April 30, 2012

NO FLUKE: Wayne Helliwell Jr. Storms Out Of ACT Gate

BARRE, Vt. – If you think last year was Wayne Helliwell Jr.'s breakout season on the ACT Late Model Tour, try telling that to him.

To hear Helliwell tell it, last year's second-place finish in the final ACT points standings was just dumb luck.

“Last year finishing second in points, I believe it was a fluke,” said a straight-faced Helliwell, of Dover, N.H. “Some other guys had some problems and we kind of lucked into that. But if we can come out of this season with a Top-5, I'll be really proud of that.”

A fluke? Really? After back-to-back second-place finishes to open the 2012 season, Helliwell's going to have a tough time selling that to the rest of the competition. He had the dominant car in the season opener at Lee USA Speedway two weeks ago, and in Sunday's Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road, he led on three different occasions before finishing second to eight-time series champion Brian Hoar.

Through two races, he's just six points behind Hoar for the ACT championship lead.

PODIUM FINISH: For Week Ending April 29

Each Monday we take a look back at the week that was from around the region.

Race season is officially in full swing in the northeast, and there were a number of marquee touring events and weekly racing series events on the docket. Some familiar faces certainly visited Victory Lane, too.

Without further ado, here's a look at who made The Podium:

1. Doug Coby, Milford, Conn.

Coby scored his third career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory on Sunday, doing so in one of the crown jewels of the Modified Tour. He dominated the second half of the event following pit stops to win the Tech-Net Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford Motor Speedway.

April 29, 2012

VIDEO: ACT Merchants Bank 150

OLD FAMILIAR FEELING: Hoar Holds Off Helliwell Yet Again

BARRE, Vt. – Deja vu, anyone?

In a near carbon copy of their spirited battle in the ACT Late Model Tour season opener two weeks ago, Brian Hoar and Wayne Helliwell Jr. were at it again on Sunday at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. And, just as was the case in the opener, Hoar held off Helliwell – who tried every which way but loose (and even a little of that, too) – to win the Merchants Bank 150.

The victory was the second straight to open the season for Hoar, the eight-time series champion, and his first in the Merchants Bank 150.

“I've been chasing this one a long time,” Hoar said. “It's the first time for us (in the Merchants Bank 150), and it's a big deal. Anytime you can win at Thunder Road, it's awesome.”

But Helliwell threatened to spoil Hoar's Victory Lane party. Twice in the closing laps, Helliwell got to Hoar's rear bumper and gave it a nudge. Both times Hoar wiggled a bit, but never enough to open the door so wide that Helliwell could squeeze his orange No. 27 through.

PHOTO FINISH: ACT Merchants Bank 150

The ACT Late Model Tour flagman keeps a close eye on final practice for the Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road International Speedbowl on Sunday.

RACE DAY: Cold Track, Hot Action At T-Road?

BARRE, Vt. – We could tell you it's not chilly on the grounds of Thunder Road International Speedbowl today, but who would we be kidding? Thankfully, we've got some hearty race fans in the Green Mountains and they're already streaming through the gates for the Merchants Bank 150 this afternoon.

A forecast high temperature of 42 degrees is accompanied by a pounding wind in the 20 mph range.

ACT Late Model Tour practice has just kicked off after a full day of practice yesterday, with many of the usual suspects at or near the top of the speed charts. Joey Polewarczyk, a former winner at Thunder Road (though he's had some bad luck in this particular race, was fastest Saturday with a quick lap of 13.069 seconds around the quarter-mile.

Two-time defending champion of the Merchants Bank 150 Nick Sweet was also fast. So was Phil Scott, the winningest driver in Late Model history at Thunder Road.

April 28, 2012

THIS TIME IT COUNTS: Preece Grabs Another Pole

This time, Ryan Preece really did get a track record for himself.

Preece joined three other competitors at Stafford Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon in breaking the previous track record, earning the Coors Light Pole Award for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Spring Sizzler 200.

