Will Change Do NHIS Good?

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When the NASCAR Winston Cup drivers and teams take to New Hampshire International Speedway for practice and qualifying Friday for Sunday’s New England 300, they’ll find a different race track than the one they raced on last November.

NHIS officials, in response to cries of poor, one-groove racing at the 1.058-mile track, widened the lower area of all four turns in April. They hope it creates an extra racing lane, making passing a little easier.

The NASCAR Busch Series ran a race in May, but not many Winston Cup drivers got a chance to test the modifications because the surface was repaved to fix some hairline cracks.

One of the few drivers to test was Steve Grissom, but even he doesn’t think it was much of an advantage because he tested before the resurfacing.

“We know better than some what to expect when we get back up there but I don’t know that we know everything,” Grissom said. “We thought we were going to be one of the lucky teams because we were able to test there, but they came back and repaved the corners since then. I still think we will be a bit smarter than some of these other teams because we did have the time up there but when you repave any part of a track, it changes some things around.”

Grissom’s take? The added lane should make for a little better racing.

“It looks like the changes to the track worked,” Grissom said. “They weren’t drastic changes – I don’t really think the track needed a big change – just enough to help these cars reach a point where they can get side-by-side. The changes were a big enough change to make the place different. The corners sure are wider, and it created enough of a groove to get along side of someone without bumping the guy. It should be a better race, but like I said, once you repave the corners it’s anyone’s guess. We hope that we won’t have to start from scratch, but you never know until you get there on Friday.”

Stacy Compton, who competed in the Busch race May 11, said the track looked different but really didn’t drive different than before.

“It’s a new looking race track,” Compton said. “No, I don’t think it’s a new race track. There is a little more room on the bottom, but you can’t get any bite down there. You end up running in the same place that we’ve run in the past. There is just no bite down there. You can drive down there, but you just can’t get up off the corner. What you find is that you end up running where we did before. The outside line is now the old groove and you end up running right where you did before, other than you get into the corner a little bit lower. It’s just as hard, if not harder, to pass now than it was before.

“Don’t get me wrong: they’ve done a good job. and they’re trying really hard. But it’s a typical flat track. Traditionally, track position means everything on a flat track, and I don’t think it’s going to be any different up there.”

Crew chief James Ince, who works with Jerry Nadeau this weekend, agreed with Compton. Ince also worked the Busch race at NHIS and didn’t see much difference.

“It appeared people were better and I guess it looked a little easier to pass, but as a crew chief I couldn’t tell that they did anything,” Ince said. “The drivers all ranted and raved after the Busch race about how nice it was, but I just couldn’t see much of a difference.

“We like the place a whole lot, and any added opportunity to pass there is a good thing. Essentially, what I saw was that they made the apron to where it’s got grip on it to where you can actually run down on the apron.”

Ince said the chassis setup won’t change much to compensate for the new configuration.

“With the Busch car we ran basically the same setup that we’ve always run there and felt really good about it,” Ince said. “I don’t think it’s going to change a whole lot of anything for anybody. Now I do know that they went back and did some repaving a couple weeks ago because they had some trouble. Anytime you’ve got new pavement it throws a curve at you.”

New pavement typically means faster lap speeds, but Grissom predicted the pole speed would be slower than last year’s 131.770 mph lap set by Jeff Gordon.

“There was a good bit of difference between the third and fourth turns, and Turn 1 and 2,” Grissom said. “It seemed like going though Turns 3 and 4, you slipped up a little bit more with the added racetrack. It slowed down the track just a tick. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a pole speed on Friday that might not even have made the races in years past. This is a different track that we are going to.

“It’s still New Hampshire, but it’s a different animal that we are dealing with. Changes are good a lot of times. I know the Bahre family (owners of the track) wanted to make a better track for racing, and I think they accomplished their goal.”

Whether or not the changes actually help the racing won’t be known until Sunday, but the drivers are at least excited something was done.

“I’m really excited to see the repaving they’ve done at Loudon,” Jeff Burton said. “It seems like the Busch race had two grooves, so that shows a lot of promise. The main thing is that they are working on making the improvements to the track, which is long overdue. I’m so glad they are making the change. If they can get two grooves on the race track, it will make for better racing for both the teams and the fans. In the past, it has always been extremely tough to race there.”

Qualifying for the New England 300 is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. (ET). Friday.

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at lee.montgomery@rmg3.com

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