New Hampshire Motor Speedway is one of the Sprint Cup Series’ northernmost stops and the track itself certainly provides a unique challenge. It’s a flat 1-mile oval with long straightaways and tight turns – think Martinsville on Popeye’s spinach. It’s notoriously hard to pass on and hard to get the setup perfected for, so it would be easy for the teams to hate the place – and while many do, at least sometimes, the track and the surrounding Lakes Region of New Hampshire give the teams something to look forward to.
“Obviously I like [NHMS] because I’ve had success there,” says Sprint Cup points leader and Sunday’s polesitter, Tony Stewart. “Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. But when you’ve got a good car, it’s always fun to race.
Stewart’s teammate Ryan Newman agrees. “I have always enjoyed this track,” Newman said on Friday. “I got my first win here, and after a long winless streak got another one here and I am on another long winless streak; it would be nice to get another one here.” In fact, Newman likes the track enough to race it twice this weekend – he’ll be running the 100-lap Whelen Modified Tour race on Saturday, “to have fun – that is the goal. That is what I’m here for the whole weekend, but the modifieds-the racecars are such a blast to drive!” Kasey Kahne will also run the modified race on Saturday.
Greg Biffle says that there is little margin of error at the Magic Mile. “You’ll know when you unload here,” Biffle said about the setup of a racecar. “It’s kind of like restrictor plate racing-you can improve a lot but you’re not normally going to go from one extreme to another.”
There have been eight different winners in the last eight Sprint Cup races (and the Nationwide Series has never seen a repeat winner in nearly 20 years of racing), showing that it’s a track to be chased every time. Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon attributes that diversity of winners to the track’s inherent toughness. “Track position and pit strategy play out so much here that you’ll get guys that take some big risks. Last year, Kurt Busch took a big risk by staying out when it rained and that paid for them.”
Finally, reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson had one more reason why this weekend’s race is an important one for his team to be on their game for-the track is the first the top-12 teams will see in the Chase in September, so getting good notes is important in helping those teams get a leg up-perhaps even more important than taking a big gamble in trying for a win. “We’ll experiment with some tuff and try to validate it for here so when we come back we have a read on whatever package that is. It’s pretty well scienced-out. We’re not looking for the home run; we’re just kind of making sure we got it right.”
Not that Johnson won’t be trying for the win on Sunday. A win at the Magic Mile is an important addition to any driver’s resume, and that will ensure that the whole field is gunning for it on Sunday.