The pole award was the second straight for Preece, of Berlin, Conn., to open the 2012 season. He also won the pole for the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson International Speedway two weeks ago.

The Spring Sizzler 200 is scheduled for approximately 3:15 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s awesome,” Preece told The Hartford Courant. “I don’t even know how to describe the feeling right now... Hopefully we can get the job done tomorrow. I know we have a really good race car.”

April 26, 2012

BEST AT LAST: Moffitt Survives For Richmond Win

Hattori Racing Enterprises Gets First K&N East Victory

Brett Moffitt left just enough for the end on Thursday night.

Moffitt emerged from a spirited three-car battle for the lead over a green-white-checkered restart, holding off the hard charges of Chase Elliott and Corey LaJoie to win the Blue Ox 100 at Richmond International Raceway. The victory was the eighth of Moffitt's NASCAR K&N Pro Series East career and the first for the fledgling Hattori Racing Enterprises this season.

“I'm happy to get the first pole and the first win for HRE today,” Moffitt said in Victory Lane. “It was just a great weekend.”

Moffitt, who earlier in the day won the Coors Light Pole Award, cinched the win when Elliott brushed the outside wall off the race's final turn. LaJoie held on for third.

FANTASY: Racing Through Richmond

Denny Hamlin tends to do very
well at his home track. (Getty)
Did you know that we don't plow the snow off our track at NHMS?  We just let it snow and hope it melts in time for  the track's opening day in April.

Did you also know that the don't plow the snow in Richmond either?  No, I'm not talking about the track, I'm just talking about the roads in general.  They just let it snow and immobilize the whole state until the non-existant plows can clear the snow that's frozen to itself.  It's a pretty inefficient process.

In our defense, we don't want to tear up the track.  In Virginia's defense, well...there is none; they just don't know what they're doing.

April 24, 2012

Race Season Roars into NHMS

Buffington (front) and TSMotorsports dominated
NELCAR in 2011. (Chris Roy/RPM Photography)
The majority of NHMS fans won't visit "The Magic Mile" until NASCAR does in mid-July, but they're missing a lot of good racing action before that major weekend.  The track heats up in April and doesn't cool down until the end of October and there's plenty of on-track action throughout the seven-month season.

The race season can officially be considered underway at NHMS, as the Loudon Road Race Series kicks off 2012 with the first of seven race weekends on Saturday.  After a full slate of 11 races on Saturday that closes with the headlining "Dash for the Cash" Middleweight Grand Prix, the Amsoil NELCAR Legends Tour will hit the road course for its first of nearly a dozen NHMS races this year.

The two series tend to split race weekends to put on one of the best shows NHMS sees all season.  The monthly events are some of the better kept secrets in New England racing, but with the legends returning for a second full season, it shouldn't stay that way much longer.

April 23, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: For Week Ending April 22

Each Monday we take a look back at the week that was from around the region.

While rains threatened to hamper the schedule in New England over the weekend, virtually all scheduled events were able to be completed. Some drivers continued their hot starts to the year, others continued to streaks in extra-distance events and still others returned to Victory Lane after long absences.

Without further ado, let's see who made The Podium:

1. Jon McKennedy, Chelmsford, Mass.

McKennedy opened the Valenti Modified Racing Series 2-for-2 on the young season, claiming the 100-lap event at Monadnock Speedway on Saturday night.

April 19, 2012

FANTASY: Banking on the Flatlands

STP 400 Fantasy Preview

Just like last October, Jimmie Johnson is
the leader in a strong field at Kansas. (Getty)
I usually use the intro to tell some story about a part of the country I once visited or at least give a cute little anecdote, but I don't have anything this week.  I once drove clear across the country and then back on a completely different route, but I've never been in Kansas.

When I went west on I-80, I probably wasn't more than a few miles at some points from the state line while in Nebraska.  I kept looking to the south and imagining that Kansas was out there somewhere, like a Holy Grail of the Flatlands (or maybe I was just looking for a way to get out of Nebraska as quickly as possible).

