LOUDON, N.H. (September 6, 2001) - It's a prestigious fraternity with a small membership who jealously guard the keys to the clubhouse. But it has a waiting list like the Augusta National Golf Club hoping their turn will be next to join the inner...
LOUDON, N.H. (September 6, 2001) - It's a prestigious fraternity with a small membership who jealously guard the keys to the clubhouse. But it has a waiting list like the Augusta National Golf Club hoping their turn will be next to join the inner circle.
The club in question is made up of Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring race winners at New Hampshire International Speedway. Of the 35 Busch North Series races contested on the "Magic Mile" from Labor Day 1990 through July 2001, six drivers- four of them active in the series today- have accounted for 23 wins. Brad Leighton has visited victory lane five times, while Kelly Moore, Mike McLaughlin, and Ted Christopher have been there four times. Dale Shaw and Joe Bessey have each boast three NHIS wins.
>From that small circle, Leighton. Moore, Christopher, and Shaw will all be in the lineup for the New Hampshire 125 on Saturday, September 15, the last Busch North Series visit to NHIS for the 2001 season. Expected to join them are one-time winners Jamie Aube, Mike Stefanik, Dave Dion, Jerry Marquis, Martin Truex Jr., and a host of would-be members of the lodge.
None of the hopefuls has better credentials than Mike Johnson. The 2000 Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year has two short-track wins to his credit in 2001 and has been second or third in the Busch North Series point standings most of the summer. The Johnson Lumber Ford started from the front row at NHIS in July 2000, as Mike joined fellow rookie and eventual race winner Martin Tuex Jr. in breaking the track record in Bud Pole Qualifying. A penalty on the final restart cost him a top-ten finish, but he rebounded to finish third in September. He kept the momentum going this May by taking another third in the CVS/pharmacy 125, gaining the point lead as a result, but slid to 25th, two laps down, in July's New England 125.
"We've had some good runs right up front, but we've had some terrible luck," Johnson reflected, adding "For this race, we're bringing another car that we haven't raced this year. It's the car we broke the track record with last year."
With all Busch North Series races at NHIS now 125 laps- actually 132.25 miles because the track measures slightly larger than one mile- pit strategy has become a factor at Loudon. For every team, making it into the fuel window, the point at which they can go the rest of the way without another stop, is crucial. "Once we get the window under us, we'll definitely be coming in early to get back out and get track position, Mike Johnson said.
Of course, Johnson Racing won't be the only team timing their pit stop for maximum advantage. If the race develops along the usual lines, a group of cars will find themselves poised to make a challenge for the win at the 100 lap mark. How close will a driver need to be to have a realistic shot at taking the lead after all the strategy games have played out? "I'd say with 25 to go, you need to be in the top five," Mike Johnson declared. "Things get real tight up there at the end and the cars are pretty equal so it's tough to make up a lot of ground at the end of the race.
"It's a whole combination- having good luck and having a good race car," he continued, adding "We've been bringing the good race car, now all we need is the luck."
Sharing the weekend's program with the Winston Cup Series and Featherlite Modified Series results in a two-day split schedule for the Busch North Series at NHIS. All preliminary activity is set for Thursday, September 13 with practice from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Bud Pole Qualifying at 3 p.m., and final practice at 4:30 p.m. The garage will be open to the teams on Friday, but the Busch North Series will not be on the track. New Hampshire 125 race time, before live NBC-TV cameras, is 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 15.
The Busch North Series is one of nine NASCAR Touring series which blanket the USA, bringing major events to NASCAR Weekly Racing Series tracks as well as superspeedways like New Hampshire International Speedway. The NASCAR Touring program is recognized as the premier training ground for NASCAR's national series- the Winston Cup Series, Busch Series, Grand National Division, and Craftsman Truck Series, while also providing career opportunities for professional racers at the regional level. Corporations making major contributions to NASCAR Touring point funds include Anheuser-Busch Inc., Featherlite Trailers, Goody's Headache Powders, Gatorade, RE/MAX International, O'Reilly Auto Parts, Raybestos Brakes, and R.J. Reynolds' Winston brand.