Chase, NHIS take TV hit

Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer/ThatsRacin.com reported today that the ratings for ABC's broadcast of the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway last Sunday were low.

Obscenely low.

According to Utter's story, the race did not rank among the top-5 sporting events on TV last weekend and received the lowest television rating for a Chase race — anywhere — since the format's inception in 2004. All this despite the fact that, by switching to network television from cable in the past, the race was available in more homes than it was previously.

'Biggest race' is just another on the September slate

Is it just me, or does PASS hold "the biggest race" in either New England, New Hampsire or New Brunswick once a month?

This week's edition of the "biggest" (is really just the size that matters???) takes place at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, where the PASS North Series will run the D.J. Equipment 300 -- the longest race of the year for the series, one which pays $10,000 to the winner. Not only that, but the Sportsmen, Outlaw Late Models and Modifieds are also on the 4-day card.

The 300, now in its 3rd year of existence, may turn out to be a race with some tradition and history right now. But any claim by PASS that it's "the biggest" or "one of the biggest" races of the year in New England is ludicrous.

Maybe you've heard of some of these other staples -- the Oxford 250, the World Series at Thompson International Speedway, Thunder Road's Milk Bowl, the summer Nextel Cup weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway, the Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway...
The advertised entry list for the event is solid -- though, with all due respect, the names of guys like Alan Wilson, Gary Smith, Bub Bilodeau, Dan McKeage, Alan Tardif, Curtis Gerry, Billy Rodgers, Donnie Whitten, Kevin Kimball or Mike Fowler aren't enough to get me up off my couch to lay down 50 smackeroos to watch hack up the back half of the field.

And advertising 300 race teams over 4 days suggests something Knoxville Nationals-esque, which this clearly is not. I'm interested to see what the breakout is on the 300 race teams -- though I'm reasonably sure fewer than a quarter of those 300 are actual Super Late Model/Outlaw Late Model teams.

Maybe it's just me.

The point is, for now, the D.J. Equipment 300 is another race on the schedule -- albeit an interesting one for people who like longer races and pit strategy. But to suggest it's the biggest race of the season in New England, northern New England or just little ol' Maine is way off the mark.

I'll be shoulder-deep in the northern Maine woods for 3/4 of the weekend, sparing myself the build-up to the 300. Maybe I'll make it back in time for that, maybe I won't.


PASS sets White Mountain makeup

Just like they did a year ago, PASS officials have added another week to the season.

The series announced Thursday (1 day later than promised) that last weekend's D.J. Equipment 150 for the PASS North Series at White Mountain Motorsports Park — which was prematurely rained out — will be held on the weekend of Oct. 13-14.

Originally, the final race of the year for the PASS North Series was to be held on Oct. 6 at All-Star Speedway.

The PASS Outlaw Late Models and Modifieds were already slated for their championship races at White Mountain that same weekend of Oct. 13-14, and the Sportsman division was also on the card.

Last year, the end of the season for the PASS North Series was extended when a date at Unity Raceway was added after several events had been canceled by weather.

For the 88th time...

This isn't exactly the 1st rodeo for a No. 88 in the Earnhardt family.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, drove a No. 88 in a 1-off deal for Petty Enterprises in 1957. Ralph drove an Oldsmobile in the Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway, and then drove a No. 188 for seven other races that year. He was winless in all the starts.

This probably qualifies as old news now, but the list of former drivers to sit behind the wheel of a No. 88 in what is now the Cup Series is pretty remarkable -- Bobby Allison (former Oxford Plains winner), Donnie Allison, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker, Geoffrey Bodine (an Oxford 250 winner), Ernie Irvan, Dale Jarrett, Benny Parsons, Fireball Roberts, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip, just to name a few.

"I like the fact that the number has some history. That makes me feel very proud to have it," said Earnhardt, whose JR Motorsports fields No. 88s in the Busch Series. "I'm very excited about it. That was what some of the other options sort of lacked, was that they didn't have any true history or true greatness behind them, no substance.

