DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- With only seven races remaining to set the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field, this week's Foxwoods Resorts Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway could prove a pivotal time in the championship stretch.
Kyle Busch's dramatic runner-up finish to older brother Kurt at Kentucky Speedway last weekend, coupled with Joey Logano's seventh-place finish, helped bridge the championship gap to only 11 points between the reigning Monster Energy Series champion Logano and 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch as the regular season begins to wrap up and settle the Playoff 16.
While the standings did not undergo vast shifts in position following the Kentucky race, gaps among the top-16 Playoff eligible were definitely tightened. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones moved into the final 16th place transfer position, but he holds only a perilous two-point edge over 17th-place Ryan Newman and is only four points up over 18th-place Daniel Suarez heading into the race weekend.
Jones' advancement from 18th to 16th place in the standings following the Kentucky race and Jimmie Johnson's fall from 13th to 15th marked the biggest movers among those currently championship eligible.
The tight points standings verify vigorous battles at various points both among the drivers safely championship-eligible and those on the Playoff cusp.
In particular, the final transfer spots provide some dramatic opportunity. Although Newman, in his first year driving for Roush Fenway Racing, is currently two points out of the Playoff eligibility -- the New Hampshire one-mile track is historically one of his best.
Newman is one of six active drivers with three wins at New Hampshire and his seven pole positions there are most all-time. He is the only driver to win from the pole position more than once -- earning victories from pole in 2002 and 2011.
He is currently only 10 points behind 14th-place Clint Bowyer, who also has a strong history at New Hampshire, scoring his first series win there in 2007. Jimmie Johnson is tied with Bowyer in points, but the tiebreaker ranks him 15th because Bowyer has a best finish of runner-up (Texas) compared to Johnson's best finish of third (Daytona, second) this season. As with Newman, Johnson has three Cup wins at New Hampshire and is also one of only three drivers (also Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch) to win consecutive races there, sweeping in the 2003 season.
The two veterans -- Bowyer and Johnson -- hold an eight-point advantage over 16th-place Erik Jones, 10 points on Newman in 17th and are only 12 points up on 18th-place Suarez.
MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
Next Race: Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, July 21
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 318.46 miles (301 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 301)
2018 Race Winner: Kevin Harvick
What to Watch For: Jeff Burton is the all-time winningest driver at New Hampshire with four victories. There are six active drivers with three wins each -- Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman. ... Newman has won the most pole positions (7) all-time -- more than double that of any other active driver. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch have each won three poles. Keselowski is the only current Cup driver to score his first career pole position at New Hampshire. ... Rusty Wallace won the first Cup race at New Hampshire in July, 1993. ... Current Cup drivers Joey Logano, Ryan Preece, B.J. McLeod and Corey LaJoie all made their first Cup starts at the track. ... Six times a driver has won consecutive pole positions. Newman is the most recent to do so, sweeping the 2011 season races. ... Chevrolet has won the most poles (18). ... Only three drivers have won back-to-back races -- including Johnson (2003 season sweep), Kurt Busch (2004 season sweep) and Matt Kenseth (Fall of 2015, Spring of 2016). ... Joey Logano is the youngest winner in track history -- aged 19 years, one month and nine days when he won in June, 2009. ... Five drivers scored their career first Cup win at New Hampshire, including current drivers Joey Logano (June, 2009), Clint Bowyer (September, 2007) and Ryan Newman (September, 2002). ...The pole position is the most proficient starting spot in the field, producing six winners. The most recent polesitter to win was Kyle Busch in 2017. ... The farthest back on the grid a winner has started is 38th -- Burton in 1999. ... Joe Gibbs Racing holds the record for most wins at New Hampshire with 11. ... Chevrolet is the winningest manufacturer (19). Among the current makes, Ford has 14 wins and Toyota has nine. ... Tony Stewart has the most runner-up finishes all-time (six). Hamlin and Kyle Busch each have four -- most among active drivers. ... Jeff Gordon holds the all-time mark for top fives (16) and top 10s (24). Harvick and Kyle Busch lead active drivers with 11 top-five finishes. Johnson leads active drivers with 22 top 10s. ... The closest margin of victory at New Hampshire is .068-second when Hamlin edged Gordon in July, 2007. ... Gordon has led the most laps in history at New Hampshire (1,373). Kyle Busch (1,010) leads all active drivers and is third all-time.