On the journey home, I checked out a map and realized that I-44 ran within about the length of a solid golf drive of Kansas.  However, I'd wouldn't get any closer than several hundred feet from the state as I passed through Oklahoma into Missouri near Jamie McMurray's hometown of Joplin.

April 18, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Rivalries, Racing And Radical Tweets

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

THERE'S BEEN A lot of talk recently about the fact that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is sorely lacking in the rivalry department.

After last weekend's season-opening Icebreaker 150 at Thompson International Speedway, I'm starting to think that might not be the case. It hasn't heated up to the level of a Ted Christopher vs. Bo Gunning or a Jimmy Blewett vs. The World, but this Ron Silk-Rowan Pennink stuff has the chance to really get entertaining.

In a lot of ways, it already has. Sunday's verbal sparring following Silk's controversial win was simply a nice topper to the whole thing – one of those racing incidents that makes you want to get to the next track for the next race on the schedule as soon as possible.

Silk says that Pennink “drove him into the weeds” on a late-race restart. Pennink says that Silk “spun his tires” on the final restart. Silk says he didn't, adding “that's what I would say, too.” Silk says Pennink “got what he deserved” when NASCAR penalized him for jumping the final restart, Pennink says Silk left him no choice.

On the surface, it's two drivers quibbling over an emotional ending – one that left Pennink without a win and left Silk booed loudly in Victory Lane. But it's not quite that simple.

April 17, 2012

Adding Flavor to Vanilla

Biffle inspects the cherry on top. (Getty)
If the Sprint Cup Series garage were an ice cream shop, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be chocolate chip cookie dough; the flavor an overwhelming amount of people like, but the rest feel like there's no excuse to not have baked the dough into a real cookie.  Jimmie Johnson might be peanut butter cup, liked by many, but disliked strongly by those with a nut allergy.  Jeff Gordon could be mint chocolate chip, a good old-fashioned winner.

Then, there's Greg Biffle.  He'd be vanilla.

Biffle doesn't really excite anyone the way the others might.  He's not a huge name outside the racing community.  He rarely creates controversy and doesn't carry an inherent debate about NASCAR into the room with him.  He just goes about his business with good productivity.

April 16, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: For Week Ending April 15

Each Monday we take a look back at the top performers from the week that was around the region.

With both the ACT Late Model Tour and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour getting their 2012 seasons underway over the weekend, plus a growing slate of weekly short-track racing, things are finally starting to heat up. Plenty of performances were podium worthy, too.

Without further ado, let's take a look back at the best of the best:

1. Brian Hoar, Williston, Vt.

Hoar may have needed a few years to find his groove at Lee USA Speedway, but he's certainly found his form at the New Hampshire short track. Hoar used a late-race pit stop to improve the handling on his car, enough to catapult him to the victory in the NH Governor's Cup 150 on Sunday.

PHOTO FINISH: Sunday At The Icebreaker

Daniel Hemric hits pit road for a tire change during the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season-opening Icebreaker 150 on Sunday afternoon at Thompson International Speedway in Thompson, Conn.

April 15, 2012

CALLED OFF: Pennink Penalty Gives Silk Win

THOMPSON, Conn. – A wild finish left one driver showered in a chorus of boos, one driver frustrated nearly beyond words and a third driver within inches of a remarkable victory.

When everything had settled on rugged NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener at Thompson International Speedway, though, it was Ron Silk who made a hard right-hand turn into Icebreaker 150 Victory Lane on Sunday afternoon and not Rowan Pennink.

Pennink may have been the first driver under the checkered flag, but NASCAR officials penalized him for jumping the restart on the last of three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish in a race extended nine laps past the advertised distance.

“I was in a lose-lose situation there,” said Pennink, his face literally red with frustration as he waited outside the NASCAR hauler for a word with the race director.

