TBT: The Last NHMS Sweep
This year, New Hampshire Motor Speedway celebrates its 25th Anniversary. Throughout the year as part of that celebration, the Granite Stripe will throw it back on Thursday and give a small history lesson on past events at the track.
Fact: there's no such thing as a favorite to win a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The track has had 15 different winners in the last 18 Sprint Cup Series races, and it's been 11 years since a driver most recently swept both races in a season.
In 2004, it was Kurt Busch that used the sweep as a way to propel himself to his first (and only) Cup Series championship, with Loudon providing two of his three wins for the season.
On July 25, Busch was clinging on to one of the final of ten spots in the newly-created Chase for the NEXTEL Cup. A 35th-place finish at Chicagoland the week before had plummeted him to ninth in the standings and marked the fourth time in ten races in which he finished 31st or worse.
The Siemens 300 at NHMS would spring Busch back into serious contention. He started 32nd and got to the front on Lap 171 to end pole-sitter Ryan Newman's dominant day in which he led the first 170 loops. Newman worked his way back up front later in the race, but Busch reclaimed the lead on Lap 233 and never let it go. The win pushed him up to sixth in the standings and began a run of five top-10s in six races.
Despite the late summer success, it wasn't until his second trip to Loudon that Busch truly began his championship run. By finishing the regular season in seventh place, he was one of ten drivers to have qualified for the first-ever Chase, which kicked off at NHMS on September 19.
Busch started the SYLVANIA 300 in seventh and took the lead on Lap 135, after which he led 155 of the final 166 laps to claim victory and pull into a tie atop the standings with Dale Earnhardt Jr. He fell a single point behind Jeff Gordon the following week at Dover, but reclaimed the points lead after the next race and held it throughout on the way to the championship.
The sweep at NHMS was the second in two years at the track after Jimmie Johnson swept the 2003 season, but those two years are the only Cup Series sweeps in the track's history.