With his status for next season uncertain, Brad Keselowski reignited his momentum for his second Cup title by dominating and prevailing over several battles with Denny Hamlin to win the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the 20th race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. The win was Keselowski’s third of this season, second at New Hampshire, third with crew chief Jeremy Bullins and 33rd of his Cup career, which moved him into a tie with the late NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Fireball Roberts for 24th on the all-time wins list.
The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Aric Almirola started on pole position for the third time this season and was joined on the front row with Denny Hamlin, a three-time winner at New Hampshire and last week’s winner at Kansas Speedway.
Prior to the race, Jerry Baxter, crew chief for Bubba Wallace and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team, and Ryan Sparks, crew chief for Corey LaJoie and the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford Mustang team, were both suspended from the race due to a pre-race inspection infraction for an improperly mounted ballast. In addition, both Wallace and LaJoie started at the rear of the field and were each docked 10 points. Engineer Roy Gangdal served as LaJoie’s interim crew chief while the No. 43 team went into a group effort for Wallace. Austin Dillon also dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments.
When the green flag waved, Almirola, who started on the outside lane, jumped to an early advantage followed by Brad Keselowski while Denny Hamlin, who started on the inside lane and had issues getting started, dropped to third. Behind, Kyle Busch moved his way into fourth place followed by Clint Bowyer while Chase Elliott dropped to sixth.
On the third lap, Keselowski made his move beneath Almirola to move into the lead. Behind, Kurt Busch slipped up the racing groove entering Turn 3 and dropped all the way back to 18th. While Keselowski continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over Almirola, teammates Kyle Busch and Hamlin along with Bowyer battled intensely for third with Elliott lurking behind.
On Lap 10, Blaney missed the racing groove in Turn 3 while running 10th and nearly slapped the outside wall, though he was able to gather his car back into the racing groove entering Turn 4. By the time he gathered his No. 12 Menards/Sylvania/Team Penske Ford Mustang back, he had fallen back to 15th. A lap later, a similar thing happened to William Byron, who nearly collected teammate Jimmie Johnson in the process when Byron and his No. 24 Liberty University/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE slipped. Byron’s miscue dropped him back to 15th as he was locked into a battle with rookie Tyler Reddick.
A few laps later, Bowyer and Elliott made their way into the top five, which dropped Kyle Busch back to sixth and with Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano closing in towards Busch.
The first caution flew on Lap 15 when Kyle Busch blew a right-front tire and went dead straight into the Turn 3 outside wall as he sustained significant damage to the right side of his No. 18 Pedigree/Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. Following his incident, Busch nursed his No. 18 Toyota back to pit road and made the left-hand turn to the garage as he parked his car near his hauler and his race came to an early end. The incident also extended his winless streak this season to 20 races.
“Just going down the backstretch there and about halfway down the backstretch, I felt it go flat and tried to get it slowed down enough without taking everybody else running over me behind me down the straightaway,” Busch said after being released from the infield care center on NBCSN. “I don’t know. I think there’s a replay of another Pedigree car here a few years ago that blew a right-front tire for absolutely no reason, too. Seems to be our luck with the Pedigree car here at New Hampshire. Sorry to all of our fans and all the Pedigree folks, but it’s still 2020.”
Under caution, many that included Hamlin, Bowyer, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones and others pitted for tires while the rest led by Keselowski and Almirola remained on track. Following the pit stops, Jones was held a lap for pitting outside his pit box.
The race restarted on Lap 22 and Keselowski retained the lead followed by teammate Logano. Johnson gained a huge run on the outside lane entering Turn 4 to move into third place over Almirola while Elliott and Reddick battled for fifth. Behind, rookie Cole Custer moved into seventh followed by Hamlin and Byron. Harvick, the first car on fresh tires, moved back into 10th followed by Blaney and Bowyer. On Lap 25, Byron missed the racing groove entering Turn 3 for the second time of the day while battling inside the top 10 as he fell back to 16th.
While the battling for positions continued to ensue around the track, Keselowski was able to stabilize his advantage by nearly a second over teammate Logano by the time the competition flew on Lap 30. Under caution, a majority led by Logano pitted while others led by Keselowski, Hamlin, Reddick, Blaney and Harvick remained on track. Following the pit stops, LaJoie was assessed an over-the-wall too soon pit penalty.
