It's Friday again. Time to dust off that ol' Mini Stock and take it out of the garage for a spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...
THE HOT-BUTTON issue of the week has obviously been Ryan Newman's NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Saturday, and the subsequent engine issues in post-race tech that ended up costing Newman the victory.
At the center of the controversy is Kevin "Bono" Manion – Sprint Cup Series crew chief for Jamie McMurray and the owner of the No. 7 Modified. The engine was drastically altered in an effort to circumvent restrictor-plate rules when the Tour runs at New Hampshire.
Manion released a vague statement on Wednesday, as significant for what wasn't said in it as what was.
Typically, when teams are penalized for engine violations, the cliches roll right to the top of the board – the most common of which is "that's the way we bought the engine." That, of course, didn't happen here, for very good reason. The supplier of the illegal engine was Manion's current employer, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing.
Whether Manion or his team tampered with the engine after getting it, to me, is a moot point.
One of the things that I simply cannot get past is wondering what EGR stood to benefit from the performance of Newman on-track in a Whelen Modifed Tour event.
Cheated up or not, if Newman can go out and run a qualifying lap that's a quarter-second faster than anybody else in the field – which, by the way, he did on Thursday – it's going to turn heads. It wasn't 15 minutes after the qualifying session at New Hampshire concluded that guys in the Modified garage were openly wondering, "What does he have in that thing?"
Knowing racers the way we all do, we know that if they feel they can spend a little extra money to gain an edge, they will do it.
Case in point: One prominent Tour team bought not one but three engines from EGR at Loudon last week.
Whether you're giving teams the cheated-up piece or a straight out of the box one – again, it's a moot point. You're making sales for engines worth tens of thousands of dollars at the race track, and for any business that's, well, good business.
All of it gets me wondering if Manion was simply the vehicle for a much larger effort on behalf of EGR. It smacks a little bit of conspiracy theory, I realize, but it seems to make a little too much sense to me.
AS WE CLOSE in on Sunday's 38th TD Bank Oxford 250, I can't help but feel like I did back when Oxford Plains Speedway first announced the schedule for the 2011 version of the race.
Once again, the Oxford 250 feels like "a weekend" and not just a really, really big one-day short-track event like so many others.
To be fair, in Maine racing circles, the PASS 300 weekend at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway had joined the annual World Series at Thompson International Speedway as the two biggest short-track weekends of the season. The Oxford 250 had lost some of that, with fans and media crying even as recently as last year for a change to the format to bring some of the Friday and Saturday buzz back.
Having the PASS North Series return to the card, with a 150-lap Saturday event, a "Happy Hour" practice tonight and a PASS Modified race – all joining the Valenti Modified Racing Series – it's become a race fan's frenzy.
It's been a few years since the Oxford 250 was a week-long event, and it seems to be back. Don't discount the enthusiasm of Maine's race fans – rightly or wrongly – over the return of Super Late Models to the track this weekend for he first time since 2006.
I DON'T THINK I'm going out on a limb here, but I can see Kyle Busch sweeping both events at Oxford Plains Speedway this weekend, both the PASS 150 and the Oxford 250 itself.
His Super Late Model is two-for-two in starts this year, having recently won the prestigious Slinger Nationals just two weeks ago in Wisconsin. With heat races and the opportunity for Busch to start on the front row, it could be a perfect recipe for the driver who last weekend at NHMS won his 100th career NASCAR national series event.
On Sunday, the Late Model he drives will be good. T.J. Brackett and Seth Holbrook have built the car this year, and both Brackett and his father, Tim Brackett, always have cars that seem to shine in extra-distance races at the track.
If Busch draws a low number for his heat race starting spot and qualifies through the first round, it could be a long night for everybody.
THE BEST RACE of the weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend?
The NASCAR Nationwide Series event won by Busch on Saturday.
How many times have we pegged that series as the best of the weekend at the big track? Not many, I can tell you that – and that comes even though both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events were stellar.
ONE OF THE names in these parts that has drawn the ire of fans recently is Dave Dion – solely for the fact that Dion was not named as one of the All-Time Top-10 K&N Pro Series East Drivers last week by NASCAR.
I love Dave Dion, as a person and as a racer. He remains, without a shadow of a doubt, one of my favorite people to interview in this sport right from the very first time I talked to him at New Hampshire. But I also had a ballot for the K&N Top-10, and Dion was not on mine.
In northern New England, we associate Dion with short-track racing's golden years – and we absolutely should. I agree with that sentiment 100 percent. But Dion was not solely associated with what was the Busch North Series.
In fact, in 20 years with the series, Dion never once attempted to run the entire schedule, and in only 12 of those 20 seasons did he run at least three-quarters of the year. In fact, during his 1996 championship run, he competed in just 19 of 21 races.
Dion claimed only 13 of his career victories with the series.
An important fixture in Ford's short-track program? Check. A 3-time Oxford 250 champion? Check. One of the most gifted racers ever to come out of New England? Check.
But just not an all-time Top-10 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East driver.
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