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Through the Field: Break Time

by Elliot Hicks

Following the upcoming weekend of racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the top NASCAR touring series will do something it often doesn’t do mid-season:  Take a break.

The 2021 schedules all feature a two-week summer break period, which was included mainly because of the rescheduled Olympic Games which are broadcast on the NBC family of networks.

The Cup and Xfinity races are all on the NBC networks the remainder of the season, so with no time nor a popular-enough network to broadcast the races during the events in Tokyo, everyone will get the chance to hit the reset button in the NASCAR garages.

Though there was a two-month break last year when the COVID-19 pandemic first began, it’s not often that any of the series get more than an occasional weekend off during the season, and even rarer to see none of the top three series races at all for a two-week span.

The teams safely in the playoffs can probably relax or begin preparation for the championship fight, but those still hoping for a spot get to work at finding advantages and earning victories to race for a title. The best part is, even though I’m sure plenty of work will be happening in the off weeks, those who truly need a break will have ample time to take one.

They say the grind never stops, and it’s clear that it takes a lot of work to be good at something, whether that something is driving a race car, creating content for websites or performing at your job or at home. But it’s OK to take some time and say, “I need to take a break.”

Sometimes, it can feel like we are constantly running at a million miles an hour. There’s not a problem with that when it’s working for us, but when it isn’t, there’s no shame at all in taking steps back and slowing things down. Some of these drivers and race teams will certainly need it, and sometimes we do as well. It’s so important to make sure each of us is doing well and is where we need to be and if not, that we can take the time when necessary to get back to that state.

The state of New Hampshire has hosted some intriguing races in the last few years since moving to one race per season at the “Magic Mile,” and throughout the last eight or so years has not had a true “upset” winner like we’ve seen at many other tracks and many other times this season, which could even include Kurt Busch’s Atlanta victory from this past weekend.

If you’re getting the win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS), you’re having a good season, and it’s likely to continue. That means sleeper picks are going to be tough for this race, and especially right before a two-week break. I don’t envision many underdogs swinging for the fences right now. But it will be tempting, as the older Busch brother’s victory last week made the gap at the playoff bubble/cutoff line much larger meaning for those on the outside looking in, it’s going to be much tougher to make it through. There are a few drivers worth focusing on, however, who have yet to reach that promised land of Victory Lane in 2021:

Drivers to Watch at NHMS

Tyler Reddick:  The Richard Childress Racing No. 8 team has been helped tremendously by the driving talent of Tyler Reddick the last two seasons. While the two-time Xfinity Series Champion has yet to win a Cup race, he has been competitive much more often than we anticipated in 2021, especially at tracks such as road courses where no one expected him to compete.

While he is currently the 16th and final driver above the cutline, he has a 96-point advantage and looks to be set to improve that in the final races before the postseason win or not.

Kevin Harvick:  The nightmare season for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) rolls on, and now its best team and driver are starting to go down with it. Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 team arguably has been the best at Atlanta over its time together. In every single Atlanta race since the team debuted in 2014, Harvick has led at least 45 laps and more often than not has led more than 100, including a pair of victories with more than 150 laps led and the 292-laps-led ninth place in 2017.

This season? Harvick led zero laps at Atlanta and finished 10th and 11th. This shows me that SHR is in a horrible place right now, and that despite Harvick’s 159-point cushion on the bubble, he could be the most likely of the winless drivers to fall out of the playoff picture.

Chris Buescher:  A guy like Harvick is more likely to fall out because of strong performances from younger drivers like Chris Buescher who are below the cutline. Though the No. 17’s performance has faltered slightly from the start of the season, Buescher has continued to drive his subpar Roush Fenway Racing equipment at least when compared to teammate Ryan Newman’s inconsistent finishes and 26th-place points standing – to better finishes than it deserves.

This not only makes me more optimistic that he could pull off a surprise win or a run of top-level finishes not only this season but next season as well, when the assumed addition of Brad Keselowski as a co-owner and driver should raise the bar for the legendary Cup team. Even now, though, Buescher and the other young guns below the line cannot be ignored.

Thanks for reading. For more fantasy NASCAR and life advice, follow me on Twitter, @EHicks39, or check out more of my work at Elliot-Hicks.com.

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