Champs Hope To Maintain ‘Stewartship’ In Loudon
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
If recent history means anything – which, in a constantly and rapidly evolving sport like auto racing, it seldom does – then the drivers for Stewart-Haas Racing may be the ones to watch in today’s Lennox Industrial Tools 301 Sprint Cup race.
The event is at New Hampshire Motor Speedway; the flat, tight, 1.058-mile oval which sits in the scenic backwoods near Loudon. It’s a place where the Stewart-Haas cars and drivers dominated a year ago.
SHR driver Ryan Newman won both poles at NHMS in 2011. He also won the summer race. Teammate/team owner Tony Stewart won the fall race. Stewart has an average finish of 11.5 and Newman 13th at the place.
This week, both were asked about their recent success at New Hampshire. Here is what they had to say:
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 SHR Chevrolet when ask why he and his team are so good at NHMS: “I think our cars are good, there’s no doubt. I think the Hendrick engines, I mean everything’s clicking. I like the track because I think you have to feel the tires and be on the edge. I was thinking about it last week. I think (Tony) Stewart might have a similar answer, it kind of reminds us of our old IRP
(Indianapolis Raceway Park) days.
“This kind of drives like that kind of race track where your car is on top of the race track, and you get everything that you can. There is nothing to really make it go any faster. It’s not like you are pushing the car on the banking to make it grip better. There’s none of that really to speak of here. I think just a little bit of our past. A little bit of our time. A little bit of us as far as the way we drive race cars.”
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 SHR Chevrolet when asked the same question: “I wish I knew, but it seems like where we were last year it’s continuing on so far even though we’ve got a little bit different tire it sounds like. I’m pretty happy with it. I mean the car right off the first lap felt like it had really good balance to it. Just got to keep working with it and see if we can keep making it better all weekend.”
The track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Location: Loudon, N.H.
Configuration: 1.058-mile oval
Grandstand seating capacity: 93,521
Ownership: Speedway Motorsports Inc.
First Cup race: The Slick 50 300, July 11, 1993
First pole-sitter: Mark Martin
First race winner: Rusty Wallace
Banking: Variable between 2 and 7 degrees in corners
Most wins: 4, by Jeff Burton
Most poles: 6, by Ryan Newman
Most top-fives: 15, by Jeff Gordon
Closest margin of victory: .068 seconds (7/1/07)
While Stewart-Haas team drivers swept last year’s races at New Hampshire, who was the last driver to sweep at the place?
The keys to today’s race are offered up by Howard Comstock of SRT Motorsports Engineering:
Getting Through the Corners: “The problem here – the tight corners. People compare this to a big Martinsville. What’s big about it is the straightaways are longer which allows the cars to gain more speed so you’ve got more speed on corner entry. The corners here are tight relative to the size of the track, so the cars are always tight in the middle of the corner. So what the teams fight year after year is tight in the middle of the corner. To get the car to turn in the middle, you loosen the chassis up. Then, not only are the cars too loose coming off the corner but they tend to get loose getting into the corner. With the relatively high speeds that we see here, loose into the corner is a bad situation. It’s hard on the driver.”
Brakes: “Brakes are important, they really are, but they should last 300 miles. The advantage we have here is that the race is only 300 miles, so the brakes will last 300 miles even though they get a really great workout. Remember at Martinsville we go 500 laps. Here we only go 300 laps so if you have to brake hard a thousand times at Martinsville you only have to brake 600 times here. That makes a big difference.”
Fuel Mileage: “Fuel mileage is always a factor here because everybody has to play the track position
game. That’s how mileage comes into it. It’s hard to pass so you have to time your pit stops and try to make as few stops as possible. Consequently, everybody is stretching everything. They start from the beginning of the race looking at the end of the race and working the race backwards. So, when is the first possible time we can pit to get to the end of the race? That’s why fuel economy comes into it. That’s why people are afraid of green-white-checkers here.”
Both Dodges Will Start Outside the Top 20. What Can They Do To Gain Track Position Early? “It immediately forces you into a strategy where you have to take advantage of early cautions and get your pit work done – make adjustments, get fuel in the car – and if another caution comes relatively soon, you’ve got to stay committed, skip that pit stop, keep your track position and hope that the race will go long enough that everybody will have to pit that next caution.”
Hush, here he comes
Matt Kenseth will be a lame duck driver for Roush Fenway Racing for the rest of the season. That puts him and his team in an odd situation as the Roush folks don’t really want Kenseth to head out the door for a final time with a brief case full of proprietary information.
Kevin Harvick, whose Richard Childress Racing team faced a similar situation last year when Clint Bowyer went lame duck, was asked about the Kenseth situation this week.
“Obviously you take the things and you put them a little closer to your chest than what you would have,” Harvick said. “But, on a race weekend, it’s one of those deals where its springs, and shocks, and bump stops, and pretty much the normal stuff. If you find something new, I’m sure you just put it in and don’t tell anybody.”
Kurt Busch swept the New Hampshire races in 2004. He was driving for Roush Racing at the time.
Carl Edwards is in a tough spot. The Roush Fenway driver is 11th in points today – 31 out of the 10th and final non-Wild Card spot – and has no victories. That is, he is not a Chaser in the clubhouse.
The guy who finished second in the championship last year either needs to pick up a couple of victories or put together a string of top-five finishes to ensure his entry into the 2012 Chase, which is now just nine races away.
He was asked this week if his situation is such that he would attempt a move like the one he tried to put on Jimmie Johnson at the race in Kansas a couple years back – a final-lap banzai move in which he purposely drove into the final turn too deeply, passed Johnson for the lead and then bounced his car the wall hoping all would turn out for the best. (It didn’t).
“Probably,” he said. “I have to be careful with it, though. Whenever you go lunging out there and do things that are really risky, there’s a reason people don’t do a lot of that stuff because there’s big potential for a downside. I don’t know. I think if we were close to a win here this weekend it would be very, very hard not to really just go for it. We need a win bad, but, at the same time, we still have enough races that if we just run solidly and run like we know we can, I think we’ll march into the top 10 on our own merit just with points, so I’m not quite to that point yet, but ask me again at Richmond. We’ll see what happens.”
The Sprint Cup Series takes a break next weekend before heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400. Last year’s race at the Brickyard was won by Paul Menard of Richard Childress Racing.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment