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The Juice

THE JUICE: Free Pit Stops, Come And Get ‘Em!

- Justin St. Louis on 08 Jul 2010

While pit stop rules may have changed for this year's TD Bank 250, strategy likely won't. (VMM photo)

-by Justin St. Louis
VMM Editor

Oxford Plains Speedway has lifted a long-standing rule that allows cars competing in the TD Bank 250 to lose a lap under caution, even though caution laps have never counted toward the complete race distance.

The purpose of the rule -- and I completely understand and embrace this -- was to implement pit strategy and urgency into the race and add extra elements of drama, while not sacrificing the advertised 250-lap distance.

What I have never been able to wrap my head around, though, is this: If caution laps don’t count for cars on the track, why should they count for cars in the pits?

Under the old rule, drivers that chose to pit under caution were forced to:
a) Follow the pace car to the pit entrance,
b) Not pass the pace car until reaching their pit stall,
c) Get service from their crew,
d) Speed to the end of pit road,
e) Rejoin the field ahead of the pace car, circling the 3/8-mile track at about 30 mph, and
f) Do it all in about 45 seconds.

Any driver not getting out of the pits in time was held behind the leaders and placed one lap (or more, depending on the length of the stop) off the pace. Again, no laps were officially completed in the race, but drivers could lose laps under yellow.

Under the new rule, cars that pit will not lose laps under caution, but will be placed at the end of the running order for the restart.

Here’s what I don’t like about getting rid of the caution rule at the TD Bank 250: When there’s no pressure to get in and out of the pits quickly, there’s a certain drama taken out of race strategy, a drama that sets the 250 apart from every other race in the region.

Memories point to 2005, when Mike Rowe pitted with about 30 laps remaining, then passed Johnny Clark inside ten to go to take the win. Or 2001, when Ralph Nason spun out in the final stages of the race, pit to change tires, and drove through the field to finish third, just missing a fourth-straight 250 win.

It was just plain fun to watch those to instances unfold.

When persistent rains in 2008 left pit road wet and slippery, TD Bank 250 officials stopped the race at the halfway mark to allow teams to make pit stops without endangering crew members on wet pavement, and every driver was given his running position back without penalty. For that race, the excitement was practically gone from that moment on. Kevin Harvick took the lead and that was it, but that was a very unique, one-time exception.

Taking the pit/caution rule out of the TD Bank 250 -- seriously -- won’t change a thing. Drivers will still have to pit to change tires and add fuel, and there is no getting around that. Pit stops have always been and will always be the key to winning that race. It’s always been up to the teams to make the decision when to pit and how many tires to take. And regardless of whether caution laps count or not, every driver and crew member will work his or her hardest and fastest to beat the next car out of the pits.

There are obvious safety concerns that will be lessened with the rule gone: Oxford’s infield pit area, for example, is a two-road, dual entrance place with poor lighting and tight confines, which creates the potential for a speeding car to hit crew members. Implementing a pit road speed limit is a nice thought, but not a practical one given the layout of Oxford’s pit road(s). And how would a speed limit be enforced without adding scoring loops throughout the pits and having a separate monitoring system, or without officials operating radar guns at several points on pit road? Giving teams more than 45 seconds to get in the pits, make the stop, and get back on track will hopefully erase some of the risk.

Also, the Late Model cars in the race are not equipped to handle a fast, safe refueling. While Pro Stocks and Super Late Models generally have “quick-fill” fuel filler necks and use NASCAR-style gas cans, ACT-type Late Models are filled by hand, sometimes by removing the trunk lid and opening the fuel cell, thereby creating a fire hazard.

As far as the strategy itself -- or the feared lack of strategy -- think about races that the ACT Late Model Tour has run that have used pit strategy to determine the outcome.

Take the Fall Foliage 300 at Airborne last September as the best example. While the majority of the field pitted near the halfway mark for tires and fuel, Laperle pushed the envelope and stayed out nearly 100 laps longer, then blasted through the pack to take the win a la Rowe or Nason.

Brad Leighton won the 2008 Labor Day Classic 200 at Thunder Road on pit strategy, just as Randy Potter very nearly did the same the year before. During its three-year run as an ACT event, the Summer Sizzler 200 at Kawartha Speedway was always won on pit strategy. D.J. Kennington brought ACT to its knees and won the first “Super Series” 150-lap race at Lee USA Speedway with a late pit stop in 2004.

None of those races counted caution laps, and they were very entertaining.

I could go on -- and if you ask me in person I probably will -- about why I like getting rid of the old pit/caution rule for the 250. Am I wrong? Maybe, and I’ll come out and admit it if I am.

But give it a chance. Either way, the TD Bank 250 is getting talked about, and that’s a good thing. We’ll see you on July 18.

***

AROUND THE REGION:

Time to take a look at the top Vermonters from the past weekend...

ACT Tiger Tour: Joe Steffen of Essex Junction won last Thursday’s 100-lap event at Thunder Road over Eric Badore of Milton and Joey Roberts of Georgia.

