It's Wednesday again. Time to take 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...
THERE ARE REALLY only two tracks on the ACT Late Model Tour schedule that get the full-time teams on the Tour even remotely nervous – Thunder Road International Speedbowl, the hub of ACT, and Oxford Plains Speedway.
Unfortunately for the ACT teams, they're headed to Oxford Plains this weekend for the Armed Forces Day 150.
The ACT model, in case you're not familiar or new to crate-engine Late Model racing in the northeast, is to have a core of 12-15 full-time touring teams competing at tracks where there are another 15-20 weekly Late Model teams competing under ACT rules. In most cases, whether it's Lee USA Speedway or White Mountain Motorsports Park, that's the case. And in most of those cases, the full-time ACT teams almost always have the advantage.
But Oxford, like Thunder Road, presents an entirely different animal. History has proven that both tracks are hard to figure out – let alone master – even for the teams that compete there every week, season after season. Throw those curveballs at a Tour team that only stops in a few times each season, and the chaos is multiplied exponentially.
The current ACT points leaders are perfect examples.
Wayne Helliwell admits that he's had his share of troubles just trying to qualify for ACT races at Oxford – a flat, .375-mile “oval” that's really more of a circle with a groove that can't seem to decide if it's on the inside, the outside or in the “Angels Expressway” in the extreme outside groove. Helliwell, who has a win and two runner-up finishes in the first three ACT races of the season (plus a win in the Subway Fresh Fit 150 at Canaan Fair Speedway last weekend), said he'll know his team is in it for real if they can perform at Oxford the way they have in the other races thus far this season.
For Hoar, he's finished in the Top-5 in every Late Model race held at Oxford over the past two seasons – including the TD Bank Oxford 250 – but still has never won a race there. He was beaten last June by Jeff White, a weekly Oxford competitor, and last August by Jeff Taylor, a nine-time track champion at OPS.
“Oxford is one of my favorite tracks,” said Hoar, an eight-time Tour champion with an ACT-record 35 career victories. “But it's a tough feat to win there. Personally, I think Oxford is like Thunder Road. It's one of most competitive tracks we go to, with a huge field of cars and when we show up, there are a lot of cars that are really, really fast.”
Hoar said it's about finding a setup that is more than just fast or consistent at Oxford, it's about finding the precise setup that works on that given race day.
“We've had a good setup for Oxford,” he said. “We have always run good there. There's always a couple of other cars (that are fast), and it always seems one person hits it right on the mark and is really good there.
“We have yet to be that person. We're always fast, always competitive, always running up front. But we're working hard at getting better there.”
Helliwell, who has a 30-point lead in the standings over Hoar with seven races remaining, was looking at the Armed Forces Day 150 as early as mid-April.
“My two big concerns coming into this year were (Thunder Road) and Oxford,” Helliwell said. “At Oxford, we have a horrible time trying to qualify into the races. Last year, we took a provisional to get into both races, but we finished seventh in both. Once we get in and we get running, we're pretty decent.
“But that's our next goal is to work on that track.”
IS IT JUST me, or does Ryan Newman only pick on the guys who can't defend themselves?
His rant to SI.com's Dustin Long following the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway Saturday night charged that Kurt Busch has a “chemical imbalance” and there's a “reason why he keeps getting fired” from rides, among other things.
Busch was at the center of a scuffle in Newman's pit stall following the race, one that saw Busch fined a hefty dollar figure and put on probation through the end of July. Busch famously lost his ride at Penske Racing following the season finale at Homestead last year, and he's landed in he largely unsponsored No. 51 of owner James Finch.
It's not like Newman hasn't had pointed words for other drivers. He got into a face-to-face meeting with Joey Logano after a race last year, too.
In both cases, it seems unfair of Newman. His remarks about Busch the other night may have been spot on, though he seemed to pile on after making his point just for the sake of entertainment or a low-brow form of comedy. Busch can't really fly to his own defense given all the controversy that surrounds him (brought on himself, I understand).
As for Logano, we're talking about a teenaged kid who broke onto the NASCAR scene and is roughly half the size of Newman.
But Newman's not prone only to picking on Sprint Cup foes, as we've seen at NHMS. He was stripped of his win at New Hampshire last year after bringing an illegal engine to a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race there.
Let me know when Newman picks on a Kevin Harvick, a Tony Stewart, a Clint Bowyer or some other Sprint Cup Series heavy-hitter. That'll get my attention... for the right reasons.
TWEET OF THE week this week has to go to @queers4gears regarding Busch being in hot water, yet again, at Darlington: “Cannot confirm that Kurt Busch's sponsor, No-One, plans to stick with their driver.”
One of those ones that makes you wish you'd thought of it yourself.
IS RYAN PREECE finally delivering on his promise from a couple of years ago.
Preece became only the third driver in Whelen Modified Tour history to win four straight poles when he set a track record at Monadnock Speedway last weekend to win the pole, then led every lap of the Whitcomb 200 for his fourth career Tour victory.
It was Preece's first win since he won twice in 2009. He now sits third in the overall standings.
Only Mike Stefanik (1994) and Mike McLaughlin (1989) have also won four straight poles on the Tour.
I HAD HIGH hopes for Discovery Channel's new show “The Devil's Ride.” Sadly, it took less than a full episode to disintegrate into just another reality show where the only, uh, “substance” is bickering, in-fighting and manufactured drama.
I thought these biker dudes were supposed to pride themselves on not conforming to the rest of society. #epicfail
WANT A DRIVER to follow on Twitter for high entertainment value and an inside look at the life of a short-tracker? Give Whelen Modified Tour driver and 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Keith Rocco a follow – @KidRocRacing. You won't be sorry.
IT LOOKS LIKE a big weekend in Iowa this weekend for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Not only is hometown hero Brett Moffitt – a winner at New Hampshire last September and the series' most recent winner, at Richmond – back to defend his 2011 win at Iowa, but a few other drivers have some important racing sitting in front of them.
Notably, Darrell Wallace Jr. is set to make his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Iowa on Sunday in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Dollar General Toyota. Winner of six career K&N Pro Series races, Wallace has never finished worse than third in the final series standings. More importantly, he's become the face of NASCAR's Drive For Diversity program.
A strong performance this weekend at Iowa will do two things – it will not only serve as proof that the D4D is producing minority talent in the sport, but it will also prove that the K&N Pro Series is the top feeder of talent for NASCAR's national series.
YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the crab rangoons and don't forget to tip your waitress. The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band is here, so stick around.