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Podium Preview: Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire

It's a close, competitive field for Sunday's Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire. (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

It’s a close, competitive field for Sunday’s Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire. (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

For the past 29 years, NASCAR Cup Series drivers and teams have made the trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. No, they’re not solely there for the refuge of cooler weather and much discussed, quality seafood.

Instead, 36 drivers and teams are preparing for Sunday’s Ambetter 301, a 301 lap slugfest that’ll seem like high speed driving around I-93. However, the prize will be some well earned cash, a Cup victory and a crustacean best known as Loudon the Lobster.

This 1.058-mile speedway seems like a nice, relaxing stock car arena until negotiating around the sweeping corners banked between two to seven degrees. Speed and aggression may seem like worthy intangibles but a smart, crafty driver and nearly flawless pit crew matter equally as much.

Despite the stage era of NASCAR Cup Series racing, if the race has a long enough green flag run, it may turn into a fuel mileage battle. Just ask Jeff Gordon, NASCAR Hall of Fame racer, how important this is for Loudon, New Hampshire, as a dominant performance was all for naught in 2003.

The possibly retiring Aric Almirola hopes to replicate his feat from last year. Then again, drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson may be in the mix and have some say. And are you proud that the slightest inclination of a Boston accent has not been mentioned in our preview?

This weekend, Cody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorNathan Solomon,Taylor Kitchen and yours truly consider some of the potential candidates for a Sunday victory at Loudon and the possibly tenuous times ahead for Ross Chastain.

Podium Preview: Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire
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Question 1
Can Chase Briscoe tally another Cup win this Sunday at New Hampshire? (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Can Chase Briscoe tally another Cup win this Sunday at New Hampshire? (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Sunday’s Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire is the third flat track race of the season. Given what we saw at Phoenix and Gateway earlier this year, who stands out to you among prominent contenders at “The Magic Mile?”

Tiongson : There’s a couple of drivers who are top of mind for me with New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Joey Logano is one of the top contenders at this track. Sure, he hasn’t won there since the fall 2014 Playoffs race. However, he’s showcased his prowess at tracks where the drivers’ input matters perhaps more than a fast car in terms of the body or engine. Based on how he fared at Gateway in June, he has to be the one to beat despite starting 12th.

If there’s a driver who’s hungry and determined for a victory at Loudon, Martin Truex Jr. is the man. The Truex family have made names for themselves at this track, particularly during the old Busch North Series years. Now, Truex has been so close to winning at NHMS before circumstances decided otherwise. He’s got the pole and he’s hungry to win his first Magic Mile Cup race in his career, much less, of the year. With his future somewhat solidified, perhaps one of the prides of Mayetta, New Jersey emerges victorious on Sunday.

Solomon : For whatever reason, Ford seems to be really strong on these flat track races. Chase Briscoe and Joey Logano won Phoenix and Gateway, respectively, and I believe they will be in the mix on Sunday. Plus, Aric Almirola won this race last year.

There are also Ford drivers like Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney looking to punch their tickets to the playoffs with a victory. Expect a Ford driver to win at New Hampshire.

Lambeth : I have to agree with Nathan, I believe the Fords will likely be the early favorites to win at Loudon, However, I’m not ready to crown them yet because the Toyotas are starting upfront and Chevrolet looked really good in practice. Unfortunately, at Phoenix and Gateway, passing difficulty increased as the field spread out on the longer green flag runs. 

I expect the same issues at the Magic Mile. But I’m looking forward to the potential changes NASCAR may introduce at the shorter tracks later in the season. Bringing the attention back to New Hampshire, we’ll have to see which drivers can maintain key track position when it matters the most.

Question 2
Will it be stressful times for Ross Chastain during the Playoffs? (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Will it be stressful times for Ross Chastain during the Playoffs? (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Ross Chastain’s aggressive driving is at the forefront again after a couple of incidents at Atlanta last Sunday. Should Chastain try to batten down for some retaliation or self-policing from his peers with his incidents involving Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin?

Sisoler : I think that Chastain and that No. 1 team should definitely be ready for any retaliation coming from the rest of the field. I understand the need to run at the front and push for victories, because NASCAR prizes wins over all else with the current format, and Chastain is an extremely talented driver who has a car capable of winning.

However, the ultimate goal is to win the championship, and I can’t imagine Denny Hamlin or anyone else who has an issue with Ross to let him off the hook come playoff time, especially if he doesn’t reel it in a bit before we hit the end of the regular season.

Shoppe : People can talk about retaliation all they want. Meanwhile, Ross Chastain is running up front and getting away with whatever he does. For now, it all looks like talk. We won’t know for sure if any of them will keep their word to retaliate until deep in the Playoffs. Otherwise, it’s meaningless. 

As for Chastain’s aggressive driving itself, I’m so happy with it all and love the drama it creates! 

Raynor : Ross Chastain is an extremely talented driver. This new car has shown that. The problem I think he is having is within himself. He’s been so used to racing every single race like he’s fighting for his job. I think he’s so afraid of finally feeling like he truly belongs with a team that he’s not taking the time to build on his talents and knowing when to push the limits and when not to.

I am OK with aggressive driving. However, Ross Chastain needs to tone it down. He’s locked in the playoffs and there is no need to be as aggressive right now. He is so talented that he doesn’t need to be aggressive and learn how to showcase his talents without running into everyone. I think drivers are waiting until the playoffs to make moves on him. He needs to earn respect in order to be raced with respect.

Torres : Ross Chastain is well locked into the postseason with two wins, but I can’t imagine him not fighting for the regular season title against Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney. Bear in mind, there’s 15 playoff points at stake by being the championship leader after Daytona next month.

