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BUMP STOPS: Mighty Max, Modified Madness and More Labor Day Classics, Please

Friday, September 2, 2011

It's Friday again. Time to take the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

I HAD A really great conversation with NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points leader Max Gresham this week, some of which you can read by heading over to NASCAR Home Tracks and reading the feature story I wrote for those guys.

One of the highlights of the story is Gresham openly speaking about where he's made the most improvements this season. My favorite quote of all was what he said when I asked him if he was at all surprised to be dominating the series' standings with three races left this season.

"I would like to say no, but honestly, I'm a little surprised," Gresham said.

Gresham, who won the pole for the New England 125 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway back in July and went on to win an eventful race there, has done the one thing this year that separates drivers with a future along the NASCAR ladder and those who won't have any longevity. He has completely grasped the concept this year that being fast and being with a great team aren't enough on their own to let you go out and go for broke every weekend.

 

There are at least a dozen K&N Pro Series East teams at the race track every weekend with the know-how and the capability to win races. What the good teams – and especially the good drivers – are able to do best is rein in that burning desire to push every edge of the envelope and simply settle for the best possible finishes.

"Points racing" may be a dirty word to race fans these days, but when done right it's downright hard to beat.

Look at Gresham – who enjoyed a seven-race stretch where he never finished worse than fourth.

That's a lot of points.

It's also important to note that when Brett Moffitt left Joe Gibbs Racing to head to Michael Waltrip Racing in the offseason – the same team where Ryan Truex won two straight K&N Pro Series championships – it was viewed as a lock for Moffitt to win this year's title.

Instead, Gresham took over as the top dog at JGR and has taken over as the top dog in the series, too. That speaks volumes.

It's easy to look at Gresham as a product of cash flow. Heck, his family owns Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga. But it would be unfair to Gresham, who has enrolled at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina as a freshman this season, and learned that working on race cars at the Joe Gibbs Racing shop during the week and following a clearly laid-out plan on race day yields results.

Big results.

The kind of results that lead to a seat at the head table at the banquet in Charlotte in December.

IT'S OK. TOM Curley already knows I feel this way.

The Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 at Thunder Road International Speedway is one of my favorite races of every season, and this year's stop for the ACT Late Model Tour on Sunday is no exception. In fact, it's my favorite race of the year at Thunder Road, bar none.

I know the Milk Bowl has more history, more prestige and more cache. I understand that, and I'm in no way arguing that people who live for the Milk Bowl are wrong.

But I'm a bit of a short-track racing purist.

I don't really like Monza-style scoring, races broken into segments (I loathe "halftime breaks") or inverted-field restarts. I do, however, like extra-distance races, pit strategy and some test of the measure of man and machine.

Thunder Road's Labor Day Classic 200 offers everything that I like about short-track racing. And even as bigger and bigger races keep getting added to already busy late-season schedules all across the northeast, the Labor Day event at Thunder Road still stands as one of northern New England's crown jewels.

It's not the Oxford 250 or even a stop at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but it's not as far off as you might think, either.

I'M KIND OF tired of Ryan Newman's whole "We don't have to cheat to win" mantra on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

That's all fine and dandy. And, heck, it might even be true.

But if that's the case, why did Newman and crew chief Kevin Manion so blatantly break the engine rules at New Hampshire in July that NASCAR actually stripped them of a win?

THE TITLE CHASE at Beech Ridge is as close as any title battle anywhere in the country.

One race. Three drivers. Three points. That's what Saturday night's NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season finale at Beech Ridge is all about.

Bill Rodgers leads Trevor Sanborn by a single point and third-place Aaron Ricker by three points. None of them have ever won a track championship at Beech Ridge before. And after the high intensity of last week's 40-lap Pro Series Super Late Model feature, one has to believe that there will be plenty more of the same this weekend.

IT'S A MORE than a little disappointing that a bunch of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regulars are skipping out on the series' first-ever visit to Delaware Speedway in Ontario this weekend, most notably Mike Stefanik and Ted Christopher. Stefanik and Christopher rank first and third, respectively, in career wins with more than 110 victories between them.

For years, the teams on the Tour have complained about a lack of effort on NASCAR's behalf to get them more exposure and tracks outside of their Connecticut hub.

When NASCAR finally does step up and deliver and new venue in an area with a rabid fan base, the teams balk at the opportunity.

Instead, teams should have embraced this one.

BRAD KESELOWSKI. That about says it all, doesn't it?

JUST ONE MORE episode of "Rescue Me" left to go before the series rides off into the sunset.

Long one of my favorite television offerings, I say the end can't come soon enough.

These days, it's kind of like watching Bobby Labonte put in a half-effort every week now to collect his paycheck. You know it used to be championship material, and you want to believe somewhere deep down that that possibility still exits, but it just never cares enough to surface.

ON MY WAY to Thunder Road this weekend, I'm going to make a pit stop at Bear Ridge Speedway in central Vermont on Saturday night for the Sprint Cars of New England (SCONE) event at the 1/4-mile clay oval.

It will be my first-ever dirt race. Sort of.

I actually tried to go to a dirt race at Charlotte Motor Speedway back in 2002. But my shot to see the World of Outlaws was thwarted by more than two and a half hours of "track prep."

Apparently, it's a dirt track thing.

BRIAN HOAR OWNS five career ACT victories at Thunder Road, yet he calls it the "weakest track" for both himself and his RPM Motorsports team.

Yeah, whatever. You tell yourself that.

YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the roasted corn on the cob and hand-cut fresh french fries, and don't forget to tip your waitress. Brad Paisley is here, so stick around.

– TB