NASCAR - Jimmie Johnson

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and three-time New Hampshire Motor Speedway winner Jimmie Johnson celebrates his most recent Loudon win on June 27, 2010. (NHMS/HAROLD HINSON PHOTO)

LOUDON — NASCAR returns to New England this weekend for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and with it, a bevy of captivating storylines that are sure to leave every race fan on the edge of their seats until the checkered flag falls.

To date, the 2020 season has been headlined by two drivers — Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — who have combined to win nine of the season’s 19 Cup Series events. If recent history is any indication, these two will be in contention in the closing laps of Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

Hamlin and Harvick thrilled race fans last season with a white-knuckled battle in the closing laps. On the final circuit, the two drivers raced side-by-side down the backstretch, beating and banging through the final corners, with Harvick holding off a hard-charging Hamlin by 0.21 seconds for his second consecutive Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 win.

While the veteran duo will be odds on favorites when NASCAR returns Sunday, they are far from the only storyline worth watching. Here are five more that fans will want to keep an eye on as the best drivers in the world seek to tame “The Magic Mile” Sunday afternoon.

It’s been 17 years since Jimmie Johnson swept Cup Series events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2003. Since that time, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has amassed a Hall of Fame-worthy career with seven Cup Series championships, 77 Cup wins — including one more at “The Magic Mile” in 2010 — and countless other accolades. As he prepares to make his final start as a full-time driver in NASCAR’s top series, can he rekindle the success he found all those years ago, clinch a playoff spot and leave New England a winner once again?

In the speedway’s 30-year history, only Joey Logano and Ryan Newman have captured checkered flags at the 1.058-mile oval in rookie seasons. With one of the strongest rookie classes in recent memory, could another Cup Series newcomer join this exclusive list? With talented standouts like Cole Custer — already a winner this year — Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Quin Houff, John Hunter Nemechek and Brennan Poole making up this season’s rookie class, there’s certainly a stronger-than-average chance for another surprise rookie winner.

Connecticut natives Joey Logano and Ryan Preece and New Jersey’s Martin Truex Jr. all consider New Hampshire Motor Speedway their home track. Logano earned his first Cup Series win of his career at Loudon’s 1.058-mile speedway in 2009 and added a second victory in 2014.

While Truex Jr. has finished all but one of his 26 starts, his career best finish is third (2007 and 2017). Preece has finished 32nd and 21st in two career starts. Can the New England trio defend their home turf when NASCAR’s best return Sunday? Time will tell.

Kyle Busch is always among the favorites to watch when NASCAR takes the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The two-time and defending Cup Series champion also holds the distinction of being the winningest NASCAR driver across all three series at “The Magic Mile” with 12 victories on his resume, including three in NASCAR’s premier series. While Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota have yet to find victory lane in 2020, few would be surprised to see Rowdy return at Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.

As the NASCAR playoffs loom, the action is heating up around the cut line with several big-name drivers fighting for their shot at the championship, but by no means safely in contention heading into the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron are all fighting to stay inside the top 16, while Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson are on the outside looking in.

Ten different drivers have already won this season, clinching playoff berths. A strong showing boy any of the drivers on the bubble would certainly help their chances of racing for a championship, but a surprise winner on Sunday could shake up the bubble picture even more.

Tickets still remain for Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. Adult tickets are available starting at $70 at tinyurl.com/yy8xp7sb. Tickets for kids 12 and under are just $10.

Free parking will be available in the S1, S2, S3 and S9 lots on Aug. 2. There will be no trams, camping or open bath houses for this event. Further details can be found on the New Hampshire Motor Speedway website.

Keep track of all of New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s events during its 30th anniversary season by following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Keep up with all the latest news and information on the speedway website and NHMS mobile app.

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