May 30, 2012

FANTASY: Concrete Heat

FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks Fantasy Preview

While few readers will notice, I'm swapping the order of my two posts this week.  I'll start with the Fantasy NASCAR preview and complete the more feature-based column once we have the opportunity to spend Thursday with Sam Hornish Jr., as he tours a few local schools.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have
had a lot of success at Dover. (Getty, 2009)
The "Monster Mile" of Dover International Speedway is similar in name to "The Magic Mile" here at NHMS.  Naturally, it races the same mile distance and, while the Dover oval is more circular with shorter straightaways and wider turns, it's general paperclip shape is the same as that seen here in Loudon.  The tracks are also situated in the northeast part of NASCAR's map.

However, the similarities end there and the racing tends to be far different.  The banking of Dover is noticeably higher than the flat track here.  We also pave our track with asphalt, where as the "Monster Mile" races on concrete.

The differences are clear when you compare a driver like Carl Edwards.  Nicknamed "Concrete Carl" for his strong performances on such tracks, Edwards will be the first to admit that he just hasn't figured out how to succeed at NHMS.

BUMP STOPS: Tiny Tinio, T-Road's Top Dog and Terrible Timing

It's Wednesday again. Time to roll 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...

WHAT BOBBY SANTOS did at Stafford Motor Speedway last weekend was truly nothing short of amazing.

In just his second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race of the season, Santos – the 2010 Tour champion – won the pole for the TSI Harley-Davidson 125, led a race-high 117 laps and then finished second after Doug Coby passed him for the winon fresher tires.

Santos only other start this season with the part-time team came in the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson International Speedway in April, an otherwise unimpressive outing that ended prematurely in a multi-car accident in Turn 1.

For a team that doesn't even know race-to-race which events it will even enter as it relies on part-time help at the shop, crew members with varied work schedules and a lack of experience that the championship contenders all boast over decades on the Whelen Modified Tour, just qualifying in the Top-10 could be seen as a victory of sorts. Santos, whose driving talent has never, ever been called into question, has elevated Tinio Racing in a big way.

And he's done it in a hurry.

May 28, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: Week Ending May 27

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

Of course, the holiday weekend presents plenty of opportunity for racers to shine, and many did just that. From touring series veterans to weekly short-track stalwarts, lots of drivers will celebrate just a little bit harder this Memorial Day.

Without further ado, here's who made The Podium this week:

1. Doug Coby, Milford, Conn.

Coby stormed through the field after pitting for a flat tire early in the race, taking the lead with eight laps remaining to win the TSI Harley-Davidson 125 on Friday night atStafford Motor Speedway. It was Coby's second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win of the season at Stafford.

May 25, 2012

STAFFORD SHOWMAN: Coby Rallies For Modified Win

STAFFORD, Conn. – Doug Coby knows how to put on a show.

Coby made an impressive charge up through the field following an early flat tire, rallying late to pass Bobby Santos III to win the TSI Harley-Davidson 125 on Friday night at Stafford Motor Speedway. It was Coby's second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win of the season – and it came in the car he affectionately refers to as his “show car.”

“I was nervous,” Coby said of the closing laps. “I didn't think we'd get (Santos). I thought the fastest car was going to finish third or fourth. But, I had to drive the hell out of it and I'm really happy to be here.”

Santos held on for second in just his second start of the season, while Ron Silk finished third. Todd Szegedy and Rowan Pennink rounded out the Top-5.

In just four races, Coby has already doubled his career win total on the Tour. His previous victory came in the Tech-Net Spring Sizzler at Stafford earlier this month in a completely different chassis with a completely different engine.

QUALIFYING: Bobby Santos Beats Rain For Mod Pole

STAFFORD, Conn. – Bobby Santos III is making his limited time in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ranks count.

Santos capitalized on an opportune qualifying draw to duck out on the track just ahead of a passing rain shower, and his time held up to win the Coors Light Pole Award for the TSI Harley-Davidson 125 at Stafford Motor Speedway on Friday.

“I'm just really excited,” said Santos, who has eight career Whelen Modified Tour poles, including three at Stafford. “It's a lot of fun each time I drive for (Tinio Racing). We're not able to do all the races, but when we go, we do it right.”

In the fourth event of the season, Santos is making just his second start for Tinio. He plans to run only a partial schedule in 2012 while also continuing to run USAC cars in the midwest.

Eric Berndt, Bryon Chew, Ryan Preece and Doug Coby rounded out the Top-5 qualifiers.

