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Laboring Into Atlanta

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

As one of our sister tracks (or is it brother?  I'm never quite sure how that works), there are probably plenty of good things to say about Atlanta Motor Speedway.

There are storylines about how they sadly got one of their race weekend's taken away, but a Labor Day night race might be one of the most appealing of any to host.

And, that brings us to this week's topic: Labor Day.

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Smoke's Got That Fire

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

They say where there's smoke, there's fire.

After racing against Tony "Smoke" Stewart in go-karts last week at F1 Boston, I can confirm that Stewart still has the racing fire in the belly.

Admittedly, it was hard to determine if it was "Smoke" I was seeing or just the cloud of dust he left behind.  Either way, save a few hearty souls, not many of the attendees had what it took to keep up with the former Sprint Cup Champion.

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

It was championship weekend around northern New England, and this week's Podium reflects that as tracks and tours begin the late summer stretch of crowning champions. Some great testaments to short-track racing and perseverance this week, too.

So, without further ado...

1. Jeff White, Winthrop, Maine

After years of competing part-time at Oxford Plains Speedway with the hopes of one good run a summer – preferably in the TD Bank Oxford 250 – White won one for the "Everyman" in all of us by securing his first career Oxford Plains Late Model track championship on Saturday night. White finished sixth in the 40-lap Oxford Championship Series feature event to take the title over Donnie Wentworth.

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It's Friday again. Time to dust off the ol' Mini Stock for a test run with a spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

I REALIZE FULL well that I might be alone in this sentiment, but that's hardly stopped me in the past.

A race track does not make a race.

The third trip by the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to Bristol Motor Speedway this week proved that adage once again. The first half of the UNOH 150 was a collage of wrecked race cars and misfortune, often involving some of the most accomplished teams and drivers on the circuit.

The second half of the race was – once again – the Ryan Newman show, with Newman's No. 77 (note: NOT the No. 7, wink-wink) pulling away from the rest of the field when it was time to go earn the money.

The race, from start to finish, looked just like a race in any other division at any other track in the United States. That is to say, there was some good racing, some back luck and some untimely carnage.

That, friends, is stock car racing.

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Bracing for Bristol

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Other than NHMS, where would you most like to watch a race?

Daytona?  Talladega?

When I posed the same question on the website's poll in April, Bristol was the runaway winner with 41% of the votes.

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Five-Time Favorite

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

As we get into the later parts of the summer and the kids start heading back to school, there are a few inevitabilities to accept as we approach the New England fall:

-The weather will get colder.

-The leaves will change colors.

-Jimmie Johnson will be the favorite to win the Sprint Cup when the SYLVANIA 300 races at NHMS.

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Purely Michigan

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I've started to cut down some of the intros to the Fantasy NASCAR Preview.  In large part because it takes a while to dig through the stats and it's usually a busy day. But, I'm hesitant to eliminate it all together.

I figure that you as a reader want some sort of basis and background on the race, not just the bare bones of the fantasy options.

This week's discussion is obvious.  It's purely about Michigan!

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The result of Sunday's MoveThatBlock.com INDY 225 was literally a no-win situation for the IZOD IndyCar Series.

In the waning moments of the race, a caution flew for moisture on the track and, as the Indy cars counted down the laps behind the pace car, INDYCAR faced a tough decision: let down the fans with a caution under finish (no green-white-checkered in this series, or throw the green flag and hope the tires held their ground on the slick track.

The ultimate decision and ensuing mayhem has stirred up plenty of controversy.

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Each Monday we take a look back at the top performances from the week that was from around the region.

What a busy week it was, too, with four divisions at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, special Modified events on a couple of nights in Connecticut and short-track racing across the northeast heading into championship mode.

Without futher ado, we present The Podium:

1. Brian Hoar, Williston, Vt.

A former track record holder in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Hoar collected his first career victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with a win in the ACT All-Star Challenge on Saturday. The victory was the record 32nd of Hoar's ACT career as he continued to keep a stranglehold on the top spot in the Tour standings this season.

