LOUDON, N.H. — The track itself may not be a favorite of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, given its notoriously flat layout and degree of difficulty for passing, but the area and its local auto racing scene very much is.

While drivers like Ryan Newman and Ryan Preece run in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway during Cup weekends, others have taken their racing careers to other — smaller — venues across New England.

“I love coming up here,” said Kyle Busch, who has three career wins at NHMS. “I’ve got a lot of friends from the area. I’ve raced over at Thunder Road (in Vermont) before. I’ve race over at (Oxford Plains Speedway) before, so I’ve been around this area a little bit racing the short tracks and stuff.”

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Kyle Busch (18) trails Kurt Busch (1) during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky last weekend. Associated Press file photo

Both Busch and Kevin Harvick — each a series Cup Series champion — have won the Oxford 250 in their careers, with Harvick winning in 2008 and Busch winning it in 2011. Harvick has made a commitment to short track racing nationally, providing a number of cash contingency awards for short tracks and regional touring series. Busch owns a team that competes in marquee short track events around the country.

And Busch has a special affinity for New England and its short-track racers.

“Obviously running Super Lates and stuff like that across the country in different series is pretty neat seeing different guys, racing against different top guys that have been at some of these places for years, like Mike Rowe (at Oxford)… or (Dale) Shaw,” Busch said Friday at NHMS. “You know going and running Junior Hanley, running against guys like that, is something that was cool for me to do when I was 16, 17 years old. You’d give anything to have those days back and do that over again.”

While Busch doesn’t race in as many short-track events as he once did, his ownership efforts provide an avenue for him to continue to support local racing while nurturing the next wave of NASCAR stars.

“Our sport it based off the short track ranks,” Busch said. “It’s based off grassroots racing, and so having people be able to come out and support their local short tracks, that’s where stars are born. They pick up their start … and move into Modifieds and Late Models and stuff from the local short tracks all the way up through to the big time. If we don’t have those short tracks surviving, you’re not going to have younger generations being able to learn and grow and develop their talents to move up the ladder.

“It’s important to keep the bases strong.”

 

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Patrick Emerling held off Bobby Santos III and reigning series champion Justin Bonsignore in a three-wide drag race off the final corner to win Friday’s 35-lap NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour All Star Shootout.

The win was the second of his career for Emerling, of Orchard Park, New York. His only other win came at Bristol (Tennessee) Motor Speedway in 2017.

“I’m definitely proud of the crew and it was definitely a good day for us,” said Emerling, who debuted a new car. “We were pretty close here the last couple years. We’ve had a lot of top-fives… and we’ve just been working on getting faster.”

Emerling dove low under the leader Santos going into turn three before washing up slightly and offering Santos — a four-time Modified winner at NHMS — a window to get back under him in turn four. While those two touched wheels heading down the frontstretch, Bonsignore pulled to the inside of both of them.

The final margin of victory for Emerling was just 0.022 seconds.

“We stuck just good enough. It could have been a toss-up there,” Emerling said. “I just sent it in as deep as I could to clear (Santos) as quick as I could. I could have done it a couple different ways there, but obviously it worked out. I was just hoping I could keep it just straight enough to get a good enough run (to the checkered flag).”

The Modifieds will compete Saturday afternoon in the Eastern Propane & Oil 100, the ninth of 16 races on the schedule and first of two points events at NHMS.

 

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Brad Keselowski won the pole for Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, beating out Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch for the top starting spot in the Cup Series’ lone New England race this season.

“As you look to rank the tracks where qualifying well matters, this is certainly right near the top,” Keselowski said.

The pole was the 15th of Keselowski’s career and fourth at NHMS. His lone win at the track came in 2014.

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