Facelift at New Hampshire International Speedway produced great racing in May; more of the same expected in New England 125, Saturday, July 20 LOUDON, N.H. (July 15, 2002)-- New Hampshire International Speedway took a cue from the styling ...
Facelift at New Hampshire International Speedway produced great racing in May; more of the same expected in New England 125, Saturday, July 20
LOUDON, N.H. (July 15, 2002)-- New Hampshire International Speedway took a cue from the styling departments of Detroit, or maybe from the movie moguls of Hollywood, for the 2002 season. It underwent a facelift. Unlike the 1973 Mustang or the last remake of "Batman"; this facelift was an artistic success from the start.
In the first Busch North Series, NASCAR Touring race on the recontoured "Magic Mile" with its wider turns and extended banking, Brad Leighton and Andy Santerre put on one of the closest two-man duels in series history. They repeatedly swapped the lead before Leighton emerged from the drag race to the checkered flag with victory by the width of a bumper in the Busch 125 on Mother's Day weekend. In the Busch Series, Grand National division race the same day, Bobby Hamilton Jr. twice passed most of the field on his way to victory lane.
While it will be hard to duplicate the closest finish in series history, more outstanding action is anticipated when the Busch North Series teams make their second of three 2002 appearances at NHIS in the New England 125 this Saturday, July 20. With four NASCAR divisions participating in the weekend's events, the Busch North Series on-track schedule finds practice and Bud Pole Qualifying set for Thursday. Final practice is Saturday morning at 8:50 a.m. and the New England 125 receives the green flag on Saturday afternoon at approximately 3 p.m., following the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. There is no on-track activity for the Busch North teams on Friday.
SPEED Channel's national television coverage of the New England 125 is scheduled to air on Monday, August 12, at 8 p.m.
If a driver could be expected to wish things were left well enough alone at NHIS, that driver would be Martin Truex Jr. Two years ago, as a 20-year-old rookie, he won the Bud Pole for this race and led every lap to score his first Busch North Series victory in the event his father won six years previously. In 2001, he barely missed repeating, losing the lead in traffic to Brad Leighton with five laps remaining. This May in the Busch 125, he was on his way to the front when he was forced high between turns one and two, spun in the so-called "marbles"-- tire rubber and absorbent compound from an earlier accident-- and crashed.
Despite that rude introduction to the facelifted NHIS oval, Truex says it's a look he could learn to love. "It's a good bit different," he observed, explaining "In qualifying trim, you pretty much run the same line you always did. There's a little bit less banking where you run now, compared to where you used to run."
"I think it definitely made for better racing," he continued. "We started a ways back and we were right up to second in 20 laps or so. It was a lot easier to pass."
Tires have been a major story in 2002, with eight track records in nine races established in Bud Pole Qualifying on the Goodyear Eagles; the last three of them by Truex, who rides a streak of four straight Bud Poles into the New England 125. Truex doesn't feel pit strategy will be decisive. "You have to pit for fuel anyway, so everybody will probably put tires on," he noted, adding "It's a little faster if you put new tires on, but you could make it all the way on old ones if you wanted to. Look what the 14 (Tracy Gordon) did last time until he right at the end he got into that accident." Gordon, who had short-pitted for track position, was on the way to a top-five finish in the Busch 125 until he crashed on a late-race restart.
Of course, track temperatures are likely to be much higher in July than they were in May. That means slicker conditions, especially with the Busch North Series racing later in the afternoon following the 200-lap Craftsman Truck Series race. Given his July track record at NHIS, it's not surprising Martin Truex Jr. isn't concerned. "I like when the track gets slicker, it plays into our hands," he remarked. "The past couple of years, when the track gets slick, we run real well."
Motivation has never been a problem for Martin Truex Jr. and for the New England 125 he has several extra doses. There's the desire to stay on the roll of the past two Julys. There's the desire to extend that Bud Pole streak, and especially to turn the speed he's shown all year into race-winning performance. And there's the desire to erase the memory of the crash in May. "I've got a lot to prove after the first race," he declared. "We had a real stout race car, just it was just a bad circumstance we got into."
Call it the desire to enjoy a better second date with the facelifted "Magic Mile".