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Monster Mashing

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This weekend marks the start of October on the calendar and for all you loonies out there that decorate more for Halloween than for the Holidays, the month of Halloween has started.

For the rest of us, we'll just be subjected to feverishly flipping through radio stations trying to find one that isn't playing yet another rendition of "Monster Mash."

At least we can agree on one thing, however, this weekend's at "The Monster Mile" will feature a lot of championships getting mashed.

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Number One Fans

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

As my inaugural season as an employee in auto racing comes to a close, it's time to look back and reflect.  When I first arrived at NHMS, I had a strong understanding of the basics of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  I knew the drivers, I knew how the points worked and I knew that restrictor plates regulated car speeds.

However, in my year of experience, I've learned a lot more about the sport.  The most significant thing I've learned: NASCAR fans are the best in sports.

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

A jam-packed weekend of racing in New England – with most of it dodging the raindrops and taking place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway during Sylvania 300 weekend. Not surprisingly, with only a few weeks left in most seasons regionally, the points battles heated up this weekend.

Without further ado, here's the best from the weekend:

1. Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, Mass.

MacDonald became the first repeat winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the ACT Late Model Tour ranks, holding off Nick Sweet to win the 3rd annual ACT Invitational on Saturday. MacDonald, who also won the event in 2009, now has five career wins at New Hampshire – including three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victories.

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LOUDON, N.H. – Twelve drivers entered New Hampshire Motor Speedway's infield tunnel this weekend with hopes of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Some – most notably Tony Stewart – took a big step in that direction on Sunday afternoon in the Sylvania 300. Others, like Denny Hamlin, may have had the first nail or two pegged into the proverbial coffin.

Here's the way the 12 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers emerged from The Magic Mile and what we think the Sylvania 300 told us about each:

1. TONY STEWART, Winner of the Sylvania 300

While Stewart's second straight win to open the Chase was notable, what the driver of the No. 14 Mobile 1 Chevrolet said in Victory Lane – on national television, no less – may have created more waves.

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LOUDON, N.H. – Tony Stewart is back.

Stewart has opened the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a vicious one-two punch, winning the fuel mileage game and the Sylvania 300 Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for his second straight Chase win in as many races.

In a reverse of last season's Chase opener at New Hampshire, Stewart inherited the lead from Clint Bowyer when Bowyer ran out of fuel while leading with less than three laps remaining. Stewart keyed his radio and told his team, "Take a deep breath, I've got this," as he rolled off into the final corner of the race.

"(Crew chief Darian Grubb) told me we were two to three laps to the good (on fuel), so I got to run hard all the way to the end," Stewart said. "That was the biggest thing.

"It was definitely an awesome ending to the day. It was tough getting there for the first two-thirds of the race. We kind of hung around 10th through 12th there – not by choice or design. It was just all we could get... but the closer we got to the front, the better our car drove."

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LOUDON, N.H. – Two years ago, Tom Curley was filled with an equal mix of anxiousness and hopefulness, eagerness and dread.

One can't be certain, but it's a good bet that the Hall of Fame promoter probably woke up to cold sweats in the summer of 2009, wondering if the teams on his short-track based ACT Late Model Tour could handle the challenge of racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the Tour's first-ever race at the facility neared.

On Saturday afternoon, following far and away the most entertaining and competitive ACT race ever held on the one-mile speedway, these short-trackers proved that they are a very quick study.

The 3rd annual ACT Invitational featured a half-dozen lead changes among four drivers, most notably the final four-lap side-by-side battle for the lead between Eddie MacDonald and Nick Sweet – one that MacDonald won off the final corner of the final lap in a drag race to the checkered flag.

Behind them, throughout the 50-lap feature event, drivers swapped positions, traded paint and routinely fanned out three- and four-wide across the sprawling surface of New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Even Curley himself admitted following MacDonald's second win in the event that in his wildest dreams – in those quiet moments of reflection leading into ACT's first trip to New Hampshire in 2009 – he'd never imagined his teams could put on the kind of race they did Saturday.

In fact, he didn't even think they were yet capable of such a race as recently as Saturday morning.