When the race restarted on Lap 35, Keselowski retained the lead while Hamlin prevailed in a battle with Blaney for the runner-up spot. Bowyer, meanwhile, moved into fourth followed by Matt DiBenedetto and Harvick.
On Lap 38, Hamlin started to challenge Keselowski for the lead. He made a few attempts to move Keselowski for the lead, including bumping Keselowski’s rear bumper to loosen up the 2012 Cup champion, but Keselowski still prevailed with the top spot. Shortly after, Blaney joined the party as he started challenging Hamlin for the runner-up spot.
On Lap 44, Blaney moved into the runner-up spot after bumping Hamlin out of the way the previous lap as he started to set his sights towards teammate Keselowski for the lead. Behind, Bowyer and DiBenedetto continued battling for fourth followed by Harvick and Truex. Johnson, Bell and Byron were running in the top 10 while Logano, following his slow pit stop under the competition caution, was back in 12th ahead of Almirola. Elliott was in 14th followed by Reddick and Kurt Busch while Jones, who got back to the lead lap, was in 18th.
On Lap 50, with the clouds and weather concerns surrounding the track, Keselowski was still leading by a narrow margin over teammate Blaney and Hamlin with the trio being two seconds ahead of Bowyer and DiBenedetto.
Three laps later, Blaney made a challenge for the lead over Keselowski, but was unable to clear his teammate for the lead as he lost his momentum and allowed Hamlin to move back into the runner-up spot. Another five laps later, Hamlin muscled his way to the lead but a lap later, Keselowski took it back while Blaney went to work again for the runner-up spot.
On Lap 61, following a heated, intense battle with two Penske competitors, Hamlin was able to move into the lead and retain it while being pressured by Keselowski and Blaney. Shortly after, the caution flew when Johnson got loose underneath Bowyer while battling for position and spun entering Turn 2. He was able to continue without sustaining any significant damage to his No. 48 Ally/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
Under caution, the majority of competitors led by Keselowski pitted while some led by Blaney and Byron remained on track. Following the pit stops, Elliott was sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road.
With seven laps remaining in the first stage, the race restarted under green with Blaney remaining as the leader. Behind, Hamlin, on fresh tires, bolted his way into the runner-up spot as the shuffling of positions ensued behind the leaders. With five laps remaining in the stage, Hamlin muscled his way back into the lead. Truex moved into the runner-up spot as Blaney fell back to third on older tires. Shortly after, Harvick moved into third followed by Blaney while Bell and Keselowski battled for position.
With the battling for positions continuing and light rain drops being reported near the track, Hamlin was able to cruise to the first stage win on Lap 75 as he also recorded his third stage victory of the season. Teammate Truex settled in the runner-up spot followed by Harvick, Bell and Keselowski while Blaney, Bowyer, Logano, Preece and Almirola settled in the top 10.
Under the stage break, some like Blaney, Bowyer, Bell, Byron, Harvick, Custer, Reddick, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Daniel Suarez and others pitted while the rest led by Hamlin remained on track.
The second stage commenced on Lap 83 with Hamlin retaining the lead. Behind, teammate Truex remained in sight for the lead while Harvick moved into third over Bell. Keselowski was in fifth followed by teammate Logano, Almirola, Kurt Busch, Ryan Preece and DiBenedetto.
By Lap 90, with the intense racing from earlier easing down, Hamlin was still ahead by seven-tenths of a second over teammate Truex followed by Harvick, Keselowski and Bell. Behind, Elliott was in 13th followed by Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Custer and Jones. Byron was in 18th ahead of Ryan Newman and Bowman while Wallace was in 21st ahead of Reddick. Bowyer was in 24th while Johnson was in 27th. Not long after, the caution flew due to rain. By then, Harvick had overtaken Truex for the runner-up spot.
Under caution, where the field continued to remain on track under cautious pace, nearly the entire field led by Hamlin pitted while few like Harvick, Blaney, Wallace and Bowyer remained on track. Following the pit stops, Truex was assessed an uncontrolled tire violation penalty and was sent to the rear of the field.
With the race surpassing 100 laps, the race restarted as Harvick and Blaney engaged in a heated battle for the lead before Harvick cleared the field entering Turn 4. Behind, Hamlin, who restarted sixth on fresh tires, bolted his way to the runner-up spot while Logano moved into fourth. Soon after, Logano moved into third ahead of his two Penske teammates, Blaney and Keselowski, Behind, Bowyer was locked into a battle with Bell for sixth.
