Kissin' the Bricks

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Indianapolis 500 is the most historic race in America, with this past May's race marking the 100th running of the event.

NASCAR's history at the track doesn't date back nearly as long.  It was only in 1994 that it began racing the Brickyard 400.  However, the prestige is still there.

INDYCAR or NASCAR.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


Kyle Busch has won 100 major NASCAR races.  Period.

He hasn't won 100 Cup races, he's only won 22 and sits sixth among active drivers, in that regard.  He's nowhere near Richard Petty's record 200 Cup wins or David Pearson's 105, but he's won 100 races.

People are quick to discredit Busch's feat because it hasn't all come at the Cup level.  Yet, what everyone seems to be missing is that Busch, himself, has never asked you to view his accomplishment in the same arena.

He just asks you respect his passion and ability as a race car driver.


Each Monday we take a look back at the weekend that was from around the region.

Not surprisingly, the TD Bank Oxford 250 weekend took center stage in most circles – with three different touring divisions all competing at Oxford Plains Speedway on the same weekend and the invasion of Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch.

So, without further ado:

1. Kyle Busch, Las Vegas, Nev.

Busch swept a pair of races at Oxford Plains Speedway over the weekend, winning the 38th annual TD Bank Oxford 250 less than 24 hours after winning a PASS-sanctioned Super Late Model race from the pole. Busch won in his third start in the marquee midsummer event.


OXFORD, Maine – Kyle Busch knocked another race off his bucket list.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver held off serious challenges from some of the guys who know Oxford Plains Speedway best, winning the 38th TD Bank Oxford 250 on Sunday night. It was Busch's third try in the event and the first time that everything went completely right.

"I have had my fair share of problems here in the past," said Busch, who led laps in both the 2005 and 2006 events before flat tires or engine issues cut his bids short. "But it's been fun to race around here. It's a neat little race track. It's certainly got its little quirks and bumps and things, but it's just about trying to get into a rhythm.

"It helped me to try and find that."


OXFORD, Maine – Looks like I'm not the only one here at Oxford Plains Speedway today. Word from track officials is that there are 82 Late Models entered in the 38th running of the TD Bank Oxford 250.

Roughly half that many will actually make tonight's main event, and then the winner will hoist a check for $25,000, plus lap leader bonuses.

It's a pretty impressive entry list once again, as it is every year, and it's bigger than last year's entry list that didn't hit 80. Topping that entry list, of course, is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch, who is making his third Oxford 250 appearance.

Some of the other notables in this field include Eddie MacDonald, who has won the last two Oxford 250s, a pair of 7-time ACT Late Model Tour champions in Jean Paul Cyr and Brian Hoar, reigning NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion Keith Rocco, 9-time Oxford Plains Speedway track champion Jeff Taylor, Thunder Road champion Nick Sweet, White Mountain Motorsports Park champion Quinny Welch and on and on and on....


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

THE HOT-BUTTON issue of the week has obviously been Ryan Newman's NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Saturday, and the subsequent engine issues in post-race tech that ended up costing Newman the victory.

At the center of the controversy is Kevin "Bono" Manion – Sprint Cup Series crew chief for Jamie McMurray and the owner of the No. 7 Modified. The engine was drastically altered in an effort to circumvent restrictor-plate rules when the Tour runs at New Hampshire.

Manion released a vague statement on Wednesday, as significant for what wasn't said in it as what was.


This past weekend was my first time in the hot pass areas of the garage and pits of a NASCAR race.

There was a lot in the infield.  Haulers, stock cars, tires, drivers, pit crew members and whole lot more, but one thing I didn't see much of: fat guys.

NASCAR is a sport that requires significant athletic ability; there's just no place for the overweight in a garage.


 Each Monday we take a look back at the top performers from the weekend that was.

It was a busy weekend around New England this weekend, with efforts focused intensely on the State of New Hampshire. NASCAR was the big draw at the big track, but there were other marquee performances in the state too.

Without further ado, here we go:

1. Ryan Newman, South Bend, Ind.

Newman became the first driver in history two win two races from the pole in the same weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He won his third straight NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event in the F.W. Webb 100 on Saturday, then followed up by winning the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 for the Sprint Cup Series on Sunday.


LOUDON, N.H. – Think "Fuel Mileage" and tracks such as Michigan International Speedway or Auto Club Speedway come immediately to mind. They're big, sweeping ovals where horsepower is critical to success and car-to-car combat is minimized.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway, once known as a drivers' choice for retaliatory performances, has joined that list. For the second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the track, fuel mileage and pit strategy determined the difference between winning and losing.

