Looking ahead to the Chase race at New Hampshire

Brad Keselowski (Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski (Getty Images)

LOUDON, N.H. – The July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is one of the most significant on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, and with good reason.

Because the first race at the Magic Mile is so close to the Chase race at NHMS – barely more than two months apart – it’s fair to say that solving the 1.058-mile flat track in Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 will give teams a leg up on the second race in the Chase, come September.

“The guys that are fast this time around will probably be fast next time around when we come back here,” Brad Keselowski said after Friday’s qualifying session. “That makes this weekend a pretty important weekend for us. You look at it in terms of car development, and Phoenix is probably on the opposite end.

“You start in late February and come back in November and it seems like you have two completely different cars with the development your team has put into it. It isn’t always a good indicator of who is going to be fast.”

The tight time frame at New Hampshire, on the other hand, makes notes collected in July all the more important.

“You look at this track, and I don’t know if there is another track in the Chase that races back-to-back so quickly, in such a short time span,” Keselowski said. “That means that, generally, what works here in the first race carries over to the second race, because the car specs and development cycle is relatively close.

“I think it’s a good indicator for sure and important for us to run well, being that it’s in the Chase when we come back. I think we put a lot of emphasis on this race, as do all the Chase-eligible teams so far.”

SHORT STROKES

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers topped the speed chart in Saturday morning’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In unusually hot conditions, Carl Edwards paced the session at 131.456 mph, followed by teammates Denny Hamlin (131.284 mph) and Matt Kenseth (131.193 mph)…

Pole winner Jimmie Johnson, on the other hand, was 14th fastest in the morning session and 25th fastest in the 10-lap average speed, lagging behind Edwards, whose 10-lap average was 130.452 mph…

Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner Chase Elliott posted the fastest lap in Happy Hour at 131.347 mph to edge Hamlin and Kenseth for session honors. Johnson improved to seventh fastest in final practice…

Alex Bowman, subbing for sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr., was 24th on the speed chart in morning practice and 22nd in Happy Hour. Bowman will start 20th in Sunday’s New Hampshire 301.

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