Race Weekend Central

A Match Made in Hell: Why NHMS Doesn’t Belong on the Schedule

Ho hum. Boring. Another race at New Hampshire has gone by, once again, completely devoid of excitement. Once again, only a select few cars could pass, and the rest simply logged laps on a track that clearly is not suited for the NASCAR brand of racing. How much longer is NASCAR willing to put up with this?

It seems as though every time the series rolls into New Hampshire, there is a legion of fans and media members who have this inexplicable false hope that this low-banked, one-mile oval will put on a good show. And every time, those people come out disappointed. Quite honestly, I have absolutely no idea where such high hopes are coming from. In my 14 years of watching NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, I have yet to see a good Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In fact, after 14 years, I have yet to see ONE good race at this track.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway may be in danger of losing race dates if changes are not made to the track.

That statement is probably going to sting for a number of readers, especially those in the New England area. Some are probably going to say that I have unfairly high standards. Others might say that I just don’t know what I’m talking about. But I just can’t hold back any more on this one. New Hampshire Motor Speedway does not belong on the Sprint Cup circuit. There’s no two ways around it: NHMS is the worst track the Sprint Cup series visits (yup, worse than Auto Club), and Sunday’s Sylvania 300 only served to further that point.

To all the officials at New Hampshire Motor Speedway who may stumble upon this article, I am calling you out. Your track is maligned, and it’s about time you guys did something to fix it.

Now, it would be unfair of men to just sit here and bash this track without providing some explanation for what I believe is wrong with it. So let us begin, shall we?
For those of you not quite as versed in your NASCAR history, New Hampshire Motor Speedway was actually built on the site of an old road course track called Bryar Motorsports Park. The Bahre family purchased the track, destroyed the old road circuit, and built NHMS in it’s place. The Bahre family’s goal? Obtain a NASCAR race. NASCAR made it’s debut at the track with the Busch Series in 1990, a race won by Tommy Ellis. Three years later, the Cup Series made it’s debut at NHMS. There’s been a few half-decent races here and there, but not a single one of these races could really be classified as “exciting” or “memorable”. What we saw this past Sunday is what we’ve seen at NHMS for years: single-file parade races, one-car dominations, and little to no passing. The track has since been bought by Bruton Smith, who has at various times threatened to take away a date from the track and transfer it to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I certainly wouldn’t blame him for doing so.

But what, you are all probably wondering, makes NHMS such a boring track? Why, it’s all in the banking silly! It’s simple, stock cars are not meant to drive on tracks that don’t have a sizeable amount of banking. Stock cars just don’t have enough downforce to get through the corners in a manner that is conducive to good racing.

Not only that, but the flat, hairpin-esque corners make passing an endeavor of biblically difficult proportions. Handling ends up becoming overly important, and the speeds are not high enough to generate any draft, thus you end up with the piss-poor product we saw this Sunday. NHMS is too short to have tense, high speed, draft-intensive racing; and it is too long to have classic, short-track beating and banging. About the only thing that can help improve the racing at a place like New Hampshire is a tire that has a lot of fall off, and with Goodyear providing the tires for NASCAR, there is little to no chance of that happening. Besides, even if such a tire was brought to the race, the very nature of New Hampshire’s track layout means that the racing would only improve marginally.

My general rule of thumb is that if a track is longer than a mile and doesn’t have at least 20 degrees of banking, the on-track product will suffer. That’s why the racing at places like NHMS, Kentucky, Las Vegas (before the repave), and pre-2003 Homestead are/were so awful. These tracks were simply not designed for stock cars. New Hampshire happens to be the one that is the most poorly suited of them all. It is for this reason that I have always been stupefied as to why New Hampshire was given race dates in the first place. This track is in dire need of a reconfiguration–and it needs to happen sooner rather than later. If NHMS had it’s banking bumped up to somewhere in the range of 20-26 degrees, the racing would improve immediately. Such a track would be a cross between Rockingham and Dover, and I guarantee the fans would enjoy that.

Quite honestly, I don’t care what they do to the track; they just need to do something. The NASCAR fans of New England are as passionate as any other fans in the country; it would be criminal if this region lost two race dates simply because the track (NHMS) puts on a poor show. But make no mistake, that is exactly what is going to happen if drastic changes are not brought to NHMS. Bruton Smith owns the track now, and he has made it very clear that he would transfer one or even two dates away from NHMS to another SMI track at a moment’s notice. Smith has been chomping at the bit to get a second race date for Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and you can bet that that second date will come from NHMS if something is not done here soon.

Whatever the case, New Hampshire Motor Speedway is a shining example of what is wrong in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Officials at NHMS can choose to accept this fact and give the track a facelift, or they can deny it and watch as they lose a race date to a more deserving track. Either way, snooze-inducing races like Sunday’s Sylvania 300 are emblematic of a greater problem existing in this sport, and it’s only a matter of time before maligned tracks such as New Hampshire Motor Speedway are axed from the schedule entirely.

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