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Fast Times Could Spice Up New Hampshire

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 17 2011

The Sprint Cup cars and drivers will take to the mile flat track in Loudon, N.H. this afternoon. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The track record at New Hampshire Motor Speedway took a major beating on Friday as driver after driver eclipsed it during qualifying for today’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 Sprint Cup race.

The reason for the beatings? A couple of drivers said there are four reasons. They are all round, black and made of rubber.

Goodyear brought a new tire to the Loudon mile this weekend and it could make for a very interesting race today.

Here is what drivers who will start the race from the front row had to say about the new tires:

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet: “Yes, it is definitely a balance change a little bit.  The good thing it seems like the grip is there a little quicker than the old tire. The old tire used to take two or three laps for the tire to come in. The grip seems to be there much quicker with this tire. It doesn’t seem like it chatters quite as bad so I think it is a better tire.”

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet: “It’s a new tire. That’s one part of it. We’ve continuously, it seems like most race tracks even though the

Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman say speeds should be high today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

tires do change, we’ve made the cars better. When you look at the history of all the
things that we’ve done since the inception of this car. I think it’s a combination of things with the tire being a big part of it. We come back a little bit better race cars and a little bit better engineering and a little bit better strategies and a little bit more knowledge and more notes where to start. The race track hasn’t changed a whole lot so we have better ideas of what to expect. I’ve always said the only thing touching the race track are the tires, so when they change it it’s a big change.”

Fast facts

What: Lenox Industrial Tools 301

Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway; Loudon, N.H.

When: Today, 1 p.m. ET

Clint Bowyer won last fall at New Hampshire. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

TV: TNT, Noon ET

Radio: PRN/Sirius-XM Ch. 90

Track layout: 1.058-mile oval

Race distance: 301 laps/318.5 miles

2010 winner: Jimmie Johnson

2010 polesitter: Juan Pablo Montoya

Today’s polesitter: Ryan Newman

First race: The Slick 50 300

First winner: Rusty Wallace

First polesitter: Mark Martin

Trivia time

The last time a driver led every lap of a Sprint Cup Series race was the 2000 Dura Lube 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  Who was that driver?

Toss me the keys

Travis Geisler, director of competition at Penske Racing, offers the keys to today’s race at NHMS:

Unique characteristics: “Anytime that you come to a short track, getting the car to turn in the center is what everybody talks about, but I think there are a couple of things that are

Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski at Kentucky. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

unique about Loudon: the bumps entering turn three and  the difference of the entry between turns 1 and 3.

“It’s really a different approach to the corner.  You have to have a car that’s capable of handling the heavy braking zone with a lot of bumps.  It really overloads the front end.  You have to make sure you can get through that section to get the beginning of your corner started.  That’s one area we always need to focus on here, to make sure the cars can get through there and get set up well to get through the middle of Turns 3 and 4.  Otherwise, it’s normal short-track stuff.  You have to have really good torque to be able to get off the corner, something that can carry you down the straightaways.  It does have  a fair amount of straightaways for a short track.  If you can manage your braking, manage your entry zone where you can keep the car underneath you and get through the center of the corner, that really is the key here, rolling the center with speed.

Tires vs. track position: “Tires are usually pretty good here.  I think that’s something you’ll see become a race strategy where teams will go for track position over new tires.  Tires don’t wear as much here as they do at other places.  It’s harder to pass cars than the amount of speed you gain with new tires.”

Making a pass:  “Passing cars here is a little tough.  I think the best situation you could

Penske Racing's Kurt Busch passes brother Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing at Kentucky. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

have is to be able to pull underneath somebody in the middle of the corner.  You’re kind of on that free roll here where it seems like the cars are almost stopped.  If you can get just get a fender underneath somebody, you can force them up on exit and get them out of the lane they want.  Then you have the advantage going down the straightaway and the preferred entry line in the next corner to complete the pass.  I don’t think you really complete many passes in one corner.  You have to put together two corners that are much better than them, first to get a run on them, work them up high on entry and take advantage of the spot.”

Fuel mileage strategy:  “It’s probably a little tougher here than at other places because you don’t stop a lot and don’t get a lot of fuel-mileage reads to develop a good average.  We’ve got some historical stuff, but it’s never the same as what you have now.  We’ve made changes this year with the ethanol and other things that have tweaked our mileage.  You need to be able to get good fuel reads to be aggressive on that last run.  It’s really tough when you only have maybe one or two reads to go off of where a track like Pocono, you have more fuel runs there to get a good average.”

Trivia answer

Jeff Burton led all 300 laps of the 2000 Dura Lube 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (9/17/00).

Big bodies, small minds

On national television the other night, some NFL player named Golden Tate brought up

Non-athlete Jimmie Johnson. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

the perennial argument of  the limited minded: That pro drivers are not athletes.

Tate was referring specifically to Jimmie Johnson.

Several Cup drivers heard the comment and reacted. Here is what Carl Edwards had to say:

“Yeah, I saw that last night and I thought that was hilarious. I thought it was pretty comical. I personally would invite anyone, including Golden Tate, or anyone who thinks that Jimmie Johnson isn’t an athlete to come out and compete with him in just about anything. He might not be able to lift as much weight as those guys but I have followed Jimmie Johnson on a motocross track and watched what he is able to do and a lot of people don’t realize how much of an athlete he is. I thought it was interesting.”

Track tidbits

Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Cup races: 32

Most victories: 4, by Jeff Burton

Most poles: 5 (including today’s), by Ryan Newman

Most top-fives: 14, by Jeff Gordon

Most DNFs: 11, by Joe Nemechek

Best average finish: 7.6, by Denny Hamlin

Youngest race winner: Joey Logano (19 years, 1 month, 4 days)

Youngest polesitter: Brian Vickers (21 years, 8 months, 3 days)

Most lead changes: 23

Most leaders: 15

Narrowest margin of victory: .068 seconds

Earncon alert

Conditions for a Dale Earnhardt Jr. victory at New Hampshire today stand at – 2.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished in the top 10 twice last year at NHMS. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Earnhardt has never won at NHMS. His best finish is third and his average finish is 16.7. In the three practices this weekend, he was 16th, 16th and 15th.

But, he finished top 10 in both races at the track last year.

Wild Card watch

The chase for the Wild Card berths in the Chase is red hot with eight races to go until the playoffs.

Only one driver outside the top 10 in points and inside the top 20 has a victory – David Ragan – but there is a large handful who could either get a victory before the Chase starts at Chicagoland Speedway, or who could fall out of the top 10 or into the top 20.

Ragan was asked who he thinks could get a victory and challenge him for one of the Wild Cards.

“Watkins Glen is just around the corner and that is Marcos Ambrose’s best track on the circuit in my opinion,” he said. “I think he will be really strong there. If you look at this weekend, our Ford teammate A.J. Allmendinger is really good on the short track. Either one of those two guys could win one at any moment. I know it has been a year or two since Logano has won and he feels the pressure to win. He has been running great lately too. I think there are three or four guys and they all happen to be right around us in points that could possible get that win.”

Up next

The Sprint Cup series has next weekend off. After that it moves to Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, July 17 2011
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