VIDEO: Ron Silk Talks About Thompson Win

Video courtesy of NASCAR Home Tracks

April 14, 2012

PHOTO FINISH: Icebreaker Qualifying Day

Mike Stefanik sits in his No. 66 while his crew makes adjustments during NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour practice at Thompson International Speedway on Saturday. The practice was the first of the season for the Tour, which opens 2012 with the Icebreaker 150 on Sunday.

TRACK TIME: Preece Wins Pole, Sets Track Record

THOMPSON, Conn. – Looks like there's something to be said for a driver finding his comfort level, both with a team and with a track.

Ryan Preece, making just his second career appearance with Flamingo Motorsports, earned his third consecutive NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour pole at Thompson International Speedway on Saturday afternoon – turning in a track-record performance to start from P1 in Sunday's season-opening Icebreaker 150.

Preece turned a lap of 18.387 seconds (122.369 mph) for his sixth career Whelen Modified Tour pole.

A veteran of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modified racing on Connecticut's short tracks, Preece was the 27th of 29 cars to hit the track for his qualifying laps and he supplanted Justin Bonsignore in the top spot. Bonsignore was the only other driver to break the existing track record, previously set by Bobby Santos III in this event a year ago.

FAST START: Justin Bonsignore Paces Mod Practice

THOMPSON, Conn. – Justin Bonsignore surprised most observers, most notably himself, when he posted the fastest practice time of the day Saturday at Thompson International Speedway.

Bonsignore set the pace for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour's season-opening Icebreaker 150, posting a time of 18.441 seconds around the .625-mile, high-banked oval (122.011 mph) late in the 75-minute session. His lap was just three-hundredths of a second of Bobby Santos III's track record.

“We put a set of tires on and made a mock (qualifying) run and I was actually shocked we went to the top of the board,” said Bonsignore, whose best career finish at Thompson was fifth in this event last year.”When my spotter came over the radio on the first lap and told me my time, I was like, 'Wow!' I'm a little shocked we were that good, (but) I knew we'd be in the Top-5.”

Ryan Preece followed Bonsignore on the speed chart, with Eric Berndt, Donny Lia and Rob Fuller rounding out the Top-5. Multi-time track champion Keith Rocco was sixth-fastest.

RACE DAY LIVE: Breaking The Ice At Thompson

THOMPSON, Conn. – Just a fantastic spring day here at Thompson International Speedway, where contrary to the event's name, there isn't any feeling of a winter chill in the air.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour opens its 28th season here this weekend with the annual Icebreaker 150. Practice and qualifying are slated for this afternoon (a 75-minute practice at 12:30 p.m.; time trials at 3:30 p.m.), with the main event slated for Sunday.

There are 30 cars entered, including defending champion Ted Christopher – a four-time winner of the event. Reigning Whelen Modified Tour champion Ron Silk is back to the place where he clinched his first career title, and Donny Lia is back in the No. 4 Mystic Missile to try for a third Tour championship.

For updates throughout the day, follow @Granite_Stripe on Twitter, and check back with GraniteStripe.com often for coverage from the event.

April 12, 2012

FANTASY: Turn Your Lights on Texas!

SAMSUNG Mobile 500 Fantasy Preview

Kenseth is consistent, but not often
a favorite like this weekend. (Getty)
It's getting to be that time of year when the weather starts getting warm enough at night and too hot during the day, so NASCAR begins sprinkling primetime into the schedule.  Traditionally, this would be the Sprint Cup Series' first night race of the season, but the rescheduled Daytona 500 stole the thunder on that one.

Remember that event at all?  Rhetorical question, I hope!  In that race, we had Juan Pablo Montoya crashing into a jet dryer and Brad Keselowski nearly crashing Twitter by tweeting a photo of the fire on the track.

There's always something weird about night races.  It seems to bring out the inner hooligan in each driver when the lights get turned on.  Drivers attack the corners just a little bit faster and make passes with just a little less regard for common sense.  Given, "sense" is all relative when we're talking about guys that race cars at 200 mph, but the point is that night races can get a little wild.

