Jiffy Lube 300 features bucketful of issues By Dave Rodman LOUDON, N.H. (July 8, 1999) Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet and Jeff Burton's No. 99 Ford will most likely be up front this weekend at New Hampshire. This weekend's Jiffy Lube 300...
Jiffy Lube 300 features bucketful of issues By Dave Rodman
LOUDON, N.H. (July 8, 1999) Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet and Jeff Burton's No. 99 Ford will most likely be up front this weekend at New Hampshire. This weekend's Jiffy Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway has a double-handful of issues connected with its seventh annual running, and an equal number of participants at their center. As the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season begins its second half in the 18th of 34 races, for starters try Jeff Burton, streaks, Jeff Gordon, "Tiregate," Mark Martin, injuries, Dale Jarrett, points racing, Dave Blaney, "sealer" and Tony Stewart.
Since Burton hooked up with car owner Jack Roush in 1996, he's about held the deed to Victory Lane for the Jiffy Lube 300 at the 1.058-mile "Magic Mile." After finishing third in 1996 in this event in his Exide Batteries Ford, Burton has won the last two editions in dominating fashion. His 1997 117.134 mph average speed is the track record.
Even when he's bad at NHIS, Burton is golden. When a treacherous "sealer" material was applied to the track last year, which claimed a number of cars in the Farm Aid on CMT 300 as well as its preliminary events, Burton bounced back after destroying his primary car in practice to finish fifth, from a 25th place start, in the race.
He'll gather a lot of attention when the $2,628,896 event gets the green flag Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. The event will be broadcast live on TNN and MRN Radio, beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.
When Bud Pole Qualifying for the race begins Friday at 4 p.m. ET, three-time and defending series champion Gordon will garner a lot of notice. Gordon won his second straight Farm Aid on CMT 300 last August from the Bud Pole in his DuPont Automotive Finishes Chevrolet.
Forty-nine entries are set to try for the top-25 spots Friday, with Bud Second-Round Qualifying slated to fill the 43-car field Saturday at 11 a.m. ET, prior to support events for the Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring and Featherlite Modified Series, NASCAR Touring. NASCAR Winston Cup Series "Happy Hour" final practice is set for Saturday afternoon, following the two NASCAR Touring Division events, time permitting.
Ken Schrader established the track qualifying record in Bud Pole Qualifying for the 1997 Jiffy Lube 300 at 29.429 seconds, an average speed of 129.423 mph in his Skoal Chevrolet. "Hometown favorite" Ricky Craven of Newburgh, Maine, is the sentimental choice to garner his second straight event pole and third total, this time in the Midwest Transit Chevrolet. Martin is also a two-time NHIS pole winner.
But Gordon, who with his 1995 Jiffy Lube 300 score is the only three-time winner at NHIS, and who exasperated Roush and fanned the flames of the mythical "Tiregate" scandal of 1998 with his come-from-behind win in August, needs to continue his drive in the point race.
However, in addition to the success he has had at New Hampshire, Gordon also experienced the same roller coaster effect in his first eight starts at NHIS that he has experienced in the first half of 1999.
In addition to the wins and a third- and seventh-place finish, Gordon has finished 20th or worse three times at the New England oval.
Likewise, at the halfway point of 1999, Gordon has four wins, three seconds, three thirds and a sixth-place finish. However, after 17 of 34 events, Gordon also has four DNFs and has finished 20th or worse on two other occasions. He is currently fifth in the standings, 394 behind leader Jarrett.
"We've had a lot of success at New Hampshire," Gordon said. "But we've also had our share of problems. Hopefully, those problems are behind us now -- both at New Hampshire and for the rest of the season.
"We've had to overcome some obstacles this year and we certainly have our work cut out for us. However, this team is as strong as it's ever been and we just need to keep working hard like we always have and try to get some consistent finishes during the rest of the season."
Martin, on the strength of three second-place finishes at New Hampshire and six top-5s in eight races there would rate a strong bet in his Valvoline/Cummins Ford. However, Martin underwent arthroscopic surgery Wednesday on his left knee to insert a screw to repair a fracture in his tibia plateau. In concert with a broken left wrist and a broken rib -- injuries Martin suffered in a crash in Happy Hour practice last weekend at Daytona -- the performance of one of NASCAR's premier "tough men" may be suspect on the relatively flat, 12-degree banked New Hampshire oval.
Martin has said he has no doubts he'll compete in the race, but he will have Roush-contracted driver and NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division championship contender Matt Kenseth standing by for possible relief help.
Blaney and Stewart are two rookies who may figure prominently in their first series runs at NHIS. Blaney will be shooting at making his second series start for car owner Bill Davis. While he was an admitted "non-competitive" 19th in the NASCAR Busch Series' race in May, Blaney shared a productive test with teammate Ward Burton at the end of last month and anticipates a good run in a special "Wild, Wild West" Amoco Pontiac this weekend.
Stewart, meanwhile, will make his series debut at NHIS in the process of making a shambles of the circuit's Raybestos Rookie of the Year race. Stewart has been the highest-placing rookie candidate in 16 of 17 races in the Home Depot Pontiac and feels confident he'll see more of the same at New Hampshire.
Practice for the Jiffy Lube 300 opens Friday at 11 a.m. ET.
Source: NASCAR Online