RACE DAY: Eric Beers Tops In Mod Tour Practice

STAFFORD, Conn. – Eric Beers dodged the competition – and the raindrops – on Friday afternoon at Stafford Motor Speeday to post the fastest time in an abbreviated NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour practice.

Beers, a two-time Coors Light Pole Award winner at the track, will try and repeat his efforts when qualifying for the TSI Harley-Davidson 125 gets underway at 6 p.m. Practice was cut short by roughly 15 minutes when a heavy, albeit quick, rain shower pelted the speedway just before 3:30 p.m.

“Hopefully, we'll get a good time trial run and get a good race tonight,” said Beers, of Northampton, Pa. “We've got a pretty good race car underneath us... We'll make a couple minor adjustments (for qualifying). The whole team's really excited.

“We're going to go out and get them tonight.”

May 24, 2012

FANTASY: Putting the "Long" in Weekend

Coca-Cola 600 Fantasy Preview

Jimmie Johnson has made a habit of
visiting Charlotte's Victory Lane. (Getty)
I'd like to apologize for not getting out a Fantasy Auto Racing preview earlier.  (I know there's probably at least four or five people that were planning on reading it thoroughly.)  I always release this on Thursdays, but Yahoo cuts off the time to change your roster in the wee hours of qualifying morning, and that's today, so the "Fans of NHMS" players will only be able to swap their Starters and Bench.

If it makes you feel better, I'd really only pieced together my preliminary roster and had planned to fine tune it as I wrote this preview.  In my defense, there's never qualifying on Thursday, but then again, I should have known that the race with latest start time of any NASCAR weekend (Sunday night) and the longest distance (600 miles) would be different when it came to qualifying as well.

May 23, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Forgotten Men, Forgotten Formats And Forgotten Pasts

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

WHEN DO YOU see the forgotten man walking around all day with an ear-to-ear grin? What that supposedly “forgotten man” is Joey Polewarczyk Jr., that's when.

Polewarczyk has been practically giddy of late, even before he finished second on Sunday in the ACT LateModel Tour's Armed Forces Day 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway. Polewarczyk had been keeping tabs on the racing coverage in the northeast over the last month, the same coverage that boasted headlines and mountains of accompanying copy praising the new rivalry atop the ACT standings.

Those same headlines and thousands of sentences produced an unending stream of the names “Helliwell” and “Hoar.” Barely anybody's even taken notice that Polewarczyk is right in the thick of this dogfight – up to second in the standings after bad days for both Wayne Helliwell Jr. and Brian Hoar at Oxford. Barely anybody, that is, except for Polewarczyk himself.

“That's exactly what I said before (last weekend),” Polewarczyk said. “They were battling at Lee and Thunder Road and even at Canaan last week. Everyone's had their articles about a new rivalry in ACT or whatever, and I'm sitting there third in points just smiling.

“I know I'm right there.”

Sprint Cup Midseason Flags

A season opening victory in the Daytona 500
got Kenseth out in front of the pack. (Getty)
In most sports, the All-Star Event is marked as the unofficial halfway point in the season.  It's a time to take stock of how your team is performing and what changes might be necessary to get where it needs to be at season's end.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season still seems young.  It's just 11 races into a 36-race slate.  However, with the Chase accounting for the final 10 races of the season, it very much is the middle of what can loosely be referred to as a regular season.

Some drivers have stormed out of the gates and are looking great to make the Chase, while other expected contenders have faltered.  This is an assessment of some of the more prominent drivers, in terms of storylines, when likened to a race flag.  I'm limiting it to four per category, so in the the case of some drivers that are performing as expected, I've placed them somewhere in a relative running order.

May 21, 2012

VIDEO: ACT Armed Forces Day 150

PODIUM FINISH: Week Ending May 20

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

First-time winners turned in some impressive performances, and some first-time starters were equally impressive. Fields in both the weekly series and touring series ranks are proving both deep and capable, meaning the competition is as good as it's been in years.

Without further ado, here's who made The Podium this week:

1. Ben Ashline, Pittston, Maine

Ashline bested both the full-time ACT Late Model Tour teams and a stout field of weekly Oxford Plains Speedway Late Model drivers to win the Armed Forces Day 150 on Sunday afternoon. The victory was the first on the ACT Late Model Tour for Ashline, the 2011 ACT Rookie of the Year.

