September 28, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Milk, Modifieds And More Saturdays

It's Thursday 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...

GONE ARE THE guaranteed starting spots, straight-up starting grids and the relative ease of running at the front all day en route to a podium finish.

The ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway has come and gone – and now the focus of the ACT Late Model Tour and its teams across the region has shifted to the biggest little race in the northeast. And with an added bonus of $50,000 being offered to any driver who can win all three segments this weekend, the People's United Milk Bowl at Thunder Road International Speedbowl just became possibly the most lucrative “biggest little race” anywhere in the nation.

It's the Milk Bowl, and all of its celebrated quirk and circumstance is here for the 50 running of the annual Late Model event which features time trials, heat racing, three segments in the main event and a field inversion after each segment is complete.

In short, it encapsulates virtually every single aspect of short-track racing in the United States and boils it down to two furious days of competition.

It's a tough race to win. It's not one race, it's three races,” said Brian Hoar, the eight-time ACT champion and three-time Milk Bowl winner. “It's like a mini championship day. It's tough to win. Some years, it's a high-point total that wins it and some years it's a low-point total. You just never know.”

FANTASY: The Concrete Truth

AAA 400 Fantasy Preview

It's hard to forget Jimmie Johnson in Dover's Victory Lane
this past June with the crazy Madagascar wig. (Getty)
"You want answers?"

"I think I'm entitled."

"You want answers!?"

"I WANT THE TRUTH!"

NASCAR fans, "you can't handle the truth!"

September 25, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: Week Ending September 23

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

Simple enough task this time around, considering the New England stock car racing scene was focused on the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup's annual Sylvania 300 weekend. And considering that a four-race 'Short Track Saturday' was one of the highlights of the entire three days in Loudon, there were plenty of performances to choose from.

Without further ado, lets find out who made The Podium this week:

1. Doug Coby, Milford, Conn.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour point leader earned his first career New Hampshire Motor Speedway victory when he won the F.W. Webb 100 and extended his series lead to 21 points with only two races remaining.

September 23, 2012

A DIFFERENT VIEW: An Up And Down Day With Five-Time

LOUDON, N.H. – The last time I sat in the grandstands to watch a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Tony Stewart was a rookie, the Red Sox still hadn't won a World Series since 1918 and the average price for a gallon of gasoline was $1.14.

And though I didn't sit out in my favorite spot down in Turns 3 and 4 for Sunday's Sylvania 300, I did decide to do something drastically different.

Walking up souvenir alley behind the main grandstands first thing in the morning, something was happening around me. Fans were lined up by the dozens at the merchandise trailers for drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski – standing in long lines ready to fork over hard-earned cash for hats, shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the names and numbers of their favorite drivers.

Presumably, they still find a way to identify with drivers – either through personalities, performances or manufacturers – enough so that they form an allegiance. Then they go sit in the sprawling grandstands to watch that car, listen in on a radio scanner and live with the ups and downs of everything that can happen in a 300-lap race on a mile track.

Hamlin may have stripped most of the drama out of the battle for Sylvania 300 victory with his dominating performance Sunday, but as I found out – there is plenty of drama taking place when you look in the right place.

My mission: Pick one driver, listen in on his team's radio frequency and root like heck for him to win.

September 21, 2012

WHY 2 WATCH: Short Track Saturday At NHMS

“Short Track Saturday” is less than 24 hours away, and there's plenty of reason for fans of stock-car racing in New England to tune in.

And, by tune in, of course, I mean come to New Hampshire Motor Speedway to watch in person.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, ACT Late Model Tour and NELCAR Legends Tour will all hold events on Saturday at The Magic Mile – a day's fill for the race fan in all of us. If you're undecided about what it all means – or why it deserves your attention – I'll tell you why it's important for all four divisions.

