The NASCAR Cup Series traveled to the Northeast this weekend to take on New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the first and only time this season. With only three spots open in the playoffs prior to the drop of the green flag, drivers knew that a win would be needed.
The weekend opened with a practice session on Saturday prior to the Xfinity Series race. This session saw the 24 of William Byron out front with a lap time of 29.877. Behind him, the 18 of Kyle Busch, 14 of Chase Briscoe, 5 of reigning champion Kyle Larson, and 19 of Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five.
Qualifying was held shortly thereafter in the familiar single car format. Running just a bit slower than the leading time in practice, Truex Jr. earned the pole position with a lap of 29.964. Completing the top-five in the lineup was the 9 of Chase Elliott, 45 of Kurt Busch, 23 of Bubba Wallace, and 20 of Christopher Bell in a shakeup from practice.
The beginning of the race was delayed slightly due to a quick rainfall, but the cars were on track just shortly after their scheduled time. After the rain cleared, the field took the green flag with Truex Jr. and Elliott out front.
It wasn’t long before the first caution of the day came out. On lap five, the 48 of Alex Bowman, 77 of Josh Bilicki, 42 of Ty Dillon, and 78 of BJ McLeod were involved in a major accident. This came after Dillon made contact with the 31 of Justin Haley and spun into the wall, collecting the others. At the break, the 3 of Austin Dillon and 51 of Cody Ware came down pit road while all others stayed out.
At the restart, it was Truex Jr. and the 23 of Bubba Wallace out front with Elliott falling back to fourth. The rest of the stage was relatively quiet except for some tight battles for position. The 11 of Denny Hamlin and 6 of Brad Keselowski fought for 11th, while Wallace and the 5 of Kyle Larson duked it out for second. Hamlin and Wallace earned their respective positions.
Truex Jr. held off all traffic to earn the stage win and collect a much-needed playoff point. The 21 of Harrison Burton was the free pass and was able to get back on the lead lap. At the stage break, all lead lap cars pitted for four tires with Truex winning the race off pit road. The 4 of Kevin Harvick took second position off pit road.
Truex Jr. and Harvick led the field to green, but not for long. Shortly into the first lap of stage two, the 18 of Kyle Busch took a spin and brought out the caution. No cars pitted, but the 7 of Corey LaJoie earned the free pass.
The second restart of the stage saw Truex Jr. and Larson leading the field with Harvick falling to fourth. Just five laps later, another caution was brought out for LaJoie who spun and collected Burton and the 34 of Michael McDowell. The 3 of Austin Dillon earned the free pass and all but three cars came to pit road for fuel. The 22 of Joey Logano, 2 of Austin Cindric, and 17 of Chris Buescher stayed out. The 9 of Elliott was forced to pit twice with a loose wheel.
At the restart on lap 101, it was Logano and Buescher out front. Truex Jr., winning the race off pit road again, lined up third. By lap 121, Truex Jr. earned the lead back from Logano. Six laps later, the 11 of Hamlin and 1 of Ross Chastain were side-by-side, and it was expected that the two would cause some drama because of their storied history as of late. However, they stayed clean and Chastain took 12th position from Hamlin.
At lap 146, the 12 of Ryan Blaney took a spin in turn four and brought out the caution. The 31 of Haley was the free pass, and all lead lap cars pitted. Truex Jr. once again won the race off pit road after taking four tires, and the 99 of Daniel Suárez was close behind after taking two.
The 19 and 99 led the field to green, but the 22 of Logano quickly took second from Suárez. Later that lap, the caution came out for the 14 of Chase Briscoe who took a spin. The 47 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the free pass, while the 10 of Aric Almirola went to the garage with shifting issues.
At the restart, Truex Jr. and Harvick led the field to green for six laps before yet another caution was brought out. This time, it was again for the 18 of Kyle Busch who took a spin in turn four. The 34 of McDowell was the free pass. Five cars pitted while all others stayed out.
The final laps of the stage were uneventful as Truex Jr. earned his second stage win of the day. The 21 of Burton, 14 of Briscoe, and 18 of Busch all stayed out at the break to get a lap back while all others pitted. Truex Jr. once again won the race off pit road. Burton and Briscoe led the field to green for five laps before Truex Jr. came charging back to the lead.
At lap 205, another caution came out for the 38 of Todd Gilliland who took a spin in turn four. The 2 of Austin Cindric was the free pass while everyone except the 45 of Kurt Busch, 22 of Logano, and 41 of Cole Custer pitted. There was drama on pit road as Harvick and Austin Dillon made contact and Burton fell victim to an equipment interference violation.
At the restart, it was Kurt Busch and Joey Logano out front. The two held on for 33 laps before Logano was finally passed by the 9 of Chase Elliott for second. Elliott was on a charge and passed Busch for the lead just four laps later. Elliott held on for 13 laps before the 20 of Christopher Bell passed him thanks to some lapped traffic. It was a question of strategy and fuel as the laps winded down, and the 45 of Busch, 41 of Custer, and 22 of Logano each had to pit for fuel in the final laps of the race.
With just enough fuel to finish, the 20 of Christopher Bell earned his first victory of the season and locked himself into the playoffs. With that, there are now only two spots open with the 12 of Ryan Blaney and 19 of Martin Truex Jr. currently occupying those spots. There were no issues in post-race tech inspection, so Bell’s win was made official.
The Cup Series will next compete at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, July 24th at 3:00 p.m.
Featured photo from @NHMS on Twitter.