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BUMP STOPS: RallyCross, Ryan Blaney And Racing's Roots

Thursday, July 5, 2012
Trevor Bayne has entered the TD Bank Oxford 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway on July 22. Kyle Busch is the defending winner of the event. Photo: NASCAR

It's Fourth of July week again. Time to roll the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust it off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street while the bombs burst in air overhead...

HARD AS IT is to believe, the NASCAR Lenox Industrial Tools 301 weekend is just eight days away.

That means we're all in for a treat of a weekend, with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the Whelen Modified Tour and the debut of Global RallyCross at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

I'll admit, I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the announcement over the offseason that Global RallyCross was coming to the speedway during a weekend so intensely devoted to oval-track racing. But after what I saw at the X Games last weekend, it's gotten me pretty excited to see this.

If you're not willing to buy into the Travis Pastrana-moving-to-NASCAR hype, then you ought to do yourself the favor and see this guy perform in his own element. Oh yeah, and some guy named “Ken Block” will be there, too.

It's such a unique form of motorsports – is there anything out there remotely resembling it? – that NHMS fans are in for a fantastic experience.

Think about it. Think about the varying styles of racing – from the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series and all of their pomp and circumstance, to the incomparable RallyCross to the drafting and pack racing of the Whelen Modified Tour. Short of having a drag strip on the backstretch or a dirt bullring on the speedway property, you're not going to find a more diverse racing weekend at the Magic Mile.

Best part of it all is you'll see each one of those four divisions on the track on a single Saturday.

RYAN BLANEY HAS become known for his abilities behind the wheel of a Super Late Model all over the country, as well as the bloodlines he gets from his father, Dave Blaney.

Now, Blaney's going to try something new when he enters the Town Fair Tire 100 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour next Saturday. And it's an interesting proposition on two fronts.

First, it will be interesting to see a nationally-known short-track racing talent in Tommy Baldwin equipment compete here in New England. Sure, Ryan Newman has done so with great (albeit controversial) success, but this is having a true rising star in the sport competing on a proving ground with a good track record of producing NASCAR stars. (See also: Joey Logano, Max Gresham).

It's also interesting because the teams on the Whelen Modified Tour believe they remain the nation's best-kept auto racing secret. When they've been beaten by the likes of Newman, it's been easy to point to a number of reasons why – chief among them resources, equipment, Cup support and talent.

But Blaney adds another completely different element here.

He's not a shoe-in for a podium finish; heck, he's never been in a Tour Modified before. But his ability isn't really in question – and if he can run with the Tour veterans on a track where the competition is always heated, Blaney will have proven something about himself.

If he has trouble keeping up, though, Blaney may just prove something about the talent that exists each week on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

NOT A WORD about traffic problems at Kentucky Speedway last weekend. Now, about the racing there...

A GREAT GET for Oxford Plains Speedway this week.

Track owner/promoter Bill Ryan announced that 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne has entered the TD Bank Oxford 250 on July 22. Given the late-hour of the announcement, and the fears that for the first time since Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch showed up for the 250 in 2004 no Sprint Cup Series-affiliated driver would be entered, it's the best the track could hope for.

Bayne and his squeaky-clean image are an attraction. And given that Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have both won the Oxford 250 in recent seasons under the ACT Late Model Tour rules, the bar has been set high for Cup drivers coming to Oxford.

“I'm excited,” Bayne said. “It is one of those events that every short track racer from around the country knows about and hopes to get a chance to run one day. The race is super-competitive, but I feel like I have a good shot. Kevin and Kyle have set a high standard the past few years, and I will definitely check in with them to get some advice.”

Though no official word has been given, it is expected that Bayne will run a car prepared by Kendall Roberts – owner of John Donahue's No. 26 on the ACT Tour. Bayne is aligned with Ford Motor Company, and Roberts' team runs both Ford engines and Ford bodies.

Bayne, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., became the youngest Daytona 500 champion in history when he won the race in February of 2011.

“We are excited to have Trevor come to Oxford to race,” Ryan said. “It is a thrill for our fans to see the best NASCAR has to offer right here on a short track in Maine. Trevor is a great driver and I am sure he will be in the mix all race.”

IN CASE YOU missed it last week, there's a great feature story on the NASCAR Home Tracks website about the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and the strong performance by some independently-operated teams there this season. New England's own Eddie MacDonald – a two-time Oxford 250 champion and two-time winner of the ACT Late Model Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – is one of them.

Three of the Top-6 drivers in the current K&N Pro Series standings are not affiliated with Sprint Cup Series organizations, including Corey LaJoie – whose father, Randy LaJoie, hails from Connecticut – who is just one point behind Hendrick Motorsports' Chase Elliott for the series lead after seven of 14 races.

For those who criticize NASCAR for turning away from the roots of the old Busch North Series and making the K&N Pro Series more like professional baseball at the Double-A level, it's a storyline worth exploring. LaJoie, for one, thinks the series today is more like it was in the early- to mid-1990s than it was even three or four years ago.

“I don't really even think all those multi-car teams matter here,” said LaJoie, who operates on race weekend out of a hauler more like one you'd see for a weekly Late Model race at Oxford or Thunder Road and not a Sprint Cup Series race. “It's a lot more crucial in the Nationwide and Cup Series, to have a bunch of teams to bounce information off of. In this deal, though, if you can get close, you can make up a lot in the seat.

“To me, it's kind of like the old Busch Series now – or even the old Busch North Series – where guys just put their cars together in their garage and then went out and raced them. And they did it because they loved it. And they were damn good at it, too.”

CLICK HERE to read the complete story over on NASCAR Home Tracks.

YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the grilled swordfish with lime, and don't forget to tip your waitress. The Black Crowes are here, so stick around.

– TB