What does it take to win at Loudon? NASCAR drivers weigh in on the intricacies of the Magic Mile

  • Scenes from the Bad Boy Off Road 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Scenes from the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • The checkered flag is waved at the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Drivers cross the starting line during the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

  • Kyle Larson (42) makes a pit stop during the ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 7/18/2018 11:07:43 PM

The 1.058-mile oval at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon is one of three 1-mile tracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, along with ISM Raceway in Phoenix and Dover International Speedway.

Its low-banking and wide, sweeping turns test a driver’s precision and the car’s performance as they try to carry as much momentum as possible through the turn before hitting the throttle down the stretch.

NASCAR pundits often describe Loudon’s Magic Mile as “Martinsville on steroids,” referring to the flat half-mile track where Clint Bowyer won earlier this year.

“Loudon is a Martinsville-like short track, but it’s just over a mile,” said Cup series points leader Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota. “It’s a little more spread out, but there’s some rooting and gouging going on because it’s a one-lane track and everybody fights for that particular groove.

“To be fast at Loudon, you have to have good brake and you have to roll the center (of the turn) really well and get that good forward bite off the corners and make sure it sticks.”

There will be a lot of on-track action this weekend before Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup Series race, the Foxwoods 301. The Whelen Modified Tour will hold its All-Star Shootout on Friday at 2:10 p.m., followed by Cup qualifying and K&N Pro Series East qualifying.

Saturday features a tripleheader with the Modifieds going for a 100-lap race beginning at 2 p.m., the Xfinity Series (second-tier below Cup) racing 200 laps at 4 p.m., and wrapping with a 70-lap K&N Pro Series East race.

Sunday’s 301-lap Cup race fires off at 2 p.m.

“It kind of takes you back to Saturday-night short-track racing,” said No. 10 Stewart-Haas Ford driver Aric Almirola, who placed 24th in the Cup race last July and 26th in September. “It’s a mile track but it races like a short track. You go there and you see the Modified division and it makes you feel like you were a kid and racing Late Models. It’s a fun track.”

In both the July and September races at NHMS last year, a traction compound was applied to the surface of all four turns in an attempt to add two lanes and create more opportunities to pass.

The added traction was met with mostly positive reviews from drivers.

“I think it’s awesome,” Kyle Larson said before last September’s race. “I was surprised at how well it worked. I liked the element of it changing quickly and wearing out and then wearing out in different spots and stuff. You know, it just adds an element to us that we have to adapt to.”

Clint Bowyer, on the other hand, didn’t like the added compound for the same reasons.

“I think the problem with the traction compound is it’s not consistent,” the No. 14 Stewart-Haas driver said. “It’s moving the needle a little bit, but all of the sudden as it starts to wear out and ball up however it does – sometimes it rolls up into balls, sometimes it slowly wears out – it’s not very consistent for whatever reason, and for that I don’t care for it. I like that it puts down grip in places that you can’t naturally do it, I do dig that idea.”

While the drivers try to steer their cars into the best position to run, the power of the car itself is also tested.

“You just have to try to max out your entry speed and roll through the center to get a decent exit,” said Xfinity driver Cole Custer, pilot of the No. 00 Haas Mustang. “It’s tough when your car isn’t perfect. Our cars have almost been perfect all season. We should have a solid run. ... We took a lot of good notes from New Hampshire last year that we’ll build on.”

With limited chances to pass, track position is important at Loudon. Out of 46 Cup races at NHMS, 32 races were won by drivers that started from 13th or better. Drivers who began the race in 14th or worse have only won 15 races. Jeff Burton took the longest road to Victory Lane in July 1999 after starting 38th. The only laps he led were the last two.

Busch won last September’s race and Gibbs teammate Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag last July.

Busch and Harvick lead the Cup series with five wins each, and defending Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. has four. Truex has never won a Cup race at NHMS, while Busch has three on his resume and Harvick has two, most recently in September 2016.

“You’re always on edge there,” Busch said. “You’re trying to go as fast as you can into the corners, as deep as you can into the corners while rolling as much speed, or just a bit higher than everyone else so you are able to get back on the gas sooner.

“You’re going harder than everyone else in order to make the straightaway a little bit longer and get your momentum built back up. It’s definitely a challenging racetrack.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)


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