New Hampshire Motor Speedway Magic Mile Notebook: Aaron’s 499

PRESS RELEASE: New Hampshire Motor Speedway

David Ragan wins last spring at Talladage Superspeedway (Photo: Getty Images)

David Ragan wins last spring at Talladage Superspeedway (Photo: Getty Images)

**LOCAL TIDBITS**

Cara Peters Wins 5th Annual Speedway Star Competition
There was no buckling under the pressure for Cara Peters. At last Saturday’s Speedway Star inside the Mall of New Hampshire, the part-time cowgirl gave a stirring rendition of the national anthem, earning first-place honors in the fifth annual singing competition and a spot singing the “The Star Spangled Banner” on the speedway stage during the July NASCAR Camping World RV Sales 301 race weekend. Peters, who does competitive cowboy-mounted shooting on horseback in her spare time and wore an oversized belt buckle in honor of it, garnered the most points from a celebrity panel of judges that included Cliff Blake of Republic Nashville Records, legendary NASCAR pit reporter Dick Berggren and WOKQ’s Karen Kiley of the “Morning Waking Crew with Mark and 2K.” Kiley’s co-host, Mark Ericson, served as the emcee. Defending Speedway Star champion Whitney Doucet (Fitchburg, Mass.) finished second and will sing the national anthem at the September NASCAR SYLVANIA 300 race weekend.

Granite State Legends Series Results
Defending Moat Mountain Road Course Series champion Shaun Buffington went 2-for-2 over the weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, edging Jordan O’Brien (Yarmouth, Maine) by 1.120 seconds on Saturday and Tom Gray (Baltic, Conn.) by 0.537 on Sunday.

Saturday’s Top 10 (April 26)
1. Shaun Buffington, Plainfield, Conn.
2. Jordan O’Brien, Yarmouth, Maine
3. Dean Dezak, New Boston, N.H.
4. Bobby Weymouth, Topsham, Maine
5. Stephen Johnson, North Conway, N.H.
6. Patrick Dillon, Windham, Maine
7. Mike Alton, Nashua, N.H.
8. Wyatt Alexander, Ellsworth, Maine
9. Terry Johnson, Wilmot, S.D.
10. Evan Polisky, Beverly, Mass.

Sunday’s Top 10 (April 27)
1. Shaun Buffington, Plainfield, Conn.
2. Tom Gray, Baltic, Conn.
3. Mike Alton, Nashua, N.H.
4. Taylor Martin, Windham, N.H.
5. Stephen Johnson, North Conway, N.H.
6. Bobby Weymouth, Topsham, Maine
7. Patrick Dillon, Windham, Maine
8. Jordan O’Brien, Yarmouth, Maine
9. Dean Dezak, New Boston, N.H.
10. Luke Hiebert, Bethel, Maine

Oxford Casino to Sponsor Pole Day on July 11
With the exciting new NASCAR knockout style pole position format being unveiled at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this season, Oxford Casino has anted up with a buy-in as the new official pole day sponsor. Speedway officials announced today that the Oxford Casino Pole Day will be named for Friday, July 11 when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers qualify for the Camping World RV Sales 301. There is plenty of on-track action scheduled for Oxford Casino Pole Day on Friday, July 11, including the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Modified All-Star Shootout at 2:10 p.m.; two rounds of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying for the Camping World RV Sales 301 beginning at 4:35 p.m.; and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Granite State 100 at 6:00 p.m.

Jimmie Johnson Ticket Package Unveiled
Already having built one of the most impressive résumés in NASCAR history, six-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson will spend his race morning with fans of all ages in an exclusive Q&A opportunity and a Lowe’s Build & Grow Clinic for children before the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Sunday, July 13 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Johnson, the last Sprint Cup Series driver to win back-to-back races at the Magic Mile, is offering fans an opportunity for special ticket buyers to attend a Q&A and a special build-a-car workshop for children. The $48 ticket package will include either two children’s grandstand tickets or one adult grandstand ticket along with access to a special 15-minute Q&A session with Johnson.