"So this was really sort of a gold mine, in effect, for me because of the heritage that it had."

The No. 88 has a pretty impressive resume in NASCAR racing. In addition to its 65 Cup wins, ranking 9th among car numbers all-time, it has 52 pole positions, 315 top-5s and 526 top-10s in 1,264 starts.

Here's one of the stats I like best -- the No. 88 has logged nearly 350,000 miles in Cup
competition. I'm no math whiz, but that's a lot of lefthand turns.

I'm not really all that AMPed up

Last week, Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked about how important it was for him to remain the same person, for his image to remain the same with his fans.

I get AMP energy drink. I get the Mountain Dew thing. Both are hip, young, rebellious, to some extent. What I don't get is how the National Guard fits into the whole Junior "thing." When I think of our armed forces, I hardly conjure up the images of t-shirts and jeans, caps on backwards and designer sunglasses.
Hearing Earnhardt's new boss, Rick Hendrick, tell us all about how it's the way a sponsor fits with what you're trying to do (i.e., "it's not about the money") is insulting. The only 'fit' owners today are concerned with is how to fit all those decals in prominent positions on one race car. It's about the money, pure and simple. It's about big, big bucks -- bigger than most of us can fathom. It's not wrong for Earnhardt to cash in on the Junior franchise, but he's toeing a dangerous line when he tells us that it's about keeping his image the same
Carquest and Kellogg's. Smirnoff and DeWalt. Irwin and Crown Royal.
There have been some fairly odd primary sponsorship partners in Nextel Cup racing in recent years. AMP and the National Guard can be added to that mix.
Random thoughts:
* NASCAR continues to hold on to tight to its money-grubbing image. Executives from Pepisco in formal business attire in one corner, Hendrick and Earnhardt with their casual shirts smeared with more logos than John Daly's golf bag in the other. It just comes across as tasteless.
* In the land of cheesy press conferences, though, Kasey Kahne's Budweiser one takes the cake. Riding in on a wagon pulled by the Clydesdales? Come on. I knew Dodge was down on horsepower this year, but that bordered on ridiculous.
* Loved the question about Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and how they can serve as mentors to Earnhardt. People forget that not only are Gordon and Johnson not exactly at retirement age looking to pass on wisdom, but Earnhardt isn't that 20-something-year-old kid any more. These guys are contemporaries and competitors. Though if Junior marries a supermodel in 2009, I'll retract my statements.


These guys are stealing all the ink

Remember back in 2004, when everybody said that the Chase for the Nextel Cup would ruin racing? Remember how they said that the teams that weren't in the Chase wouldn't get any exposure, and they'd lose out on millions and millions of dollars in sponsorship money and opportunities?

Um, yeah, right.

For the last few weeks, the biggest news going has had nothing at all to do with teams in this year's Chase. Gillette Evernham Motorsports made it official on Tuesday by announcing Budweiser will sponsor the No. 9 Dodges for Kasey Kahne.

Today, it's fully expected that Hendrick Motorsports will announce that Dale Earnhardt Jr. (you've heard of him, no?) will pilot the No. 88 Chevys sponsored by some combination of AMP energy drink and Mountain Dew.

And, by the way, the press conference to announce Jr.'s new deal will be shown live on the SPEED Channel. And, just last weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway, word came down of Junior's press conference today in Dallas. That was followed on Friday by a Dale Jr. press conference in the NHIS media center -- where he was the first Cup driver to be paraded out before the media and the only non-Chaser to hold a press conference all weekend.

So much for no coverage for the non-Chasers. So far, the non-Chasers are dominating the press.


At long last, I've made it home

It was easily the worst weekend of racing I've seen in all my years covering it at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Mercifully, some of the races were cut short.

