NASCAR is now part of ‘Red Sox Nation’

Jul 11, 2006 6:41 AM

When thinking of the largest sporting event in New England, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a Patriots game or the Boston Red Sox. Not quite.

Boston College at home against Notre Dame is always a pretty large college football game as is Yale-Harvard, but nothing comes close to NASCAR rolling into Loudon, New Hampshire and the over 120,000 fans in attendance.

Since the Cup Series has two dates, they also take second place in the ranking. The second date New Hampshire has is a pivotal race in the Chase for the Championship. In some ways it may be the most crucial because it’s the first race of the Chase. It’s where the driver who does well to start the Chase is given confidence to finish strong.

The first race in Loudon was 1993 and it coincides with NASCAR’s popularity rise across America and image change from being just a "Southern Thing" to actually something that all sectors of the country could get into. Who could have imagined that New England, so intertwined with our great History and in some ways devoted in long standing traditions, would open its arms to NASCAR and say, "Chowdah for everyone!"

The facility itself is wonderful. It’s a track that stands alone amidst all clones throughout the NASCAR nation. It’s a relatively flat one mile track where the only comparison that can be made might be Phoenix. Although the layouts of the two tracks are much different, the flat nature of each is relative for comparison.

The data from the history of the two tracks support that there is common ground between success and failure. In recent history we have seen Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, and Kurt Busch dominate both Loudon and Phoenix. There are several other drivers that have a long line of consistency at both tracks. This makes analyzing what happened in the desert back in April more important than ever for bettors attempting to get a jump start on the odds to win and matchups before any practice session or qualifying takes place.

Kevin Harvick (12-1) won the last Phoenix race, while he was in the middle of a terriffic stretch of running well. His success coincided with getting a contract extension shortly after. Because he won the race, you have to look at him again this week as the driver to beat. Look for both of his teammates, Burton and Clint Bowyer to fare well this week. In the Phoenix race Harvick won, Bowyer finished fifth and Burton ninth. Looks like a team that likes each other and sharing quality info.

Tony Stewart (7-1) is going to be awfully tough to beat. He is the oddsmakers favorite to win the race and going very well right now despite running out of fuel last week with a banged up shoulder.

Kyle Busch (12-1) sat on the pole in Phoenix this year and finished fourth in his very first Loudon race last season. He also happened to win last fall in Phoenix, which makes him a prime candidate to take this week’s event. Just like brother Kurt and Jeff Burton, they went on monster streaks with quality set ups at the two tracks.

Matt Kenseth (10-1) and Greg Biffle (10-1) lead the Roush gang into battle this week. We use the word "battle" as a matter of fact because if Jeff Gordon gets anywhere near Kenseth, its go-time. Kenseth doesn’t have a win on either of the tracks but, does have several top 5 finishes.

Kenseth may be at ease a little more this week only because he ran out of gas following the spinout caused by Gordon. In other words, Gordon didn’t cost him the race. However, I have a feeling this chapter isn’t over between these two.

Kurt Busch (14-1) is a driver I would like to endorse as a play but can’t.

Jamie McMurray (40-1) is another I can’t pull the trigger with. McMurray is driving the cars Busch ran so well when winning all those Loudon and Phoenix races.

We’ll stick with the successful pattern that has been laid out over recent history and follow past success to win this week.

Mercedes to Dodge?

Juan Pablo-Montoya will be giving up his Formula-One Mercedes car keys to drive a Dodge Charger next season for Chip Ganassi. In a stunning move announced last week, Montoya said that he wants to get back to "having fun" again, which hasn’t been the case over the last couple of seasons in F-1.

It’s reported that Montoya is giving up more than $14 million a year in base salary to join the Cup series, which is likely to pay him only $5 million a season. The key to it all was Ganassi, who gave Montoya his start in CART where they won a Championship together and also the 2000 Indy 500.

One piece of advice for Ganassi — he had better make sure Montoya will have fun. That means a complete overhaul of the operation which has been on a steady decline for the last two seasons.

The real score here is for NASCAR. To be able to attract such a talented and Internationally respected driver, for less money, is a testament to just how much NASCAR has grown. Perhaps he saw a screening in Europe of "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and he thought that NASCAR would be really fun.

Danica to NASCAR?

The next driver that could possibly leave an open wheel series for NASCAR is Danica Patrick. We speculated a few weeks ago that Marco Andretti was being sought by Ganassi for the No. 42 car. If it did occur that it would be a huge blow to the Indy Racing League to lose the name. Patrick’s contract with Rahal-Letterman ends after this year and her father was at the Chicago race last weekend campaigning.

Though she hasn’t won a race yet, she is the biggest start the IRL has. If she were to go into NASCAR and do a decent job, the mass marketing appeal would send her through the roof. Remember the Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Somers posters of the late ”˜70s? If Danica goes to NASCAR, every boy in America will have her poster on the wall and the dads will have her picture in their garages.

If Danica thought she got some snooty anti-support from the likes of Dan Wheldon, well, wait till she gets on the track with the good ole’ boys. I hope it happens. That would definitely spice things up.


Top 5 at Loudon

1) #20 Tony Stewart (7-1)

2) #5 Kyle Busch (12-1)

3) #29 Kevin Harvick (12-1)

4) #31 Jeff Burton (16-1)

5) #17 Matt Kenseth (10-1)

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