Say it Loud-on to NBC: Thanksgiving works in N.H.

Nov 20, 2001 9:52 AM

The 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup season closes out this Thanksgiving weekend in Loudon, New Hampshire. Auto Racing during the holiday season will be a welcome attraction to many homes.

Thanksgiving weekend has traditionally been reserved for the Thursday NFL games and then the classic Friday college gridiron battles of Texas/Texas A&M, followed by Nebraska/Oklahoma (now Colorado). Now NASCAR gets to share in the festivities. It would only seem fitting for NASCAR to make the weekend a permanent staple.

Not only would it benefit NBC’s programming schedule, but also because NASCAR has become such a major player in family togetherness. On every stop, the traveling tour of NASCAR has families planning their weekend parties months in advance.

For the Nevada resident, it’ll be the last weekend to wager on NASCAR till February, 2002. That could be a long dry spell for some who have done very well with it this season. The variety of odds for winning and individual match-ups have propelled auto-race wagering to record proportions in 2001. For the last time this season, we’ll try to help steer which direction to look for determining this week’s winning candidates.

New Hampshire’s short history began in 1993 with the inaugural race that Rusty Wallace (12-1) won. Four years later a second race was added onto the schedule because of the sell-out crowds. In all, 13 races have been run all-time at NHIS.

The most successful driver in NHIS history has been Jeff Burton (5-1). In 11 career starts, Burton has won four times, including this race last year. He’s won at NHIS four consecutive years. In the first race this season, Burton was mired in a downward spiral and managed to finish a respectable 11th.

For Burton, however, that is not good enough on “The Monster Mile, the track too tough to tame,” because Burton has dominated this track. Beyond his four wins, he’s had three other Top 5 finishes, meaning only four times in his career that he’s not finished in the Top 5. That is extraordinary! Those are the type of numbers like Jeff Gordon claims on road courses.

Had this race been run in September as scheduled, a time when Burton was struggling like never before in his career, he might not be looked at so favorably. But he has been closing out the season with a bang. Over the last eight races, no one has more Winston Cup points than Burton. Look for Burton to continue his remarkable trend and win for the fifth straight year in Loudon.

One of the candidates to halt Burton’s streak could be Jeff Gordon (4-1). He’s second best at this track, but not by much. In 13 NHIS races, he’s got three wins and five other Top 5 finishes including second in the July race. Gordon’s season is gravy now considering that elusive championship clinching race is finally over. He can go back to racing now with disregard to all the careful rules of engagement he’s been following for the last two months.

It’ll be nice to throw Gordon back into the equation and see all the stars of NASCAR going all out once again.

Another Superstar on this track is Tony Stewart (5-1). In five races, Stewart has three Top 5’s with a win. He’s also the driver with perhaps the most experience at New Hampshire. Stewart has competed at the highest level in all three racing series he’s been in at NHIS. In his last full season driving in the IRL, Stewart claimed a victory there.

That same year, driving a part-time Busch Series car owned by Joe Gibbs, Stewart finished second. In his first Winston Cup race at NHIS, Stewart led with one lap to go and ran out of gas.

He followed that disappointment up with a solid second place finish and then eventually won the next season during the 2000 racing campaign.

The fall race last year was tainted due to the tragic deaths of Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin. Stewart has a few tracks where he thinks are his to lose and Loudon’s is one of them. He’ll do anything for the win.

Some of the other stars to watch this week are Bobbly Labonte (6-1), Dale Jarrett (6-1), and Mark Martin (22-1). Labonte comes fresh off his annual win in Atlanta and will looking to close out 2001 strong. Jarrett won the July race for his first career NHIS victory. Martin has never won at Loudon, but has been second to Gordon and Burton three separate times.

There isn’t a better person on tour to root for to become the 19th different driver to win a race this season. Another longshot to look at would be Joe Nemechek (40-1) who has been very competitive at Loudon.

COLD FEET: Station Casinos isn’t posting their regular race propositions this week because of the uncertainty of the weather this weekend. “This week we’ll have limited match-ups with the top drivers, but no caution and lap leader props,” said Sunset Station’s Fred Crespi. “We base all of our numbers on past track history and we don’t have anything to go by with the race being held this late in the year. The cold weather will have a major impact on the race, unlike any other ever held there.”

Crespi also said they would have all their futures and Daytona 500 odds by January. Next week we’ll review the highs and lows from a betting perspective of the 2001 auto-race season.

Top 5 finish prediction:
1) #99 Jeff Burton (5/1)
2) #24 Jeff Gordon (4/1)
3) #20 Tony Stewart (5/1)
4) #18 Bobby Labonte (6/1)
5) #6 Mark Martin (22/1)