January 29, 2015

TBT: Burton Explains NHMS Success

#NHMS25 Anniversary Throwback Thursday Feature

Jeff Burton led a race-high 99 laps on July 13, 1997,
to earn his first of four career Cup wins at NHMS.
This year, New Hampshire Motor Speedway celebrates its 25th Anniversary. Throughout the year as part of that celebration, the Granite Stripe will throw it back on Thursday and give a small history lesson on past events at the track.

From 1997-2000, Jeff Burton won four of eight races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  That total still stands as a track record for the Cup Series at the Magic Mile.

On Thursday, the NHMS staff had the opportunity to catch up with Burton in the Charlotte area and ask him about his wins at the track.  Burton explained in depth why he was so impressive at NHMS during that stretch and what made it more difficult for him (or any driver) to replicate that success in the time since.

January 27, 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Miss Last Year, In This Year

Top 10 Tuesday: Drivers to Make Chase After Missing in 2014

Suffice it to say, the 2014 Chase Grid was a success for NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. The new format made for some very interesting storylines, including a pair of newbies in A.J. Allmendinger and Aric Almirola, both of whom made the Chase for the first time in their respective careers.

Brian Vickers, a winner at New Hampshire in 2013, will look to get
back to victory lane in 2015 and earn a spot in the NASCAR Chase
Grid for the first time in his career. (Getty)

So, with that said, which drivers – that missed the playoff last year – have the best chance to make the Chase this season? There are certainly a lot of names on the list that were left off in 2014, but who has the best shot of earning a bid with a win in 2015?

Here’s a list of the top-10 drivers to make this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship that didn't make the Chase last year:

  1. Kyle Larson  – The reigning Rookie of the Year had an outstanding freshman campaign. So good, in fact, that it's truly hard to believe that not one of the 36 races in 2014 ended with the No. 42 Target car in victory lane. That simply won't happen in 2015, as Larson will not only win his first race but will be a serious threat win the championship in only his second season.
  2. Clint Bowyer – It's hard to believe that he wasn't around for the inaugural Chase Grid. One of NASCAR's most consistent drivers over the past five years, Bowyer was a no-show in 2014. Let's chalk that up to just a bad season and expect a full recovery in 2015 for Bowyer, who is almost assuredly going to win at least one race.
  3. Jamie McMurray – There weren't too many better than McMurray down the stretch last year. With seven top-10s over the final 13 races, McMurray hopes to carry over some of that momentum to the 2015 season.
  4. Tony Stewart – Last year was the most difficult of Stewart's career, both on and off the track. That's all the really needs to be said for one of the sport's most prolific pilots and personalities. But whether he can move on from it remains to be seen.
  5. Brian Vickers – NASCAR and Vickers announced on Jan. 21 that he would miss only two races this season and can be back in a car full-time as early as March 8 in Las Vegas. Vickers is a super-talented driver that seems so close to breaking through at any moment. His win in New Hampshire two years ago is still very fresh in his mind and may be just the boost in confidence he needs to make a serious run this season.
  6. Austin Dillon – Four top-10s with only one top-five certainly doesn't make Dillon an odds-on favorite to make the jump to stardom this season. But the most important stat to take away is that he finished every race, completing 99.5 percent of the laps run in 2014. That means experience is not lacking for Dillon. It also means no excuses for 2015.
  7. Martin Truex Jr. – Moving to a one-team organization can be difficult, as Truex Jr. found out last season with Furniture Row Racing. That said, Kurt Busch was able to make the Chase for the team in his one and only season with FRR in 2013. So, can Truex make the jump in the same equipment or will this be another disappointing season for a more than capable pilot?
  8. Paul Menard – It's been four years since Menard's first (and only) win in the Sprint Cup Series. But, nevertheless, he's been to victory lane. And it might be time for Menard to finally make the leap to the next tier, having completed his best season to date in 2014 with 13 top-10s, including nine top-fives – both career-highs.
  9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – The 2014 season was a rough one for Stenhouse. But it was a tough one for most of the mates in the Roush Fenway stable. The 2015 season is an opportunity to start fresh, and Stenhouse could use a clean slate. With only eight top-10s, including two top-fives in 76 career Cup starts, it's time for the 17 to put up or shut up.
  10. Danica Patrick – The reality is, all it takes is one win to get in. And there's no better chance for Patrick than the season-opening Daytona 500. In five career starts at Daytona, Patrick has two top-10s and even started on the pole there for the 2013 running of the 500. While it's unlikely for Patrick to make the Chase based on points, it's a very real possibility she makes the postseason with a win.

January 22, 2015

TBT: Jeff Gordon's NHMS Success

#NHMS25 Anniversary Throwback Thursday Feature

Jeff Gordon used wins at NHMS to help win
Cup championships in 1995, 1997 and 1998.
This year, New Hampshire Motor Speedway celebrates its 25th Anniversary. Throughout the year as part of that celebration, the Granite Stripe will throw it back on Thursday and give a small history lesson on past events at the track.

Jeff Gordon broke the news on Thursday that NASCAR fans had begun fearing they might hear sooner than later: the upcoming season will be his final competing as a full-time driver for a Cup championship.

The news hits home at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, because our Cup races have been synonymous with Gordon's presence.  He broke into the Cup Series as a rookie in 1993, the same year that NHMS hosted its first Cup race.

