It was a day we thought wasn’t going to happen. The rain was making its debut on Sunday morning in Loudon, New Hampshire, and the odds of July 22 turning into a race day seemed next to impossible.
Nevertheless, NASCAR rallied forward to keep the track dry, quickly adapted its schedule and eventually start the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 in time to finish it, albeit later than expected.
By most accounts, Sunday would be considered a magical day at a track dubbed the Magic Mile. However, when the gratefulness wore off and we were racing, especially past the race’s second stage, making the event official, it became another race for the underdogs of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
At 301 laps long, the day was still long enough for some pit strategy moves, two long green-flag runs and numerous hard battles to stay on the lead lap. Unfortunately, there was also plenty of time for trouble to find some small teams, dropping them out of contention before the pit boxes even had a chance to dry.
What can you take from a race like Sunday when the second New Hampshire date is a goner? For these teams, a mile-long flat course can give them some preparations for a track like ISM Raceway, and its use of the VHT track grip can give them a feel for what can come at Bristol.
However, what turns a race team around to the following weekend best is a performance that shows the best from the driver and a finish that showcases the best from the team. From Sunday’s race, though, our underdogs have some momentum to build this week leading into Pocono Raceway.
Top of the Class
At the top of the heap on Sunday, Kasey Kahne advanced from 26th on the grid to finish 19th. Standing as the only underdog to finish on the lead lap in New England, he earned the third Frontstretch “Underdog of the Race” for Leavine Family Racing.
Outside his breakout fourth-place finish in the July race at Daytona, Sunday’s run was his best since finishing 17th at Dover in May.
The same can be said for 20th-place finisher Chris Buescher, who scored his first top 20 on a common oval since Dover, pushing his JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37 past Darrell Wallace Jr. for 23rd in driver points.
Ty Dillon was pushed to the rear of the field after he pitted his No. 13 Chevrolet before the green flag. The Germain Racing driver benefited from a couple early cautions to return to the mid-pack scrum, eventually ending the day in 23rd.
Underdogs of the Race So Far in 2018:
Daytona: Darrell Wallace Jr. (second)
Atlanta: Kasey Kahne (21st)
Las Vegas: Chris Buescher (15th)
ISM: AJ Allmendinger (21st)
Auto Club: Darrell Wallace Jr. (20th)
Martinsville: AJ Allmendinger (seventh)
Texas: Darrell Wallace Jr. (eighth)
Bristol: David Ragan (12th)
Richmond: Matt DiBenedetto (16th)
Talladega: David Ragan (sixth)
Dover: Kasey Kahne (17th)
Kansas: David Ragan (13th)
All-Star Race: AJ Allmendinger (eighth)
Charlotte: Darrell Wallace Jr. (16th)
Pocono: David Ragan (16th)
Michigan: AJ Allmendinger (17th)
Sonoma: Chis Buescher (12th)
Chicagoland: Michael McDowell (21st)
Daytona: AJ Allmendinger (third)
Kentucky: David Ragan (18th)
New Hampshire: Kasey Kahne (19th)
Looking for More
Previously mentioned, Wallace dropped a position in points after Sunday’s race, losing it to Buescher to fall to 24th. In the large perspective, that’s not significant. The No. 43 has been in a must-win situation for the playoffs for months, New Hampshire was just another finish to stabilize that standing.
Starting 27th, Wallace finished 24th. Not much, but New Hampshire was the latest of tracks the rookie has seen for the first time in a Cup car. So, it may have given him a personal boost before leaving for Pocono Raceway this weekend, a track he’s already raced twice in Cup.
Ross Chastain has been given credit time and time again for his team-leading pace this year for Premium Motorsports. But Sunday’s performance was a notch even better than where he usually is, as he finished 25th in his No. 15 Chevrolet. The result was his fifth top-25 finish this year.
McDowell had one rough start to the weekend, spinning and nailing the Turn 3 wall during practice on Saturday, forcing his hand on a backup machine for Sunday.
The No. 34 Front Row Motorsports driver had his hands full with his new car, starting tail-end on the field and managing an improvement limited to 26th place. His teammate David Ragan was 29th while Corey Lajoie and DiBenedetto filled the gap in 27th and 28th, respectively.
Kyle Weatherman made just his second start of 2018 for StarCom Racing. And after out-qualifying veteran teammate Landon Cassill last time in the car at Chicagoland, the 20-year-old kept his car out of trouble, finishing 31st. Cassill, however, had an accident in practice before hitting the wall again with his backup car in the race, ending the day in last place after only 13 laps.
Allmendinger was another underdog who met the wall early, as the JTG driver cut a left-rear tire and backed into the Turn 1 wall. He was 36th while BJ McLeod was two spots up in 34th.
Blake Jones ended his Cup debut 33rd for BK Racing.
The XFINITY Series was also in action at New Hampshire, running the Lakes Region 200 on Saturday. It was a part of a triple-header day for the northeastern race fans and it sure didn’t disappoint.
For the underdogs, however, the day was fairly tame. Ryan Truex appears to be in a bubble outside the top 10, finishing 13th in the third consecutive race. The Kaulig Racing team hasn’t finished better than 10th since Charlotte in May, however, it continues to maintain a playoff position with top-15 consistency.
Kaz Grala returned to the sport after missing Kentucky due to lack of sponsors for his Fury Race Cars machine. The comeback ended with a solid 14th while Ryan Sieg scored a meaningful 15th-place finish for his No. 39 team. Saturday was Sieg’s first top 15 since Charlotte in May and only his fourth of 2018. It also tied his best New Hampshire finish in five total starts.
Trying not to be grumpy this week but man I’m frustrated we had a top 20 capable car but a mechanical failure bit us again 🤬😡😡😡
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) July 23, 2018
P33 today in my @NASCAR Monster Energy Cup debut. We ran all the laps, learned a ton and came out without a scratch. Something to build on! Big thanks to @BKRacing_2383 for the opportunity. pic.twitter.com/lJIGsiXrjC
— Blake Jones (@CBlakeJones_) July 23, 2018
Went straight from racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to @roadamerica yesterday to watch my dad race the @WeatherTech International Challenge. My dads first time running this race was in 1997 when I was only two years old, and I haven’t missed it since! pic.twitter.com/PfF3WeAPRc
— Josh Bilicki (@joshbilicki) July 23, 2018
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) July 23, 2018