It's time to cut to Chase at NHIS
Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway (TNT, green flag shortly after 1 p.m.) is going to take some serious 'splainin, especially for those who fall into the category of casual NASCAR viewers.
Sunday's race marks the beginning of the Nextel Cup version of the playoffs, the 10-race "Chase for the Nextel Cup." Allen Bestwick, Benny Parsons, and Wally Dallenbach have the bumper-to-bumper call.
For more inside stuff, we turn to Bill Weber, host of TNT's coverage and head of the pit report team of Matt Yocum, Marty Snider, and Dave Burns. Weber on . . .
Qualifying: "Watch how they qualify Friday, especially the 10 guys in The Chase. There will be an emphasis on starting up front. Will they bring cars that qualify well and then hope they can keep those cars running up front? Or will they bring cars that don't qualify well but run well on race day? One thing you want to avoid is starting at the back of the pack, especially in New Hampshire. There's no place to go if guys get involved in a wreck in front of you."
Passing: "Some guys will be harder than usual to pass. Some of it will be the macho factor and their general unhappiness at not making it into the top 10. Their attitude will be, `If you're that much better, try and get by me on this tight New Hampshire track.' "
Mark Martin in the No. 6 Viagra Ford: "He's the sentimental favorite. He's got a lot of friends in the stands and in the garages, too. He's known as a clean racer. That's important in a sport where there's an `I'll race you like you race me' attitude.' "
The race: "There are at least 10 other guys [not in The Chase] who very well could win this race. And these guys are racers. They want to win. Even though they're not in the final chase for the championship, if they run up front, they'll get TV coverage and give their sponsors the added national exposure."
Race day strategy: "Some guys will run with their foot to the floor; others will be thinking that even if they finish sixth or eighth, they can still win [The Chase]."
On-screen updates: At Richmond, TNT designated cars in different colors in the continuous crawl that runs across the top of the screen. Green meant you were in The Chase. Yellow you were still in contention. White meant you were out. The network also did real-time scoreboards on screen. Says Weber: "Going through the airport on the way home, fans were telling me it was great. Real-time stats are what they're selling on the Internet, but we do them every week. Expect something similar this weekend."
Pit road strategy: "Track position is a big thing at Loudon. It's difficult to pass there. Guys who don't qualify well will need pit strategy. Maybe only taking two tires instead of four. Maybe coming in when the leaders stay out, or staying out when the leaders come in."
The NHIS racing surface: "You've got to have the right setup to run on it. You roll out of the throttle, float into the curves, get back on it, and get out. With 300 laps, you've only got 317 miles [NHIS officially is 1.058 miles per lap]. If something's wrong, you fix it fast or you find yourself in 22d place and your race is over."
The NHIS track: It isn't a so-called "short track," like the mile-or-less circuits at Richmond, Bristol (Tenn.), and Martinsville, Va. Instead, it's classified as an intermediate track. Stiil, says Weber, "Short tracks make for better racing, and you can put New Hampshire in that group."
Restarts: "That's the dramatic time. It's critical. A guy misses a shift in front of you or bogs down with a bad carburetor or a guy behind you gets too aggressive, that's when things happen."
The Lucky Dog: "The first car that's not on the lead lap gets to start at the end of the row of cars on the lead lap at each restart. It's a way to make up ground from early troubles."
The "Chrome Horn": "Listen to Benny and Wally. They'll say something like, `So and so is driving a wide race car.' You have to have patience in making a pass, especially at a place like Loudon. After you ride a guy's bumper for 10 or 15 laps, the `chrome horn' [bumper-to-bumper tap] comes into play."
TV-wise, it's hard to imagine a bigger stage for a Red Sox-Yankees regular-season series than this weekend's set in the Bronx or next weekend's repeat at Fenway, with all sorts of playoff permutations in play. Ross Kramer, research director at Channel 38, projects record ratings. "When you get a 13.1 midweek rating [as Tuesday night's game with Tampa Bay did], you have to project at least a 16 or 17 for the Yankees, and it's not out of the question that we could pull a 20," he said. The weekend numbers will be spread among Channel 38 (tonight at 7), Channel 25 (Fox national telecast tomorrow, 1:20 p.m.), and NESN (Sunday, 1 p.m.). Channel 4 research director Cheryl Garthwait said, "The July 25 Sox-Yankees game on ESPN, right after the Jason Varitek-Alex Rodriguez fight, was the highest-rated game [18.8] of the year so far. The first game of the Sox-Yankees ALCS last year did a 40.9. I'm thinking the prime-time games will do about half of that giant number -- about a 20 -- with afternoon games in the 16-18 range. However, if the Sox tie the Yankees or are within a game, or if a fight or other incident happens, all bets are off." . . . Boston College football will be televised for at least the next six games. Tonight's game against Connecticut will be on ESPN2 at 8, called by Dave Pasch, with Rod Gilmore and former Patriot Trevor Matich as analysts . . . This afternoon's Sylvania 300 Bud Pole qualifying is on TNT at 3 . . . Speed Channel has tomorrow's Sylvania 200 Busch race at 1 p.m. . . . On CN8's "Sports Pulse" tonight at 10, host Ed Berliner has one-on-ones with Chase finalists Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and Maine native Ricky Craven, who will be driving in the Craftsman Truck series this weekend . . . There's going to be more 'splainin needed for the casual viewers who tune in for 26 hours of Ryder Cup coverage, starting today on USA (8 a.m.-6 p.m.) and continuing on Channel 7 tomorrow (8 a.m.-6 p.m.) and Sunday (noon-6 p.m.). The NBC golf crew -- hosted by Dan Hicks and featuring Johnny Miller and Roger Maltbie (on course) -- will be constantly updating scores and explaining the format and strategy . . . Sunday's Patriots pregame show on WBCN (104.1 FM) will feature audio from an interview conducted after the 9/11 attacks with former Cardinal Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan in April. Arizona is retiring Tillman's No. 40 during a halftime ceremony. Game coverage starts at 4 p.m. on Channel 4.
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