Here's Why 2 Watch:

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour

1st GEAR – The F.W. Webb 100 is good enough that it will be broadcast live on SPEED Saturday afternoon. The Whelen Modified Tour races at New Hampshire aren't just some of the most entertaining races ever held on the 1.058-mile oval, but they're far and away the most entertaining of the entire season on the Tour. Bump drafting, close finishes (the two closest recorded finishes in NHMS history have both happened in a Modified race in the last five years, including this July's event) and all-out racing are the staples of this ground-pounding division.

September 20, 2012

FANTASY: Chasing the Magic

SYLVANIA 300 Fantasy Preview

Tony Stewart has the series' best driver
rating at NHMS. (Credit: NHMS/HHP)
It's race week here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway!  For the second time this year, the NASCAR circus will roll into the small town of Loudon at New England's only Sprint Cup Series track.

At NHMS, we focus on providing the best experience possible in just two weeks of the year, and it's our time to shine.  Riding the golf cart around the facility on Thursday, I could tell a difference even from morning to afternoon.  This place has sprung to life!

Bring it on NASCAR fans, we're ready for you.  And, so is the Sprint Cup Series.

The NSCS started off the Chase for the Sprint Cup last weekend in a predictable fashion: Jimmie Johnson ran up front, few of the non-Chasers seemed of much relevance, and no one was willing to take any risks at the expense of falling back in the standings.

September 19, 2012

RICKY CRAVEN: NASCAR K&N Pro Series 'Hasn't Changed In Terms Of Identity'

He is still the shining star of New England stock car racing, even as he now says he's onto his “third life,” a life that has him no longer an active driver but an important presence on the television side of NASCAR.

And today, Ricky Craven still sees New Hampshire Motor Speedway as a necessary stop on the path to a Sprint Cup Series career for young, aspiring drivers.When the Newburgh, Maine, native won the Chevy Dealers of New England 250 at New Hampshire back in 1991, it tossed his career into a blazing spotlight.

“Without the Nationwide Series to compete against, it still would have been – so what? You can succeed on a regional level, but can you master these guys on a national level?” said Craven, who now is a regular on ESPN's NASCAR programming, including color commentary for select Nationwide Series races. “What I knew (in 1991) and still know today – Dave Dion, Dick McCabe, the Dragon brothers, Mike Rowe – those guys that I raced against were great drivers, salt of the earth people, and they were as good as guys I raced against all the way up through the Sprint Cup Series.

“But that doesn't matter. You know and I know how good those guys were, and you can tell people that until you're blue in the face, but they want to see you against the best there is. When I won that Chevy Dealers 250, I was able to go against guys like Harry Gant – who had won seven races in a row between Sprint Cup and Nationwide – and Chuck Bown, and I went on to win the race. Had there not been a New Hampshire Motor Speedway – had there not been a Nationwide race that particular weekend there – there would have been no opportunity for me to compete at a national level on a big track against people that I needed to impress to catch their attention.”

Today's NASCAR K&N Pro Series, which grew out of the old Busch North Series, has taken what New Hampshire Motor Speedway provided two decades ago and improved upon it. Now, New Hampshire isn't the only stop on a national stage for the series.

September 18, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: Week Ending September 16

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

There's no shortage of “big” events as we head into the biggest racing weekend of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and some of the performances from the weekend will carry a number of teams into The Magic Mile with a strong dose of momentum.

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

1. Brent Dragon, Milton, Vt.

In a race finish that was so close the transponders and video replays told differing stories, Dragon won the Vermont 100 on Sunday at Devil's Bowl Speedway over Chip Grenier by just inches at the checkered flag. Transponders originally had Grenier winning by .013 seconds before video confirmed that it was actually Dragon's car that had cross the finish line first.

September 14, 2012

FANTASY: Chasing in Chicago

GEICO 400 Fantasy Preview

Stewart is hardly a stranger to Victory Lane at Chicagoland. (Getty)
It's crunch time!  The Chase field is all set and the 10-race shootout for a championship kicks off this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

For a driver like Jimmie Johnson, he's known for the better part of the summer that a Chase berth was assured.  For his teammate (and car owner) Jeff Gordon, he was looking in the rearview mirror at the Richmond finish line to see how many cars back Kyle Busch was running ... just enough, to put it simply.

