What do NASCAR drivers like about racing in New England? We asked that and more
NASCAR rolls into Loudon, New Hampshire, this weekend for its only stop in New England.
Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at the 1.058-mile oval at New Hampshire Motor Speedway begins at 3 p.m., and will be televised on NBCSN.
The Globe interviewed several NASCAR Cup Series drivers in the weeks prior to the event, and asked each a set of questions to get their opinions on the race itself, as well as visiting New England.
What is the most challenging aspect of racing at New Hampshire?
Martin Truex Jr: It is a very tricky race track. Very tricky. It doesn’t look like it, but it is. Very bumpy and not a lot of banking to lean on. Long straightaways. It is definitely a handful.
Alex Bowman: The fact that it is as flat as a parking lot, I think, is the most challenging aspect. Just knowing what you need in your race car throughout practice to be able to race well, hanging on for long run is probably the hardest part.
Clint Bowyer: When I think of New Hampshire, and I get on the plane and I am headed up there, the first thing I think about is, ‘Gosh, roll that middle of the corner.’ I’ve got to be able to roll the middle of the corner without the car coming out from underneath on me. I can’t be too tight and I can’t be too loose. You’ve got to carry speed through the middle of the corner and be able to rotate and get the power down.
Austin Dillon: It’s flat. No banking. So just trying to make your car handle well can be a challenge for sure. I would say that is the biggest thing — the flat track.
Kyle Larson: It’s a different track than what we’re used to running. Flat mile. For me, what I’ve struggled with is maintaining my balance throughout a run, where you’re having trouble centering corner speeds.
What do you like best about coming to New England to race?
Truex: It brings back a lot of memories for me. Growing up with my dad, racing up north, first time I ever saw Cup cars in person was up there [in Loudon]. Just a lot of memories growing up. Running the Busch North Series up there. Being a big part of how I got my lucky break to move South and race for a living. It’s a special place for me, and I always enjoy going up there.
Bowman: I think going to New England, it’s a pretty cool area. It’s a race track I have struggled at, so I am kind of biased and don’t really like the race track as much as if I was successful there. So I think I look forward to the food more than the race track, and that’s because I have struggled there in the past.
Bowyer: Always when I look to going to an area, it’s the race track first and foremost. Let’s just face it, some tracks fit drivers’ styles better than others. I love that race track. We have won there a couple times. And then, immediately I am looking at the fan base and the crowd. I think that there is not very many tracks with as much to offer than they do in New Hampshire. It is just a great track to entertain. You go out there, go for a jog or something, and go for a walk or jump on a golf cart at night and go run around. People have a ton of fun up there around that race track. Beautiful area.
Dillon: Usually the weather is really nice up there the usual time of year that we race up there. I enjoy coming up there. There is a bunch of good race fans. People who really love racing in general. I always like being around true racers. They race a ton that weekend. Pretty cool.
Larson: I’m not a seafood eater, so finding somewhere to eat for me is a little difficult. The race fans in the Northeast are really proud about racing. It’s a really pretty area. My spotter is from Maine so it’s only about two hours away from him. He brings a lot of family and we usually stay at his camp for a night.
Describe New Hampshire Motor Speedway in one word.
Larson, Bowman, and Dillon: Flat
Which drivers would you consider the favorites at NHMS?
Truex: I think [Joe Gibbs Racing] as a whole is going to be strong there. I feel good about that. I don’t know. With the new rules this year, we have seen some guys here lately especially starting to come on. [Hendrick Motorsports] cars have been strong. Penske has been strong all year. I don’t know that you can pick the favorite. I think it’s going to be who can show up there and hit the set up right off the trailer, and be the closest to start and figure out how to get perfect for Sunday.
Bowman: I feel like [Truex] is typically pretty strong there. Denny Hamlin is really good there. Chase Elliot is typically pretty good there as well. There’s a handful of guys who really have that place figured out. Those are probably the three that come to mind.
Bowyer: The one thing that I have learned over the years, that has changed over the years, it used to be you would have drivers that really had . . . their skills matched different tracks better than others. You still have that a little bit, but to be honest with you, if your organization is producing fast cars, them things are fast on short tracks and they’re fast on an intermediate track. It’s because of downforce. And downforce is grit, plain and simple. The more downforce you are making, the better grit you have, the better your day and the easier your job is. If you look at the organizations right now that are running up front, those are going to be the organizations that are going to be running up front when we get there. Certainly Stewart-Haas Racing has been no exception to that. They have always produced fast race cars, and I see no reason why they wouldn’t be fast when we get up there.
Dillon: I hope that we are one of the favorites. We had a nice race at Phoenix this year. We ran inside the top five most of the day in Phoenix. The usual suspects. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin. They are really talented and do a good job there.
Larson: I think you can kind of look at the last few seasons there. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex [are the top contenders]. I feel like Denny Hamlin is always a good short-track racer, so you can count him in.
What is your favorite sport besides auto racing?
Bowman: That’s a good question. I am so focused on racing that I don’t pay much attention to other sports. Does beer drinking count as a sport? Is that an acceptable answer? I don’t know. I watch football for the Super Bowl and stuff, but that’s about it.
Bowyer: It has changed over the years. It is still racing. I love dirt racing. I love motorcycle racing. I grew up racing motocross and things like that. For me, it’s all about racing. In the offseason, you can’t race when there is snow on the ground and it is cold outside. So it’s football. It’s fun. And again, it’s no different from what I have learned from racing. It’s not always the product on the track. It’s about the environment. I go to football games in the Charlotte area in North Carolina, and I do not enjoy myself even half as much as I do going to Arrowhead [Stadium] and being among those rowdies in Kansas City. It is the total package. You have to put the product on the race track and the field, and you’ve got to have an atmosphere and a fan base that carries the rest of it. I think that’s what makes the difference between a good package and not.
Dillon: I would guess it’s football. NFL football. Huge Panthers fan.