New Hampshire Rear View Mirror
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on September 23, 2012 | 5:45 P.M. EST
Denny Hamlin's win on Sunday was the 100th for Joe Gibbs Racing. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Chase rolled into New England this weekend and Mother Nature did her part by providing a glorious weather weekend. So far, the NASCAR playoff schedule has enjoyed picture-perfect weather in the first two weeks.
The sanctioning body moved the opening playoff round from New Hampshire, where it had been held since the start of the Chase format in 2004, to Chicago in hopes of generating more buzz in a larger market.
Last year it was hard to gauge if that move was successful since the GEICO 400 was rained out and run on Monday. This year, the media coverage was better and although the Chicagoland race won’t make too many season highlight reels, it did receive its fair share of coverage.
But the jury is still out whether or not ChiTown is the right spot to kick off the playoffs.
It’s clear that even as race number two of the Chase, New Hampshire belongs on the championship slate. Although Sunday's race turned out to be less than compelling, a very impressive crowd filled the grandstands.
When New Hampshire Motor Speedway opened its gates, there was no doubt the racing-rich fans of the area would embrace it.
And since 1993, the track has hosted some of the most successful races in the Sprint Cup Series dating back to the inaugural Slick 50 300 won by Rusty Wallace. Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports, Inc. acquired the facility a couple years ago and there was talk he would harvest one weekend and move it to Las Vegas. That talk has died down and rightfully so.
NHMS generates two of the largest crowds of the racing year and also provides some of the most competition on the schedule.
Each NASCAR weekend in New England is a mini-Speedweeks with in addition to the Cup Series headliner features a wide array of divisions running nearly non-stop on the one-mile oval. Whether its the Nationwide Series, modifieds, K&N East Series or the regional late models of the American Canadian Tour, it’s rare to not have cars on the race track anytime during a New Hampshire weekend.
Sadly, Speedway Motorsports Inc. management decided to yank the traditional truck race as the September support race and move it to its Kentucky track, a decision that saw a good race Friday night but disastrous attendance results.
But overall, the health of the Loudon venue seems as vibrant as the spectacular fall weather that greeted NASCAR over the weekend, even if the weekend headliner wasn't particularly memorable.
- Denny Hamlin’s win Sunday was impressive with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver turning in a dominating performance to win the second race of the Chase. But let’s be perfectly clear about the “called shot” story angle around the victory because it’s not true. After tweeting he would win at New Hampshire earlier in the week, Hamlin backed down from that comment during his media availability on Friday, saying it was overblown. But there he was doing a Babe Ruth impression pointing at the crowd after taking the checkered flag on Sunday. It’s a great story but, unfortunately, isn’t accurate since Hamlin didn’t stand by the prediction.
- Sunday’s race isn’t going to trigger much water cooler talk on Monday morning. Hamlin’s domination and a mostly long green flag run afternoon without much side-by-side action didn’t add up to a great deal of excitement. After the great stretch of August races that led into Atlanta and then Richmond’s regular season finale, the start of the Chase has been lacking.
- Joey Logano and Ryan Newman found themselves back inside the top 10 again for a second straight week. The two non-Chasers were impressive in Loudon as they were at Chicagoland Speedway. Also throw Brian Vickers into that category that yet again turned in a stellar run for Michael Waltrip Racing.
- I spent Friday night at Kentucky Speedway as part of the MRN Radio truck race broadcast team. For the first time the Bluegrass State track hosted a truck-Nationwide Series doubleheader while the Sprint Cup Series competed in Loudon. In the past the NCWTS was part of the Saturday New Hampshire schedule. While always applaud stand-alone Nationwide and truck series events and thought Friday night’s race was a good one, the crowds at both races were among the smallest of the season. It will be interesting to see if this experiment returns in 2013 when NASCAR releases the official national series schedules.