May 20, 2012

PHOTO FINISH: ACT Armed Forces Day 150

The starting grid for the ACT Late Model Tour Armed Forces Day 150 is staged on the frontstretch at Oxford Plains Speedway Sunday during driver introductions.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS: Ben Ashline Wins 1st ACT Race

OXFORD, Maine – ACT Late Model Tour regulars fear the locals from Oxford Plains Speedway, and the weekly Late Model drivers at Oxford likewise eye their touring counterparts with some trepidation when they roll into the track a few times each season.

Ben Ashline might just have the best of both worlds.

Ashline, a former weekly competitor at Oxford and current full-time ACT competitor, put a solid and convincing whipping on the field Sunday to win the Armed Forces Day 150. Ashline, of Pittston, Maine, led the final 104 laps for his first career ACT Late Model Tour victory.

“It still really hasn't even sunk in yet,” said Ashline, the 2011 ACT Rookie of the Year. “The car was really good. It stayed so consistent, I feel like I could have run another 100 laps and the car wouldn't have changed. The car was that consistent.”

Joey Polewarczyk Jr. of Hudson, N.H., finished a distant second. Jeff White, last year's Oxford Plains track champion and defending winner of this event, was third. Brent Dragon and Austin Theriault rounded out the Top-5.

CAREER DAY: Chase Elliott Grabs 1st Career K&N Win

NEWTON, Iowa – Closer and closer to that first victory each time out this season, Chase Elliott was able to take home the checkered flag Saturday night at Iowa Speedway in the Graham Tire 150 for his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series triumph.

Elliott, the second generation driver of the No. 9 Aaron's/HendrickCars.com Chevrolet from Dawsonville, Ga., inherited the lead on Lap 145 from a dominant Brett Moffitt and held on through a green-white-checkered finish for the first victory in 16 career K&N Pro Series East starts.

Elliott's performance led a number of career-best performances. Ryan Blaney was second to equal his career-best K&N Pro Series finish, while Cale Conley and Travis Pastrana finished third and fourth, respectively. Both Conley and Pastrana recorded their best career K&N results.

"Brett had the dominant car tonight, and you hate to see that get taken away from anybody -- especially when it's you," said Elliott, the Hendrick Motorsports development driver and son of Bill Elliott. "But we'll take it any way we can get them."

May 16, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Oxford Test, Little Man Syndrome And A Day In The Life

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.

May 15, 2012

A 24-Hour Headache

Jeff Gordon has had a lot to
think about this year. (Getty)
The old adage of a superstar is that it's better to burnout than fade away.  However, few of us envisioned that a year after putting up a formidable run at the Cup, we'd be watching Jeff Gordon's season burn to the ground by Memorial Day.

Things have gotten so bad for Gordon and the No. 24 team in the season's first 11 races that he trails an actual fader in former teammate Mark Martin.  Martin was replaced at Hendrick Motorsports this year by Kasey Kahne.  With only eight starts, the 53-year-old is fulfilling the role of a part-time driver, albeit quite well.  It was his career that was supposed to be on the downslide, not Gordon's!

May 14, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: Week Ending May 13

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

A lot of old familiar faces dotted Victory Lane across the northeast as touring series and short tracks are in full swing with the arrival (finally) of bonafide spring weather.

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

1. Ryan Preece, Berlin, Conn.

Preece finally broke through to solidify his hot start to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season, leading every lap and winning the Whitcomb 200 at Monadnock Speedway on Saturday after setting a track record in qualifying.

May 13, 2012

PREECE PERFECT: Leads Every Lap For Mod Win

WINCHESTER, N.H. -- Ryan Preece converted his third Coors Light Pole Award into his first win of the season Saturday night with a victory in the Whitcomb 200 presented by Mobix & Town Fair Tire at Monadnock Speedway.

Preece led every lap and took the checkered flag 1.423 seconds in front of runner-up Doug Coby. Todd Szegedy, the 2011 race winner, finished third. Justin Bonsignore and Ron Silk finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Silk, the points leader, maintained a one-point advantage in the standings over Coby. 

Preece, who set a track record in qualifying, is four points behind Silk. It was Preece's second consecutive track record and his third straight pole to start the season. He has won four straight poles dating back to last season.

May 10, 2012

FANTASY: Anything But a Darling

Bojangles' Southern 500 Fantasy Preview

Regan Smith's 2011 trip to Victory Lane was a
rare feat at the track "Too Tough to Tame." (Getty)
The only thing sweet about "The Lady in Black" is the "darling" in its official name.  I'm not bashing the track, it's own Twitter handle boasts its other nickname: @TooToughToTame.