April 11, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Breaking Ice, Breaking Out and Breaking Form

It's Wednesday again. Time to dust off the ol' Mini Stock and roll it out of the garage for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

AFTER A RELATIVELY quiet start to the season, we're getting thrown straight into the fire this week.

Both the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the ACT Late Model Tour open their seasons with two-day events this weekend, and both are featured in their traditional opening-day stomping grounds. Thompson International Speedway has played host to more Modified Tour events than any track in its 28-year history, while Lee USA Speedway has become the tried-and-true facility for the ACT Late Models to start their season each spring.

Better yet for both facilities, sunny skies and warm early-spring days are being forecast for the weekend.

April 10, 2012

Powerless from the Pole

Kahne leads the field to green,
 but that's about it. (Getty)
Through six races in the 2012 season, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards have won three of the Sprint Cup Series poles, and they've combined to lead a total of zero laps.  Not zero laps at the start of the race, mind you, zero laps, period!  That's right: neither has led a single lap this season.

That's pretty difficult to do when you assume that they theoretically had the fastest car at the track and started in the front row in half of the 2012 races.  Not only could they not manage to hold off the rest of the field to lead the first lap, but they never once got back up to the front at any point later in the day.

Interestingly, this trend seems to be holding up in most of the races this season and leads to questions on whether there is much advantage to starting on the pole.

April 9, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: For Week Ending April 8

Each Monday we take a look back at the week that was from around the region.

It was a very light weekend of racing activity across New England as we get ready to kick things into high gear over the next couple of weeks, but that doesn't mean there weren't any performances worth mentioning – including one name you may recognize, but not necessarily for being a driver behind the wheel of a race car.

Without further ado, here's a look at who made The Podium:

1. Dillon Moltz, Waterford, Conn.

Moltz is a regular in Victory Late at Stafford Motor Speedway, but on Saturday night he became a first-time winner at his hometown track.

April 6, 2012

The Sprint Cup Egg Hunt

While not found in this hunt, Almirola's
car looks like an Easter egg. (Getty)
For six weeks, the New England racing community has sat around on their couch and watched NASCAR, INDYCAR and Formula 1 race in other parts of the country (world, in F1's case).  Not this weekend!

As all three of those series are off and NASCAR takes its first break of the season, it's our New Hampshire Motor Speedway that will provide thrills for fans.  The third-annual FANtasy Drive Open House on April 7 allows fans to hit the track for some laps in their own cars, as well as get VIP access to the infield, suite levels and hospitality areas of NHMS.

One event that keeps kids coming back every year is the Egg Hunt run by our mascot, Milo the Moose.  In honor of Milo's Egg Hunt, let's take a look at some of the different kinds of eggs that one might find during a hunt around a Sprint Cup Series garage.  It'll be a good week to do it since all is quiet in the NASCAR garages.

April 4, 2012

Are We Qualifying or Racing?

Before I get into the article, let's take 30 seconds to review our most recent commercial from NHMS:

No, but seriously, are we qualifying or racing, here!?

There's been a lot of debate this week, as Tommy Baldwin's No. 10 has fallen out of the top-35 in owner points and is no longer guaranteed a starting spot in Sprint Cup Series races.  While the debate swirls around Danica Patrick, whose name tends to stir up controversy anyway, most people seem to be ignoring my simple question.

April 2, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: For Week Ending April 1

Each Monday we take a look back at the week that was from around the region.

As has become tradition, the New England short-track racing season got underway this past weekend with the Budweiser Blast-Off at the Waterford Speedbowl in Conn. Despite a soggy start to the festivities, and winter-like temperatures throughout, the track's management managed to get in all of the scheduled racing. A big kudos to all involved there.

Without further ado, here's a look at who made the podium:

1. KEITH ROCCO, Wallingford, Conn.

Driving his own car for the first time in weekly SK Modified competition, Rocco picked up right where he left off in 2011.