Kurt Busch hopes to revisit early career success this weekend at Loudon

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New Hampshire Motor Speedway was one of Kurt Busch’s go-to tracks early in his career.

He won his first race ever there – in a Camping World Series truck in 2000 – and then went on to earn three NASCAR Cup wins (back-to-back races in 2004 and a third triumph in 2008).

“When you’re able to go to a track where you’ve had that kind of success, it just gives you confidence,” Busch said. “Because of the wins and everything, it’s a place we go to where I feel like I especially know what it takes from the car and the driver to be successful.”

But since his 2008 Cup win, Busch has struggled more often than had success at the 1.058-mile flat track in bucolic Loudon, N.H.

In the 12 NASCAR Cup races at NHMS since his last top five there (third in summer 2010) through this race last summer, Busch’s best showing was 10th (twice). On the flip side, he also recorded six finishes of 20th or worse in that same stretch.

But things may be turning around for Busch, who races in Sunday’s Overton’s 301 at NHMS. In his most recent visit to the track, last fall’s playoff race, Busch finished fifth – his best finish since that third-place showing in 2010.

Busch looks forward to continuing his recent success at New Hampshire, and if it means tight racing and the kind of fender banging that’s typical at New Hampshire, Busch is ready to get it on.

Usually, you’re trying to keep your eye on the main prize, which is victory lane at the end of the day,” Busch said. “If you have a run-in early on in the race, that guy is going to be trying to find you or you’re looking over your shoulder.

“So if you can sort of hit a reset button and right a mistake, you do that, but not at the expense of taking yourself out of position for the win.”

Overall, Busch, 39, is tied for most wins (three) among active drivers at New Hampshire with Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman.

In addition, Busch also has two runner-ups, seven top threes, eight top fives and 13 top 10s. He has also led 541 laps in 32 starts at NHMS. His average start is 11.8, average finish is 15.8 and his lap completion rate is 96 percent.

Thus far this season, Busch has one win – the season-opening Daytona 500 – as well as two top-fives and eight top-10s in the first 18 races on the NASCAR Cup schedule.

Busch comes into Sunday’s race ranked 15th in the NASCAR Cup standings. He’s struggled in his last two starts (Daytona, 28th, crash; Kentucky, 30th, engine) and has three DNFs in his last six starts (Dover, 37th, crash).

The key to success at New Hampshire will be to stay alert for wrecks unfolding in front of you, stay out of trouble and especially stay on top in late restarts.

“It seems like it has changed a little bit toward the end of the race with a lot of aggressive restarts,” Busch said. “That is when you gain positions, or it’s easy to lose positions.

“Everybody is out there elbows out, pushing hard, and you hope to not have trouble.”

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Martinsville Truck race postponed to Sunday after Cup race

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The Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck race at Martinsville has been postponed until Sunday afternoon, following the Cup race.

Ben Rhodes led the field to green 2:05 p.m. and held the lead until Mike Senica stalled on the track. Rhodes led the first 23 laps until precipitation red flagged the event at 2:17.

The Truck race will be televised on FS1.

Martin Truex Jr. sweeps Martinsville Cup practice

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After posting the fastest single lap and quickest 10-lap average in the first practice, Martin Truex. Jr. also topped the fastest lap chart in final practice for the STP 500 with a speed of 95.415 mph.

Also repeating his performance from the first practice, Brad Keselowski was second on the leaderboard. Keselowski was fast on long runs with the quickest 10-lap average of 94.579 mph.

Sophomore Daniel Suarez was notably fast. His lap of 95.588 mph was third on the chart.

Kyle Busch (95.122) and Ryan Newman (94.756) rounded out the top five.

Jimmie Johnson (93.831) was hoping to carry over momentum from last week’s top 1o at Auto Club, but struggled to find single lap speed. He landed 28th on the speed chart.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wheel hopped entering turn three with 33 minutes remaining. He rolled out a backup car and will start at the back regardless of where he qualifies.

Click here for the full final practice times.

History looms for the Wood Brothers

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Glen Wood first came to Martinsville, Virgina in November 1953, making the short 30-minute drive from Stuart for his NASCAR debut in a family owned car. Nearly 65 years later, the famed Woods Brothers are still racing the iconic No. 21 on the half-mile bullring.

The torch has since been passed to Glen’s sons, but the history remains.

“Our dad came here and raced,” Eddie Wood said in a press release before the STP 500. “He raced here in the fifties and it’s just a special, special place and knowing that the Ford Fusions ran really well last year here that gives you a lot of confidence. I’m sure it gives Paul (Menard) a lot of confidence, but it’s just a special, special place.”

Last fall, Ryan Blaney returned the 21 to the top 10 on the team’s home track for the first time in 12 years. He finished eighth in the First Data 400. This year, Blaney turned the car over to Menard and as the series comes to Martinsville for the first of two races this year, the legacy continues.

“The pressure is all what you make of it,” Menard said. “I know a couple things – I’ve got a great team behind me. We’re gonna have a fast Ford and we’re gonna have a lot of fans cheering on the 21 car, so you can think about that every waking second you’re up here, or you can go to work and do your business. It’s obviously an honor to drive this car and to be a part of the Wood family driving the 21 at Martinsville, and I’m really gonna think about that when I put my firesuit on, but once you get the helmet on it’s all business.”

The gravity of protecting the Wood Brothers’ legend at Martinsville is increased by the fact that this week marks NASCAR’s first short track race of the season and a return to its grassroots. It is easy to feel the history of racing on this little track nestled in rural Virginia—not only for the iconic team, but the entire field.

“It’s getting back to grassroots,” Menard said. “Over half the guys, probably more than that, started racing at short tracks with late models somewhere. We were running 25 laps back then versus 500 now, but the stage racing is kind of like a couple of heat races before the A Main, so you try to get your points when you can and be smart about things when you can and let it rip when you can.”

“You can race here year after year, race after race and there’s no way anybody can mess this race up,” Eddie Wood said. “This is just always a great race because it’s tight and it’s grassroots, it’s NASCAR roots.”

The STP 500 is not just another race for the Wood Brothers. On a track that puts a premium on mechanical grip and driver ability, as opposed to flat out horsepower, Menard has greater control over his fate. That is both good and bad news, because a milestone has been within reach for the past 27 races –  the team’s 100th win.

“It would be huge,” Menard said of the 100th win. “I’ll take it anywhere. We started at Daytona and didn’t get it there, and we’ll keep working until we get it. Martinsville would be a huge one for us, obviously, and if we do that, we’ll have another one for the museum down the road.”

Ben Rhodes grabs Martinsville Truck pole

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Ben Rhodes laid down a lap of 95.942 mph in the final round of qualification for the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck series at Martinsville to win his third career pole.

Teammate Matt Crafton will line up beside him on the outside of the front row with a lap of 95.704 mph.

Grant Enfinger qualified third to give ThorSports a clean sweep of the top spots.

Round two: Kyle Benjamin was fastest 95.830 mph. With time running off the clock, Myatt Snider (94.984) bumped Harrison Burton (94.770) out of the top 12.

Round one: Todd Gilliland topped the chart with a speed of 95.213 mph. He will have to drop to the back to start the race because of an engine change, so he did not attempt to post a time in the second round.

Click here for the race lineup.

Weather permitting, the green flag will wave over the field at 2 p.m.