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LOUDON, N.H. -- With the last 10 scheduled laps of the MoveThatBlock.com INDY 225 lost to wet weather Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it only seemed fair that you – the devoted Granite Stripe readers – get back a little of what you lost.

That being said, here are 10 impressions from the IZOD IndyCar Series much-anticipated return to New England.

Just for you, they're numbered in order:

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LOUDON, N.H. – The driver who once came to New Hampshire Motor Speedway to watch an open-wheel race as a young boy earned his first career IZOD IndyCar Series victory on an oval at the track.

Ryan Hunter-Reay emerged from a wild finish on an eventful day in the series' return to New England to win the MoveThatBlock.com INDY 225 on Sunday afternoon, getting away from a multi-car wreck on the frontstretch behind him.

"We had such a great car today. I love these short ovals," said Hunter-Reay, who earlier in the week talked about having visited the track as a child and instantly developing an affinity for both the facility and the series. "They are so much fun. It was a strange day, but sometimes racing is strange."

Hunter-Reay's storybook win – the fifth of his career in CART/IndyCar played second fiddle to the biggest storyline of the day.

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LOUDON, N.H. – Brian Hoar finally has the one thing he wanted. A win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Hoar blistered his way through the field in the second segment on Saturday evening, charging from 35th to first and taking the victory in the inaugural ACT All-Star Challenge. Hoar finished second in the morning's 25-lap segment and won the second 50-lap segment for a low total score of three points in claiming his record 32nd career ACT Late Model Tour win.

"Finally, I got one at New Hampshire," said Hoar, of Williston, Vt. "This is unbelievable. I've been after this thing for 10 years or so, first with (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) cars and now with these ACT cars. This is just awesome."

Hoar benefitted most when Eddie MacDonald, who won the first segment, stopped on the apron of Turn 1 while leading under caution with 14 laps remaining in the second segment. MacDonald's ignition system gave out – putting him in the garage for the remainder of the afternoon.

"We were fast, too," MacDonald said. "It just went. I went to warm up the tires and the car shut off, and my first thought was, 'There's no way we're out of fuel.'"

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LOUDON, N.H. – For Mike Stefanik, it was worth the wait.

Stefanik held off the furious challenges of Todd Szegedy and Woody Pitkat over two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to win the Granite State Classic at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon. The Coventry, R.I., driver added his 71st-career Tour victory to the resume – the Tour's all-time mark – and posted his seventh career New Hampshire win.

"The whole team, they've all been waiting for this," Stefanik said. "This is our big Daytona of the Modified (Tour). Who says you're old at 53 years old on the Whelen Modified Tour? I felt 18 out there again."

Pitkat finished second, with Szegedy in third. Justin Bonsignore and Eric Beers rounded out the Top-5.

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LOUDON, N.H. – Dario Franchitti picked up Saturday where he left off on Thursday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Franchitti was the only driver in IZOD IndyCar Series qualifying to top 170 mph around the flat 1.058-mile oval, clocking a two-lap average of 170.843 mph to win the pole for Sunday's MoveThatBlock.com Indy 225. The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver was also the first to cross the 170-mph barrier during open testing at New Hampshire on Thursday.

"That was as good a job as I could have done there," said Franchitti, who held his car wide open around the circuit. "It takes a certain amount of faith going into Turn 1 there like that."

Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter Oriol Servia qualified on the outside pole. Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the Top-5 qualifiers in the 26-car field.

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LOUDON, N.H. – Eddie MacDonald had little trouble showing the ACT Late Model Tour field how you get the job done at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

A four-time winner at the track, MacDonald dominated the first 25-lap segment of the ACT All-Star Challenge Saturday morning en route to winning. He'll now start 36th in this afternoon's 50-lap segment.

"This is only half the job today," MacDonald said. "The crew did an awesome job."