On lap 104, Hamlin returned to the lead and three laps later, Logano moved into the runner-up spot over Harvick. Another three laps later, Keselowski moved into third. Behind, Bell was in fifth followed by Blaney, Bowyer, Almirola, Kurt Busch and Elliott, who was just ahead of teammate Byron.
By Lap 125, Hamlin was leading by a second over Logano, who was starting to be pressured by teammate Keselowski for position. Harvick was still in fourth followed by Bell while Almirola was in sixth ahead of Blaney, Bowyer, Elliott and Byron, all of whom were in the top 10. Truex was in 14th following his pit penalty while Johnson was in 20th.
Five laps later, Hamlin was still leading by nearly two seconds over Keselowski, who overtook Logano for the runner-up spot. Another two laps later, Almirola overtook teammate Harvick for the fourth spot.
On Lap 141, Hamlin, who struggled with passing and lapping teammate Jones in Turn 2, was overtaken for the lead in Turn 3 by Keselowski. The lead for Keselowski, however, did not last long as Hamlin crossed over beneath Keselowski and moved back into the lead, though Keselowski remained within sight of his target for the top spot.
On Lap 146, Hamlin, who struggled with passing and lapping Wallace in Turn 2 again, passed Hamlin for the lead again in Turn 3 and entering Turn 4. This time, Keselowski was able to prevail on the outside lane in Turn 1 the following lap to retain the lead with clear race track while Hamlin went to work in challenging Keselowski back for the lead. Soon after, Keselowski started to approach a handful of cars that included Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon in lapping them, but he was ahead by nearly a second over Hamlin.
At the halfway mark on Lap 151, Keselowski was ahead by more than a second over Hamlin followed by Logano, Almirola and Harvick, who was trailing by nearly 10 seconds. Ten laps later, Keselowski extended his advantage by more than three seconds over Hamlin with Logano trailing by nearly four seconds. Almirola was still in fourth, trailing by five seconds, while Byron moved up to fifth, trailing by nearly 12 seconds. Behind, Bell moved into sixth after passing Harvick while Bowyer, DiBenedetto and Elliott were in the top 10. Truex was in 11th while Johnson was in 19th.
On Lap 166, Harvick made a pit stop under green for fresh tires and fuel. Nearly five laps later, just as Blaney entered pit road for service, the caution flew due to a spin in Turn 2 involving Bell, who was having a strong run prior to his incident caused by a flat tire. Under caution, the lead lap cars led by Keselowski, Hamlin and Logano pitted. Following the pit stops, Austin Dillon was the first off of pit road following a two-tire stop followed by Keselowski, Hamlin, Almirola, Byron and Logano.
With less than 10 laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted and Keselowski prevailed on four fresh tires to move into the lead through Turns 1 and 2. Behind, Hamlin moved into the runner-up spot while Almirola was in third. Logano moved into fourth ahead of Byron while Bowyer tried to shove his way into sixth between Austin Dillon and Truex. Shortly after, the caution flew when Kenseth spun in Turn 2. Under caution, with light sprinkles reported on the track, some like Blaney, Jones, Chris Buescher, Stenhouse, Ty Dillon and rookie Brennan Poole pitted while the rest remained on track.
With two laps remaining in the stage, the racing under green resumed and Keselowski retained the lead through Turn 1 until Hamlin took it back in Turn 2. On the final lap of the stage, Keselowski and Hamlin battled against one another for the lead and Keselowski was just able to clear Hamlin entering Turn 4 to win the second stage on Lap 185 for his sixth stage victory of the season. Hamlin was in second followed by Logano, Almirola and Byron while Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Truex, Elliott and DiBenedetto settled in the top 10.
Under the stage break, some like Austin Dillon, Harvick, Reddick, Wallace, Suarez and McDowell pitted while the rest remained on track.
The final stage started with approximately 110 laps remaining with Keselowski leading, but Hamlin muscled his way into the lead the following lap. While Hamlin and Keselowski continued battling back and forth against one another for the lead, Byron started to challenge Almirola for third place, which he prevailed as he started to set his sights on the front two for the lead. Behind, Logano was in fifth ahead of Elliott and Truex with Bowyer, DiBenedetto and Johnson in the top 10.
