Sports: Rain washes out NASCAR qualifying

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LOUDON, N.H. - New ownership has put a fresh coat of paint on the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The one thing that remains the same, however, is the racetrack itself.

The one-mile oval has relatively flat corners that makes it one of the most-difficult tracks to master, which helps explain why there have been eight different winners in the last eight races.

The unpredictably of Sunday’s LENOX Tools 301 was enhanced by the rainout of Friday’s qualifying session. The starting lineup will be set by a mix of the current owner points and postmarks of entry blanks.

Tony Stewart, who won at New Hampshire in 2000 but hasn’t won at the track since, will start on the pole, while Jeff Gordon, who last won at New Hampshire came in 1998, is on the outside pole.

The rest of the top-10 starters are: Jimmie Johnson in third, Kurt Busch in fourth, Carl Edwards in fifth, Ryan Newman in sixth, Denny Hamlin in seventh, Greg Biffle in eighth, Kyle Busch in ninth and Matt Kenseth in 10th.

Edwards and Kenseth are the only top-10 starters who haven’t won at New Hampshire.

Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. bought the racetrack before the 2008 season. The new owner has paved a lot of the parking lots, added a new sign and improved other amenities at the speedway located about 90 minutes north of Boston.

The track has remained unchanged - and unpredictable.

“This racetrack has a lot to do with pit strategy,” Kurt Busch said. “Guys who haven’t been running well all day stay out at the end of the race and get track position. You want to pit when you can make it to the end and stay out there until the end of the race.”

Edwards said he’s surprised how the track changes from race to race. A good car for one weekend usually doesn’t race well on another, so it keeps teams scrambling for setups.

“I’ve come here and had the fastest car, we had that Red Sox car that one year and it was just outstanding; I’ve come here and couldn’t run 20th to save my life, so it’s based how well your crew chief gets that car perfect and how precise you can be as a driver,” he said. “I think one of the reasons you see all the different winners is because it’s almost a strategy race. It’s a tough track to pass on.”

Rain was expected during qualifying, so teams spent a lot of their practice time working on race setups. Kurt Busch, however, dedicated some of his practice to qualifying since New Hampshire will be the first of 10 races that make up the Chase for the Championship.

“This track starts the Chase, that’s the way we approached it in 2004 when we made our big jump from seventh to second (place in the standings),” Busch said. “We did one qualifying run so we knew what to expect when we come back here in September.”

There are two practice sessions schedule for today - weather permitting. The Nationwide Series also will run the Camping World RV Sales 200 at 3 p.m. That series has seen 22 different winners in 22 races.


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