Aside from the championship "drama" unfolding as Matt Kobyluck tried to pull off a miracle to unseat rookie Joey Logano atop the standings, the Busch East Series race was uninspiring. Just OK, certainly by that series' standards at NHIS.

The Modified Tour ran 31 of the first 37 laps of its New Hampshire 100 under caution after more than a few wrecks. Good finish, but I never thought the guys behind Todd Szegedy had enough to seriously get by him in the late going. Once Bobby Santos III pulled out of line to make his bid in the closing laps, it became more evident.

Nobody actually saw the Silver Crown race -- even for a lack of trying. The entire 30-lap distance was run in virtual darkness. It was made even worse for us media types: the press box windows are tinted to help with afternoon glare. The only way to 'see' anything (and I use the term loosely) was to step outside, where the wind was howling and it felt like I was standing atop Mt. Washington in December.

The Truck and Cup races looked identical. Read: Pole sitter thoroughly dominates and the only significant passes happen on pit road.

The highlight of the weekend was listening to Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart banter playfully with the media in the post-race press conference. These guys are the faces of NASCAR today, or at least they should be, for their polar opposition and for their career accomplishments. With all respect to the driver of the No. 88 AMP/Mountain Dew Chevys for Hendrick Motorsports next year, he's not even close.

Quick hits:

* NASCAR has finally done it. They've finally killed off stock car 'racing' with the Car of Tomorrow. The Sylvania 300 looked like a Formula 1 race -- qualify up front, stay up front, pass with pit strategy.

How long before fans write Nextel Cup off like they've done with F1?

* Where on earth have Elliott Sadler and Greg Biffle gone, anyway?

* Kurt Busch says in the same breath that the team can't afford bad days like the one they had Sunday (lost a cylinder, finished 25th) then says they didn't take a hit. So, like, which is it?

* I don't care what pants Dale Jr. is going to where in the future, any more than I care what he drinks for beer.

* With AMP, Red Bull and Monster as sponsors now, something tells me there are a few teams that will excel at night racing. Maybe the beer-sponsored teams will have to push for more noontime starts...

* Still can't figure out what the Silver Crown cars were doing at NHIS. Nothing against that series, mind you, but in the summer the track couldn't fit 4 divisions in, cutting the Mods short that day, too. How were we going to add another one with less daylight to work with?

Worst case scenario played out with the weather this time around, too. Doubt we'll see that again -- but you never really know, do you?

* J.J. Yeley finished in the top-10 on Sunday.


Bowyer breaks through for 1st victory.

After a week of going on the defensive, Clint Bowyer finally went on the offensive.

"I'm always pretty upbeat and excited, until I started reading all the magazines and articles and realize, 'Man, we've got to be doing better!'" said Bowyer, who won the Sylvania 300 at NHIS on Sunday.

Read the complete story in today's Kennebec Journal.


Bowyer becomes 4th 1st-time winner this season

It took Clint Bowyer 64 races to finally visit victory lane, and he joins Casey Mears, Martin Truex Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya as 1st time Nextel Cup winners this season.

Some other notes from Sunday's Sylvania 300:

* Bowyer became the 18th driver in history to win races in the Cup Series, Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series.

* In all 4 years of the Chase format, a Chase driver has won the opening race at New Hampshire.

* In his previous 3 career starts at NHIS, Bowyer had never posted a top-10 finish.

* Car owner Richard Childress wasn't even on hand for Bowyer's 1st win, despite having all 3 of his teams in the Chase. He's in Mongolia on a hunting trip.

Bowyer takes Chasers to task at NHIS

After an entire week of having to answer questions about being the only Chase driver without a win this season, Clint Bowyer had the last word.

Bowyer thoroughly dominated the Sylvania 300 on Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway, picking up his 1st career Nextel Cup Series victory and vaulting himself from 12th to 4th in the standings.

Bowyer, who led 6 times for 222 laps, took the lead for the final time during a round of green flag pit stops with less than 50 laps remaining.

