In 30 trips to New Hampshire Motor Speedway since the Loudon track started hosting NASCAR’s elite Cup division back in 1993, the Wood Brothers have been runners-up twice but still are seeking their first win there.
Those two finishes, by Morgan Shepherd in 1995 and Ricky Rudd in 2003, came in races that wound up being fairly significant in NASCAR history. Shepherd finished second to Jeff Gordon, who that day earned his first of three career wins at New Hampshire and the seventh of a career that saw him win 93.
Rudd’s runner-up to Jimmie Johnson came in the race that led NASCAR to change its policy of letting drivers race back to the yellow flag. After several drivers barely avoided the crippled car of Dale Jarrett as they raced down the frontstretch to the caution flag, series officials began mandating that drivers slow down as soon as the caution flag flew. They also added a provision that the first driver one lap or more down to the leader gets a free pass or “lucky dog” to get back on the lead lap.
That policy came into play last year at New Hampshire for Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team. In that race, Blaney had a fast car but fell a lap down over the course of 124-lap, green-flag run that opened the race.
Blaney and his crew chief Jeremy Bullins continued to work on the Motorcraft Fusion and were in position to get the free pass when a caution flew at Lap 241. From there, Blaney moved from 17th place to 12th over the final laps to secure his 12th top-12 finish of the season up to that point.
In the first New Hampshire race of 2016 a similar scenario played out, only that time Blaney lost a lap due to a penalty for speeding on pit road.
That time, Bullins called for the wave-around, another option for rejoining the lead lap that was added in 2009, and Blaney was able to drive back to an 11th-place finish.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said another strong run at Loudon will take on added significance this year as Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team are headed for the playoffs due to their victory at Pocono Raceway and the next trip to Loudon, in late September, will be the second race of the playoffs.
“The things we learn about the car this weekend should apply when we go back in September,” Wood said. “But we don’t want to look too far down the road. We’re focused on a good finish this weekend, and Ryan and Jeremy showed last year that they can adapt to the New Hampshire track and the relatively short 300-lap races.”
Qualifying at New Hampshire is set for 4:45 p.m. on Friday, and the 301-lap race is scheduled to start just after 3 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on NBCSN.