"No," was Curley's quick reply. "This was like magic."

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LOUDON, N.H. – Eddie MacDonald got a second chance and wasn't about to let it slip away.

MacDonald emerged from a five-lap, side-by-side battle to the finish with Nick Sweet – erasing the memory of a lost opportunity here in August – to win the 3rd annual ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday. MacDonald's victory was his fifth career victory at the track, including three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East wins.

MacDonald won the first-ever ACT Late Model Tour event held at New Hampshire back in 2009.

Shawn Martin finished third in his best career New Hampshire finish, while Quinny Welch and Brian Hoar – who won at the track in August – rounded out the Top-5.

"I can't praise Nick Sweet enough," MacDonald said. "He ran me hard. I had to run as hard as I could just to try to keep up with him – and I just got lucky at the end. I got a real good run off the corner on that last turn.

"I'm just so excited to get... into Victory Lane."

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LOUDON, N.H. – A two-car battle at New Hampshire Motor Speedway turned into a one-car runaway.

Ron Silk pulled away from the field on a green-white-checkered restart, leaving Rowan Pennink and the rest of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour field behind as he want on to win the New Hampshire 100 on Saturday afternoon. The win was Silk's second career Tour win at New Hampshire and unofficially handed him the series points lead with two races remaining.

Silk and Rowan Pennink had set up a two-car battle for the win. But that dogfight disappeared when Ryan Preece spun off Turn 2 to bring out a late caution flag and set up a two-lap run to the finish.

Silk lined up outside of Pennink, but Pennink never got up to speed on the restart.

"(Pennink) was really good all day. I think he and I probably had the best two cars,," Silk said. "I'm not sure what happened on the restart. Luckily, we were able to edge him out."

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LOUDON, N.H. – Further proof, as if we needed it, that weathermen are wrong more often than not.

What was supposed to be a washout weekend here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is smack dab in the middle of a busy Saturday schedule – with no sign of a break anytime today. Right now, final Sprint Cup Series practice is circling the track.

In just over an hour, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will head out for its New Hampshire 100. It should be interesting, too, with Ted Christopher and Bobby Santos among the fastest three cars in this morning's final practice.

Both Christopher and Santos will start at the rear of the field, both having missed practice and qualifying here on Thursday. Santos is the defending Tour champion, while Christopher has five career Whelen Modified Tour wins at New Hampshire.

After that event, the Camping World Truck Series 175 rolls off.

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LOUDON, N.H. – There was no raining on Brett Moffitt's parade at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In fact, the rain literally couldn't have come at a better time.

Moffitt led all but the first 15 laps of the New Hampshire 125 on Friday, dominating en route to his first career win at The Magic Mile and slicing a huge chunk out of his deficit in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standings. Called after only 78 laps by rain, a lengthy cleanup on the backstretch and impending darkness, Moffitt celebrated the win in a muted Victory Lane ceremony in an empty garage stall in the speedway's infield.

But on the inside, down only 21 points to Max Gresham heading into the series finale at Dover International Speedway next weekend, Moffitt was jumping for joy.

"I've finished second so many times here, it was just great to be able to win one and get that off my back," said Moffitt, who won at Dover last season. "I thought for a while, it just wasn't meant to be for me with this place.

"It was great. The car was great, and a win really pushes us into Dover. We're really confident with our car we're taking to Dover. We're really full steam ahead and hoping for the best."

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LOUDON, N.H. – This qualifying session certainly wasn't lacking in the drama department.

Ryan Newman overcame a pair of rain delays and controversy along pit road to win the pole Friday for this weekend's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Newman, who set the track record back in July, picked up his sixth career New Hampshire pole and was the last car to go out in the qualifying session for the second race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

"I'm just really proud of the guys," Newman said. "This is the same car we had here in July... I don't think I've seen that much drama in qualifying in my 10 or 11 years here."

Red Bull Racing, which has already announced plans to close down at the end of the season, took the second and third spots. Kasey Kahne went out right before Newman and grabbed the second spot, while Brian Vickers was third. Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch will start fourth and fifth, respectively.

