completely throughout the race to create notes for future races. I checked with someone I know from Roush Fenway Racing and they confirmed what Klingerman reported. This is huge news! Do we want to put the fate of our fantasy teams in the hands of a team that is not concerned about running well? I still think Kenseth will run in the top 20, but I doubt he finishes any races in the top 5.

David Ragan: Ragan is starting show the benefits of Front row Racing investing more money into their team and forming a closer alliance with Roush Fenway Racing. Ragan has finished the last 2 races in the top 18. It is a win for this team whenever they finish inside the top 20. Ragan hit the wall in Friday’s practice.  He got into oil that was on the track. The team said it was only cosmetic damage and they fixed the car. The team was working on getting their car to turn better on the exit of the corner. Ragan said, “Not bad.”

Michael McDowell: McDowell has competed in 15 races at New Hampshire in the MENCS and he has never finished inside the top 20. He has not been very good on the short-flat tracks this season. McDowell finished 32nd at Phoenix, 21st at Martinsville and 31st at Richmond. McDowell said, “From center off it is almost un-drivable. It is way too tight.” McDowell pounded the wall in final practice. The No. 34 team will go to a backup car and start last Sunday.

Matt DiBenedetto: The No. 32 team told reporters last week that they were using a car that has not been raced in 6 years at Kentucky. Technology and aerodynamics has changed a lot in the last 6 years so it was no surprise this team could not crack the top 35. I wonder how old the car is this week. Dibendetto said, “It bound-up in each corner. It is just way too tight.”

 

Cars that looked good in practice: Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch

 

Good Sleeper Picks: Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, William Byron and Kasey Kahne

 

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