LOUDON, N.H. — Column by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America photo —
Even Hollywood couldn’t have aligned the numerical stars quite this perfectly heading into New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s race weekend.
Three milestones — in three distinct NASCAR divisions — will be reached over the course of Saturday and Sunday at the 1.058-mile Granite State oval, and each of them will hold a special meaning to the drivers and teams taking part in them this weekend.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series — 500th Series Race
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will celebrate its 500th series event during Saturday’s UNOH 175, dating back to its inaugural season in 1995 when the series debuted as the NASCAR SuperTruck Series presented by Craftsman.
Mike Skinner won the series’ first-ever race, the Skoal Bandit Copper World Classic at Phoenix International Raceway, and used that humble beginning as momentum to capture the Trucks’ first points championship that same year — notching eight wins and tallying an average finish of 4.8 along the way.
Over the following 19 seasons, veterans and young stars alike have used the Truck Series as a proving ground in NASCAR, with 12 more drivers adding their names next to Skinner as champions. Ron Hornaday Jr. leads them all as a four-time (1996, 1998, 2007, 2009) champion of the series, ahead of three-time titlist Jack Sprague (1997, 1999, 2001), two-timers Todd Bodine (2006, 2010) and Matt Crafton (2013-2014), and names like Greg Biffle (2000), Mike Bliss (2002), Travis Kvapil (2003), Bobby Hamilton Sr. (2004), Ted Musgrave (2005), Johnny Benson (2008), Austin Dillon (2011) and James Buescher (2012).
And in the previous 499 Truck races, 90 different drivers have inked their names in the NASCAR record books as race winners in the sport’s third level of national competition, again led by Hornaday, who has a record 51 career NCWTS victories. John Hunter Nemechek was the most recent star to add his name to that illustrious list, just a weekend ago at Chicagoland Speedway.
As far as milestone races go? Hornaday won the 100th (Monroe 1999) and 300th (Dover 2007) series races, Ted Musgrave won the 200th (Memphis 2003) and Clint Bowyer won the 400th (Kansas 2011).
One driver will add their name to that exclusive list on Saturday as a milestone winner in the Trucks, but the question is: Will it be a former series victor or will someone add their name as the 91st career winner in NCWTS history?
We’ll find out Saturday at 1 p.m. Eastern on FOX Sports 1, but one thing is for sure.
Any time the Trucks hit the track, it’s always one hell of a ride.
Congrats on 500 guys. Here’s to the next 500.
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour — 600th Series Race
In a similar special fashion as the Trucks, NASCAR’s oldest division — the ground-pounding monsters of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour — will celebrate the 600th event in the modern era of the series (1985-present) on Saturday with the running of the F.W. Webb 100.
Over the 599 prior Tour events, 66 different drivers have graced Victory Lane and 91 have scored a Coors Light/21 Means 21 Pole Award. Both of those categories are led by seven-time series champion Mike Stefanik, who has a Tour-record 74 wins and 48 poles.
Stefanik’s title number is the most of the modern-era, but going all the way back through the history annals of the Modifieds in NASCAR, sits second all-time to the legendary Richie Evans — who won the inaugural NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title posthumously in 1985 and added eight more pre-Tour championships (1973, 1978-1984) for a record nine crowns overall in NASCAR’s Modified division.
It would seem rather appropriate that the ground-pounders are celebrating their 600th race at their most storied venue. New Hampshire, on the series’ schedule every season since the track opened in 1990, is arguably the Tour’s most competitive and talked-about race track — where the series record for lead changes (35) was set in July of 2014 and where the Tour’s closest finish ever (0.001 second margin of victory) was won by Chuck Hossfeld in June of 2008.
Ryan Preece enters Loudon with a one-point lead over Woody Pitkat, and the young Connecticut star is in search of his second series title. The points fight will be one of the other heavy storylines entering the weekend, but all eyes will be on who can etch their name in the history books as the newest milestone man (or woman) in NWMT lore.
By the grace of God and 600 horsepower…we’re going green for 600 on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour!
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series — Jeff Gordon Makes 789th Consecutive Series Start, Becomes New ‘Ironman’
Sunday afternoon, on the other hand, will mark the passing of the torch for one of NASCAR’s most heralded records.
Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon will make his 789th career and consecutive series start when he takes the green flag for the SYLVANIA 300, bypassing Ricky Rudd’s 10-year-old mark that was officially established at the end of 2005 when Rudd retired from full-time competition.
Gordon has never missed a race since his series debut at Atlanta in November of 1992, and says the opportunity to set the record is one he never dreamed of being able to have early on in his career.
“I remember when Ricky Rudd [first set the Ironman record],” Gordon said during his media availability on Friday at Loudon. “Terry Labonte [the Ironman then] and all these guys who had these incredible record streaks, I thought, ‘Man, they are old. I’ll never be around long enough to set that record or do anything to achieve that.'”
“Now, here I am, so I guess that makes me old too (laughs). But sitting here, I appreciate what those guys did and the effort and committment they put into it. When you start getting closer to that number, then you start to recognize the significance of it and then the ‘Wow’ factor comes in.”
Over Gordon’s Hall of Fame career, he has racked up 92 wins (and potentially counting), including three at New Hampshire;
“I like stats. Stats are good, especially wins and top fives, poles and championships. This is not a stat that I ever thought about, but now that I’ve reached it I’m thinking about it a lot and it’s one of the most significant stats that I have [achieved in my career.]”
Gordon also says he wants to see how the Ironman record will hold up down the road, and whether the current safety standards will make it easier to break in the coming years.
“I’m curious to see what happens with the more modern-era of safer cars, safer race tracks and how that affects what drivers do in the future,” Gordon admitted. “Will they not race as long and they don’t get to it, or will they blow my number out of the water and it not even be significant down the road? I don’t know. It will be interesting to watch.”
So what would be a perfect ending to Gordon’s acquisition of Rudd’s record?
“What do we come to the race track every weekend to do? We come to win. It’d certainly be one heck of a day if we could cap off the starts record sitting in victory lane celebrating with a lobster.”
The second race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup gets underway on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET (NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM).
So with all these different numbers on deck at Loudon over the weekend, what is the most important number of all?
One: because it’s the position that 110 different drivers will be chasing over three races and the number signifying New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s Victory Lane.
And the only way to reach that number? To go racing — so it’s time to do just that!
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Race Chaser Online: @RaceChaserNews