BUSCH: Loudon: News of note, schedule

NASCAR Busch Series enjoys big TV ratings boost from Daytona Hamilton's second win sends message NEWS & NOTES TV Timeout ... Television ratings for the July 4 Winn-Dixie 250 at Daytona International Speedway, televised on TNT, were 19% ...

NASCAR Busch Series enjoys big TV ratings boost from Daytona

Hamilton's second win sends message


TV Timeout ... Television ratings for the July 4 Winn-Dixie 250 at Daytona International Speedway, televised on TNT, were 19% higher than last year's race on FX. 1,604,000 households tuned in, 29% more than the 1,247,000 households that watched the race last year. At +19%, the Winn-Dixie 250 achieved the biggest jump in ratings over the previous year for a 2003 event. ... The Winn-Dixie 250 drew 46% more television viewers than the IRL and 72% more viewers than the CART race on that same weekend. ... Overall, the first half of the NASCAR Busch Series season -- televised on Fox and FX -- produced network ratings comparable to the 2003 ratings for the NBA and Major League Baseball. (Figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research.)

NHIS history says don't expect a repeat winner, but look out for Hamilton ... In 16 previous NASCAR Busch Series events dating back to 1990, there have been no repeat winners at NHIS. Of the tracks that have hosted at least this many NASCAR Busch Series events, New Hampshire is the only track that can claim this distinction. (There are six other tracks -- Chicago, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, Phoenix and Pikes Peak -- that have not seen a repeat winner, but they are relative newcomers to the series, having joined the schedule between 1998 and 2000.) If anyone is likely to break that streak, it could be Bobby Hamilton Jr. (No. 25 U.S. Marine Corps Ford). The Nashville, Tenn. native has won two races in his last four starts and is returning to the site of his first career victory. Adding to Hamilton's momentum, he has recorded five top-10 finishes since Harold Holly joined the No. 25 team as crew chief six races ago.

Pushing the points chase ... After the first 19 races, only 80 points separate the top five drivers in the NASCAR Busch Series championship point standings ... Riggs leads David Green (No. 37 Timber Wolf Pontiac) by 23 points -- a margin that could be wiped away entirely if he finishes just seven or eight positions behind Green in the next race. This is not to say Green has it any easier -- he's only 34 points ahead of Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 2 ACDelco Chevrolet) in third place. ... One year ago, Greg Biffle held a 47-point advantage over Jason Keller (No. 57 Albertson's Ford) after 19 events, but the difference from first to fifth was 297 points.

Hamilton joins Riggs as two-time winner -- and sends a message ... With his victory in last Saturday's Tropicana Twister 300 presented by Speedway SuperAmerica at Chicagoland Speedway, Bobby Hamilton Jr. sent a strong statement to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers who compete in the NASCAR Busch Series -- that the full-time NASCAR Busch Series teams are doing just fine, thank you. Hamilton held off NASCAR Winston Cup Series points leader Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Bayer/Kmart Ford), who has two NASCAR Busch Series wins this season, along with Casey Mears (No. 19 FujiFilm Dodge) and Michael Waltrip (No. 99 Aaron's Sales & Lease Chevrolet) in the closing laps. Six of the top-10 finishing positions at Chicagoland went to full-time NASCAR Busch Series drivers. Riggs is the only other full-time NASCAR Busch Series driver with two wins -- at St. Louis and Nashville.

Kirk attempting first NASCAR Busch Series start ... Tammy Jo Kirk will attempt to become the eighth woman to compete in the NASCAR Busch Series, driving the No. 49 Advil Ford for Jay Robinson Racing at NHIS. The last female driver to compete in the series was Tina Gordon, who finished 10th at Talladega Superspeedway on April 5. This will mark Kirk's NASCAR Busch Series debut, she competed in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 1997-'98. Other female drivers that have raced in the NASCAR Busch Series include Lisa Jackson, Debbie Lunsford, Patty Moise, Shawna Robinson, Kat Teasdale and Diane Teel.


NASCAR Busch Series has never witnessed a repeat winner at NHIS and finishing consistently in the top five has been equally tough. Only six active NASCAR Busch Series drivers have recorded more than one top-five finish here -- Todd Bodine, Keller, Randy LaJoie, Mike McLaughlin, Joe Nemechek and Kenny Wallace.


Bodine (No. 92 Herzog-Jackson Motorsports Chevrolet) will make his 300th career NASCAR Busch Series start this weekend at NHIS. Over a career that spans 15 years, Bodine has recorded 15 wins, 88 top-five finishes and collected more than $5 million in race winnings in the NASCAR Busch Series. ... FitzBradshaw Racing has announced a driver substitution for the New England 300 at NHIS. Tim Fedewa, a previous NASCAR Busch Series winner at NHIS, will drive the No. 12 Supercuts Chevrolet, replacing Kerry Earnhardt. Fedewa has served as the team's spotter and acted as crew chief at Kentucky Speedway. ... Connecticut-based Marsh Racing will claim home-track advantage this weekend, with Dave Blaney behind the wheel of the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Ford. Marsh Racing is based in New England and its sponsor, Whelen Engineering, has strong roots in the area as well. Whelen, located in Chester, Conn., is a manufacturer of emergency lighting and siren products and has long been a fixture in Northeast racing.


"We are all looking forward to defending our title in New Hampshire on Saturday. We had to drive our way from the back of the field to the front last season to win the race, but the Team Marines Ford was awesome that day. My crew chief, Harold Holly, has built a new car for this weekend and if it is anything close to the cars he has built for us already, we will have a great shot at winning two in a row.""

-- Bobby Hamilton Jr., a winner in two of his last four races and the defending New Hampshire race winner.

"Despite our finish last year at New Hampshire, we had a great car that qualified well and practiced well. I heard they repaved the track and I hope that it will provide more grip. It is a fast, flat, slick track that reminds me a lot of Milwaukee where we just had our first win of the season. This Albertson's team is going into this weekend with high hopes and expectations."

-- Jason Keller, who finished 32nd at NHIS last season.


Ricky Craven thrilled New England race fans with a victory in the Chevy Dealers of New England 250 at NHIS on Oct. 13, 1991. Craven, who was on his way to winning the 1991 Busch North Series championship, drove in the race as a "combination" event with the NASCAR Busch Series.

NASCAR Busch Series-Busch North Series combination events -- in which drivers from either series were permitted to enter selected events and apply the championship points to either series -- were discontinued following the '98 season.


What: New England 200 (Race 20 of 34 in the NASCAR Busch Series).
Where: New Hampshire International Speedway, Loudon, N.H.
When: 1 p.m. (ET), Sat., July 19.

Track layout: 1.058-mile paved oval.
Race length: 200 laps/211.6 miles.

TV: TNT, 1:00 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday -- Practice 9-11:15 a.m., Qualifying 1:30 p.m., Final practice 5:30 p.m. (approx.)


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Drivers Matt Kenseth , Michael Waltrip , Todd Bodine , Jason Keller , Joe Nemechek , Kenny Wallace , Shawna Robinson , Greg Biffle , Bobby Hamilton Jr. , Casey Mears , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Mike McLaughlin , Ricky Craven , David Green , Kerry Earnhardt , Tina Gordon , Dave Blaney