BUMP STOPS: Tracks, Tempers And Testing

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's Thursday 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...

WE'VE NOW HAD a few installments of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Bristol Motor Speedway to look at, and we have to wonder if fans are getting what they hoped they would when it was first announced that the Tour would be heading to Bristol for an annual combination race with the Whelen Southern Modified Tour.

Aside from last night's caution-marred UNOH 150 at Bristol, with a huge 17-car pileup only a few laps into the race, was something of an anomaly for the Tour. But the previous races have featured a lot more single-file racing than the Tour has been known for on the bullrings of the northeast, and there hasn't been as much on-track action has hoped for.

What gives?

One astute observer wondered via Twitter whether or not the problem lied with the Bristol track configuration itself. And before we open up another discussion about third grooves, track grinding or the “old Bristol,” it's a point worth exploring.

Perhaps high banks just don't translate to entertaining Modified racing.

To wit: Some of the most entertaining Modified races annually take place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – where bump-drafting creates edge-of-the-seat drama and double-digit lead changes under green-flag racing conditions. More than that, the flat, sweeping turns of New Hampshire allow the Modifieds to showcase what makes them so unique in the first place: fat tires and fantastic maneuverability.

High-banked race tracks like Bristol naturally negate some of the uniqueness, with the tall turns essentially holding cars into the track no matter how wide those rear tires are. In fact, it's negated to the point that the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol back in March looked very similar to this week's Modified race there.

One thing that seemed to jump out in the UNOH 150 was just how twitchy the cars themselves were, and not just early in runs as tires worked their way up to temperature. Cars seemed unable to race side-by-side, anyway, out of the sheer fear of drivers that their cars would snap loose on them at any given moment.

Is that a tire compound issue? Well, I'm not engineer, so I won't sit here and suggest it is or it isn't. All that's really clear is that Modified races like the ones at New Hampshire or the ones they used to hold at Richmond seem to do a much better job of showcasing what makes Modified racing so great.

During the SPEED pre-race, multi-time Tour champion Mike Stefanik was asked about the new Bristol surface – the highly-publicized multi-million dollar resurfacing project – after a week of hearing about how the Modifieds would be the first to showcase the “new Bristol.” Stefanik said it best, noting that the Modifieds haven't ever really utilized the third groove in their appearances there, because the cars themselves are able to stay on the bottom better than narrower, heavier full-bodied stock cars.

Of course, the UNOH 150 looked much like the previous Tour stops at Bristol, leaving little revelation about how the track would race out for NASCAR's national series this weekend.

There's a reason these cars are so popular on short tracks across the northeast. Bristol, for whatever reason, simply hasn't lived up to the hype.

QUITE FRANKLY, I don't see a whole lot wrong with the move Ron Silk put on Todd Szegedy late in the UNOH 150 – a move in which the two cars got together and sent Szegedy for a spin.

Silk dove deep into Turn 1 to try and get under Szegedy, which he did for a moment. Szegedy, as the race leader in the closing stages of the event, tried to squeeze Silk as close to the apron as he could – and the two made contact. Silk did back out just a bit at the last moment, but too late to keep Szegedy from losing control.

Szegedy then made a dramatic charge back through the field over the final handful of laps to finish second, and with another five laps would have likely had a winning car.

After the race, Szegedy spun Silk on the Bristol backstretch on the cool-down lap to show his displeasure.

But given that the two were racing for the lead, and the laps were winding down, Silk made the move that forced Szegedy's hand – which is his job. In Victory Lane, Silk said that Szegedy likely believed he was going to lift before they got to the corner. Silk didn't, and the rest is history.

Which side of the debate you fall on likely depends on where your allegiances lie.

But what Szegedy did post-race raises an interesting point. Personally, I don't fault him for being emotional and losing his cool at the conclusion of one of the marquee events on the Whelen Modified Tour schedule.

The debate, though, is why it's acceptable for one driver to act that way and not necessarily for everybody else. Social media feedback suggested that most were happy to see Szegedy display some “passion” for what he does, and that because he so rarely loses his cool in such a public manner, it was OK to give him a pass on this one.

Why, though, when Kyle Busch pulls a similar move in the heat of the moment is he considered “immature,” while Szegedy is seen as having “passion?”

To me, if it's good for one, then it's good for all – and it shouldn't matter how many times you've done it or haven't done it. It's either right, or it's wrong. We can't have separate rules for separate personalities.

That would be operating in the “gray area” that NASCAR fans routinely criticize NASCAR for doing.

KUDOS TO THE folks at Lee USA Speedway last Friday night for finding a way to beat the raindrops and give fans a complete ISMA Supermodified Summer Classic 75-lap event.

Even after the first batch of brief showers rolled through, the track could have easily shut down for the night and pocketed the money paid in both gate and pit admissions. Plenty of race events had been run to not have to warrant issuing rain checks.

Instead, Lee USA held out hope and ran the full feature event – won by Jon McKennedy of Chelmsford, Mass. Nice work.

And while we're on the topic of Jon McKennedy, are we starting to get a gauge on just how underrated he is as a race car driver?

McKennedy has been busy dominating the Valenti Modified Racing Series for a couple of seasons, and he was tabbed by Hillbilly Racing to fill the seat of the No. 79 on both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Whelen Southern Modified Tour when James Civali left the team earlier this season. He's posted four Top-10s in nine combined starts in the two Tours this year.

He's made only three ISMA starts now, finishing first and second on back-to-back nights at Lee USA Speedway and Waterford Speedbowl last weekend.

The resume is looking very good for the 25-year-old.

I'M VERY, VERY disappointed in the Boston Red Sox, and not only because of their dismal 2012 record, especially at Fenway Park.

Only four players – led by David Ortiz – made time to attend Monday's funeral service for Mr. Red Sox Johnny Pesky. No Dustin Pedroia, no Jon Lester, no Adrian Gonzalez, no Jacoby Ellsbury, no Will Middlebrooks....

It's very sad that so many of today's stars don't understand what Pesky has represented, nor the manner in which he blazed a path into the hearts of fans for all Red Sox, past and present.

You could argue that Pesky hadn't been around the team on a day-to-day basis over the last couple of seasons, and with so many new faces on the current team, many didn't know him like players did only a few years before. Sure, you could argue that.

But it's a very weak argument.

Players need to understand what Pesky represented, the way he would drop everything on a dime for the Red Sox and its Red Sox Nation. Those guys need to be held accountable.

Then again, accountability hasn't exactly been this team's strong suit, has it?

TESTING, 1-2-3, IS this thing on?

The ACT Late Model Tour and teams running weekly in ACT-sanctioned Late Model divisions across the northeast and Canada will descend upon New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Wednesday, August 29, for the annual full-day test session at the track in preparation for the ACT Invitational on September 22.

The day remains a highlight for ACT and its teams, even the ones who won't earn one of 36 invites to join the starting field.

For weekly racers, especially, the chance to test for nearly eight full hours at New Hampshire – complete with a couple of mock races in the afternoon – is a career highlight. It's a bigger, brighter stage than places like Canaan Fair Speedway or Oxford Plains Speedway, and the teams that are invited to test are all deserving of the opportunity.

YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the fried pickles and hash brown casserole, and don't forget to tip your waitress. Poison is here, so stick around.

– TB