Four laps after the restart, the caution returned for another single-car incident involving Kenseth, who blew a right-front tire. Under caution, some like Blaney, Harvick, Logano, Ty Dillon and McDowell pitted while the rest remained on track.
With approximately 100 laps remaining, the race restarted and Keselowski reassumed the lead while Hamlin and Byron battled for the runner-up spot. A lap later, Hamlin was able to clear Byron for the runner-up spot while Almirola, Truex, DiBenedetto and Elliott railed behind. Johnson was in eighth followed by Custer and Bowyer. Another three laps later, a race turned bad became worse for Kenseth when he drew another caution due to another cut tire. Following his third incident, Kenseth took his No. 42 Clover/Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the garage and retired.
Under caution, a majority of competitors led by Keselowski, Hamlin and Byron pitted. Following the pit stops, Logano, who miscommunicated with crew chief Paul Wolfe in opting to pit the previous caution and who pitted again this time with the field, emerged ahead after a fuel only stop followed by Ty Dillon, Hamlin, Byron, Keselowski and Truex. When the field cycled through, Elliott moved into the lead after opting to remain on track followed by Stenhouse, Bell, Blaney, Harvick and J.J. Yeley.
With 93 laps remaining, the race restarted and Elliott retained the lead followed by Blaney and Stenhouse while Hamlin moved his way towards the top five. While Elliott and Blaney battled for the lead, Hamlin continued moving up the pack as he worked his way to third. Logano was in fifth, one spot ahead of Keselowski, while Harvick was in seventh.
Not long after the restart, the caution fell again when rookie John Hunter Nemechek made hard contact into the Turn 3 outside wall when he blew a right-front tire. Under caution, some like Elliott, Blaney, Stenhouse, Harvick, Bell, the Dillon brothers and McDowell pitted while the rest led by Hamlin, Logano and Keselowski remained on track.
With 83 laps remaining, the race restarted under green and Hamlin retained the lead while Keselowski issued another challenge for the lead. Three laps later, Keselowski returned to the lead with Logano lurking behind. Truex was in fourth followed by Johnson and DiBenedetto. Byron, Custer, Reddick and Bowyer were in the top 10.
With 75 laps remaining and with the skies starting to darken while overshadowed by the clouds, Keselowski and Hamlin continued to battle against one another intensely for the lead. Behind, Truex moved into third place, but not before Logano issued a challenge to retain the spot. Also, DiBenedetto moved into the top five ahead of Johnson while Byron and Custer battled inside the top 10. Elliott was in 12th ahead of Bowyer, Blaney was in 17th and Harvick was in 19th.
Fifteen laps later, Keselowski was still ahead by more than a second over Hamlin and nearly two seconds over Truex. Logano was in fourth, trailing by nearly four seconds, followed by DiBenedetto. Johnson was in sixth followed by Byron, Almirola, Custer and Elliott while Reddick was in 11th ahead of Harvick. Behind, Kurt Busch was in 14th and Blaney was trapped in 16th.
With approximately 50 laps remaining, Bell made a pit stop under green due to a flat right-rear tire, which ended his hopes of posting a top-10 result following an up-and-down day. Ten laps later, Keselowski was still leading by more than a second and a half over Hamlin with Truex, Logano and DiBenedetto trailing behind by four seconds or more.
Another 10 laps later, Keselowski extended his advantage by more than two seconds over Hamlin with Truex trailing by less than five seconds. Logano was in fourth, trailing by eight seconds, followed by DiBenedetto, Almirola and Johnson. Harvick, one of the fastest cars on the circuit, continued charging his way up to eighth followed by Custer and Byron. Two laps later, Harvick overtook Johnson for seventh place.
With 20 laps remaining, with fuel becoming the topic for some in terms of making it to the end, Keselowski extended his advantage to more than three seconds over Hamlin with Truex, Logano and DiBenedetto trailing by less than 10 seconds.
With 10 laps remaining, Keselowski was still ahead by less than three seconds over Hamlin as he started to approach lapped traffic. Once he was able to navigate his way through traffic, he was able to conserve and save enough fuel for the final 10 laps to take the checkered flag by 1.6 seconds over Hamlin after leading a race-high 184 laps and following an intense battle between the two veterans.
