Race Weekend Central

Voice of Vito: New Hampshire Motor Speedway More Like the Thunderdome This Sunday

“There’s no laws in this place, anything goes – it’s Thunderdome!”

Such were the words of George Costanza to Jerry Seinfeld in a memorable episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry was attempting to get a deal on a new car. That same line may come to describe this weekend’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire, too, if the rough and tumble weekend at Infineon Raceway carries over.

I think it will. In a season that has seen a number of incidents on the track, with a bit of a personal touch applied to a number of back bumpers, Sunday’s race (June 27) at the Magic Mile might turn out to be a Nightmare on Bahre Street for some who have done others wrong in recent weeks. So who are some of the prime combatants to enter the arena this weekend in Loudon?

Joey Logano vs. Kevin Harvick

If there ever was a weekend for Joey Logano square things with Kevin Harvick, this might be the one. While answering questions in the media center at Michigan International Speedway a couple of weeks ago, Harvick erred on the side of hypocrisy, stating he didn’t appreciate Joey making things personal with his “wife-wears-the-firesuit” crack – then spent the next 15 minutes trashing Logano’s father.

Logano through the whole ordeal has stood his ground, defending his father while maintaining his strong position against Harvick. The sophomore still thinks he’s in the right by confronting him, angry it’s the second time in three months the No. 20 has gone for a ride off Harvick’s bumper on the final lap of a race. Loudon is also home turf for the Home Depot pilot, who considers the 1.058-mile oval his home track; he grew up 150 miles south of the speedway in Middletown, Conn.

See also
The Cool-Down Lap: Young Joey Logano Sends Loud Statement to Points Leader Kevin Harvick

Harvick has a 140-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the points standings and is insulated from any real harm. Let’s be honest; leading the points right now isn’t much help, except if you were to suddenly wreck five weeks in a row or contract some sort of horrid 19th-century disease.

As Mark Martin quipped in the media center on Friday prior to Harvick’s justification of his actions against Logano this year, “I think Joey Logano still has enough integrity to continue to try to make that work… but I might be wrong. I’m not Joey, but if I’m Harvick, yeah, I’m gonna figure I’ve got one coming.”

There ya go.

Joey Logano vs. Juan Pablo Montoya

It looked innocent enough; after sliding out through the esses portion of Infineon Raceway in the final laps, Logano was in a precarious position, with his car’s posterior placed against the right-front fender of Juan Pablo Montoya‘s Chevy. While placing a bit too much faith in the good nature of his Colombian counterpart, Logano did not cede the position to the No. 42, which was one of the faster cars that day and piloted by one of the best road-course racers in the world.

What happened next came as a surprise to no one. Since Logano opted not to yield to Montoya’s big red machine, the No. 20 wound up rotated.

As of Tuesday, Logano stated he had not yet seen the incident and did not offer much of an opinion on it, other than it started the downward spiral experienced by the JGR bunch in the hills of Napa Valley. Since it’s probably just a blip on the radar and a case where Logano could have squeezed out of it and prevented a bad situation, don’t expect much to come from this little wreck.

Until maybe Bristol or something.

Jeff Gordon vs. Half of the Field

We all know Jeff Gordon is hungry to win a race – possibly even desperate. But was it really worth going nuclear and turning the Toyota/SaveMart 350K into a late-night reenactment of EA Sports’ NASCAR Thunder 2003?

First he plows into Red Bull sub Mattias Ekstrom, who was sent into David Ragan, sending the No. 6 spinning – and just narrowly missing teammate Johnson. Hmmm… was he the actual target? Did Oswald act alone? Some things we may never know the answer to, though Gordon may be able to tell you how many points you get for finishing 40th in a Cup race this weekend.

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No Bull: Demolition Derby Jeff Gordon's Latest Sign of Ugly Desperation

Moving on, the most notable of his many exploits on Sunday was attempting (and failing) to dive-bomb Martin Truex Jr. – a native of Mayetta, N.J. who will also have more than his fair share of fans on hand in Loudon this weekend. Truex was succinct in his response to Gordon’s action, stating over the team radio, “I’m going to wreck ’em both! I’m tired of this! They’re done! Bye bye Jeff and **** Juan!”

After his exit following another wreck not of his making on lap 67, Truex was nonplussed with Gordon’s apology and explanation after the race. That’s understandable, considering the No. 24 was on its way to a top-five finish (and got it) while Truex’s No. 56 was eliminated from competition – and possibly the Chase along with it.

“I know he’s going to say, ‘Well, Juan [Pablo Montoya] was trying to pass me and I was trying to block him,'” he said before sending his own message to Gordon. “I don’t care. Just because he’s trying to pass you, it’s alright for you to spin me out? No! Let him pass you, then.”

Truex can take heart, sort of, in that he was not alone in falling victim to the No. 24 on this day. On lap 100, Gordon again tried an aggressive pass entering turn 9 and took out not one, but two cars – the No. 19 RPM Ford of Elliott Sadler and the No. 33 RCR Chevrolet of Clint Bowyer.

While the Drive for Five is certainly alive, so is the NASCAR penalty box for rough driving – and it’s surprising it wasn’t used. I understand a champion gets the benefit of the doubt, but three times in an hour is a bit excessive. Even first base umpire Jim Joyce could have called this one correctly, but in this new era of “Have at it, boys!” Sunday may prove to be “What’s right is right” and “Don’t get mad, get even.”

If yours is one of the drivers who were felled by the No. 24, the mindset may be, “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

So while New Hampshire is not a short track, per se, it does race like one in the corners, and it does not take much to send somebody around in the middle of a turn. The track that Kyle Petty once remarked should be filled up with water and stocked for fishing, once known for producing some of the most mind-numbing racing for over a decade (remember Jeff Burton’s flag-to-flag win in 2000 when it was run with a restrictor plate?) may now provide some good theater for everyone this Sunday.

If nothing else, we’re likely to see the same brand of late-lap battles that have become the hallmark of this track in recent years, pumping up Sunday’s 31st running of a Sprint Cup event at NHMS.

It very well may turn out to be an episode of “two man enter, one man leave” as in the post-apocalyptic Mel Gibson pic, with a pinch of Russell Crowe sword slingin’ mixed in.

To coin a phrase from the film Gladiator, “Are you not entertained?!”

About the author


Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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