Johnson, Dillon to Attend
Six-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, and 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, Austin Dillon, will make an appearance at the Speedway Children’s Charities “Champions Breakfast” on the morning of Friday, July 11 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The event, which will run from 8-10 a.m.in the hospitality area behind the main grandstands, will take place during the July NASCAR weekend, which will feature four races over the weekend.

**NATIONAL STORYLINES**

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will make its first stop of the season at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend:

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Next Race: Aaron’s 499
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Sunday, May 4
The Time: 1 p.m.
TV: FOX, 12 p.m.
Radio: Sirius XM Ch. 90
Distance: 500 miles (188 laps)

Key stats from last week at Richmond International Raceway
Winner: Joey Logano
Margin of Victory: 0.946 seconds
Cautions: 9 for 66 laps
Lead Changes: 20 among 8 drivers
Most Laps Led: Jeff Gordon 173 of 400

Top 16 Driver Points:

(1) J. Gordon 341; (2) M. Kenseth 336; (3) C. Edwards 313; (4) Kyle Busch 310; (5) D. Earnhardt Jr. 309; (6) J. Logano 292; (7) B. Keselowski 287; (8) J. Johnson 282; (9) R. Newman 272; (10) B. Vickers 256; (11) G. Biffle 256; (12) A. Dillon 252; (13) K. Larson 251; (14) D. Hamlin 245; (15) T. Stewart 243; (16) M. Ambrose 242.

Victories:
Joey Logano (2)
Kevin Harvick (2)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1)
Brad Keselowski (1)
Carl Edwards (1)
Kyle Busch (1)
Kurt Busch (1)

This race last year
Winner: David Ragan
Pole Sitter: Carl Edwards
Margin of Victory: 0.212 seconds
Lead Changes: 30 among 17 drivers
Most Laps Led: Matt Kenseth 142 of 192
Top-Five: David Ragan, David Gilliland, Carl Edwards, Michael Waltrip and Jimmie Johnson.

’Dega Wild-Card Rep Heightened By New Format

Talladega Superspeedway and unpredictability have been joined at the high-banked hip not long after the place opened the gates for its very first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in September 1969. You know. The race that almost never happened. The one derailed by drivers’ concerns about tire wear while approaching 200 mph on a 2.66-mile tri-oval that had risen from the Alabama countryside, looking like Daytona on steroids. Drivers boycotted. NASCAR President Bill France Sr. got things back on track – literally – by assembling a field of second-tier drivers and making sure the show would go on. Richard Brickhouse was Talladega’s first winner. Richard Childress finished 23rd. Now who could’ve predicted all of that? That was only the beginning. In terms of the race, while there never again have been makeshift fields at Talladega there have been a number of surprise visitors to Victory Lane – both before and after the advent of horsepower-reducing restrictor plates that have made close-quarters racing the norm. From Richard Brickhouse … we went to Dick Brooks in 1973 … to Lennie Pond in 1978… to Ron Bouchard in 1981 … to Bobby Hillin Jr. in 1986 … to Phil Parsons in 1988. One-win wonders, all, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Now toss in the four drivers who got their first – but not their only – series win at Talladega: Davey Allison in 1987, Ken Schrader in 1988, Brian Vickers in 2006 and Brad Keselowski in 2009. For those with shorter memories, let’s go back to the spring of 2013. David Ragan and David Gilliland finished 1-2. Repeating … Ragan and Gilliland … 1-2. All of this history is why Talladega has come to be known as NASCAR’s ultimate wild-card race. That reputation is back into play this week, with Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 and will be in full force come Oct. 19 when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is in midstream. Factor in the new Chase format being instituted this year and the card gets even wilder. A race victory virtually assures a driver of making the Chase field, now expanded to 16 drivers. Which means Sunday’s surprise could become autumn’s championship contender. Just like that. And now comes another wrinkle: Knockout qualifying, a first-year initiative pumping new life into competition for the Coors Light Pole Award. Given the unique qualifying format for the Daytona 500 in February – time trials locking in the front row followed by two 150-mile races that determine the rest of the field – this weekend will be the first restrictor-plate KO setting. This is a good thing. Talladega excitement notwithstanding, single-car runs on the world’s largest oval track were at times less than compelling. Knockout qualifying will fix that up Saturday.