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 LOUDON, N.H. – Though we're smack in the middle of the "new" era of NASCAR, with round two of the Chase for the Sprint Cup taking place here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, there's a bit of history being celebrated.

Tommy Baldwin Racing has a pair of tribute cars at the track this weekend – a Richie Evans tribute car driven by Dave Blaney and an "Ol' Blue" ride for former Whelen Modified Tour regular Steve Park.

Baldwin, whose father Tom Baldwin Sr. was killed in a crash during a Modified Tour event at Thompson International Speedway in 2004. But Tommy Baldwin Jr., Sprint Cup Series crew chief and owner, has remained a big supporter of the division over the years.

"It's good that it brings awareness to the Modifieds," Baldwin said of the tributes at NHMS this weekend. "They certainly need that shot in the arm."

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LOUDON, N.H. – Don't count Ron Silk out of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship picture just yet.

Silk capped off a strong, if weather-abbreviated afternoon, by winning the pole for Saturday's New Hampshire 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Thursday. Silk, whose lead atop the series standings was surrendered to Todd Szegedy last week at Lime Rock Park, won this race in 2009.

"We're just going to keep doing what we're doing," Silk said.

Szegedy qualified eighth. He leads Silk by 12 points with three races remaining.

Eric Beers qualified second, with Justin Bonsignore qualifying third. Ryan Newman – who was stripped of his victory here in July after an apparent third straight Modified win at the track – qualified fourth.

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LOUDON, N.H. – Early Thursday afternoon, Darrell Wallace Jr. joked that New Hampshire Motor Speedway wasn't at the top of his list of favorite race tracks. The reasoning, Wallace said, was that he'd never won at The Magic Mile.

After Wallace's pole-winning lap at New Hampshire later in the day handed him a new NASCAR K&N Pro Series East track record, Wallace had changed his tune.

"I love it now," Wallace said with a big smile.

Three-time New Hampshire winner Eddie MacDonald qualified second for the New Hampshire 125, which gets the green flag at 5 p.m. Friday.

Wallace's time of 29.849 seconds (127.602 mph) around the 1.058-mile oval eclipsed the previous track record of 29.863 seconds held by Brett Moffitt, who who qualified third.

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LOUDON, N.H. – No real surprises in qualifying Thursday, unless you count the appearance of some blue sky and sunshine.

Darrell Wallace Jr. paced the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East field in New Hampshire 125 practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, while Eric Beers continued his strong showing on the big track in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ranks.

Wallace posted a fast lap of 30.037 seconds (126.804 mph) around the 1.058-mile oval, less than two-tenths of a second slower than the track record Brett Moffitt set here in this race last season. Wallace sits third in the series standings with two races remaining.

While attending a Boston Red Sox game on Wednesday night, Wallace was informed that the No. 6 U.S. Army Toyota he brought to New Hampshire this weekend is the same one his Revolution Racing team plans on taking to the season-finale in Dover, Del., next week.

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

WE'RE BACK IN the saddle again here in the infield at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, just about 100 yards from the namesake of this blog – the Granite Stripe start/finish line.

This, to me, remains the biggest weekend of the season at The Magic Mile. It's got everything, and it comes a perfect time of year, too. The NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup makes its annual stop in New England, the Camping World Truck Series always provides one of the best on-track events of the year here, two of the northeast's racing bedrocks are on the card – the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and Whelen Modified Tour – and the ACT Late Model Tour showcase Invitational returns.

Five great racing events. Perfect early autumn temperatures. The intensity of late-season points battles.

Now, if we could just get Mother Nature to cooperate.

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Shining the SYLVANIA Light

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No, sorry fans, this isn't an announcement that NHMS will be investing in lights for a race.

I hear the requests of fans.  I understand the appeal to a night race.  And, I realize that with a company that specializes in light bulbs, like SYLVANIA, sponsoring our race that the marketing is already there.

But, it's not that easy.

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By the time the green flag drops on a race this weekend at NHMS, the weatherman will claim that autumn has started (officially on Sept. 23).

Yet, in New England, we've come to assume the weatherman isn't always right and we won't be listening to him this weekend.  NASCAR's in town and our summer isn't over yet!