However, for us Fantasy Auto Racing owners, there is no Chase.  There's no reset button.  Whether you ran with the consistency of Greg Biffle or faced the frustrations of Carl Edwards, you're in the system by which NASCAR operated before the institution of the Chase in 2004.  You can win the Chase segment on Yahoo, but you'll ultimately be graded on a full, 36-race season.

September 10, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: Week Ending September 9

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

It was a busy weekend at Thompson International Speedway – followed by a big payday – but it was hardly the only place with races for bragging rights. The ACT Late Model Tour was north of the border for their annual All-Star race,, points races are winding down across the northeast's short tracks and there is plenty on the line for touring series, too.

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

1. Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn.

Just a handful of races after taking over the Ole Blue No. 3 for an injured Keith Rocco, Christopher won one of the biggest NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events of the season. Christopher led 44 of 50 laps to win the non-points UNOH Showdown at Thompson International Speedway, on Sunday pocketing $15,000 plus lap leader bonuses with the victory.

September 9, 2012

NICE FIT: Ted Christopher Scores UNOH Showdown Win For Ole Blue

THOMPSON, Conn. – Ted Christopher was the big winner on Sunday afternoon at Thompson International Speedway, but the victories picked up by a pair of drivers earlier in the day may have been just as significant.

Christopher dominated the 50-lap UNOH Showdown for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, earning his first win in just his fourth start with the esteemed Ole Blue No. 3 owned by the longtime Modified staple Boehler family.

“We had a pretty good run going in the first race, but a restart sort of screwed us up there,” said Christopher, who won $15,000 – plus lap leader bonuses. “(Crew chief Scott Richards) said he'd make some adjustments to make it better, and he really did. I really want to thank them.”

Jimmy Blewett charged from 27th in the 32-car All-Star field to finish second to Christopher, while Ryan Preece earned his second podium finish of the day with a third-place finish. Donny Lia and Doug Coby rounded out the Top-5 with seven of the Top-10 finishers in the event hailing from the northern tour.

Of the drivers with little to no Thompson experience, Burt Myers had the best day with a 10th-place finish.

September 7, 2012

BUMP STOPS: Comparisons, Competition And Cup Debuts

It's Friday 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...

I THINK IT'S time to throw this comparison out there: Brian Hoar is the Jimmie Johnson of the ACT Late Model Tour.

The championships are one thing. Hoar has eight ACT Late Model Tour championships, the most the most of any active driver and the most in Tour history. Johnson, obviously, has five NASCAR Sprint Cup titles. Hoar leads all drivers in history with 37 points wins, while Johnson has 58 career Cup wins – among the active leaders.

But it's more than just statistics, as good as those statistics are.

Like Johnson, Hoar gets a lukewarm reaction from most fans. It seems they respect his record of dominance, but like Johnson there doesn't seem to be a groundswell of overwhelming support for everything he's accomplished already.

Consider the relative ages of the two competitors, too – at 40, Hoar has several of his prime years still ahead of him. The fact that he has trained for marathons and leads an active lifestyle away from the track only suggests that he's got as many years left as he'd like to have. For Johnson, he's not going to turn 37 until later this month and has another decade behind the wheel if he'd like.

September 6, 2012

FANTASY: Prepping for a Wild Night

Federated Auto Parts 400 Fantasy Preview

Hamlin has found victory lane at his home track before. (Getty)
If Carl Edwards wins this weekend, Jeff Gordon finishes in 12th (without leading a lap) and Kyle Busch finishes 23rd (without leading a lap), Edwards makes the Chase (if my math is correct).  That's a lot of "if's," so let's keep it simple.