Keselowski’s victory was also the sixth of the season for car owner Roger Penske and the 21st Cup career win for the new Ford Mustang since its inception for the 2019 season. The win at New Hampshire also marked the eighth season where Keselowski has won three or more races in a Cup season.
“We’ve had a lot of great races this year with the 2 car, but we just hadn’t really went out and kind of dominated a race,” Keselowski said on NBCSN in front of an estimated crowd of 12,000 fans. “I was talking to Jeremy Bullins and that’s what we need to get to that next level. We’re right there, we need to go out and just dominate a race and that’s what today was for us with the Western Star/Alliance Truck Parts Ford Mustang. I’m really proud of my team and the effort they gave today. … It’s so great to be racing in front of fans again. It feels like forever, so welcome back, guys. Jeremy and this whole team’s been a kick in the butt for me to make me a little bit better and push me to find another level, and we’re doing that so far. I’m just really thankful. I’m in a great spot here and hungry for more wins. I don’t want to stop here. I want us to keep going and I know this team can do it.”
Hamlin, who led 92 laps, settled in the runner-up spot for the third time this season and second in a row at New Hampshire as he also collected his 11th top-five finish of this season.
“We just kind of were second there to [Keselowski],” Hamlin said. “We could really do well on restarts and we were going back-and-forth. Wow, that was some really, really good short track racing there. Hopefully the fans liked what they saw there with me and [Keselowski] for most of the day. Some great side-by-side racing. We treated each other fair and it’s good that we got one-two out of it.”
Behind Keselowski and Hamlin, Truex made a nice rebound from his uncontrolled tire violation penalty to finish in third place followed by Logano and Harvick, who recorded his 13th top-five result of this season.
“We ran second in the first stage and had a tire get away on pit road, had to come from the back,” Truex, who recorded his fifth top-five finish of the season, said. “That definitely made things a lot more challenging. [I] Had a decent Sport Clips Toyota, just wasn’t quite driving like we needed it to and then it kind of burned the tires off after 25 or 30 laps. We could hang with them and we would fall consistently off [Keselowski] and [Hamlin]. Third-best car and we finished third so all in all, a good day. Just have to find a little bit more. Just missed the balance a little bit today. Love coming up here to Loudon and this was a fun day.”
DiBenedetto, Almirola and Custer finished sixth, seventh and eighth while Elliott and Reddick overtook Byron and Johnson in the final laps to round out the top 10. Johnson finished 12th in his 35th and final race at New Hampshire, one spot behind teammate Byron, while Bowyer, a two-time Cup New Hampshire winner, finished 18th, two spots ahead of Blaney.
There were 22 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured 11 cautions for 52 laps.
With his top-five finish, Harvick continues to lead the regular-season standings by 81 points over Keselowski with Hamlin trailing by 115 points and Blaney trailing by 118 points.
1. Brad Keselowski, 184 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. Denny Hamlin, 92 laps led, Stage 1 winner
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Joey Logano
5. Kevin Harvick, six laps led
6. Matt DiBenedetto
7. Aric Almirola, three laps led
8. Cole Custer
9. Chase Elliott, nine laps led
10. Tyler Reddick
11. William Byron
12. Jimmie Johnson
13. Austin Dillon, three laps led
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
15. Alex Bowman
16. Ryan Preece
17. Kurt Busch
18. Clint Bowyer
19. Michael McDowell
20. Ryan Blaney, five laps led
21. Ryan Newman, one lap down
22. Ty Dillon, one lap down
23. Bubba Wallace, one lap down
24. Erik Jones, one lap down
25. Chris Buescher, one lap down
26. Daniel Suarez, two laps down
27. Brennan Poole, two laps down
28. Christopher Bell, two laps down
29. J.J. Yeley, two laps down
30. James Davison, three laps down
31. Garrett Smithley, six laps down
32. Quin Houff, seven laps down
33. Timmy Hill, seven laps down
34. Joey Gase, eight laps down
35. Corey LaJoie, 39 laps down
36. John Hunter Nemechek – OUT, Accident
37. Matt Kenseth – OUT, Accident
38. Kyle Busch – OUT, Accident
The NASCAR Cup Series will return next weekend and host its second series doubleheader weekend of this season at Michigan International Speedway. The first Cup Michigan race will run on August 8 at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN while the second will run the following day, August 9, at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.