LOUDON -- Put Ricky Craven, who launched his stock car racing career while living just down the road from New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Concord, solidly in the corner of the many in and around NASCAR who like the new system for qualifying for the Chase to the Sprint Cup championship.
The series upped the number of Chase participants from 12 to 16 this year and is rewarding race winners like never before.
“The new format, I think, has met its objective,” Craven said. “You win, you’re in, basically. Coming from a guy who emptied the tank to win twice and knowing how difficult it is to win, there should be that kind of premium on it. Honestly, everything about it I like. Rewarding guys for being good on average just doesn’t register.”
Craven, a racing analyst with ESPN these days, is not working this weekend’s Camping World RV Sales 301 Sprint Cup weekend, but was in town on Thursday as the headliner in a charity golf tournament at the Loudon Country Club.
The Ricky Craven “One for the Kids” Golf Tournament is an annual event that benefits the New Hampshire chapter of the Speedway Children’s Charities Foundation.
The new format awards a spot in the Chase to each driver who wins a race, as long as there are no more than 16 winners.
Aric Almirola became the 11th different race winner this season when he won the Coke Zero 400 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Drivers have eight races left — starting here on Sunday — to secure a spot in the Chase that begins on Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway and comes back here for the second race on Sept. 21.
The tension is going to keep building, Craven predicted, with some drivers thinking — if there are not enough winners to fill the field — that they may be able to get in on points.
“You start watching the clock and think, ‘It’s OK, it’s probably going to be OK, but . . . ,’” Craven said. “I think when it’s really exciting is in the last three races of the regular season because I really believe if they’re put in that position, that guys like Tony Stewart will prevail. That’s what separates those drivers, the last two or three percent, that separates guys like Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart from drivers who are capable of winning championships but never did.”
Greg Biffle, defending race champion Brian Vickers and Stewart are among the drivers who have not yet won a race and if the Chase began today, would not have enough points to qualify for the Chase.
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A couple of twenty-something racers from New Hampshire — Matt Frahm and Andy Seuss — would love to follow Craven’s path up the NASCAR ladder and are racing here this weekend.
Frahm, 24, has moved from North Salem to Hampstead. He will make his 13th career start in the Nationwide Series in Saturday afternoon’s Sta-Green 200.
Frahm has been racing around New England — he won a super late model race at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester a couple of weeks ago — and is excited about his first Nationwide ride since late in the 2012 season.
The deal with TriStar Motorsports out of Mooresville, N.C., came together just in the last couple of weeks and gives him his best chance of success yet in the Nationwide Series, Frahm said.
“We’re looking to finish at least in the top 20,” he said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to fight for a top 15, top 18 spot. We’re looking for a solid finish and I’m looking to build rapport with the team.”
Gilchrist Metal Fabricating of Hudson is one of Frahm’s sponsors for the race and Celsius Energy Drink, Ingersoll Rand and Saltlife are among the TriStar sponsors.
Seuss, 27, is from Hampstead but has been racing out of Salisbury, N.C., on the Whelen Southern Modified Series in recent years.
He’s entered in a pair of Modified races here: This afternoon’s Whelen Modified Tour All-Star Shootout and Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Sunoco 100.
Seuss turned in a career-best NHMS finish of fourth in the Modified race here last July.
The Modifieds always put on entertaining races at the track and Seuss thinks the Shootout — which will be contested in a pair of 20-lap dashes — might be the best yet.
“It should be pretty neat and pretty exciting,” he said. “You go hard for 20 laps and hard for 20 more. It’s winner take all. It’s a no-hold-back race.”
Seuss is staying around New Hampshire after the race and will compete in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 200 Modified race at Monadnock next Saturday.
His primary focus this year has been the Southern Modified Tour.
So far, so good on that count.
He has won three of the first five races in the series and leads the points standings in his quest for his first series championship.