NASCAR notebook: Kyle Busch says fans need to support NHMS to keep racing date in New Hampshire

  • NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth gets the checkered flag to win the New Hampshire 301 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17 in Loudon. New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s Cup series playoff race in September will be the last fall race at the track before it moves to Las Vegas in 2018. AP file

  • Carl Edwards (19) keeps the lead from the pole position at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Loudon, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

  • NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch speaks with reporters during a two-day testing session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on May 31. NICK STOICO / Monitor staff

  • NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Newman speaks with reporters during a two-day testing session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on May 31, 2017. NICK STOICO / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Sunday, June 04, 2017

Maybe they didn’t spend as much time on the track as they hoped, but last week’s two-day testing session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway gave a group of Cup drivers an opportunity to turn some laps ahead of the New Hampshire 301 on July 16.

Rain limited those chances, but Kyle Larson turned the fastest lap on Tuesday with a best speed of 125.6 mph and led the group again on Wednesday at 125.1 mph.

Larson, enjoying a breakout run in his fourth year of full-time Cup racing, was joined by some former winners at NHMS, including Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing), Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports) and Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing). Ty Dillon (Germain Racing), Trevor Bayne (Roush-Fenway Racing) and Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing) also participated in the test, which was open to all Cup series teams.

NASCAR will return to Loudon on Sept. 24 for the New England 300, the second race of the Cup series championship playoffs. Since Loudon’s September race will move to Las Vegas in 2018, this will be the last fall NASCAR race at Loudon for the forseeable future.

Busch, a Nevada native, admitted he is partial to the Vegas track when he was asked about the move. Busch is a two-time winner at Loudon (2006 and 2015) with a total of nine top-fives and 12 top-10 finishes in 24 races at The Magic Mile.

“I’ve always enjoyed coming to New Hampshire, it’s been a fun place,” Busch said on Wednesday. “I’ve run well here. I’ve run well at places that are kind of like this. And it’s a fun area, too. I ran the Oxford (Maine) 250 a few times and stuff like that, so the fans up here really enjoy their racing. But for the race to be moved from here to go to Las Vegas, I’m kind partial to that, too, being a hometown boy from Las Vegas. So I’m excited about the opportunity to go to Vegas.”

No drivers may be as disappointed about the move from NHMS as Newman, a three-time winner with seven top-fives, 18 top-10 finishes and seven poles in 30 Cup races at Loudon. But even he’s not surprised about the decision.

“A lot of really, really diehard dedicated race fans up here so it’s tough to see that second event go away, but they see the numbers,” Newman said. “Bruton (Smith, SMI chairman) and those guys see the numbers and know why they’re making that move. It is what it is.”

It’s yet to be seen whether Las Vegas will serve as a more vibrant market, but that’s the bet NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports, Inc., are making.

NASCAR has been coming NHMS twice a year since 1997. And Boston was ranked ninth in Nielsen’s TV market rankings for this year, but NASCAR ratings have slid in recent years locally and across the nation. 

“I don’t think there should be reason for concern,” Busch said. “I think this place puts on enough of a show and a good enough show that as long as people continue to come and support the race track and the racing that they see up here, that then they’ll keep that date that they’ve had probably forever. If taking away a day makes people angry and they don’t show up, they’re going to lose the second date, so you gotta be careful.”

Other interests

Newman will again compete in the Whelen Modified Tour at NHMS this year on July 15 and again on Sept. 23. He has driven 24 modified races since 2008 with four wins and 13 top-fives. His last win came in 2011 at Bristol.

“I’ll run the modified up here for three races. Two weekends, three races, the all star race (July 14) included,” Newman said. “The modifieds are a special race up here. That’s their Daytona 500 from what I understand. I’m not born and raised up here, but I kind of get the vibe of what that modified race is like in this area.”

Busch hasn’t raced modified here but said he would be interested in competing later in his career.

“If somebody asked me to go do the Indy 500, I’d have to do that before I get too old,” Busch said. “But the modifieds here at Loudon I could probably do when I was 45 or whatever.”

Wait a minute, Busch wants to race the Indy 500?

“I would love to do Indy one of these days,” he said. “We’ll see, just now is not the right time I guess.”

Busch on Belichick

Busch was under some scrutiny in the days following the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, where he finished second to first-time Cup series winner Austin Dillon. Busch was noticeably disappointed in his finish and answered just one question during his post-race press conference. 

Several people involved in NASCAR – including drivers, broadcasters and journalists – spent at least part of their Memorial Day holiday chiming in on social media with their thoughts on Busch’s curt press conference. Some were critical, others sympathetic. 

Busch addressed the topic on Wednesday, and why not? He was in New England, home of a certain football coach who is notorious for his brief (and grumpy) press conferences.

“No question. Bill Belichick gets it differently than anybody else,” Busch said. “But, you know, we also sometimes are more successful than others as well, too.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)