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Each Monday we take a look back at the week that was in racing.

This weekend, there were lots of lefthand turns being made – and even some right-handed ones, too. Though most weekly programs have wrapped up around the northeast, the touring series in the region are running through a slew of special events. Without further ado, here are the top performances from the week that was:

1. Todd Szegedy, Ridgefield, Conn.

Szegedy played a patient, lurking strategy to perfection in winning the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour 66/99 at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut on Saturday. Szegedy picked up his third win of the season and moved into the series points lead in the process.

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Chicagoland Entertainment

Friday, September 16, 2011

Is it just me or does Chicagoland sound like some sort of absurdly oversized amusement park in the midwest?  It strikes me as the kind of place that would have about two dozen roller coasters and a water park about the size of Rhode Island.

In truth, it doesn't have that, but it will be a giant amusement park through eyes of any NASCAR fans this Sunday.  And, it will certainly have plenty of metaphorical roller coasters with the Chase kicking off this weekend in the GECIO 400.

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Powering Up for the Chase

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I've been writing this blog every week.  I've come up with various stories about NASCAR, INDYCAR, motorcycle racing, an old piece of junk car I owned in high school and whatever other idea seemed relevant.

This week's blog is one of the easiest and, considering we're busy ramping up for the race week here at NHMS, that's a needed relief.

It's the power rankings and the Granite Stripe's predictions for NASCAR's coveted 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup trophy.

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Each Monday we take a look back at the top performances from the week that was in the racing world.

Drivers turned in some huge efforts this weekend, both on the local and regional scene, setting the stage for what promises to be a fantastic final few weeks of racing in the northeast. Without further ado...

1. Doug Coby, Milford, Conn.

Coby, who had won just one NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event in the last five years, had his most lucrative day behind the wheel at Thompson International Speedway on Sunday.

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THOMPSON, Conn. – After being asked if he'd ever won so much money in a single race, Doug Coby looked right back at his interrogator with steely eyes and a clear message.

"Have you?"

Doug Coby led all but five laps of the inaugural UNOH Showdown at Thompson International Speedway on Sunday, collecting more than $20,000 in purse and bonus money for winning the 50-lap, no-holds-barred shootout between the best of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Coby, who won the Whelen Modified Tour's Northern Thompson 125 earlier in the day, started on the pole and was dominant over a series of late-race restarts en route to the checkered flag.

"That's awesome. Our team deserves it," Coby said. "I want to say I deserve it – I don't want to sound cocky – but I've been through a lot with this Tour. A lot of people believed in me to get the job done, and it feels good to pay them back with good runs."

The victories at Thompson were the first two of any kind, in any division, for Coby at the track.

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THOMPSON, Conn. – Two races, two first-time winners at Thompson International Speedway.

A pair of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour 125-lap points events set the stage for the UNOH Showdown later this afternoon, with Doug Coby running away with the Northern Thompson 125 not long after George Brunnhoelzl III won a controversial Southern Thompson 125 on Sunday afternoon.

Coby, who had never won a feature event in any division at Thompson, led all but the first nine laps to capture the Northern Thompson 125.

"It's always been a dream of mine to make that right-hand turn into Victory Lane here," said Coby, a two-time Whelen Modified Tour race winner. "This thing is stout at this race track.... What an awesome car for this race track."

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THOMPSON, Conn. – Despite the pure melting pot of teams from all over the Eastern seaboard at the UNOH Showdown, a couple of familiar faces took pole awards at Thompson International Speedway on Saturday.

Ryan Preece set the fast time for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour's Northern Thompson 125, while New Englander Andy Seuss followed by wining the pole for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Southern Thompson 125.

Preece's fast lap of 18.769 seconds (119.879 mph) was only one-tenth of a second faster than Seuss' own pole-winning speed.

"I came around the first lap and looked at the scoreboard," said Preece, who has competed in roughly half the Tour's events this season in a family-owned car after leaving a full-time ride in 2010. "I didn't know if it said 40 – it could have been anybody – but I came back around and somebody said, 'You're on the board.'

"I came back around and saw it, and I thought, 'Boy, I hope it stays that way.'"