Edwards has not won a race in a year and half, and Kyle Busch has 13 top-10s in 15 Richmond starts.  The odds of those "if's" coming to fruition are similar odds to, let's say, Aric Almirola (zero top-fives this season) winning this weekend's race.  It's not impossible, but it's certainly improbable.

For all practical purposes, let's assume there are five drivers fighting for one Wild Card spot.  Busch, Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano can all qualify for the Chase simply by winning this weekend.

September 5, 2012

'Magic Mile' Power Rankings for Week 26


A terrific pit stop and strong restart on Sunday night at Atlanta helped Denny
Hamlin to his  second straight win and into the "Magic Mile" Power Rankings
for the first time. (AP)
 And then there were five. With 11 of the Chase spots already locked up, Saturday night’s race at Richmond will serve as the final opportunity to clinch that coveted 12th position in the Sprint Cup playoff. And it’s going to take a win to do it. Kyle Busch currently holds the second wild-card spot, but if Jeff Gordon, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman or Joey Logano are able to find their way into victory lane then they will leapfrog Rowdy for the final spot. Here’s a look at the 10 hottest drivers heading to Richmond:

1. Brad Keselowski (Last week: 4) – Bristol (where he finished 30th) proved to be a mere hiccup for Keselowski, who secured his fourth top-five in his last five races. This could be an interesting weekend for Mr. Twitter, who has just one top-10 in his last five starts at RIR. Fast fact: Keselowski leads all Cup drivers with 1,463 quality passes this season.
2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: 6) – He looked well on his way to his second-career Cup win on Saturday night in Atlanta, but a late caution allowed Denny Hamlin to beat him off the restart. That’s a tough break for one of the series’ most consistent drivers this season. Like Bad Brad, Truex has just one top-10 in his last five races at Richmond, but this hasn’t exactly been a typical season for the No. 56. Fast fact: Truex has more top-fives this season (six) than he had in the last three seasons combined (five).
3. Denny Hamlin (Last week: 10) – Tenth to third might be a big leap, but back-to-back victories tends to skew the numbers a bit. While some may argue that Truex or Kevin Harvick deserved to win on Saturday night, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone that didn’t think Hamlin had the car to beat for much of the night. Richmond is one of Hamlin’s best tracks, especially of late as he has four top-10s, including three top-fives and a victory in his last five starts. Fast fact: Hamlin currently owns a career-best 11.2 average starting position.
4. Jeff Gordon (Last week: 8) – With so much on the line in Atlanta, I don’t think there’s a race fan on the planet – whether you like Gordon or not – that would have blamed him for making an aggressive move on Hamlin to take the checkers and all but secure a spot in the Chase. Instead, Gordon is on the outside looking in, and only a victory at Richmond, where he has two-career wins, will guarantee a spot in the postseason. Fast fact: Gordon has finished outside the top 10 in the standings only twice in his 20-year career.
5. Greg Biffle (Last week: 2) – Since taking over the points lead, The Biff has finished 15th and 19th. With two wins already this season there’s no denying he will have the ability to contend once the playoff starts, but he’s going to need to hit his stride now or it might be too late. Richmond has not been a favorable track for Biffle, though, with no top-10s and an average finishing position of 20. Fast fact: Biffle leads all Cup drivers with an average finishing position of 8.702 this season.
6. Clint Bowyer (Last week: 4) – Atlanta (27th) is likely to be an aberration rather than a recurrence. Bowyer has quietly gone about his business over the last month and a half and will be a very legitimate contender once the Chase begins next weekend in Chicago. Richmond could provide a perfect springboard with three top-10s in his last five starts. Fast fact: Bowyer ranks tied for ninth (0.7) in positions improved in the last 10 percent of each race – tops of any driver currently locked into the Chase.
7. Kyle Busch (Last week: NR) – Truth be told, the fact Rowdy is seventh is a lot less surprising than the fact that this is his first week on the list. And the fact that he’s been so quietly good over the last month is probably a big reason why he’s gone so largely unnoticed on this register. Busch is in with a win this week at Richmond, a track where he has a ridiculous 13 top-10s and four victories in 15-career starts. Fast fact: Despite this being one of the worst seasons, statistically, in Busch’s career, he is averaging a career-best 11.4 starting position through the first 25 races.
8. Jimmie Johnson (Last week: 1) – It might be a bit unfair to drop Mr. Five Time all the way to eighth, but it was his second finish outside the top 25 in the last three weeks. He does, however, have seven top-fives since June 3, and with the Chase less than two weeks away it’s likely the No. 48 team will be the odds-on favorite when they roll into Chicagoland. But first, Richmond, where JJ has four top-fives in his last five starts. Fast fact: Johnson leads all Cup drivers with 1,357.81 miles led this season.
9. Marcos Ambrose (Last week: 7) – Still hanging around. It’s going to take a win for the Aussie to get into the Chase, but he’s proven (of late, anyway) that he can hang with the big boys. He took a small step back last week at Atlanta, finishing 15th, ending a solid streak of four straight top-10s, including three top-fives, one of those a victory. If he gets in he’ll certainly have earned it, as he only has two top-10s, one a top-five in his last five starts at this short track. Fast fact: Ambrose entered the season with zero poles in his career – he has two this season.
10. Kasey Kahne (Last week: 6) – This was a toss-up between Hendrick teammates. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been running better of late, but Kahne has been a bit more consistent for a longer stretch, so the edge goes to July’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway race winner. Richmond has been feast or famine for Kahne, who has two top-fives and three finishes outside the top 20 in his last five starts at the short track. Fast fact: Kahne ranks third in averaging starting position this season (8.7), behind only points leader Greg Biffle and part-timer Mark Martin.
Off the pace: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Last week: 10)
Bump-drafting: Kevin HarvickSometimes the best car doesn’t win.
Rankings and opinions are expressed solely of the writer.

