Only in NASCAR, New Hampshire Motor Speedway version: The winner of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race gets a trophy called Loudon the Lobster, which happens to be alive when the winner first lifts him or her.
With that hard-shelled handoff, Loudon starts perhaps the most startling transition in all of sports: From hanging out in a tank to being held aloft to being fed to the winning team and then mounted on some wall somewhere. That’s the fate that awaits poor Loudon, according to driver accounts and a story in Bon Appetit magazine.
With three wins at the track in Loudon, N.H., Matt Kenseth already has won a small family worth of the crustacean critters, and he’d like to add to that brood this weekend, if not for his love of lobster bisque then certainly for his desire to guarantee himself a spot in the postseason.
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At the midway point of the 2017 season (18 of 36 races) Kenseth is winless and sits 16th in points – the final spot eligible for the playoffs. He leads Joey Logano by just seven points.
A victory by Logano (or anybody below him) would knock Kenseth out of the final postseason spot. If nobody below them wins, the final playoff berth will be decided between Kenseth and Logano, as nobody else is close enough in points to catch them and 15th-place Clint Bowyer appears to be comfortably ahead of them.
Kenseth’s victory in the July race last year was his most recent visit to Victory Lane, and his third career win at Loudon, with all of them coming since 2013.
“It used to be one of my worst places and now I feel like it’s one of our better places,” he said after last year’s victory.
In eight races at New Hampshire since he joined Joe Gibbs Racing at the start of 2013, Kenseth has seven top-10 finishes and five top-5s (three wins, a second and fourth.) In those eight races, Kenseth has scored 302 points, second among drivers to Brad Keselowski’s 303.
In that same span Kenseth, who last week said he will not return to JGR for 2018, has led six of the eight races for 321 laps. In 26 starts for Roush Fenway Racing, he had just five top-5 finishes and zero wins at New Hampshire, and led only 89 laps.
New Hampshire is a flat, 1-mile track with treachery in every corner. The difficulty in getting a car to consistently handle well there perhaps explains why there have been few repeat winners lately. In the past 15 races at Loudon, only Kenseth has won more than once.
The cars carry heavy loads into the corners, which wears out the tires. That leads to frequent cautions, which leads to unusual pit strategies and fuel mileage gambles.
Winless drivers are likely to take big risks to try to get that elusive victory and the pincered trophy that comes with it. Whoever takes Loudon the Lobster home will savor it, in more ways than one.