Ryan Newman led the final 72 laps Sunday to post his first victory of the season and lead a 1-2 finish for Stewart Haas Racing as drivers throughout the field wrestled with fuel strategy in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301.

Some – like Newman – were trying to stretch their fuel more than 80 laps. Some snuck in under the race's final caution to top off their tanks, hoping those trying to go the distance would run out. Still others seemed resigned to simply taking what had been given them, regardless of what others were up to.

Last September at New Hampshire, Tony Stewart ran out of gas while leading at the end, handing victory to Clint Bowyer. There was the strong likelihood that the same thing would happen Sunday to Newman – who ran out of gas heading to Victory Lane – this time around, too.

But isn't this New Hampshire? Isn't this about short-track racing on one of the tightest tracks on the circuit?

Not so fast.


 LOUDON, N.H. – When it matters most, Stewart Haas Racing is hitting its stride.

Ryan Newman won the fuel mileage game Sunday afternoon, collecting his first win of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season and anchoring the organization's 1-2 finish in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday afternoon. Team owner Tony Stewart finished second, as the team posted its first 1-2 finish in its three-year existence.

"We backed up what everybody said we couldn't. Just proud to repeat the performance we had on Friday (in qualifying)," Newman said. "We put it on them today. We don't put it on them every weekend, so we need to relish what we did this weekend."

"It was a perfect day for the organization, for sure," Stewart said. "This was a perfect way to go into an off-weekend. This was big for everybody at Stewart Haas Racing."


 LOUDON, N.H. – It turned out to be a Milestone Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch, who once left the speedway with a sour taste after getting off to a horrendous start to the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup, led the final 33 laps of the New England 200 to post his 100th career NASCAR national series victory and tie Mark Martin's all-time mark of 49 Nationwide Series wins.

"It certainly feels good and means a lot," Busch said. "To tie (Martin's) record at 49 wins, that's something pretty awesome, as well, and it's a great opportunity to race in this series and win that many."

Busch carried an oversized flag with the the number "100" on it during his victory lap, and Martin met him in Victory Lane to help celebrate the accomplishment.

Busch also has 22 career Sprint Cup wins and 29 Camping World Truck Series wins.


LOUDON, N.H. – We haven't seen a race like this before, not at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour's F.W. Webb 100 went green over the final 88 laps of the event, stretching the field out and giving the event a feel more akin to full-bodied stock cars and not the popular open-wheel Modifieds.

The lead trio of Ryan Newman, Todd Szegedy and Ron Silk finished nearly half a lap ahead of fourth-place Matt Hirschman. Only 10 of the 32 starters finished on the lead lap. There was virtually no bump-drafting in the field, and there was a noticeable absence of side-by-side racing.

And nobody seemed to know what to attribute it to, least of all Sprint Cup Series crew chief Kevin "Bono" Manion – who prepared Newman's winning Modified and got his start at the track in the early 1990s.

"Every race is different. On the Cup side now, these races it seems like it's the closing part of races that's extremely difficult over there in terms of calling the race," Manion said. "I really can't attribute why there were no cautions.

"It was hot out and it was slick, so you thought there would be some cautions. But I'm not sure why there wasn't."


LOUDON, N.H. – Though the prognosticators may have put Ryan Newman in Victory Lane, nobody saw this coming.

Newman survived an 88-lap green flag run to the end on Saturday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, winning the F.W. Webb 100 for his third straight NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory at the track. Newman led three times for a total of 61 laps, including the final 17 circuits.

"I didn't really know what to expect with the race or how it was going to unfold," said Newman, who has won his last four starts, including a win at Bristol Motor Speedway last year. "It seemed like the track wasn't much like it was in practice, and we struggled a little bit with that part of it. We were way loose, but we were the tightest of the loose cars."

There were only two caution flags in the event, and the race restarted for the final time on Lap 14. From there, Newman, Ron Silk and Todd Szegedy checked out.


LOUDON, N.H. – It is easily the most overlooked event of every New Hampshire Motor Speedway race weekend.

It doesn't have the glitz of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the star power of the Nationwide Series or the cache of the Whelen Modified Tour. But the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East served notice yet again on Friday evening here at New Hampshire that the division is as entertaining as any competing during the two NASCAR weekends every year.