Junior At The Front? Book It.

As unpredictable as Talladega may be, it does offer a number of guarantees: action, intrigue and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the front of the field. In 28 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, Earnhardt has led at least one lap in 25 of them. Only 10 drivers have led more races at Talladega, including his late father Dale Earnhardt, who leads that list, with 38. Only one active driver ranks ahead of Earnhardt on the Talladega races led list – Jeff Gordon, with 34. Simply put, consider Earnhardt a favorite to win this Sunday’s Aaron’s 499, the second restrictor-plate race of the year. Of course, Earnhardt’s restrictor plate record is solid – he won the Daytona 500 to open the 2014 season.

Logano, Keselowski On Championship Fast Track

Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are made for each other. Young. Talented. Headstrong. And right now, absolute championship favorites. With his second victory of the season – this time at Richmond – Logano is guaranteed to be one of the 16 drivers to make the Chase Grid, provided he remains in the top 30 in points after race No. 26 and attempts to qualify for every race. Keselowski won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and is all but assured a spot in the Chase – presuming there aren’t more winners than Chase spots, an unlikelihood. And they each have a hard-nosed edge, one that adds a juicy dimension to their persona. That edge was on display at Richmond, as Keselowski and Matt Kenseth exchanged paint on track, and words off it. All of it rounds out a story that could end with a 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Both are most likely in the Chase, and both have seen success on 1.5-mile tracks – which make up five of the 10 Chase tracks.

Up next is Talladega (which also hosts a Chase race). Keselowski nabbed his first career series win there in 2009 while with Phoenix Racing, and won again in 2012 with Penske. Logano has struggled there of late, finishing outside the top 20 in four of the last five races there.
Four Champions Still Searching Elusive Win

Quick, what do you Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth all have in common? Of course, the obvious answer to any NASCAR fan whether novice or avid is that they all have NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles – 14 among the four of them to be exact. But there’s something else that links these four past champions together in 2014. Heading into Talladega for the 10th race of the season, none of them have yet been to Victory Lane in 2014. All four have at least one win at the 2.66-mile track, with Gordon leading the way with six. Johnson has two, while Stewart and Kenseth both have one. Kenseth’s win was the most recent, coming in fall 2012; however, Gordon’s spring 2005 triumph where he led 139 of 194 laps was the most dominating performance of the 10 combined victories.

With heightened emphasis this season on winning races and the “win-and-you’re-in” format for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it’s likely that most of them, if not all, will have collected at least one victory by the time the postseason begins. The last time one of these four drivers didn’t win one of the first nine races in a season was two decades ago – in 1994, before three of them even made their first starts in any NASCAR national series.
McMurray: One To Watch At Talladega

Last October, Jamie McMurray won his seventh career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, and his fourth in the series at a restrictor plate track. In 2013 at Talladega, McMurray won for the first time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 2010, snapping a 108-race winless streak. McMurray had led only one lap until he got to the front with 15 laps to go. He held that spot the rest of the way, once again showing he has a knack for restrictor-plate racing. McMurray has won twice at Daytona International Speedway (including the 2010 Daytona 500) and twice at Talladega Superspeedway. As the series returns to Talladega this week for the Aaron’s 499, a win for McMurray at the track would hold added value, potentially securing him a spot in the Chase Grid.

Gas ’N Go

– The milestone watch continues onto Talladega Superspeedway for Kyle Busch. Busch needs only 30 more laps led to become the 15th driver to reach the 10,000 laps-led plateau in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. Busch has led 30 or more laps only once in his 18 career starts on the series’ largest track.

– Also on a milestone watch, Denny Hamlin will make his 300th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start on Sunday at Talladega. In the first 299, Hamlin has 23 wins, which ranks tied for 30th on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list.

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