September 4, 2012

PODIUM FINISH: Week Ending September 3

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

Labor Day may serve as the traditional end of summer, but things are only just heating up on the northeast's racing scene. From Late Models to Modifieds, the racing around New England (and beyond) over the past week was as intense as it's been all season.

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

1. Brian Hoar, Williston, Vt.

The eight-time ACT Late Model Tour champion earned his second win at Thunder Road International Speedbowl in as many ACT races there this season, capturing his second career Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 on Sunday. Hoar used a great pit stop to gain track position over the rest of the leaders and then led the final 93 laps en route to the victory.

September 2, 2012

PHOTO FINISH: ACT Labor Day Classic 200

A total of 44 cars showed up at Thunder Road International Speedbowl to attempt to qualify for the ACT Late Model Tour's Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 on Sunday. Here's a look back at the day in pictures.

DIFFERENT LOOK, SAME STORY: Brian Hoar Conquers 'New' Thunder Road For Labor Day Classic 200 Win

BARRE, Vt. – They may have changed Thunder Road International Speedbowl this season, but they didn't do much to change the outcome of ACT Late Model Tour racing there.

Eight-time ACT champion Brian Hoar won his second career Bond Auto Labor Day Classic 200 on Sunday afternoon, closing to within single digits of the point lead with his second straight victory on the finicky quarter-mile. Hoar led the final 93 laps and beat Wayne Helliwell and former track champion Cris Michaud for the win.

ACT officials confirmed that heading into the season finale at Airborne Speedway on October 6, Hoar trails Helliwell by just eight points as he chases a record ninth career championship. Two weeks ago that deficit was 44 points, but Hoar has rattled off two straight wins – four in nine races overall this season – to axe away most of Helliwell's previous advantage.

“It's a lot of fun racing a guy like Wayne,” said Hoar in Victory Lane, where he also visited in the second race of the season after winning the Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road.

But his visit to the track then was much different that that one back in May.