Max Gresham's victory in the New England 125 had a little bit of everything.

It had three-wide racing inside the Top-10. It had pit strategy, involving both fuel and tires. It had teams playing the track position gamble. It had rookies in their series debut, and it had powerhouse teams like Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing. It boasted some of the most promising young talent in the sport and veterans of New England's short-track ranks.

In short, it was everything the race fan in us wants to see.


LOUDON, N.H. – On Thursday afternoon after winning the pole for the New England 125, Max Gresham was more focused on the bad things that had plagued him in recent years than he was on the possibility of what lie ahead.

By Friday evening, though, the Griffin, Ga., driver was celebrating.

Recovering from an early pit stop miscue, Gresham led the final 13 laps to win his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Gresham's second win of the season extended his series points lead with just four races remaining.

"To come here and not have finished better than ninth (before) and finally win here on my fourth try is awesome," said Gresham, who led the most laps and also snapped a three-race New Hampshire win streak for Michael Waltrip Racing. "And to end the (MWR No. 00's) win streak here is also another cool thing.

"Hopefully, when we come back here in the fall, the car will be just as good and we can win another race."

It wasn't quite as easy as the numbers made it appear.


LOUDON, N.H. – For the fifth time in 19 races here, Ryan Newman will lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to the green flag.

Newman put down a lap of 28.165 seconds (135.232 mph) around the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway, setting a new track record in winning the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 Coors Light Pole Award. Newman, who also won the pole here for Saturday's Whelen Modified Tour race, bested the previous track record set by Brad Keselowski last September (133.572 mph).

Newman hadn't won a Cup Series pole since the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May of 2010.

"It's been a really long drought for me," Newman said. "(New Hampshire's) been a track that's been really good for me for firsts, and I'm looking for that first first again."

Newman is still searching for his first victory since moving to Stewart Haas Racing in 2009. He earned his first career Cup victory at NHMS as a rookie in 2002.


LOUDON, N.H. – NASCAR honored the all-time Top-10 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Drivers on Friday morning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The announcement comes as part of the 25th year of the series, which began as the NASCAR Busch North Series back in 1987. Andy Santerre, Kelly Moore, Brad Leighton, Jamie Aube, Ricky Craven, Mike Stefanik, Joey Logano, Ryan Truex, Dale Shaw and Dick McCabe were the 10 drivers named.

"There's no doubt I could beat any of these guys," said Leighton, who won back-to-back series titles in 1999 and 2000.

Craven, who went on to a race-winning Sprint Cup Series career after a dominant 10-win championship season in 1992, said that though only four of the drivers on the list are still racing full-time, the competitive juices still flow.

"If you put us on a track together, it would end ugly. I can assure you of that," Craven said.


LOUDON, N.H. – Not that we're looking ahead with three full days of racing still ahead of us here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but the TD Bank Oxford 250 is right around the corner.

As in, a week from Sunday around the corner.

Kyle Busch is entered in two races during the weekend at Oxford Plains Speedway. He's entered in the main event on Sunday, as well as the PASS-sanctioned Super Late Model race on Saturday night. The '250' is on Busch's bucket list.

"There's a few big races around the country I'd like to get to, but it's just scheduling that doesn't allow me to," said Busch, who won the prestigious Slinger Nationals in Wisconsin last Sunday, less than 24 hours after winning the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. "The Oxford 250 is another one.

"I'll be coming back for that here next weekend."


LOUDON, N.H. – This looks all too familiar.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman won his third straight Whelen Modified Tour pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, turning a lap a quarter of a second faster than anyone else Thursday to take the top starting spot for Saturday's F.W. Webb 100.

Newman's lap of 29.586 seconds (128.737 mph) gave him his fourth series pole at the track. He swept the two series races from the pole in 2010.

"It's kind of the same deal. I just went a little bit faster than those guys," Newman said. "It felt good on the straightaways, good in the corners... We have a blast racing with them."

Ron Silk qualified second with a time of 29.837 seconds.


LOUDON, N.H. – Max Gresham is hoping this isn't a repeat performance for his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Gresham, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points leader, won the pole for the New England 125 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Thursday afternoon. His fast lap of 29.960 seconds (127.130 mph) put him right ahead of Revolution Racing teammates Darrell Wallace Jr. and Sergio Pena for Friday afternoon's race.

Gresham was the only driver of the 39 to take time to break both the 30-second and 127 mph plateaus.

