Published September 20, 2012
Although it’s among the shortest, slowest tracks on the Sprint Cup tour, New Hampshire Motor Speedway is no pushover.
And it can reach out and grab you faster than a Tony Stewart buttgoose.
The challenge for the Chasers and the 31 other competitors in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 will be to “plant” their cars on the tracks in the sweeping turns and protect their brakes.
“It’s tough because the balance when you have clean air and the whole race track to yourself – you need a race car to drive a certain way,” said Jimmie Johnson. “When you get in traffic, you need the car to turn a lot stronger to run a tighter radius and inside of someone. It’s tough to blend those two worlds.
“That is the thing we fight so much – we work in practice running by ourselves. You get in the race [and] you are rarely by yourself, then trying to find a way to make your car work in traffic.”
Adding to the difficulty is the fact that New Hampshire’s turns are relatively flat, providing little banking for stopping momentum. It’s practically impossible to set up a car perfectly for every segment of the turns, and too much speed down the straights can result in cars meeting the outside wall.
“It just has long, sweeping corners,” Stewart said. “The corners in comparison to where we normally race, we’re used to having a lot of banking, but New Hampshire is pretty flat. It’s one of those tracks where you’re either fighting entry-loose, entry-exit and nice in the center, or you’re fighting tight in the center and you’re good on entry and good on exit. It’s a juggling act trying to get the car balanced for all three sections of the corner.”
The easiest passing at NHMS often happens during pit-stop cycles.
“New Hampshire is a really challenging track because it’s a one-mile track that drives like a flat short track,” said Matt Kenseth, never a winner at NHMS (although he has five top-five runs). “It seems like you’re always fighting for position there because the track is so narrow that it’s difficult to pass, so we really rely on good pit stops to help gain positions.”
A key in advancing at Loudon, said Chaser Kevin Harvick, is having a car that’s solid in the middle and in the exit of the corners.
“I like that type of track because it's flat, similar to the tracks out west where I started my racing career,” Harvick said. “There's a lot of braking. You have to really work on getting your car through the center of the corner and still have the forward drive you need up off the corner."
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.