By the end of 2013, he was one of only four drivers to have started every Cup race at NHMS, and by last September's SYLVANIA 300, he was the only one to hold such a distinction.  Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek fell off the pace when they missed July's Camping World RV Sales 301, and Jeff Burton ceded the accolade to Gordon when he didn't race in September.

Gordon is a four-time Cup champion, and NHMS has played a significant role in his success.  All three of his wins at the Magic Mile came in championship seasons.

January 15, 2015

TBT: Julian Edelman, The Pace Car Driver

#NHMS25 Anniversary Throwback Thursday Feature

Julian Edelman stands outside the pace car on July 13,
2014 before his morning training session. (NHMS/HHP)
This year, New Hampshire Motor Speedway celebrates its 25th Anniversary.  Throughout the year as part of that celebration, the Granite Stripe will throw it back on Thursday and give a small history lesson on past events at the track.

What happens when you throw it back to New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman?  Either you get a game-defining touchdown pass to Danny Amendola, or, if it's Thursday at NHMS, you get a story about the time he drove the pace car.

What better week to look back at his visit to NHMS than this one?  Edelman is best known as a wide receiver for the Patriots, but on Saturday evening, he flashed back to his days of quarterbacking at Kent State University.

On a play in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, New England QB Tom Brady threw a backward pass (classified as a "lateral") to Edelman.  A team is only allowed to throw a forward pass once per play.  Since some of the Ravens defenders thought the pass had gone forward, they left Amendola wide open down field to try and tackle Edelman, where the receiver-turned-passer hit him in stride for a 51-yard touchdown that tied the game at 28 and led to a 35-31 victory.

January 13, 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Looking Ahead

Top 10 Tuesday: Looking ahead at 2015

It’s hard to believe that the 2015 NASCAR race season is less than two months away. After all, the 2014 edition was one of the best to date. It featured a little bit of everything from Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger earning a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship to Kevin Harvick going back-to-back in the final two weeks of the season to clinch his first tile.

Kevin Harvick's quest at winning a second straight championship is one
of the many storylines heading into the 2015 NASCAR season. (Getty)

Yes, the upcoming race season will have a hard time following last year’s act, but with new racing packages and drivers in new places, this could absolutely be one of the best years to be a race fan.

Here’s a list of the top-10 storylines to watch as the new race season gets set to drop the green flag on Feb. 22 at Daytona International Speedway:

  1. Carl Edwards in a Toyota – One of the strangest sights to begin the 2015 season will be Cousin Carl behind the wheel of a Toyota. Since breaking into the NASCAR scene in 2002, Edwards has known nothing other than Ford. He raced a Ford in 60 career Camping World Truck Series starts; he drove a Ford in 244 of 245 starts in the XFINITY Series (he drove a Chevrolet in his first-career start); and he has been behind the wheel of a Ford for 373 starts in the Sprint Cup Series. Heck, he even drove a Ford in his lone start in the Whelen Modified Tour, which was at NHMS, to boot. It will look weird, for sure, but will certainly be a sight to see all season long.
  2. Rules Packages for 2015 – There will be close to 60 different updates to the rules and competition packages by the time the Gen-6 takes the track this season. From enhanced enforcement of existing rules to new officiating processes to newly approved parts to updated business processes, NASCAR has put an emphasis on making this season the most competitive, safe, affordable, environmentally-sound season yet.
  3. Rain? No problem – Part of the aforementioned rules packages and changes includes the possibility of racing in the rain at either Watkins Glen or Sonoma Raceway road course tracks. Similar to rules in place for the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series, the Gen-6 would be equipped with wipers, defogger and rear flashing rain lights, which would be installed for the event weekend.
  4. New Chief for Junior – One year after guiding 18-year-old Chase Elliott to the XFINITY Series championship in 2014, Greg Ives will face the astronomical pressure of trying to do the same thing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Sprint Cup Series. Ives takes over for the departed Steve Letarte, who will spend this season in the NBC broadcast booth on commentary.
  5. Repeat for Harvick? – Although it took Happy Harvick a win in the final two weeks of the Chase to clinch the Sprint Cup title, the right man was certainly holding up the trophy at the season’s completion in Homestead. Harvick was the fastest car week in and week out last season, but will have his hands full this season with the new rules package as he vies for a repeat.
  6. A rookie no more – With 17 top-10s and a Rookie of the Year Award under his belt, Kyle Larson has certainly set the stage for himself to have a big year in 2015. It’s hard to believe that he finished last year without a win, but it’s only a matter of time for the Chip Ganassi Racing sophomore.
  7. New year for Stewart – Tony Stewart will never be able to forget what happened in 2014. It was a difficult year both on and off the track for Smoke, but he did finish the season on a positive note. The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing watched Harvick win the team its second championship in four years. Maybe that will help Stewart move on as best as he can and try and start fresh in 2015.
  8. Seven or five? – Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are teammates at Hendrick Motorsports. But both are eyeing one title as the season readies. Johnson is looking for his seventh championship of the decade, while Gordon’s “Drive for Five” is still very much alive after a scintillating 2014 campaign that would have ended in another championship under the non-Chase format. Both will be contenders out of the gates in 2015.
  9. New Broadcast Crew (NBC) – The new season means a new partner on television as NBC takes over the broadcasting duties for NASCAR. That means new hosts, commentators, graphics packages and, most likely, a new approach to how the sport is broadcast.
  10. Chase Grid Part II – Last year’s postseason was one of the most exciting in the sport’s history, and certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to changing how championships are won. With veteran contenders and new faces making last year’s new championship format, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about what will happen in 2015.