"We had a real good run," Gresham said. "To go out kind of middle of the pack really helped us out... I drove it as hard as I could."

Gresham now has three poles on the season. He also won won at Richmond International Raceway in April – qualifying right ahead of Wallace. Wallace went on to win that race.


LOUDON, N.H. – Ryan Newman may have topped the speed charts yet again, but Justin Bonsignore made the most news during Thursday's practice.

Bonsignore posted the second-fastest lap during the 90-minute practice for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, but he wasn't sure he'd be around for Saturday's F.W. Webb 100. An engine issue cut his practice short, despite his blistering lap.

"We were just getting ready to go back out for another run, and I noticed the oil pressure was gone in the oil pressure gauge," said Bonsignore, of Holtsville, N.Y. "Turns out we had a cam bearing slide forward. It's unfortunate. It's a brand new piece, a brand new car."

Bonsignore, the 2010 Tour Rookie of the Year, is just 15th in points after five races. He's been plagued by bad luck, the worst of it coming in the season-opener when his 3rd-place effort was nullified by an illegality in post-race tech.

He surmised that Thursday's practice troubles were just part and parcel of his season to date.


LOUDON, N.H. – Matt DiBenedetto has taken to New Hampshire Motor Speedway quite nicely.

DiBenedetto, of Grass Valley, Calif., posted the fastest time in today's 90-minute NASCAR K&N Pro Series East practice at the Magic Mile. His fast lap of 30.182 seconds (126.194 mph) was better than those posted by series points leader Max Gresham and rookie Daniel Suarez.

"I don't know if it was dead-on perfect, but it was pretty close," DiBendetto said. "We made a qualifying run and it felt pretty neutral.

"We started off just decent. I wouldn't call (the car) real great. We were fighting a little tight in the center and pretty loose off – so it was just one of those things that's a little tough to fix sometimes."


LOUDON, N.H. – The four-day marathon that is Lenox 301 race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is rolling along.

NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and Whelen Modified Tour practice and qualifying is on the docket for today. It's a full slate, too – with 40 cars entered in the K&N Pro Series New England 125 on Friday and 33 Modifieds entered in the F.W. Webb 100 on Saturday.

Practice for the K&N Pro Series cars begins at 11:30 a.m. and runs until 1 p.m., while a full 90-minute session for the Whelen Modified Tour starts at 1:15 p.m.

The K&N teams qualify at 3:15 p.m.; the Mod Squad hits the track for time trials at 4:45 p.m.


Heads turned. Necks gaped. Jaws dropped. People flocked.

A race-rabid audience thought there were still a few hours remaining before they'd see cars on the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last September. Sunday morning on a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race day is usually a lot of hype and a lot of anticipation, paying off when engines are fired and NASCAR's biggest stars finally hit the track for more than 300 miles of action.

But there they were last year, waiting for the start of driver introductions when something down at the end of the long frontstretch caught their attention – race cars rolling off a starting grid in Turn 1.

The Amsoil NELCAR Legends Tour finally arrived.

"Everyone wanted to be there for that," said 33-year-old Connecticut Legends driver Shaun Buffington. "When we got up there and they brought us in, it was pretty wild. There were people there that got to see us race that wouldn't have seen us anywhere else.

"There was a lot of added pressure. "Everything at New Hampshire is different for us – until you put your helmet on and strap into the race car. Then you're a race car driver and you just do what you've got to do."


LOUDON, N.H. -- Twenty-five years. The 10 best drivers.

NASCAR named the Top-10 Drivers of the First 25 Years of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East on Wednesday. From its beginnings as a northeast-based stock car touring series in 1987, the K&N Pro Series East has featured a number of outstanding competitors through the years as it has evolved into NASCAR's top development series.

Heading the distinguished list of participants through the first 25 seasons of the K&N Pro Series East is Andy Santerre, whose four championships are more than any competitor in series history. Santerre finished in the top five in the standings in four of his first five full-time seasons, then polished off his career behind the wheel with a remarkable four consecutive titles.

Kelly Moore, the K&N Pro Series East's all-time wins leader, was second and two-time champion Brad Leighton ranked third. Three-time champion Jamie Aube and Ricky Craven, who recorded one of the most dominant seasons in NASCAR touring series history, rounded out the top five.


The first impressions are always the most important.

