Cup Guys Make Headlines, Clark Playing it Safe, Ben Goes for Three and More
Late Sunday night, there is going to be a team leaving the Oxford Plains Speedway after the running of the TD Banknorth 250 with more money, one additional trophy and a lot more admiration from fans and competitors than he had when he woke up that morning.
But there’s going to be a long road to victory lane. There will be 250 green flag laps, who knows how many caution laps and up to 90 laps of qualifying races for a team to even get to the finish. That’s all in one day as well and doesn’t count the optional two days of practice leading up to the race.
And there are plenty of different approaches that can get a driver through those laps and to victory lane and plenty of race stories that will play out this weekend.
CLARK PLANS CONSERVATIVE APPROACH
BEN IS BACK IN FAMILIAR CAR TO TRY FOR THREE IN A ROW
In his last race, an IBG-PASS Pro Stock event at White Mountain Motorsports Park, Ben Rowe borrowed a car for Oxford regular Chris Kennison and won anyways. This week, he’s back in his #00 and trying to win his third consecutive 250.
Living in the shadow a father like two-time 250 winner Mike Rowe has taught Ben Rowe to put things in perspective.
“When I first started racing, everyone was on my case asking why I wasn’t as good as he was,” said Ben Rowe. “I learned early on that I can’t let that bother me. I’m my own person, I do my own thing. We drive different and once I stopped letting it bother me, I’ve been fortunate enough to win as many as he has. We’ll be chasing him Sunday. There’s no doubt there.”
Losing to his father isn’t something that Ben Rowe would be upset about either.
“Right now, we’ve got a good of a shot as anybody,” said Rowe. “We’ve been struggling a little bit. We’re going to try to get our car more like Chris Kennison’s #10 car that we ran at White Mountain. I know what we need and I know what it takes to win. I’m just having a hard time getting what I need at Oxford. But we’ll get it. We have a lot of practice. We’ll show up at Noontime on Friday and I’ve got a great group of guys who will be busting tail to get the car to what I need it to be.”
Only one driver, Ralph Nason, has won three straight 250s. Dave Dion has also won three of the races in different years, but nobody else has more than a pair of 250s trophies. Does this put a lot of pressure on Rowe? Not really.
“I think that both times when I’ve won, he’s been in the top five. It’s not like he’s been way off. I wouldn’t mind following him across the line. If I can see his car at the end of this race, it will be a good day I guarantee it.”
KYLE BUSCH GETS UP TO SPEED AT OXFORD QUICKLY
NASCAR Nextel Cup rookie Kyle Busch will run the 250 as a teammate to Mike Rowe in the #5 car of SP2 Motorsports. Busch got his first taste of the track on Tuesday as he tested out his car under the guidance of Rowe. The test went exactly according to plan.
Kyle Busch's #5 SP2 Motorsports ride. (51 Photo)
Last year, the #54 team of Johnny Clark was thrilled with pulling the pole for their heat race in the qualifying draw. This year, they want to be a little more low-key. (51 Photo)
Ben would like to be standing here for the third year in a row at the end of the 250.
“It really doesn’t bother me,” said Rowe. “I don’t put any pressure on myself. Once I won it the first time, there was a big monkey off my back. Then winning it twice in a row was huge. Don’t get me wrong, three in a row would be great, but we’re going to approach it just like every race. If things go our way, great. If not, we’ll move on.”
Johnny Clark found out last season that winning your heat races and leading the most laps in the 250 doesn’t make much of a difference if you get tangled up with a lapped car, so this season he’s adopting a different strategy – like the one Ben Rowe used to win last season.
“You didn’t even know that Benji was in the Oxford 250 last year until the second half of the race,” said Clark. “You didn’t see him. That’s our gameplan for this year.”
Of course, a good draw for his heat race could change Clark’s plans.
“What would really mess up our plan this year is if we drew number one,” said Clark. “We’d have to go and grab all of that lap money again [the 250 pays $100 to the leader of each lap.”
“We accomplished everything that we needed to,” said team co-owner Steve Perry. “Kyle is comfortable with the track and we know what adjustments we need to make with the car. Now we just need to get him out there on Saturday around 30 or 40 other cars to see where he needs to improve and make up ground.”
Mike Rowe predicts that Busch will be tough to beat at the 250. Usually the veteran driver doesn’t say too much, so to go on the record praising Busch says a lot about the young driver’s ability.
“You’ve got to realize that with all of his laps at Oxford and all of the 250s he’s been in, Mike’s been around a lot of competitors,” said Perry. “To give a compliment like that is big. He didn’t have to say anything and I’m sure it’s going to mean a lot to Kyle when he finds out. Mike was impressed with his ability to shuffle a car around.”
And even though Busch will be new at Oxford, getting up to speed shouldn’t be a major hurdle for him.