Airborne Speedway (Plattsburgh, N.Y.): Bill Sawyer of Milton was ninth in Saturday’s Sportsman race, while grandson Codey Benoit won the Renegade feature. Kevin Boutin of Swanton was third, followed by Rob Gordon of Milton.

Albany-Saratoga Speedway (Malta, N.Y.): Don Scarborough of Brandon was Friday’s Modified runner-up, Hunter Bates of Middlebury was the Sportsman runner-up. Fred Little of Salisbury was seventh in the Pro Stock feature.

Bear Ridge Speedway (Bradford): Adam Pierson of Fairlee won Saturday’s Sportsman Modified feature over rookie Justin Comes of Middlebury and Bryan King of Corith. Gene Pierson of East Corinth won the Sportsman Coupe race over rookie Shane Race of South Strafford and Melvin Pierson of East Corinth. Jeremy Hodge of Newbury won the three-segment Limited Late Model “Madness” event over T.C. Forward of Lyme, N.H., and Robbie Williams of Plainfield, N.H. White River Junction’s Josh Sunn extended his Fast Four unbeaten streak to eight races, with St. Johnsbury’s Kevin Harran and Andy Johnson of Wilder completing the podium. Tom Placey of Bradford took the first Hornet win over Eric Lang of Groton and Don Reynolds.

Big Daddy's Speedway (Rumney, N.H.): Ed Tobin of Hartland won Sunday’s Sportsman Modified feature, and St. Johnsbury’s Kevin Harran won the Mini Stock feature.

Canaan Dirt Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Dan Eastman of Thetford Center won Friday’s Twin State Modified Series race over Kevin Chaffee of Orange, and Will Hull of East Montpelier was the Street Stock runner-up. Josh Sunn of White River Junction won the Mini Stock race and Dakota Stender of Tunbridge won the Bandit race.

Canaan Fair Speedway (Canaan, N.H.): Bruce Jaycox of Hartland was third in Saturday’s Super Street feature. Ascutney’s Jamie Hodgdon won the Pure Stock race and Bradford’s Mike Parker was the Bandit winner with Tyler Lescord of Ascutney third.

Devil's Bowl Speedway (West Haven): Marc Johnson of Guilderland, N.Y., won Sunday’s Modified race over Orwell’s Tim LaDue and Mike Bruno of Bomoseen. Alex Bell of Cambridge, N.Y., won the Sportsman race over Jack Swinton of Hudson Falls, N.Y., and Fred Proctor of Clifton Park, N.Y. Kim Duell of Porter Corners, N.Y., won the Pro Stock/Super Street Challenge over Scott MacMichael of New London, N.H., and Fred Little of Salisbury. Jon Miller of Malta, N.Y., won his fourth-straight Renegade race over Frank Monroe of Granville, N.Y., and Bill Duprey of Hydeville. Essex Junction drivers Chad Brown and Nate Woodworth went 1-2 in the Bomber Warrior race with Salisbury’s Brent Warren third. Garrett Given of Cornwall was the Duke Stock winner over Castleton drivers Scott Atwood and Erika Lilly.

Lebanon Valley Speedway (West Lebanon, N.Y.): Chuck Towlsee of Manchester was sixth in Saturday’s Pro Stock feature.

Modified Racing Series: Ascutney’s Dwight Jarvis was fifth in Saturday’s event at Monadnock Speedway, with nephew Joey Jarvis 12th. Kirk Alexander of West Swanzey, N.H., was the winner.

Mohawk Int’l Raceway (Akwesasne, N.Y.): Todd Stone of Middlebury was fifth in Friday’s Modified feature.

Monadnock Speedway (Winchester, N.H.): Chris Riendeau of Ascutney finished fifth in Saturday’s Outlaw Pro Stock feature. Windham’s Nate Kehoe was seventh in the Sportsman Modifieds with Earl Moul of Bellows Falls ninth. Joe Rogers of Ludlow was third in the Mini Stock race with Westminster’s Mike Metcalf seventh.

NASCAR Nationwide Series: Shelburne’s Kevin Lepage finished 39th at Daytona Int’l Speedway on Friday.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: David Stremme finished 37th at Daytona Int’l Speedway on Saturday for Vermont-based Latitude 43 Motorsports.

Northeast Mini Stock Tour: Chris McKinstry of Thetford was seventh in Saturday’s race at White Mountain Motorsports Park. Justin Trombley of Winter Harbor, Me., was the winner.

Pro All Stars Series: Chris Wilk of Mendon was 13th in Saturday’s PASS North race at Canaan Fair Speedway. Ben Rowe of Turner, Me., was the winner. Steven Legendre of St. Johnsbury was 21st in Saturday’s event Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, S.C. Ryan Blaney of High Point, N.C., was the winner.

Riverside Speedway (Groveton, N.H.): Dilyn Switsre of St. Johnsbury was third in Saturday’s 100-lap Late Model race, with Hyde Park’s Shawn Cook tenth. Dan Sidney of St. Johnsbury was fourth in the Outlaw Sportsman feature, and North Troy’s David Allen was fourth in the Super Stocks. Howard Switser of West Burke won the Dwarf Car feature, and Dean Switser of St. Johnsbury won the Street Stock race. Lorin Vear of Waterford was the Cyclone runner-up, and Cabot’s Lyndsey Christman won the Angel race.

Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl (Barre): Matt White of Northfield won Thursday’s Late Model race over Rich Lowrey of Charlotte and John Donahue of Graniteville. Joe Steffen of Essex Junction won the Tiger Tour 100 over Eric Badore of Milton and Joey Roberts of Georgia. Rookie Jayme Lee of Barre won the Street Stock race over Jean LeBlanc of Gorham, N.H., and Mike MacAskill of Williamstown, and Ken Christman of Cabot won the Junkyard Warriors over Kevin Dodge of Barre and Brock Parrott of Williamstown. On Sunday, Northfield’s Cris Michaud won the Late Model race over White and Dylan Smith of Randolph. Hinesburg brothers Bobby and Tom Therrien beat Peacham’s Tony Rossi in the Tiger Sportsman race, and Tim Campbell of West Topsham won the Street Stock race over Dave Whitcomb of Elmore and Marvin Johnson of Essex Junction. Dodge was the Warrior winner over Fred Schroeder of Bristol and Josh Erwin of Waterbury.

Twin State Modified Series: Dan Eastman of Thetford Center defeated Kevin Chaffee of Orange at Canaan Dirt Speedway on Friday night.

Twin State Speedway (Claremont, N.H.): Rutland's Dallas Trombley was fourth in Friday’s Late Model feature. Robert Hagar of Windsor was the Modified runner-up with Earl Moul of Bellows Falls eighth. Chris Wilk of Mendon was the Super Street winner, and Waitsfield’s David Greenslit won the Strictly Stock feature with Kaitlin Stone of Jascksonville third. Jeremiah Losee of North Springfield was the Wildcat winner over Rob Leitch of Cavendish and Tyler Lescord of Ascutney.

White Mountain Motorsports Park (North Woodstock, N.H.): Tyler Cahoon of St. Johnsbury was third in Saturday’s Late Model feature with Dwayne Lanphear of Morrisville fourth and Stacy Cahoon of St. Johnsbury seventh.

***

THIS WEEK:

Thursday, July 8
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl, Barre -- 6:30pm (Regular Event)

Friday, July 9
Albany-Saratoga Speedway, Malta, N.Y. -- 6:45pm (Regular Event)
Canaan Dirt Speedway, Canaan, N.H. -- 7:00pm (Granite State Mini Sprints)
Twin State Speedway, Claremont, N.H. -- 7:30pm (Regular Event)

Saturday, July 10
Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, N.Y. -- 6:00pm (ACT Late Model Tour)
Bear Ridge Speedway, Bradford -- 6:00pm (Sprint Cars of New England)
Canaan Fair Speedway, Canaan, N.H. -- 5:30pm (Regular Event)
Monadnock Speedway, Winchester, N.H. � 6:00pm (Regular Event)
Riverside Speedway, Groveton, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)
White Mountain Motorsports Park, North Woodstock, N.H. -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)

Sunday, July 11
Big Daddy's Speedbowl, Rumney, N.H. -- 4:00pm (Twin State Modified Series)
Devil's Bowl Speedway, West Haven -- 6:00pm (Regular Event)


TOURING SERIES:

ACT Late Model Tour: Sat., July 10 -- Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, N.Y. (6:00pm)
Granite State Mini Sprints: Fri., July 9 -- Canaan Dirt Speedway, Canaan, N.H. (7:00pm)
Modified Racing Series: Sat., July 10 -- Lee USA Speedway, Lee, N.H. (7:00pm)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Sun., July 11 -- Iowa Speedway, Newton, Iowa (SPEED/2:00pm)
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Fri., July 9 -- Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet, Ill. (ESPN/7:30pm)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Sat., July 10 -- Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet, Ill. (TNT/7:30pm)
Pro All Stars Series: Sat., July 10 -- Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, Scarborough, Me. (6:00pm)
Pro All Stars Series: Tue., July 13 -- Lee USA Speedway, Lee, N.H. (6:00pm)
Sprint Cars of New England: Sat., July 10 -- Bear Ridge Speedway, Bradford, Vt. (6:00pm)
Twin State Modified Series: Sun., July 11 -- Big Daddy’s Speedbowl, Rumney, N.H. (4:00pm)

IN THEIR OWN WORDS:

"I don’t care what kind of car it is. If it’s got four tires and steering wheel, I’ll drive it." --Nick Sweet

"I want a championship next year, that’s what I want. I’m gonna get it next year. If I run the full season, I’m gonna get it." --Modified Racing Series driver Steve Masse

"I’ve never had a season where we’ve had this number of podium finishes. Never. And I dare say nobody else has, either." --ACT champion Brian Hoar

"It’s crazy to think that however many years ago I was sitting in the stands up here watching my dad trying to make the race and now we’re in victory lane." --Milk Bowl winner Joey Polewarczyk

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