Longtime fixtures in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East have likened racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to competing on worldwide stages in the Daytona 500 or the Super Bowl, or to more regionalized landmarks like Fenway Park. And this summer, even as the series itself turns 25 years old, that buzz hasn't worn off.

"We went through the tunnel, and I'm telling you the place was just unbelievable," said Andy Santerre, the four-time K&N Pro Series East champion who now works with Revolution Racing. "I'd never even seen it on TV before I went there. I thought to myself, 'This is like the Daytona 500.'"

Jamie Aube, who won three championships in the early years of the series, was one of the first drivers to tour the Magic Mile after it was completed. Participating in a media event, he drove a pace car around the old Bryar Motorsports Park road course and looked out over the newly-minted oval before its first event in 1990.

To this day more than two decades later, the Bow, N.H., native remembers how he felt.

"I looked out at that oval, and thought, 'I absolutely cannot wait to get out there on that,'" Aube recalled.


Each Monday we take a look at the top performances from the previous week.

Summer sure heated up this weekend, with races all over New England. Some break-out performances meshed nicely with some seasoned Victory Lane veterans. Without further ado:

1. Brian Hoar, Williston, Vt.

The winningest driver in ACT Late Model Tour history was at it again on Saturday night, winning the ACT Jim's Captown 100 at Twin State Speedway for his 31st career victory. It came at one of the few tracks where Hoar had never won during his decorated career, too.


CLAREMONT, N.H. – Brian Hoar checked another track off his ACT Late Model Tour bucket list.

Hoar took the lead in the late stages of the Jim's Captown 100 and went on to the victory for the 31st victory of his ACT career – and his first at the tricky Twin State Speedway.

"It feels great," said Hoar, of Williston, Vt.. "Anytime you can add another track to the win column, it's pretty awesome. The guys did an awesome job. We unloaded (for practice) and had a ton of confidence."

Brent Dragon finished a season-best second, while Randy Potter was third for his second-straight podium finish.

Hoar, the ACT points leader in search of a record eighth series title this season, now has three wins in six races in 2011. He also won the non-points ACT Goodyear Speedweeks Cup 100 back in February.


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

I REALLY THOUGHT, like a lot of people did, that this was going to be Brett Moffitt's year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

One car owner went so far as to say the same thing to me after the season opener at Greenville Pickens Speedway, noting that everybody was just racing for second place so long as the No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota didn't beat itself. Even then, it was still going to be hard to lose that championship.

Bright young talent in Moffitt. Two-time championship team with Ryan Truex. Multi-time championship crew chief in Mike Greci.

But that, as they say, is why you race the races.


This is Sparta!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Not so much the one in all the ancient epics, like 300 or Troy, to name a few overly majestic and under-acted films that probably missed the point.

In this case, Sparta, Kentucky, which will host its first ever Sprint Cup Series race this coming weekend.


Some of you out there could probably give me a lesson on all the places to go and do's and do not's for NASCAR weekends here in Loudon.  If you're one of those people, please feel free to leave a comment below with your gold nugget of advice.

However, others of you might be green to the NASCAR experience.  This might be your first time heading to the race or your first time at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  Or, perhaps, you're just looking for ways to better experience the weekend.

Here's a quick checklist and guide for "dummies" as you prepare for the trip to N.H.


Each week we take a look at the weekend that was from around the region.

The holiday was here and the proverbial "fireworks" were all over race tracks in the northeast. Tour races, weekly races, extra-distance shows – we had all of it.

Without further ado, here we go...

1. Keith Rocco, Wallingford, Conn.

Rocco made history this weekend, winning SK Modified features at three different Connecticut short tracks on three consecutive nights. Rocco, who recently separated his shoulder in a crash at Stafford Motor Speedway, was at his best as the summer started to heat up.


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

I THINK EVERYBODY just kind of assumed something was going to happen that never actually happened at Thunder Road International Speedbowl last weekend.

Here's what we know: With fewer than 20 laps to go in the Carquest VT Governor's Cup 100 at the track last weekend, and Nick Sweet leading John Donahue by roughly a half-straightaway, three cars spun to the infield. The Thunder Road flagman reached for the yellow flag but never displayed it, no matter how awkwardly he held it.

Sweet's spotter told him the caution was coming out – Sweet slowed, Donahue passed him, the race stayed green and Donahue drove off to the victory over everybody's Hometown Hero.

It was called by some a "controversial" finish. It was called by others "confusing." Chaotic, wild and strange were also words that were used by people I talked to this week.