“He didn’t get where he is by not knowing how to figure out a race track,” said Perry. “If you had somebody who hadn’t been short track racing in a few years, they might have a hard time, but he’s not too far off from running these kinds of cars or ASA cars. He was really happy and impressed.”
CUP STARS BRING NEW LIFE TO 250
The TD Banknorth 250 is a short track classic. Super Late Model drivers from all over the country know all about the race.
Thanks to the appearance of a few NASCAR Nextel Cup stars, the general public in New England is starting to know about the event as well. Last year, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch raced in it. This year, Kenseth returns along with Kyle Busch. In the week leading up to the race, exposure on Maine television and radio stations has been given to the race and articles have appeared in mainstream newspapers. It almost feels like a big NASCAR race is coming to town and that’s a great thing for short track racing.
“For a lot of people, racing starts and ends with Nextel Cup,” said track owner Bill Ryan, Jr. “They don’t even follow the Busch Series or Craftsman Trucks. We got some of those people to the track. They would call and ask for tickets to the race that Matt Kenseth was going to be in and then they asked where we were. In my opinion, short track racing is 100 times more exciting than Nextel Cup racing and by getting people out there to see it, we get to share that.”
The competitors have noticed a difference. Ben Rowe won against a field of short trackers in 2003 and again in 2004 with two Cup guys in the field.
“I’ve got videotapes of both of my wins and there is a huge difference,” said Rowe. “Two years ago, there were maybe eight or nine reporters around after the race. Last year, there were 50 or 60 people down there trying to talk to you. It brings a lot more attention to the race, so I think it’s great."
It's so great in fact that the date for this season's TD Banknorth 250 was moved from a tradional weekend in mid July to July 31st, an off weekend on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule.
JUST MAKING THE SHOW IS A CHALLENGE AT OXFORD
When it comes to the TD Banknorth 250, just qualifying for the race is a chore. Johnny Clark might be one of the best Super Late Model drivers in the country, but he doesn’t take anything for granted when it comes to making the field through a series of heat races.
“First we have to get in the race,” said Clark. “We’re all nervous about making it in. A spinning car on the first lap [of the heat race] coming out of four can ruin your day. I’ve been nervous about qualifying every year that I’ve gone to the 250.
"We don’t care where we are in the field if we get in, we just want to ride. We want to keep the fenders on it and the brakes where they need to be. We have to be easy on the equipment and not fight for position when it doesn’t matter. Position matters with 50 to go and that’s about it.”
And those tough heats make the raceday very memorable for fans and competitors alike.
“This is good old fashioned short track racing with time trials out of the equation,” said Oxford regular Bill Whorff, Jr. “When I was a kid, I used to watch Mike Rowe and Ralph Nason battle in the heat races and those were exciting. That’s something great for the fans.”
“The bottom line is that you need to have a fast car and be mildly aggressive to even qualify,” said Oxford regular Andy Shaw.
DO LOCAL GUYS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE?
There are several camps of drivers who will be competing at Oxford, but it’s tough to tell who might have an advantage. Touring drivers, mostly from the IBG-PASS Pro Stock Series, are used to long races and Oxford regulars know the track. Both camps have produced winners in recent season. Then there are the Cup guys. So just who has an advantage?
“Most of us who race on Saturday nights are good racers, but those guys really know how to pace themselves,” said Bill Whorff, Jr. “That’s the biggest difference. Matt showed last year that you don’t need to have the best car to get to the front. He would stay real low and try to make his passes going into the corners. He was always trying to shove his nose in there, but would back off when he needed to.”
“Two years ago, we had a minor tire issue and we were at an advantage because we raced there every week and had figured it out,” said Andy Shaw. “That’s not an issue now. The biggest thing now is that the weekly guys know when they can go to the outside and went they can’t. You really need to have a perfect car to go to the outside.”
#24 OWNERS READY FOR PRIMETIME
SP2 Motorsports will run cars in the 250 for Mike Rowe and Kyle Busch. They have the makings of an Oxford superteam. But, team owners Steve Perry and Scott Pullen are just a couple of race fans who are happy to even be at the race. The possibility of winning it after competing with several different drivers for several years, is something else to them.
“You go up and look at the trophy and see the names on it,” said Perry. “That’s a piece of hardware. Every day that hits you more and more. We’ve been to the 250 with different drivers and we’ve competed and enjoyed ourselves, but we’ve known in the past that if everything works out right, we might be looking at a top 10 or top 15 finish. But when we roll in Friday, we’ll be a legitimate threat. Mike’s been picked by other drivers as the guy to beat. We’re not the only ones. We’re going to need a little luck, but I like our chances.”
Ben Rowe (51 Photo)
The fans came out for Matt Kenseth last year. (51 Photo)
Track owner Bill Ryan, Jr. talks to the television media. (51 Photo)