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Allen Lessels on Motor Sports: Olsen to drive for Stoddard in NHMS Sprint Cup race

A couple of North Country guys are teaming up again.

Mike Olsen, 44, will drive in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race for the first time in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 23 for his longtime buddy and Woodsville High School classmate Frank Stoddard Jr.

Stoddard is in his second season as a Cup owner and has used half dozen different drivers during the course of this season and wants to give Olsen a shot at racing against the best stock car drivers in the world.

&#';I really just think it&#';s a neat opportunity for him,&#'; Stoddard said this week before heading to Atlanta Motor Speedway for today&#';s Sprint Cup race. &#';I think there are a lot of kids out there who have the talent to make it to Sprint Cup and never get the opportunity.&#';

Olsen, who won championships in what is now the K&N Pro Series East in 2001 and 2006, is getting his opportunity and appreciates it.

&#';I&#';m pretty thankful and I owe Frank a lot,&#'; he said. &#';When I was younger a goal of mine was to be in the Cup series, but as my career evolved I was pretty content with what I&#';d done. But this is pretty huge for me. It&#';s something to cross off my list. I&#';m looking forward to it.&#';

Stoddard is still working on some things and hopes to sign a New Hampshire or New England company into a sponsorship with Olsen for the one-shot deal.

&#';To me, this is capping a great career,&#'; Stoddard said.

Stoddard and Olsen grew up together in North Haverhill and both got into racing by being involved in the career of the late Stub Fadden, a regional legend in racing and Olsen&#';s grandfather.

Stoddard&#';s FAS Lane Racing Ford carries No. 32 in the Sprint Cup series. Fadden was No. 16.

&#';The 32 is 16 for me, 16 for Stub,&#'; Stoddard has said.

T.J. Bell is driving for Stoddard today at Atlanta and veteran Ken Schrader is due back in the car, running with Federated Auto Parts sponsorship, next week at Richmond in the last race before the field for the Chase to the Sprint Cup championship is set.

Stoddard, incidentally, has never been a huge fan of the &#';Chase,&#'; the playoff-style format that NASCAR adopted in 2004.

He does, however, love the &#';wild card&#'; tweak NASCAR put into the mix for the 2011 season.

The top 10 of the 12 Chase contenders are still decided on points, but the next two spots are given to the drivers with the most wins, as long as they are between 11th and 20th in points.

&#';As far as excitement goes, it&#';s the single best thing NASCAR has done in the last eight to 10 years,&#'; Stoddard aid. &#';It&#';s really dramatically changed the excitement level.&#';

With just Atlanta today and Richmond next week remaining before the Chase, a handful of drivers are in the running to grab wildcard spots.

As of this morning, Kasey Kahne appears to have at least a wildcard bid locked up. His win at NHMS in July was his second of the season and he&#';s the only wildcard contender with a pair of wins.

Kyle Busch has the No. 2 wildcard spot at the moment, but his is a tenuous grasp on the bid.

Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Marcos Ambrose and Joey Logano each have one win and would go a long way toward clinching a spot with a win today or next week.

Based on the speed they&#';ve shown lately and their chances for a win over the next two races, Stoddard thinks the battle for the spot is wide open between Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon. Edwards does not yet have a win, but leads everyone except Kahne in points.

&#';I don&#';t think we&#';re going to know the wild cards until Saturday night at Richmond when the checkered flag flies,&#'; Stoddard said.

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The American Canadian Tour is winding down and heating up at the same time.

The ninth of 10 ACT points races is set for this afternoon at 1 at Thunder Road in Barre, Vt., and defending series champion Brian Hoar of Williston, Vt., is closing in on points leader Wayne Helliwell Jr., of Dover.

Helliwell, in only his second year with the ACT, holds a 22-point edge on Hoar, 727 to 705. Each driver has three wins and Hoar won last week&#';s event at St. Croix, Que., to tighten things further.

Austin Theriault of Maine is third with 699 points and Joey Polewarczyk Jr. of Hudson is fourth with 642.

The ACT guys tested at NHMS on Wednesday for the fourth Bond Auto ACT Invitational, which will be held Sept. 22 at the track. That event does not count in the standings.

The series championship will be determined at the last race of the season on Oct. 6 at Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

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Allen Lessels covers UNH football for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at alessels@unionleader.com.

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