"I was hoping and praying nobody crashed," said Bowyer, who left the car on the track after a celebratory burnout and walked to victory lane when he could not restart it. "It's unbelievable. I'm so happy for these guys.
"It just shows we earned a spot here and we're here for a reason."

Bowyer is now just 15 points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who are tied at the top with 5,210 points apiece.

Sylvania 300
Unofficial results
1. Clint Bowyer, Emporia, Kan.; 2. Jeff Gordon, Pittsboro, Ind.; 3. Tony Stewart, Columbus, Ind.; 4. Kyle Busch, Las Vegas, Nev.; 5. Martin Truex Jr., Mayetta, N.J.; 6. Jimmie Johnson, El Cajon, Calif.; 7. Matt Kenseth, Cambridge, Wis.; 8. Casey Mears, Bakersfield, Calif.; 9. Ryan Newman, South Bend, Ind.; 10. J.J. Yeley, Phoenix, Ariz.

Bellows chases down Dodge on Unity's final night

After finishing second 2 weeks ago in the Gary Mitchell Memorial 75 at Unity Raceway, Brad Bellows was taking the victory lane photos as he did a little quick math in his head. He was still trying to chase down Super Street points leader Mark Dodge.

Dodge had engine trouble early on Friday night, and Bellows took advantage. He led the final 17 laps to win the final 30-lap feature of the season, and, in doing so, won the 2007 Super Street championship.
It was the first title of any kind for Bellows, who dabbled in PASS Outlaw Late Model racing in 2006 before opting for weekly wars at Unity this year.
Paul Shorette clinched the Mini Stock title weeks ago, and Cary Davis nipped Steve Rackliffe for the Pro-4 Late Model crown.

Laperle takes Summer Sizzler 200

Patrick Laperle of St. Denis, Quebec, won for the 2nd time this season in a limited American-Canadian Tour schedule.

Laperle took the lead on lap 44 of the Summer Sizzler 200 at Kawartha Speedway in Fraserville, Ontario and then avoided having to pit for tires or fuel en route to victory. A former Unity 250 champion and winner of a 200-lap event at Autodrome St. Eustache earlier this season, Laperle took a Junior Hanley race car to victory lane.

$6,000 of the posted $50,000 went to Laperle.


Summer Sizzler 200
Kawartha Speedway
1. Patrick Laperle, St. Denis, Que.; 2. Pete Vanderwyst, St. Thomas, Ont.; 3. Joey Polewarczyk, Jr., Hudson, N.H.; 4. Scott Payea, Milton, Vt.; 5. Randy Potter, Groveton, N.H.; 6. Larry Jackson, Oakville, Ont.; 7. Donald Theetge, Boischatel, Que.; 8. Robbie Thompson, South Hampton, Ont.; 9. Scott Dragon, Colchester, Vt.; 10. Eric Chase, Milton, Vt.

After a day of waiting out rain, now we're just waiting out waiting

Remember the days of the 12:30 p.m. Cup starts at New Hampshire International Speedway? Those days seem to float farther and farther away in the rearview mirror with each passing race...

* I've taken a lot of good-natured ribbing this weekend from the guys associated with the Modified racing I used to cover when I was a wee cub reporter in Woonsocket, R.I. Seems those Modified media types and team members haven't quite figured out that being "NASCAR's oldest division" isn't necessarily a good thing.

They call it technological advancement, know what I mean?

Kidding aside, the myth that the Whelen Modified Tour is the best race of the race weekends here in Loudon is patently untrue. Ditto for "all the Cup guys on top of their haulers" watching the Modified races.

During Saturday's event for the WMT -- was it the New Hampshire 100 or New Hampshire 75 or Chevrolet American Revolution New Hampshire Modified Sprint brought to you by Nextel? I'm still not sure -- I counted exactly 1 Cup Series hauler or motorcoach with someone on top of it watching the race. Not dozens, not several, one. O-N-E.

