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.

January 8, 2015

TBT: The Infamous Restrictor Plate Race

#NHMS25 Anniversary Throwback Thursday Feature

Sept. 17, 2000: A restrictor plate gets installed on a Cup car.
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.

The above photo is a restrictor plate being installed on a car.  Not just any restrictor plate, but one being placed on a car before the Dura Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway on Sept. 17, 2000.

The plates were put on the cars at NHMS for the first (and last) time during this race.  Earlier in the year, Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin, Jr. passed away in separate racing incidents at Loudon.  In both instances, reports stated that the throttle stuck entering Turn 3 and the cars hit head-on in a time before SAFER barriers.  While adding the plates didn't address the throttles, it did regulate top speeds on the tight track and it was believed that would make the race safer.

How does it work?

A restrictor plate limits the amount of air flow into the engine, which in turn regulates a car's top speed.  They're currently used at superspeedways, like Daytona and Talladega, where cars can go unsafely fast (yes, that sounds ironic in racing).  They're what cause the pack-style racing at those tracks.

January 6, 2015

15 New Year's Racing Resolutions

NHMS and NASCAR resolutions for 2015

An evening in the NHMS camping lots ranks near the top of
the list of 2015 racing resolutions. (NHMS/Alan MacRae)
The high in Loudon today is set for 16 degrees.  The track is coated in a shiny layer of ice-covered snow.  The engines couldn't be further away from firing up to race.

Nonetheless, the New Year is a good time for making changes and adjusting priorities.  The race season might still seem a long way away, but here are my resolutions to be a better race fan in 2015.  Please feel free to steal those that you like the most.

1. Attend the NHMS pre-race concert - For whatever reason, I always seem to miss this.  With recent acts like Frankie Ballard, Montgomery Gentry and Travis Tritt, it's too bad I haven't found the time to listen for 20-30 minutes.  I've missed some great performances.

2. Spend an evening in the NHMS camping lots - Note the keyword: "evening."  As a staff member, race weekends consist of 12-14 hour days, so late nights aren't happening, but it would still be fun to get out and see some of our loyal fans.

3. Become an NHMS historian - The celebration of the 25th Anniversary at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a great excuse to learn more about the 25 years of racing we've had at the Magic Mile.