This weekend's Lenox Tools 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway will provide a fine example of the regional pride we in the South are accustomed to when it comes to stock car racing.
If the South is the home of the sport, its vacation home is in New England. Legendary drivers have done battle on legendary tracks across the Northeast for decades. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Series, a division that pre-dates even the Sprint Cup Series, is the region's dominant form of auto racing. Modified champions like Geoff Bodine, Jimmy Spencer, and Steve Park have all come South and won races in NASCAR's premier division, and Modified racing legend Richie Evans was inducted into the third class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame earlier this year. The K&N Pro Series East began life as the NASCAR Busch North Series, a sister circuit to what is now the Nationwide Series. Among the graduates of that series are Maine's Ricky Craven and New Jersey's Martin Truex Jr, while Andy Santarre, Dick McCabe, and the late Stub Fadden are among the numerous stars of the circuit's history.
When NHMS was added to the schedule in 1993, it became the first track in New England to host modern-era Sprint Cup racing, continuing a northern growth that included the addition of the Pocono (PA) Raceway in 1974 and the return of stock car racing to Watkins Glen, NY, in 1986. Rusty Wallace claimed the inaugural 300-miler on July 11, 1993. In 1997, the track received a second date. In addition to its Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series events, Loudon continues to host K&N East and Modified races that are considered the Daytona 500 of those respective divisions.
This weekend's event marks the fifth summer race at Loudon to advertise the "301" distance. In reality, because the track is 1.058 miles long, 301 laps equals out to nearly 320 miles of racing. Humorously, the first two "Extra Mile" races in 2008 and 2009 were both rain-shortened before their conclusion. Kurt Busch took the first race, while Connecticut's Joey Logano got his first win in the '09 race. The last two events have both gone the distance, with Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman winning respectively.
Newman's win last year was part of a history-making day for Stewart-Haas Racing. He started from the pole alongside teammate and car-owner Tony Stewart. It was Stewart who chased Newman home, marking the first time since 1957 that teammates had started first and second and finished in the same order at the end of the race. The last time teammates had accomplished the feat in any order had been in the 1989 Daytona 500, with Darrell Waltrip winning ahead of polesitter Kenny Schrader.
Stewart grabbed the win in the September race, the second of the five victories during the Chase he picked up en route to his championship.
All-time, Jeff Burton is the wins leader at Loudon with four. He won the July event each year from 1997-1999, then led all 300 laps in September 2000. Newman, Stewart, Busch, Johnson, and Jeff Gordon each have three victories.