Seven-time ACT champion Brian Hoar finished second, while Tom Carey, Joey Laquerre and Austin Theriault rounded out the Top-5.

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LOUDON, N.H. – And now the weekend kicks into high gear at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Thankfully, the team made some adjustments overnight, and we had no issues whatsoever with the pit stop this morning. Despite having nearly missed the commit cone yesterday morning, we had a smooth in and out on the pit lane this time around.

Got the iced coffee, and now we're ready for this fuel run.

Thank goodness, too. It's a busy day here.

The IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indy Lights Series both have practice and qualifying sessions. There are two segments of the ACT All-Star Challenge for the ACT Late Model Tour and the 95-lap Granite State Classic for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

Seems to me that if you can't find some type of race car to get excited about at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today, you're probably not a race fan.

– TB

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For all of the things Bobby Santos had accomplished in his brief NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career, a pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was missing.

Not anymore.

Santos covered the Magic Mile in 29.858 seconds (127.564 mph) on Friday afternoon to earn the pole for Saturday's Granite State Classic. It was the sixth Whelen Modified Tour pole of his career.

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If qualifying was any indication, some of the ACT Late Model Tour's best are dispelling the myth that you can't pass on this race track.

Four-time New Hampshire Motor Speedway race winner Eddie MacDonald was the most impressive of all qualifiers on Friday afternoon, going from 14th to first to win the second of three 20-lap heat races for the ACT All-Star Challenge.

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LOUDON, N.H. – Another B-E-A-utiful sunny day greets us here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. About the only wrench thrown into the plans this morning was a late-call for a pit stop for iced coffee on Route 106.

Almost missed the commitment cone on that one, but we got in and got out with the lead. Good work driver.

A busy day of practice and qualifying here at the track today.

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LOUDON, N.H. – It only took a matter of minutes before eyebrows were raised during IZOD IndyCar Series testing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Thursday.

Right out of the box, the cars were running in excess of 160 mph. By the time the day was over, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti was one of three drivers to break the 170 mph barrier, topping the speed charts with a fast lap of 21.566 seconds (171.099 mph) around the flat, 1.058-mile oval.

Franchitti said New Hampshire is the kind of track where you definitely sense how fast you're actually going.

"You sense it, no doubt," said Franchitti, the IndyCar Series points leader and winner of three of the last four series championships. "I was almost flat (footed) through (Turns) 3 and 4, and it got my attention."

Scott Dixon, Franchitti's Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, was second-fastest after the six and a half hours of testing at 170.672 mph. Graham Rahal cracked 170 mph at 170.326 mph.

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LOUDON, N.H. – Having the IZOD IndyCar Series back in New England means having one of auto racing's iconic stars on the New Hampshire Motor Speedway grounds.

Danica Patrick took a few minutes to meet with the assembled media in the infield at New Hampshire early this afternoon. She touched on everything from IndyCar's return to the region for the first time in more than a decade, to her future in NASCAR, to the impact of women racing in the open-wheel circuit.

Here are some of the highlights:

On testing at New Hampshire today: "I'm surprised how fast it is. We're up in the second lane, where there's a little more banking. There will be that lane (open) down low, but the challenge will be to make it stick."

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It's Thursday again. Time to dust off the ol' Mini Stock for a test drive around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

THE SEASON MIGHT only be at the official midway point, but the drivers leading the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour standings gave notice last weekend at Stafford Motor Speedway that the championship chase will be a spirited one.

Once Ted Christopher checked out on the field following a late restart, there was little drama unfolding at the front of the Town Fair Tire 150. A little further back, however, was a different story – with Ron Silk and Rowan Pennink racing for every square inch of real estate on the track.

Pennink held on for sixth, with Silk in seventh – and one point ahead of Pennink now for the series lead.

"Oh yeah, he was hammering on me really good. He almost got me spun a couple of times," Pennink said. "Luckily, I saved it and got sixth."