I want to think that’s a big reason why he’s been so aggressive but at times, mistakes are bound to happen. For any competitor, growth is important and overcoming mistakes that irate drivers is crucial.

We’ve seen this throughout the history of the sport with Ernie Irvan in 1991 being a prime example. 

Similar to Chastain, Irvan that year had a breakout year with him winning the Daytona 500 but was overshadowed by incidents at Talladega that sidelined Kyle Petty and eliminated dozens of drivers from the fight. 

Additionally, Irvan was blamed for causing a big wreck at Pocono where he was forced to apologize to the entire Cup garage shortly therafter.

With seven races left in the regular season, Chastain does need to tone it down a bit and fight for wins to get the regular season title. Once it’s the playoffs, if he does self-police, it’ll come a long way. 

One more drama, Chastain is really going to have a miserable playoff run. Not because of his performance, but the other drivers remembering the nightmares and will make it difficult on him.

Sharpe : Glancing back at other drivers throughout the years that had similar experiences, Brad Keselowski comes to mind. His 2014 season was memorable for the same reasons that Chastain’s are this year.

Brad had several clashes with drivers including Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart. While most notable is the clash between Gordon and his team on pitroad post race, his own choices to drive more aggressively that season was his ultimate downfall to not snagging another championship.

While I do not see Ross literally slugging it out with his competitors post race, it does raise some flags, considering Team Trackhouse’s other driver has taken a different approach while still winning this season.

Being aggressive is key in any type of sport, but overdoing it always has consequences. As the playoffs inch closer, I would not be surprised to see the others who are in contention to show their displeasure with Chastain.

That’s two, fast laps around ‘The Magic Mile!” Before we consider some fun times at Hogwarts, let’s rewind to last Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Atlanta with our race and points reports for Round 19 of 36!
Sisoler celebrated a summertime Atlanta win.

Sisoler celebrated a summertime Atlanta win.

While yours truly continues to lead, the Playoff points fight gets interesting.

While yours truly continues to lead, the Playoff points fight gets interesting.

Next, here’s our top 10 starters for Sunday’s Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire!
Row 1
Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott (Photo: Sam Draiss and Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott (Photo: Sam Draiss and Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Row 2
Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Row 3
Christopher Bell and William Byron (Photo: Sam Draiss and Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Christopher Bell and William Byron (Photo: Sam Draiss and Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Row 4
Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson (Josh Jones and Sam Draiss | The Podium Finish)

Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson (Josh Jones and Sam Draiss | The Podium Finish)

Row 5
Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick (Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick (Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Now, here’s our picks for Sunday’s Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire!
It's not an espionage movie with these seven solid race picks. (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

It’s not an espionage movie with these seven solid race picks. (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Torres : Normally, I tend to be confident about my race pick. Loudon isn’t one of those races, so I had to go with a rather bold pick and that’s Kevin Harvick.

Hard to believe I’m saying he’s a bold choice considering how strong he was a couple years ago. Lately, Stewart-Haas Racing aren’t quite there and Harvick is no exception.

However, he’s one of the better racers at Loudon in recent memory and if he wants to make it into the playoffs, a win will come a long way. It’ll certainly spice up the playoff picture even more, but I’m here for it. Make it 14 different winners in 2022 with Harvick.

Shoppe : May look like an out of the box pick, but Christopher Bell has been dominant in Xfinity here and almost won this race in Cup last year. New Hampshire is one of his best tracks and nobody is needing a win more than a guy ranked in the of the Playoff cutline.

Solomon : Christopher Bell has always performed well at New Hampshire. He has three Xfinity Series victories and was in contention to win this race last year. On Sunday, Bell will nab a victory to punch his ticket to the 2022 Playoffs.

Raynor : Martin Truex Jr. is on the pole and needs a win.

Sharpe : Denny Hamlin of JGR has proven he can run quite well at New Hampshire, even if he’s not a fan of lobsters. Watch out for this veteran as he slays the field and snags another win with the Playoffs swiftly approaching.

Lambeth : As William Byron gets more seat time behind the wheel outside of the NASCAR Cup Series, I’ve seen his confidence as a driver grow on Sundays. Byron started getting back to his roots this season running a limited Super Late Model program and select Xfinity races.

A few days ago, he won the Slinger Nationals and competed in yesterday’s Xfinity race. I believe he’ll keep the good times rolling and take home a tasty lobster dinner at the Magic Mile!

Kitchen : William Byron was fast in practice and qualifying so he the guy I am picking to win the Ambetter 301.

Tiongson : There’s nothing like a homecoming trip for an athlete. Whether it’s football, basketball or auto racing, returning to familiar territory boosts spirits and morales like an engine department finding extra horsepower. If Joey Logano and his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang stay within striking distance of the Gibbs and Hendrick boys in the first two stages, look for the 2018 Cup champ to snatch his third victory of the season.

Sisoler : If I’m not mistaken, last year, I picked Kyle Busch and he was wiped out in that mess of a start where it was raining. This year, I’m expecting Rowdy to be a threat to pick up the victory, as he had the second fastest car in practice. While his qualifying wasn’t fantastic, he’s still always solid at New Hampshire.

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into the race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week! While we progress toward a new kind of normal, please do your part to curb the impacts of the pandemic by washing your hands and getting your COVID-19 vaccine or booster.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization and its staff.

Also, if you are shopping for NASCAR or racing die-casts, be sure to check out our friends at Circle B Diecast! If your order is $30 or more, use coupon code TPF2022 for discounted shipping! Tell them we sent you and buy some new die-casts now!

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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