Weekend Recap: New Hampshire – Gibbs Finally Wins; Busch Makes Shocking Announcement
By Matteo Marcheschi
Hamlin Breaks Several Droughts by Winning Overton’s 301
Denny Hamlin took the win in Sunday afternoon’s Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The win is Hamlin’s 30th career victory. He hadn’t won since September of last season at Richmond. Oddly, the top three finishers of that fall race mirrors Sunday’s top three finishers: Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. He also captured Joe Gibbs Racing’s first win of 2017. Before New Hampshire, JGR had gone winless through the first 18 races of 2017. Last season, they had won seven races of the first 18 and had all of their drivers in the playoffs. Now, while Hamlin is locked in and Kyle Busch is first in points among winless drivers (12th on the playoff grid), Matt Kenseth occupies the final place on the grid (16th place), 52 points ahead of 17th-place Joey Logano, but far from secure. Daniel Suarez is 19th in points, 120 points behind Kenseth. Suarez will likely have to win to make the playoffs.
Busch and Truex Win Stages, Fall Short
Martin Truex Jr. led 137 laps and won stage one on Sunday, but wasn’t able to close the deal, as strategy didn’t quite work in his favor. He finished third on the day, one spot behind main rival Kyle Larson. Truex grew his points lead over Larson from 34 to 38 points after a 35-point penalty from Kentucky gave him the lead. Truex now has 14 stage wins so far this season. Kyle Busch has the second-most, with five. Kyle Busch won stage two, but two speeding penalties in the final stage ended any hopes at a victory. Busch was able to work his way back up to twelfth, but anything other than a win was disappointing after leading 95 laps, the second-most on the day.
Logano Feels Playoff Pressure
Joey Logano was feeling confident entering Sunday’s race, which took place at his home track. Unfortunately, an issue with the track bar derailed a decent run for the New England native, sending him behind the wall for a significant amount of laps. Logano ended the race 37th, earning only a single point. It was crucial for him to beat Matt Kenseth, who is just in front of him in the points, on the other side of the cutoff line. Instead, though, Logano lost 45 points to Kenseth, who finished fourth. Logano does have a win this season, but it was ruled to encumbered after NASCAR officials found a violation in post race inspection, meaning Logano could not use it for playoff eligibility. In the ten races since the win and penalty, Logano has three DNFs and only two top ten finishes and has fallen from fifth to 13th in overall points (not playoff grid).
Busch Wins #89, Announces Retirement from Series After #100
Kyle Busch took his third Xfinity Series win of 2017 in the Overton’s 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That wasn’t the shocking part, though. The shocker came after the race, in an interview with Claire B. Lang of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “When I get to 100 XFINITY Series wins, I’m done with XFINITY.” Busch clarified that he’d race on occasion if team owner Joe Gibbs asked him to, but said, “other than that, I’m done.” Like him or not, Busch has an immense legacy in the series, starting 334 races over 15 seasons, with a win percentage of just over 26 percent and an average finish of 9.1. Busch has four XFINITY Series races remaining in 2017, and it would not be out of the question to see him reach 100 in the next two seasons. Participation guidelines for Cup regulars in the XFINITY Series have not been released yet, though, so it’s hard to guess when Busch may reach the magic number.
Preece Shines in JGR Debut
Ryan Preece made his first of two NASCAR XFINITY Series starts with Joe Gibbs Racing on Saturday afternoon. Preece stayed up front all day to capture a second-place finish. Preece ran the full XFINITY Series season last year with JD Motorsports, but did not return to the team for 2017. He hadn’t raced in the XFINITY Series before Saturday, instead racing in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, where he has two wins and five top five finishes in six starts. Preece won the Whelen All-Star Shootout, an exhibition event for the Modified Tour, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday. He was able to get by Ryan Newman on the final lap to take the victory.
Xfinity Regulars Struggle Again
While fewer Cup drivers were entered this weekend than at Kentucky last weekend, the outcome was much the same. XFINITY Series regulars (counting Ryan Preece, since he is technically earning XFINITY Series points) led a total of ten laps out of the 200 run in Saturday’s race. They also swept all seven playoff points available, which leads to another depressing stat in that regard. Of the 119 playoff points available in the 17 races so far in 2017 (seven playoff points per race), only 31 of them have been earned by XFINITY Series regulars. That’s four race wins and eleven stage wins. Only about a quarter of the playoff points available were actually earned and can be put to use. That is just depressing. Things don’t look much better next week either, as Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Ty Dillon, Paul Menard, and Erik Jones are entered, looking to spoil the party once again.