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BUMP STOPS: Few Cars, Forecasts and Finding a New Nickname for Plate Racing

Thursday, April 14, 2011
Photo: Travis Barrett, GWC

It's back! The often-imitated, never duplicated, one-of-a-kind weekly laundry list of an auto racing writer has once again found its way into the pages of the worldwide webisphere.

And like its predecessor – "On Pit Road" – there will be plenty of dirty laundry aired, too. Consider it the "Festivus" celebration of auto racing, complete with the feats of strength, the Festivus pole and the airing of the grievances. Heck, my wife won't listen to me anymore – so you might as well do it. Am I right?

Each and every Thursday until I retire or enough hate mail in the inbox sends me packing in disgrace, you'll find "Bump Stops" on the menu here at The Granite Stripe. Be forewarned, however: Trying to work through the maze that is my brain is like Indiana Jones trying to hack his way through a jungle of vines, snakes and rolling boulders en route to the Temple of Doom. Could be detrimental to your health.

With that, let's roll on out this first Granite Stripe edition of "Bump Stops":

WELCOMED TO CONNECTICUT last weekend, the hub of SK Modified racing in the good ol' U.S. Of. A.

Wait, what – ???

There were as many full-fendered NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Super Late Models on hand for the annual Icebreaker weekend at Thompson International Speedway as there were SK Modifieds. If you're keeping score at home, the magic number was 12 in each division.

Well, more like 11-and-a-half Modifieds if you count the short delay on Saturday afternoon while officials waited on the No. 24 of Danny Cates to make enough repairs to deem his car fit for, uh, "competition" in the 25-lap feature.

Of course, it's not like having 12 cars in either of your top two divisions is a win-win situation for promoters or fans at any short track. Car counts have been declining steadily at Thompson, which is surprising if only because Thompson's place in the history of asphalt stock car racing in this country had long carried it in the past. But now, it's like most places when it comes to weekly racing – the cost of competing has to be contained if teams are going to continue to field cars.

It will be especially interesting to see how things turn out at Thompson once they roll into their weekly NASCAR program next month.

A NOD TO ACT racer Patrick Laperle, a regular on the ACT Castrol Edge Series in Canada and part-time competitor on the ACT Late Model Tour stateside. Laperle was the only ACT-affiliated racer to make the PASS-sanctioned "The Race" at North Wilkesboro Speedway last weekend.

Laperle finished 10th in the event that paid winner Chris Eggleston of Whitestown, Ind., more than $75,000.

Joey Polewarczyk Jr., the winner of the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last September missed making the show by one spot in his last-chance qualifier.

SPEAKING OF PASS, it seems like the K&N Pro Series East isn't the only series that's seen Sprint Cup Series involvement dramatically alter the playing field.

It wasn't all that many years ago that PASS teams based in Maine, New Hampshire and Canada headed south and beat up on their cousins residing below the Mason-Dixon Line. Now, though, that's changed quite a bit. In a race featuring more than 70 teams attempting to qualify at North Wilkesboro, only 12 northern-based teams made the 44-car starting field and a full half of those used provisional starting spots to make the grid.

Meanwhile, names like Ickler, Gale, Kenseth and Blaney all made the show after the first round of heat racing.

It's not unlike the days surrounding the 2007 season in the K&N Pro Series East, when Joey Logano hopped into a Joe Gibbs Racing entry and dominated longtime northern entries from Andy Santerre Motorsports, Fadden Racing, Matt Kobyluck, Eddie MacDonald and others en route to the runaway championship.

OH, MOTHER NATURE. You sure are fickle.

At the time of this writing, there is no word yet on what will happen when the ACT Late Model Tour heads to Lee USA Speedway for the season opener on Sunday. But just like in 2010, steady rains are forecast for Sunday leaving chances under the "terrible" banner for running the NH Governor's Cup 150.

Last season, after two rainouts to open the season (and a couple more early on), the race wasn't run until early June, on a Friday night as part of Lee USA's weekly program.

Didn't we suffer enough from the snow this winter?

IS IT PARITY, or is it a "Lucky Dog" phenomenon?

Miles Chipman and Mark Hayward both won ACT races in 2010, Chipman's trip to Victory Lane coming at his home track of Lee USA Speedway. The series' entire philosophy is based on having local Late Model divisions competing under the same rules as the Tour itself – creating a true us versus them, locals versus invaders storyline each and every week.

A shocking upset here and there is bound to happen, and it's good for interest in the series. But several "shocking" upsets in one season are no longer shocking – and they beg the question: Is it parity that makes ACT so competitive or is it more a luck of the draw?

I still believe that hard work pays off in any racing series anywhere – be it at Oxford Plains Speedway in a 40-lap Saturday night race or in the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire. But I'm also hoping I see more of the proverbial cream rise to the top this season and prove last year to be more fluke than fact.

THE GOOD NEWS, if there is any, is that the Red Sox will be mathematically eliminated by the middle of May if they keep up the way they are going and I won't have to pay attention any longer.

JIMMY BLEWETT BROKE a wheel during practice for the Icebreaker 150 last Saturday and did not return to race in Sunday's NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener.

It's a shame. Truly.

Blewett dons the nickname "Showtime," and he lives up to it almost every time out. In fact, there are precious few drivers who make races more interesting just by merely showing up – Patrick Laperle, Ted Christopher are two others on the short list – and Blewett is one of them.

Even though he doesn't compete full-time on the Tour, he runs races that are important – at Thompson, at Stafford Motor Speedway, at New Hampshire – and everybody is better off for having him there. It was too bad he couldn't make the call on Sunday.

THANK YOU, MR. Hossfeld. Thank you.

EARLY ON IN Speedweeks at Daytona in February, I was like most people. I wasn't sure exactly how this two-car drafting thing was going to play out in terms of the wow factor.

But once 43 cars hit the track and the cars starting pairing off – with some better at pushing and some better at following – things really took shape. Restrictor plate racing on the whole is manufactured excitement, no matter what form it finally takes. I get that. Anyone who watched the Daytona 500, though, had no idea Trevor Bayne was going to win that race – even over the final 200 yards or so.

And, short of taking restrictor plates off and letting the race cars actually race, that's as interesting as things are going to get.

I'll take it.

SPEAKING OF THE two-car draft, I saw that FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip posted to Twitter this week that he felt the nickname "two-car tango" was leading the pack when it came to a moniker for the new restrictor plate age.

I can think of about a half-dozen others that are better. Heck, my daughter's pre-school class could come up with that many or more.

I'm wondering if Waltrip's unofficial vote tally had something to do with the fact that he's the one who uses "two-car tango" so incessantly – and he's also the only voice he ever hears that makes sense to him.

Just saying.

AND IN CLOSING, you've been a great audience. The White Stripes are here. Try the penne with asparagus and ham, and don't forget to tip your waitress.

– TB