It's Wednesday 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...
AND AWAY WE go people. It's RACE WEEK!!
What does that mean? Well, mostly it means if you can't get your racing fix this week in New England, you're addiction to motorsports is more severe than Jose Canseco's addiction to attention. And that's saying something.
For those of us pounding the pavement each week on the regional scene, the highlight of the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. And given their penchant for putting on some great racing – complete with bump-drafting, margins of victory measured in inches and not seconds, and a starting field representing several generations and racing backgrounds, it's not hard to see why.
The Whelen Modified Tour has gotten a bit of a bum rap lately at New Hampshire, and in the interest of full disclosure, I've been as tough on their recent performances as anybody. The events have been lauded for a couple of decades now as “the best race of the weekend” at the Magic Mile, a sentiment that remains largely true.
While it's not true that Sprint Cup Series crew chiefs and drivers are all standing atop their haulers in the garage area gripped by the on-track Modified racing, at least no more than they are for any other supporting races at any of the tracks they attend during their long 10-month grind across the country, it doesn't really much matter. The fact is, Modified racing is a unique, regionalized form of motorsports whose participants and fans are as passionate about what they love as, well... as Jose Canseco is about off-the-market “health” supplements.
One of the reasons that we've come to criticize Modified races at New Hampshire is really quite unfair.
Consider this: In 2008, Chuck Hossfeld beat Ted Christopher by a margin of .001-seconds in the New England 100 at NHMS, the closest finish in track history. The track, for those of you scoring at home, was opened in 1990, and Hossfeld's actual winning margin was much smaller than one one-thousandth of a second – but NASCAR doesn't record anything past the one-thousandth of a second mark.
“If that doesn't make the fans happy, I don't know what can,” said Bob Garbarino, Hossfeld's car owner at the time and the current owner of the No. 4 Mystic Missile for Donny Lia.
And therein lies the problem. See one finish like that, one finish like that once-in-a-track's-lifetime, and the bar is raised impossibly high.
Yes, there have been the Ryan Newman domination shows (thanks in large part, we've learned, to an illegal engine making way too much horsepower), including the stinker last July, when the race went caution-free over the final 82 laps and Newman won by nearly two full seconds.
But that kind of race is the anomaly, not the norm for the Whelen Modified Tour at New Hampshire. And with 55 races in Tour history having been contested at the 1.058-mile oval, isn't it reasonable to expect that one or two of them might be settled before the final corner?
Taken on the whole, the Modified races at New Hampshire have been the best overall, though it's not to say that the ACT Late Model Tour didn't steal the show last September at the track, or that the Juan Pablo Montoya-Kyle Busch episode in the June 2008 Cup race didn't carry some cache, or that the Corey LaJoie-Alan Tardiff-Ryan Truex dust-up in the K&N Pro Series in 2010 wasn't off-the-charts entertaining. But those races were just passing glances.
The Modified races at New Hampshire have been so good traditionally that it's hard to whittle them down to just one or two signature moments. It's hard to do that even for a single season's worth of Modified races at New Hampshire. There was Rowan Pennink's sure victory going up in smoke, or Cup champion Tony Stewart's backstretch airlift over the road course rumble strips, or Bobby Santos vs. Ryan Preece, or Doug Coby's amazing drive in an Eddie Partridge-owned backup car, or...
The list goes on and on.
And we're bound to add to it once again this Saturday with the Town Fair Tire 100.
SPEAKING OF THE Town Fair Tire 100, there are a couple of stories to keep an eye on this weekend – ones that don't even include whether or not Newman can return to his dominance in the division after being stripped of his most recent win last July, or whether Ryan Blaney will make any sort of impact in his Modified debut.
Two things stand out to me.
First, Doug Coby as been on a tremendous ride through the first half of this season, winning three of the last four races entering the weekend. Can he continue that kind of performance on the big track and threaten to turn this season into a laugher before it even reaches the halfway mark?
Coby has never finished better than fourth at New Hampshire, though he does have one career pole at the track. But his average finish is just 17th in 17 career starts at the track. If he stumbles here, it could be the opening the competition has been waiting for.
And then let's look at 2011 series champion Ron Silk.
Silk has one win this season, one that came in the season opener after Pennink jumped the final restart of the race and handed Silk the victory. Though he has four Top-5 finishes in the five races to date this season, we're still looking for Silk's breakout performance in 2012.
He won the most recent Modified race at New Hampshire last September. This could be the place where the No. 6 team gets its championship stroke back.
TWO SERIES WITH the same formula, yet we've got two completely different results.
The Valenti Modified Racing Series and the Granite State Pro Stock Series are each cut from the Jack Bateman mold – with an emphasis on creating affordable, touring racing in New England. While the MRS has built a strong base of teams to compete every week, the GSPSS can't seem to get out of its own way.
The GSPSS has canceled more events than its contested over the last two years, and the shows it has run have been marred by cautions, aggressive driving and a general lack of “wow” factor.
The MRS has engendered lots of cross-pollination with its NASCAR touring counterpart – and it's featured guys like Pennink, Coby, Ted Christopher and others running with them, some on a full-time basis. The GSPSS, however, hasn't attracted a single PASS North Series team to its events.
There seems to be an undercurrent in the world of Pro Stock/Super Late Model racing, the same one that eventually brought the former PASS Outlaw Late Model Series to an early end. While Modified guys show up at MRS races and view them as just another Modified race, the GSPSS guys seem to show up and believe they are deserving of a win – just because “no big names” are there.
It's a culture thing, one that won't be fixed by any amount of stern race direction or change in venue. The only thing that's going to fix the GSPSS here in its infancy is for the racers themselves to realize that if they don't work with one another, they won't have anything left to work with at all.
THE NASCAR VERSION of the All-Star Race may have been a snoozer this year, but at least you can say this – it's still roughly the same product we see week-in and week-out with the series.
The Major League Baseball All-Star Game? Not so much.
And while we're busy criticizing all things television in NASCAR, most of the time unfairly, let's turn the camera's focus on FOX when it comes to baseball. Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds may have their shortcomings in the booth, but they've got nothing on ineptitude when it comes to Tim McCarver.
During last night's MLB All-Star Game broadcast, McCarver was talking about Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz and marveling that the Sox didn't have more All-Star selections this year “like Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.”
Umm, news flash, McCarver. Youkilis was traded from the Red Sox a couple of weeks ago. Maybe THAT's why he wasn't there in a Sox uniform.
LET'S GET ALL crazy and do something we never do. Let's go out on a limb and pick the race winners from the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 weekend.
Let's start with with NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour's Town Fair Tire 100. I'm going with Silk. I think it's the time of year where he's ready to shine, at a venue where he's shone quite brightly before.
In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, I'm looking at Brad Keselowski to win the F.W. Webb 200. Keselowski has never won a Nationwide race at New Hampshire, but he has won the last two pole awards here and has never finished outside the Top-10 in four career starts. He'll win.
Global RallyCross? How the heck should I know who's going to win??? The guy that doesn't flip, that's the guy that'll win. Bank on it.
Track position is everything in the Sprint Cup Series events at New Hampshire, and if Greg Biffle can qualifying inside the Top-10, I think he's got them covered. He's been very good the last few years at the track, and the Roush Fenway Racing gang is on its game right now. Pencil him in for the checkered flag in the LENOX Industrial Tools 301 – but I'm reserving the right to change my mind if qualifying becomes a strange crapshoot of some sort.
YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the beef with pea pods and shrimp lo mein, and don't forget to tip your waitress. LMFAO is here, so stick around.