It's that time of year. After months of watching racing from afar, it's NASCAR week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway!
The racing kicks off Thursday with the Global RallyCross Championship and carries straight through Sunday with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. There will be a total of four races in all, along with numerous qualifying and practice sessions, as well as all the off-the-track opportunities.
Don't forget to check out the Broadway Midway in the S2 parking lot. The Sprint Experience has a lot to offer, along with all of our great partners here at the track who will be ready to greet fans and share their products.
To get ready for the on-track action, let's take a look at the four races we have running this weekend:
Thursday, July 11 - 5:30 p.m.
Overview: The Global RallyCross Championship returns to NHMS for a second season. In 2012, extreme sports legend Travis Pastrana won the inaugural event, his first win the series. He passed Tanner Foust midway through the race when Foust's car stalled and never looked back.
This year, the track will involve more dirt, which is the biggest reason for its move from Saturday to Thursday night. (This way it won't interfere with NASCAR operations.) The gap jump will be no more, but there will be a long, dirt jump in its place. The race will be 10 laps, as opposed to six like last year.
Predicted Winner: Toomas Heikkinen was putting together a good season in 2012 before a rough crash in X-Games practice. He failed to clear a gap jump and suffered a shattered ankle, among other injuries. He currently leads the points and has finished first, second and third in the three races this season. He'll be looking forward to his first crack at what drivers have described as the series best course layout.
Worth Watching: Tanner Foust, as mentioned, led last year's race at NHMS before stalling out on the crossover turn and falling to fourth. He'll be looking to atone for that issue and could use the points, as he's currently in third behind Heikkinen and Liam Doran.
Saturday, July 13 - 1:00 p.m.
Overview: The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will race for the 58th time at the Magic Mile, which will be once more than the K&N Pro Series East among the two most-run series races in Loudon. The race is always highly contested with the short track machines drafting off one another. In the past six races, there have been five different winners, only Mike Stefanik has won twice.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman will enter the race as usual, but he has been bested by the field in the past five races. That shouldn't come as a surprise as an open-wheel modified is not similar to a Cup car at all, and the NWMT has some of the best non-national drivers in the country. This race, specifically, is a tough one to win.
Predicted Winner: Ryan Preece's season has gotten him recognized by NASCAR Next and he'll make his debut in the Nationwide Series later in the day. He's won the last three modified races this season, has top-fives in all five events and leads the points by 33. There's no guarantee in this race, but I give him the best odds to win.
Worth Watching: Doug Coby won the championship in 2012, but has just one top-five in five races this season. His four top-10s are keeping him in the title hunt, but he needs a good race in the Town Fair Tire 100 to get the title defense going. NHMS is the premiere track in the series and his first win at the track last Sept. will give him a lot of confidence.
Saturday, July 13 - 3:30 p.m.
Overview: The NASCAR Nationwide Series was the first touring series to race at NHMS when Tommy Ellis won the inaugural event on July 15, 1990; it has raced at the track every year since. It highlights some of the best young drivers in NASCAR, but the race is usually won by a Sprint Cup regular.
Martin Truex Jr.'s win in the 2005 race was the last time that a non-full time Sprint Cup driver won the event. Kyle Busch won three in a row before Brad Keselowski broke up the string last July. Keselowski had claimed the last three poles but has not entered this race.
Predicted Winner: Joey Logano picked up his first career Sprint Cup Series win at his home track in 2009 and has two top-fives in three career Nationwide starts at the Magic Mile. He won nine times in the series last year in 22 starts, but did not enter the Loudon race. His win would be an upset over Kyle Busch, who's dominated with six wins in 13 starts this year, but would not come as a surprise, as Logano will drive the No. 22 that Keselowski won in last year.
Worth Watching: Austin Dillon hasn't translated good days into great finishes this year. He's second among Nationwide Series regulars with 341 laps led and leads the field with six poles, but he's only finished with four top-fives in 16 races. That's not good for someone that has run up front as much as he has. He's fifth in the points, but only 17 points back of leader Regan Smith. A good showing this week makes him a title contender.
Sunday, July 14 - 1:00 p.m.
Overview: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to NHMS for the 21st consecutive year. This race has long been thought of one that sets drivers up for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Magic Mile has a reputation of being a track that rewards a good driver with a well setup car. Since the series will return for the second Chase race, it is crucial in a championship run to finish this race with an understanding of how to run well in Sept.
NHMS currently holds the longest streak of races without a repeat winner, as the last 10 races have been won by 10 separate drivers. It's odd that a track with so much technical requirement has been able to share the wealth with so many different drivers, but it proves that anyone that comes in with the right setup can take the win.
Predicted Winner: Jimmie Johnson has been dominant of late. In the last six races, he won at Pocono and Daytona and more or less "lost" at Dover and Kentucky, when he saw dominant days end outside victory lane. He looks like he's got something that the rest of the field doesn't quite have with the Gen-6 and that bodes well for him at the Magic Mile, where he's won three times.
Worth Watching: Clint Bowyer is the driver that breaks up the string of different race winners. He won his first career Cup race in Sept. 2007 at the Magic Mile and again in Sept. 2010. It's surprising he hasn't won yet in 2013, as he sits second in points and has three consecutive top-fives. Joey Logano described the No. 15 as "rocketship fast" after the two attended a Goodyear Tire Test at the track in May, and that could help Bowyer grab his third win at NHMS.