The egg shaped 1.366-mile oval originally opened in 1950 and has been challenging drivers to beat it ever since.  The track was originally slated to be a standard oval, just like NHMS, but it was interestingly a minnow pond that changed that fate.  The landowner asked that the track not disturb the pond located near turns 3 and 4, so the configuration was reconsidered to account for it.

Perhaps that odd twist in fate was a sign of things to come for the track "Too Tough to Tame."  The first Southern 500 was run on Labor Day in the year it opened and it's been hosting that race ever since.

May 8, 2012

10 Things To Do During a Rain Delay

Welcome to New England's rainy season.
Ugh!  For the first time in recent memory, drivers from the Sprint Cup Series are in Loudon for a test session.  In general, NASCAR doesn't allow testing at tracks where the series races, but the test is for Goodyear to work on its tires, so it needs to run on actual tracks for accurate results.  New Hampshire Motor Speedway was selected as one of the lucky four tracks to host this event!

Of course, after three beautiful sunny days, it's pouring buckets of rain today, as the tire test is set to get underway.  As the rain continues to fall steadily and the radar shows no signs of clearing up soon, we're just forced to sit and wait for the cars to get on track.

It's likely that they won't make it on track today at all and have to wait until tomorrow for what had been scheduled as the second of the two-day test.  In the meantime, here's a list of some ways to keep ourselves busy.

May 7, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: For Week Ending May 6

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

We had first-time winners, multi-time winners winning again and some fantastic efforts in the northeast all weekend long. If the first few weeks of the season have been any indication, we're in for a heck of a summer.

Without further ado, let's look at who made The Podium this week:

1. Wayne Helliwell Jr., Dover, N.H.

After two straight weeks of finishing as the bridesmaid, Helliwell finally did what we all figured he would before too long: He won an ACT Late Model Tour race. Helliwell took over the ACT points lead after winning his first career race in the Spring Green 112 at Devil's Bowl Speedway on Sunday afternoon.

May 4, 2012

FANTASY: Time to Define the Season

Aaron's 499 Fantasy Preview

Bowyer is in like Clint when it
comes to Talladega. (Getty, 2010)
The Talladega Superspeedway will do anything but separate the cars on the track, but it will be a crucial separation of contenders from the pretenders in the Sprint Cup Series.  As the 10th race of the season, the Aaron's 499 is far enough into the season that most teams should be able to take stock of what they need to contend for the title.

Some teams are sitting pretty.  Some are clinging loosely to a Chase spot.  Some need to find a way to make up ground before the Race to the Chase goes into the critical stretch and leaves them behind.

It's not too late to make up significant ground, but a track like Talladega won't do any favors.  The restrictor-plate race is notorious for big wrecks and it's likely that at least one team still hopeful for the Chase will get put into a big hole this weekend.

May 2, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Changing Seats, Changing Guard and Changing Your Tune

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

DOUG COBY HAS really come of age on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

It's not just that he won his second Tech-Net Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford Motor Speedway last weekend, or even that he's sits second in the Tour standings after two events, or even, really that he's managed to finish in the Top-10 in both races thus far in 2012, despite spinning on three different occasions in the season opener at Thompson International Speedway last month.

What's most impressive, really, is that Coby is now – finally, promisingly, fittingly – in a full-time ride on the Tour. Coby for the last few seasons has defined the term “journeyman” when it came to the stock car racing scene in New England.

Don't think so? The Milford, Conn., driver was like the Matt Stairs of the Whelen Modified Tour. Every month it seemed he was in the seat for a different team. By his own estimation, two years ago he drove for a total of five different teams on the Modified Tour, in weekly SK Modified competition on Connecticut's short tracks, or making a spot start in another series somewhere.

In 2012, Coby's owner Wayne Darling has committed to fielding the No. 52 for every race on the schedule.

May 1, 2012

Guess Who's Back!?

Kurt (left) and Kyle Busch reaffirmed their
presence in NASCAR at Richmond. (Getty)
They're baaaaaack!  Did you miss them?

The sons of Tom and Gaye Busch are two of the most polarizing drivers in NASCAR.  You either cheer loudly for them or you cheer adamantly against them, but everyone has an opinion on Kurt and Kyle Busch.

After years of watching the Buschs parade to victory lanes around the country, those sickened to their stomachs by the sight finally got a full bottle of Pepto Bismol at the start of 2012.  But, the bottle ran empty quickly this weekend and the Busch brothers reminded that, love 'em or hate 'em, one thing they always did well was win races.