BUMP STOPS: Summer Stretch, Silk's Chances at Stafford and Some Lingering Questions

Thursday, August 4, 2011
Photo: Travis Barrett/GWC

It's Thursday again. Time to dust off that ol' Mini Stock and roll her out of the garage for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

HAD A REALLY interesting conversation with a colleague of mine this week about the challenges facing young race teams as seasons swing into the second half.

Every year, on virtually every touring series in the country, there are first-year race teams that make some headlines during the first few months of the season. They have their stuff together right out of the box, they stick to their game plan and they manage to post some impressive finishes and garner a little attention for themselves.

But what separates the proverbial men from the boys is that August-September stretch littered with extra-distance events, bigger purses and larger car counts.


Brian Hoar put the exclamation point on his seventh ACT Late Model Tour championship last season by really hitting his stride late in the year – locking up what had been a close points battle in the penultimate race of the season. Joey Polewarczyk Jr. struggled in the first couple months of 2010, but he rebounded nicely with wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and in the Milk Bowl, rolling of wins in four of the last five events of 2010. Eddie MacDonald's recent Oxford 250 successes (champion of both the 2009 and 2010 events) as well as September NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victory at New Hampshire in 2009, shows that the veterans of this game don't let up when things start to get chaotic.

Back to that conversation I had the other day, some teams just seem to find whatever "it" is when they need it most. They rebound from disappointing finishes, they come back more dominant than ever the following week and they certainly don't shrink on the biggest stages.

While the ACT teams have just five points races left this season, one of which is their first-ever points race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend. They've also got an Invitational at NHMS, the Milk Bowl and an 200-lap Showdown at Autodrome Chaudiere in Quebec. Staying focused on the championship race, while rising to the occasion in marquee events, becomes a challenge that veteran teams seem to understand.

On the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, September will produce many of the same challenges.

In one month's time, beginning Aug. 24, the Tour races at Bristol Motor Speedway, New Hampshire, the Lime Rock Park road course and a debut event at Delaware Speedway in Ontario. It's a lot of travel, a lot of big stages and a lot of stress on teams.

Whoever can come out of these summer dog-day grinds will win championships. Isn't that what "championship mettle" is all about?

SPEAKING OF THE Whelen Modified Tour, Ron Silk took the points lead for the first time following last Saturday night's stop at Riverhead Raceway in New York.

Silk is always strong at New Hampshire – where the series has two races left this season – but he's got perhaps his best chance to pad his cushion at the top tomorrow night.

Silk leads the Tour to Stafford Motor Speedway, where he won the TSI Harley-Davidson 125 when the Mod Squad last visited the track. He has seven Top-10s in his career at Stafford, where he also has four NASCAR Whelen All-American Series victories in an SK Modified.

Another dominant performance at Stafford – like when he won from the pole there in May – could be a big boost for Silk's shot at a first Modified Tour championship.

THE WORD THIS morning is that Carl Edwards is staying put at Roush Fenway Racing after this season.

NASCAR's most eligible free agent had been most hotly rumored to be heading to Joe Gibbs Racing, likely as a replacement for Joey Logano in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. Instead, Edwards is going to remain a Ford man.

Most who know me well know that I often wondered why Roush's most dominant driver over the last few seasons would leave a place where he's had so much success.

But there are questions now that have to be answered in the light of all this speculation about Edwards' future – the first and most important is what are we to make of Logano's stay at Gibbs.

Bluntly put, Logano has not been able to pick up the torch in the No. 20 following Tony Stewart's departure at the end of 2008. His first year can be chalked up to a steep rookie learning curve, especially after being handed the keys to the No. 20 a year ahead of schedule.

But that doesn't excuse his last two seasons – which have been dreadful, short of a twice-wrecked rain-shortened New Hampshire win. I still contend that Home Depot can't love watching Lowe's win so many races and championships while their car is a Sprint Cup Series afterthought, and teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are both week-to-week and championship threats.

Logano has to know he's in a tenuous situation in the best of times.

SO, ABOUT THAT Jacoby Ellsbury kid.

I was wrong.

You happy now?

I HAD GREATLY underrated vacations in the past.

HAVING THE ACT Late Model Tour cars back at New Hampshire for a test on Tuesday reminded me of 2009, when the region's best Late Model teams tested at the track for the first time.

Two things will always stand out for me about that day.

Ricky Rolfe told me, "Now I know what they mean by aero-push." Cars at that speed handle differently than they do at places like Oxford Plains Speedway or Thunder Road, and it became quickly obvious to everyone in those first few minutes.

"I feel like I still have to steer it a lot on the straightaways," Rolfe said.

The air bounced the cars around, even more so when they were in a pack. Some drivers, like Rolfe, quickly adapted and couldn't wait to get back, and others were honest in their desire to avoid New Hampshire altogether.

One driver told me during the lunch break that day that he kept thinking about his two young sons, and how he was facing – for the first time in a long racing career on New England's short tracks – the real danger associated with the sport.

Win at New Hampshire in a Late Model, and you've accomplished something you can't accomplish anywhere else.

I HEARD THAT my usual Connecticut hotel is remodeling the breakfast area.

So, you mean, I have to drive somewhere else now? Ridiculous. At least they were kind enough to send an email notice...

YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the hot dogs roasted over an open campfire, and don't forget to tip your waitress. Bruno Mars is here, so stick around.

– TB