Parity record ready to fall in New Hampshire

LOUDON, NH - JULY 13:  Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

LOUDON, NH – JULY 13: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Redds Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 13, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race results at New Hampshire Motor Speedway can be summed up with one word.

Unpredictable.

Thirteen different drivers have taken the checkered flag in the last 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at the Magic Mile – tied with Texas Motor Speedway for the all-time streak without a repeat winner.

And there’s a better than average chance the Magic Mile takes sole possession of the record after this Sunday’s Sylvania 300 (2 p.m. on ESPN) as Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are all missing from the 13-in-13 stretch.

“The streak is a testimony to the competitive challenge our track presents to drivers. In addition to new winners, we’re seeing record lead changes, more drivers than ever on the lead lap, and some great finishes,” said Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of the track. “We’ve had part-time drivers, former champions, and first-time winners end up in Sunoco Victory Lane. We take a lot of pride in the fact that anyone can win and anything can happen here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.”

Gordon owns three victories at New Hampshire, but has not won there since 1998. He’s on the cusp of his fourth win this season after posting runner-up finishes the last two races. Despite his Granite State drought, Gordon boasts the highest average running position in the series at the 1.058-mile oval (7.7) where he has competed in all 39 of its NASCAR Sprint Cup series events – tied with Jeff Burton for its all-time starts record.

“Loudon always seems to be a good track for us, although it didn’t appear to be the case when the green (flag) waved the last time we were there,” said Gordon of his 26th-place July New Hampshire finish. “The car was ‘undriveable’ at the start and we lost a lap early, but it was because one of the tires was slowly losing air. Once we got the (chassis) adjustments back in it, the car was really fast – so that gives us some confidence as we head into this weekend.”

It’s been a while since Harvick has won at New Hampshire, too (9/17/06). In his last two races at the track, he has finished 30th and 20th, respectively. Harvick can likely count on a solid starting position, at least. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver boasts a series-best six Coors Light Pole Awards this season and has started lower than sixth once in his last eight races, coincidentally at the Magic Mile.

“(New Hampshire is) a track where you have to have a good-handling car, you have to have track position and you have to have everything going right,” Harvick said. “If you get yourself stuck in the middle of the pack you’re not going to have a very good day unless you have a really good car.”

After posting three wins, his highest total since he racked up six in 2004, Earnhardt will try to automatically advance to the Chase’s Contender Round with a New Hampshire checkered flag. He has the most starts without a win a Loudon, but has seven top fives to his credit there. Since Earnhardt’s emphatic win at Pocono, he has posted one top-10 finish in the last six races, a fifth-place showing at Michigan.

“I love New Hampshire because it’s short, and you blink an eye, 300 laps is gone,” said Steve Letarte, Earnhardt’s crew chief. “You have to have your pit strategy right. You have to be aggressive. That’s kind of Dale’s and my signature, being aggressive with the pit strategy. He’s committed to driving those unique pit strategies and I think that’s what allows us to consistently finish well at New Hampshire.”

Familiar faces Hornish and McDowell return to action with owner points title implications

Seven races remain on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule and the owner points championship looks to be a two-horse race as the season unwinds.

Sam Hornish Jr.. (Getty Images)

Sam Hornish Jr.. (Getty Images)

Currently, the No. 22 Team Penske Ford occupies the top of the standings with a 15-point lead over the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. With their typical drivers focused on the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in New Hampshire or points titles in other NASCAR series, each car has an open seat for Saturday’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNEWS). Sam Hornish Jr. will take the reins of the No. 54 JGR car, primarily driven by Kyle Busch, while NNS veteran Michael McDowell will make his Team Penske season debut in the No. 22.

Back in action for his first race since Mid-Ohio on Aug. 16, Hornish claims one win (Iowa Speedway), four top fives and two poles in seven starts this season. He has never won in his four starts at Kentucky, but has experienced success there with one Coors Light Pole Award, two top fives (including a runner-up showing) and an average finish of 5.2.

McDowell, often the driver of the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has made two Nationwide appearances this season, both in the No. 20 JGR Toyota. Both races were at Iowa, and in another twist, he tied his career-best with a runner-up finish behind No. 22 Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski in last month’s U.S. Cellular 250 presented by New Holland. Playing to McDowell’s favor, the No. 22 swept Kentucky last year and finished second in the series’ first visit to the 1.5-mile tri-oval this season.

“Driving for Roger Penske is something I have dreamed about since I was a kid racing Go-Karts,” McDowell said. “I have lived in Charlotte for 10 years and I haven’t changed my phone number during that time. When people ask why, my joke is; when Roger Penske dials my number, I want to make sure he has the same number I gave Walter Czarnecki 14 years ago.

“I told him I wanted to drive for Team Penske someday and I stayed in contact with him as I climbed up the open wheel ladder. It turned out to be a good thing I never changed my number.”

Crafton cruising towards championship repeat

Matt Crafton found himself back in familiar territory following his second-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday night. The 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion reclaimed the top spot in the standings where he holds a five-point lead over ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter.

 Matt Crafton. (Getty Images)

Matt Crafton. (Getty Images)

He can further distance himself from the field with a strong showing in Saturday’s UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1 p.m. on FOX Sports 1) where the NCWTS returns after a two-year hiatus. With so many young drivers on the circuit, the 38 year old has the advantage of having 11 previous starts on the 1.058-mile oval and boasts two top-five and six top-10 finishes there.

“The [shorter] tracks are what I grew up on so I’m looking forward to the Truck Series getting back to Loudon,” Crafton said. “It’s been [three] years since the trucks have raced there, but I’ve had some good runs there in the past; we even got our first pole there in 2005.”

If he can stay out front, Crafton will become the first back-to-back champion and the fourth multi-title winner since the series began in 1995. At the moment, Crafton doesn’t even have the points race on his mind, claiming he is only focused on winning events until the final race at Homestead.

“Homestead is going to be when we are going to worry about (the points race),” Crafton said. “We are going to go to each and every race trying to win, each and every darn race.”

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