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THOMPSON, Conn. – There are nearly 50 NASCAR Modifieds on the grounds at Thompson International Speedway, all of them here for tomorrow's inaugural UNOH Showdown.

As you probably already know, the day includes a pair of 125-lap points events for both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour followed by a 50-lap Showdown pitting the top finishers from each of those races in a dash for cash.

Practice and qualifying for both NASCAR divisions in scheduled for today.

There are a total of 25 cars entered in the Whelen Modified Tour portion of the event, notably Ted Christopher returning to the seat of the No. 36 Ed Whelan-owned ride after a brief breakup. A couple of drivers not entered this weekend include Richie Pallai and Ron Yuhas.

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

HINDSIGHT MAY WELL be 20-20, but John Donahue still had things clearly in focus after finishing fourth in the Labor Day Classic 200 at Thunder Road on Sunday.

Donahue dominated the first three-quarters of the ACT Late Model Tour event, leading the first 168 laps from the pole before fading at the end. What bit Donahue was one of the elements that makes the Labor Day Classic such a unique event at Thunder Road.

Pit strategy.

Donahue was the only driver on the track that chose not to pit for fresh right side tires at any point during the race, a strategy he similarly employed in winning the 2007 Labor Day Classic. Even has he saw drivers like Nick Sweet, Jean-Paul Cyr, Scott Payea and Austin Theriault start their charges toward the front following their pit stops, he said he and the No. 26 team never wavered from their pre-race decision.

"Nope. We talked about it here (in the pit area), and I said, 'We've won it before and the car's really good. Let's put our best tires on it now,'" Donahue said. "We started with our best tires on it, and we almost won it. That's the way we went into this thing and the way we played it."

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Choosing the Chase

Thursday, September 8, 2011

There's a constant debate among NASCAR fans on whether they like the Chase or not.  That debate has been compounded this year with the addition of the wild card.

Interestingly enough, if the Chase started today, the wild card would have no bearing as the two qualifiers currently sit in 11th and 12th and would have rounded out the 12-car field anyway.

That doesn't stop the argument on NASCAR's choice of having a "playoff" Chase format.

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Heartbreak Holiday

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The writing should have been on the wall when NASCAR postponed Sunday night's race through the Monday holiday by scheduling an unusual Tuesday morning start.

For the majority of fans in Atlanta that meant they'd have to head back to work or school or other commitments and wouldn't be able to watch the race.  For those around the country, it meant the same thing.

For Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and David Ragan, they might have preferred fewer people watched.

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BARRE, Vt. – Nick Sweet may have gone an entire season without a win in weekly competition at Thunder Road International Speedbowl, but the 2010 track champion has been lights-out in ACT Late Model Tour racing at the quarter-mile.

Sweet played the pit strategy game to perfection, taking the lead with 13 laps to go en route to winning the Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 on Sunday afternoon. Sweet, who had the freshest tires on the race track over the final quarter of the race, drove around Joey Polewarczyk Jr. shortly after the race's final restart.

"The guys, they called it perfect. They said, 'It's time to come and pit,'" Sweet said. "Man, it was awesome. It was so much fun."

The victory came in just the second start of the season for Sweet with RPM Motorsports. His win in the ACT Merchants Bank 150 back in May came while driving for his own team.

"I thought we'd do it the first time," Sweet joked in Victory Lane, when he was asked about winning so soon in the No. 57 RPM Racing Engines Ford.

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

I HAD A really great conversation with NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points leader Max Gresham this week, some of which you can read by heading over to NASCAR Home Tracks and reading the feature story I wrote for those guys.

One of the highlights of the story is Gresham openly speaking about where he's made the most improvements this season. My favorite quote of all was what he said when I asked him if he was at all surprised to be dominating the series' standings with three races left this season.

"I would like to say no, but honestly, I'm a little surprised," Gresham said.

Gresham, who won the pole for the New England 125 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway back in July and went on to win an eventful race there, has done the one thing this year that separates drivers with a future along the NASCAR ladder and those who won't have any longevity. He has completely grasped the concept this year that being fast and being with a great team aren't enough on their own to let you go out and go for broke every weekend.

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