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LOUDON, N.H. – It may have been raining steadily when I left the cozy confines of the Maine Cave this morning, but it's a gorgeous sunny day here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The IZOD IndyCar Series is here at the track for the first time since 1998 – and already I've been impressed.

When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series last visited the track back in July, Ryan Newman set a new "track record" with a lap of 28.1-seconds. Unofficially, I've already clocked several of the IndyCar cars in the low 23-second bracket.

That, folks, is fast. In fact, it's an average lap speed well in excess of 160 mph.

According to one track official, the top recorded speed from this morning's testing was in the 164 mph bracket.

With testing ongoing until 4 p.m., it will be interesting to see how speeds pick up as teams get a better handle on the flat mile oval.

– TB

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Each Monday we take a look back at the top performers from around the region in the week that was.

Kind of light this weekend on touring series racing, but some of the names familiar to fans in this region found reason to spread their wings a bit. Of course, so much of it was about getting ready for this coming week, with major weekend No. 2 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on the docket.

Without further ado, here's this week's podium finish:

1. Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn.

He's got a grandstand named after him and 113 career victories at Stafford Motor Speedway, so it was no surprise to see Christopher in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Victory Lane last Friday night at the track.

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STAFFORD, Conn. – Ted Christopher took all the drama out of a late dash to the checkered flag at Stafford Motor Speedway.

Christopher chased down Mike Stefanik following a restart with fewer than 25 laps remaining, running off to win the Town Fair Tire 150 for his 11th career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory at the track where he has won more races than anybody else.

Experience seemed to pay off, especially as Christopher's car came to life late.

"At the end there, you've just got to go with this thing," said Christopher, who moved to third in the overall series standings and now has 41 career Tour wins. "It's weird, because it started getting tight again, so I had to run a little different line to hold Michael off.

"But it was a lot of fun."

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STAFFORD, Conn. – Despite sliding off of the final turn, reigning NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion made another trip to Victory Lane at Stafford Motor Speedway.

Rocco collected his seventh SK Modified victory of the season, emerging from a late-race restart Friday night with what would appear to be an easy ride to the win.

"We had all the best behind us," said Rocco, who owns sole possession of third-place on Stafford's all-time Modified win list with 30 career victories. "That's the best way to win races here. (There's) so much competition here, it's the greatest place to race."

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

HAD A REALLY interesting conversation with a colleague of mine this week about the challenges facing young race teams as seasons swing into the second half.

Every year, on virtually every touring series in the country, there are first-year race teams that make some headlines during the first few months of the season. They have their stuff together right out of the box, they stick to their game plan and they manage to post some impressive finishes and garner a little attention for themselves.

But what separates the proverbial men from the boys is that August-September stretch littered with extra-distance events, bigger purses and larger car counts.

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Insurance in Name Only

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

As I pointed out yesterday, the NASCAR's new wild-card set up promises to offer one of the most exciting midseasons in NASCAR history.

This weekend's race at Pocono Raceway is titled the Good Sam RV Insurance 500.  Ironic, when you consider the amount of questions out there surrounding the last several spots in the Chase.

This year, there is very little insurance for most of the drivers!

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Each week, we take a look back at the top performers from the week that was.

While yours truly may have been on vacation, racers in the northeast didn't afford themselves the same luxury. With that being said, touring racing kicked back into gear after most of July was dedicated to bigger events and open shows.

Without further ado, off we go:

1. JEFF TAYLOR, Farmington, Maine

The noted car builder at Distance Racing in Fairfield won his first career ACT Late Model Tour race Saturday at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway. Talor held off repeated strong challenges from Wayne Helliwell Jr. to collect the win in the Casco Bay Ford 150.

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With just six races left before the Sprint Cup Chase begins, the list of contenders seem to be shuffling weekly.

The addition of two wild-cards has added a new element and allowed for many more drivers to have a shot at chasing the championship.  While most experts predicted added drama, we're only now beginning to see how crazy the final weeks of the Race to the Chase are going to get.

And to that, I say: boys, have at it!

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