Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Martin Truex Jr., easily the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ hottest driver right now, leads the series into New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Overton’s 301.
Truex doesn’t just sit in the pole position for Sunday’s afternoon showdown, he sits atop the overall leaderboard and is one of two drivers with three wins on the season and one of five multi-race winners so far.
At face value, the number of drivers with more than one checkered flag make this sound like any normal season. Far from it, though, as the stage-based format has spit out 11 different winners, and we’re only heading into the middle of July.
As of now, a driver with only one win isn’t guaranteed a playoff berth, making each race a critical step in the process and amplifying what was already one of the summer’s better showdowns each year.
Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports
Overton’s 301 Entries
1. Kyle Larson (42)
2. Martin Truex Jr. (78)
3. Jimmie Johnson (48)
4. Matt Kenseth (20)
5. Jamie McMurray (1)
6. Kasey Kahne (5)
7. Erik Jones (77)
8. Kyle Busch (18)
9. Denny Hamlin (11)
10. Kurt Busch (41)
11. Brad Keselowski (2)
12. Chase Elliott (24)
13. Kevin Harvick (4)
14. Joey Logano (22)
15. Daniel Suarez (19)
16. Ryan Blaney (21)
17. Matt DiBenedetto (32)
18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17)
19. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88)
20. Clint Bowyer (14)
21. Michael McDowell (95)
22. Aric Almirola (43)
23. Chris Buescher (37)
24. AJ Allmendinger (47)
25. Ryan Newman (31)
26. Ty Dillon (13)
27. Austin Dillon (3)
28. Trevor Bayne (6)
29. Landon Cassill (34)
30. Paul Menard (27)
31. Danica Patrick (10)
32. Corey LaJoie (23)
33. David Ragan (38)
34. Cole Whitt (72)
35. Gray Gaulding (55)
36. Reed Sorenson (15)
37. Ryan Sieg (83)
38. Jeffrey Earnhardt (33)
39. Josh Bilicki (51)
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings
|1. Martin Truex Jr.||709|
|2. Jimmie Johnson||519|
|3. Kyle Larson||675|
|4. Brad Keselowski||536|
|5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||418|
|6. Kevin Harvick||599|
|7. Ryan Blaney||462|
|8. Kurt Busch||419|
|9. Ryan Newman||414|
|10. Austin Dillon||341|
|11. Kyle Busch||609|
|12. Chase Elliott||560|
|13. Jamie McMurray||545|
|14. Denny Hamlin||538|
|15. Clint Bowyer||495|
|16. Matt Kenseth||478|
Drivers to Watch
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
It’s always worthwhile to look at the defending winner of a certain event, especially when said winner is a notable like Matt Kenseth, who is still hunting for his first victory of the season.
So far, Kenseth has only tallied three top-five finishes on the season, which has him hardly hanging around in the top 16. To make matters worse, he’s been on a cold streak as of late considering his last top-10 placement came on June 11 at Pocono, Pennsylvania.
As Fox pointed out, Kenseth has followed quite the interesting trajectory when compared to another major name in the sport who has had a rough go of it this year:
FOX: NASCAR @NASCARONFOX
Matt Kenseth and @DaleJr were both rookies back in 2000. Check out their career numbers after almost 18 years of driving.
#NASCAR #RaceHub https://t.co/lcSW8gxCiK
Still, it was all of one year ago Kenseth surprised at this event and led 38 laps on the way to the win. He had finished in the top 10 the week prior, but if familiarity kicks in this Sunday, he could trump the stage format and put up a respectable fight.
And Kenseth in even respectable form is a problem for the rest of the field.
Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press
After a magical couple seasons for Kyle Busch, few would’ve predicted he’d be winless by the middle of July.
Alas, here we are. Busch has seemed to do everything right except steal a checkered flag. The man has three poles to his name, seven top-five appearances and 10 top-10 appearances. Last week alone, he led 112 laps after starting from the pole and still only finished fifth.
So what does Busch have to do to get a win and force his way into the top 10 on the leaderboard?
It’s hard to say, but Busch is at least picking up wins on the Xfinity circuit after a victory last week in Kentucky.
“We took four tires and that kind of got us behind there with two pit stops to go, and then some of those guys came in again. Obviously, our car was really fast out front and once I got in clean air I didn’t think anybody had anything for us,” Busch said after the win, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
If Busch can take the same confidence into this week at an event he won as recently as 2015, he’ll have a good shot at getting his first win of the year.
While Busch taking a checkered flag would only muddy the playoff outlook, it’d be nice for the sport to have him in the running.
Martin Truex Jr.
Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press
Truex continues to have quite the season.
After wins in Las Vegas and Kansas City earlier in the year, it seemed he had finally cooled by way of two consecutive performances slotting him 34th or worse.
Then he won last week in Kentucky.
There, Truex led for 152 laps and dominated the rest of the field, scoring 60 points in the process.
NASCAR captured the footage:
Retweet to congratulate @MartinTruex_Jr on his dominant win in the Bluegrass State! #QS400 https://t.co/OwWzAde0vi
A dash of luck has only helped Truex—he didn’t win this week’s pole, but Kyle Larson wound up failing an inspection and gifting the pole to Truex anyway, according to the Associated Press, via USA Today.
“Not the way we wanted to get our first pole of the year but looking forward to starting up front and getting a good pit stall,” Truex said via a statement, according to Nate Ryan of NBC Sports.
A win is a win regardless, something Truex will undoubtedly agree with while he sits atop the leaderboard. He’s set from a playoff standpoint, so the task now becomes capturing this good form and riding it for as long as he can.
Based on last week, Truex will continue to give the rest of the series problems.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.