When the Modified Tour raced on those 1st few Cup weekends at NHIS, they were something of a novelty act -- something most Cup drivers and teams from down south hadn't seen. So, they watched the bump drafting and the slingshot passing and thought it was pretty cool.

But, hey, a decade ago, young kids could still sweep floors in Cup shops with the hopes of landing a ride, too.

Here's a novel thought in an age when NASCAR racing takes a hundred whacks on the chin a week: The Nextel Cup Series races have been the best race of the 4- and 5-division weekends here for the last 5 years.

* There was a time when I thought the Sylvania 300 was important to the Chase for the Nextel Cup; it is, after all, the 1st of the 10 races in the Chase.

In 2004, Kurt Busch won the race to complete a season sweep here and went on to win the title. In 2005, Tony Stewart finished 2nd to Ryan Newman and went on to win the Chase. Last year, Kevin Harvick won and faded into Chase oblivion after.

Also last year, Jimmie Johnson crashed and finished 39th. You may recall, he went on to win his 1st Nextel Cup.

Think of this race like the Game 1 of a best-of-7 opening-round playoff series in the National Hockey League. Fans are amped up, media members are salivating that the prospects of analyzing every little giveaway in the neutral zone and players and coaches all talk up the importance of getting off to a good start.

But that opening game can mean very little, too. It's not until a series turns into a series with a few games under its belt does it truly become "the playoffs." Same with the Chase.

* And with all apologies to that staple of Saturday late-night television -- "Rudy Giuliani is here. The Londonderry High School marching band is here. We've got a great show for you tonight, so stick around!"

Thorne claims Wiscasset title

Chris Thorne's 1st Late Model Sportsman championship at Wiscasset Raceway wasn't exactly what he had expected it to be.

"It's nice," Thorne said after finishing 4th in Saturday night's 30-lap feature for the division to claim his 1st title since winning the 2005 Super Sportsman championship at Unity Raceway in 2005. "I guess it would mean a lot more if more guys went after it. I think just Kevin Sherman (who finished 2nd) and I were the only 2 guys to run every week."

But running every week is part of winning a title in a weekly racing series. And, though Thorne only won 2 races and was beset by more than half a dozen tire failures this season, he continued to rally each week on his way to top-3 and top-5 finishes weeks after week.

If you're not there, you can't win a championship.
"That's part of it," Thorne admitted. "I mean, you have to be here every week to do that. And every week we had to come from the rear and we'd end up in the top-5, and then you'd start at the rear again the next week because we finished in the top-5."
Thorne won the season-opener to get off to a good start and spark some early-season momentum in his family-owned No. 17. But late in the summer, as his results began to taper off, he and his crew chief -- father Gary Thorne -- made a crucial decision. They dusted off Gary's idle car, slapped Chris' engine in it, and ran the No. 20 for the remainder of the season.
"I probably have to admit that I was a little nervous," said Chris Thorne, who also said that once they made the switch, they never looked back, never looked over his car to see where the problems came from. "We had a 70-point lead and it dwindled down close to 10 points. I had to do something. It was more embarrassing to run like that than anything else."
In the end, the decision won him a significant championship. With no plans to move up and run a Pro Stock, which will supplant the LMS division as Wiscasset's premier one in 2008, Thorne capitalized on the opportunity to be crowned the track champion.

The stuff Legends are made of

Call it a cheap thrill. Or, at the very least, a cheap way to work your way up the stock car racing ladder.

Nextel Cup Series drivers, regional touring racers, local Super Late Model shoes. All of them tied together by a simple idea -- an affordable, versatile form of auto racing known as Legends. Headquartered in the stock car racing Mecca of Charlotte, N.C., 600 Racing was formed 15 years ago with the idea of giving people priced out of the game a place to compete.
It's where Nextel Cup rookie David Ragan got his start.

Read the complete story in today's Kennebec Journal.