LOUDON — The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the 22nd consecutive year on July 13 in the form of the Camping World RV Sales 301. The sponsor joined on in 2013 and kept the long-standing tradition of the extra mile at the mile-around oval.
This crucial Race for the Chase can play a big role in building a driver's momentum toward a championship run. From 2010-12, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne used wins in this race to carry themselves into the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, but in 2013, Brian Vickers upset the field for his first win since 2009.
Less than three years after being diagnosed with blood clots in his legs and lungs, Vickers battled through medications, blood thinners and rehabilitation before watching it all culminate with a win at the Magic Mile last year. He is currently in 16th place in the point standings and is hoping for a win which would qualify him for a shot in this year's Chase.
New this year in the Sprint Cup Series is the ''win and in'' formula which rewards drivers for wins by making the winners of any of the first 26 races automatic qualifiers for the 16 open spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which is currently led by 6-time champion Jimmie Johnson with three wins. Points leader Jeff Gordon with one victory is currently in seventh place, trailing Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick, all of whom have two wins.
The importance of winning was underscored last Sunday in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona when Aric Almirola survived two major wrecks unscathed and claimed his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory and moved into 10th place despite being 21st in the points standings.
Running the iconic No. 43 with the U.S. Air Force on the hood for July 4 weekend, Almirola's win came on the 30th anniversary of team owner Richard Petty's 200th Cup victory and was exactly what NASCAR had been hoping for with the ''win and in'', putting a team which had never qualified before into the Chase.
In all, 23 different drivers have won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, led by Jeff Burton with four. Current drivers with three wins include Jeff Burton, who has started all 38 Sprint Cup races at NHMS, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman will drive the pace car for the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Sunday, which begins at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast live on TNT.
''As a punt returner in the NFL, I know all about teamwork, high-speeds and collisions on Sundays. But my goal on Sunday, July 13 will be to get those guys around the track safely before they drop the green flag for what is sure to be a highly-competitive race," Edelman said in a track-produced news release.
"I am honored to be chosen to drive the pace car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and I can't wait to take in my very first NASCAR race from what will certainly be the best seat in the house.'' said the man who led the Patriots in receiving last season.
The 1.058-mile track in Loudon has hosted 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, one per year from 1993 through 1996 and two per year since.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at NHMS was held on July 11, 1993 and was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. At that time the track was owned by Bob and Gary Bahre of Alton, who sold it to current owner Bruton Smith, who owns seven other NASCAR tracks, in 2008. The Bahres bought the track, the former Bryar Motosports Park, in 1989 and it had a seating capacity of 52,000 when the first NASCAR race was held in 1990. Since then it has expanded to seat over 100,000 people, making it the largest professional sports event site in New England.
Sunday's race caps a big weekend of racing at the speedway, which will feature two events today, the Sunoco 100 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at 1 p.m. and the Nationwide Sta-Green 200, which will be run at 3:30 p.m.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has run more races at NHMS than any other touring series. A day after racing the NASCAR Modified All-Star Shootout, much of the field will return to run the 60th series race in history on the Magic Mile.
Sprint Cup Series regular Ryan Newman tends to make an appearance in this event, but has not won since Sept. 2010. Since that time, Todd Szegedy, Mike Stefanik and Doug Coby have each won twice at NHMS, while Ron Silk has won once.
The race will run as the first in a doubleheader with the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Tickets for the day will allow fans to attend both races.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series has been a staple at NHMS since it first brought NASCAR to the Magic Mile on July 15, 1990. It has raced at the track at least once per year ever since and will race for the 28th time at the track in 2014. Kyle Busch has dominated the race recently in having won four of the last five NNS races at NHMS.