Ward Burton returns to New Hampshire International Raceway this weekend as the defending race winner and contributes that win to the improved short track program at Bill Davis Racing. "Last year's win at New Hampshire was a very exciting day for...
Ward Burton returns to New Hampshire International Raceway this weekend as the defending race winner and contributes that win to the improved short track program at Bill Davis Racing.
"Last year's win at New Hampshire was a very exciting day for us," said Burton. "It had always been a track where the CAT team had struggled, however, last spring, our short track program really came together. We saw the results of our improving program at the Richmond spring event where we sat on the pole and led the most laps. That race at Richmond set us up for our strong run at Loudon where we were able to back it up with a win. It was really great to win because we were able to conquer a place that had been an obstacle in the past."
While it takes many of the same components to be competitive each weekend at every track, New Hampshire is very unique - - there aren't many tracks like it.
"Loudon is one tough race track," said Burton. "If you get out of the groove, you'll be in no man's land, so you have to be really precise there. It is very easy to get in trouble, so a driver's focus is imperative.
"Despite the track being so unique, being successful at New Hampshire requires a lot of the same things you need everywhere else: you have to have a motor that gets you off the corners and you have to handle well. The main thing is getting through the corners."
Burton and the CAT team used different strategies in last year's race that ultimately led them to victory lane.
"Last year, we used the apron of the race track to get around there fast," said Burton. "It is counter banked, so it worked real well for us. The other key thing is our car worked better on older tires, which really helped us because we didn't have to pit and the strategy played right into our hands. We're taking the same car to Loudon that we raced earlier this year at Richmond. It wasn't as good as it needed to be there, but I feel we can get this car to handle really well at Loudon this weekend."
Even though the CAT team is an experienced winner at New Hampshire, they won 't be able to rely on past notes this weekend. The track has made some changes and every team will have to adjust their setups some to account for the new conditions.
"It seems like every time we race at Loudon they've changed something," said Burton. "The biggest change this year is the addition of the soft walls that are supposed to be installed by the next time we come to New Hampshire, which I am really glad to see. But from a handling standpoint, they've done some repaving again in both corners. I'm not sure if they have resealed the track this time, but I know we were the best when they had sealer on it because that is when we had the most grip. Hopefully, they'll have the sealer on it this year and that will give us the grip we are looking for. It is always a challenge going back there because the conditions are constantly changing."
One secret weapon the CAT team brings to Loudon this year is crew chief, Frank Stoddard. Stoddard, who hails from North Haverill, New Hampshire, has won many times in various series at the track. He also scored his first victory as a Winston Cup crew chief in this same event at New Hampshire in 1998 and then returned to win the July 1999 and September 2000 events as well.
"I feel I've got an advantage returning to Loudon this year with my crew chief, Frank Stoddard," said Burton. "He's from that area and he's won at that track in every series that he's competed with there. I know if anybody knows that race track, Frank does. I feel confidant that he'll be able to look at the car and know exactly what changes should be made to win there. I feel like with our win last year and Frank's wins there, we ought to be able to do the same thing together."
There's one other thing the CAT team does to prepare for racing at Loudon - - get in touch with the local tradition of eating lobsters.
"Our team has one other tradition other than racing at Loudon and that is eating those great lobsters from up there," said Burton. "We've done it every year so far and will continue to do so this weekend. It is a good time to bond and hang out with the team. It worked for us last year, so hopefully keeping the tradition will produce the same results this year - - another win!"