LOUDON -- NASCAR's top-of-the-line drivers hit the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway at high noon today for their first practice for Sunday's Sylvania 300, the second of 10 races in the Chase to the Sprint Cup championship.
Thursday was a relatively quiet day for final preparations and spiffing things up, the ceremonial opening of a Legends car dealership on the grounds of the racetrack and even a quick chance to look ahead to 2013.
Jerry Gappens, vice president and general management at NHMS, expects a full house of just over 100,000 fans for Sunday's race, or darn close to it.
“We're down to about 2,000 tickets,” Gappens said, minutes before celebrating the opening of the car dealership that features entry-level race cars modeled after old-time NASCAR modifieds. “I feel really good about it. We're going to be right there, close to full capacity.”
Now all he's looking for is cooperative weather.
“I know there's some potential rain in the forecast for Sunday, but it keeps diminishing,” Gappens said. “Friday and Saturday look great, like today. If we can just keep this weather pattern in here through Sunday at about 6 p.m., I'll be real happy.”
Gappens said NASCAR is expected to release its 2013 Sprint Cup Sunday or by Monday at the latest.
NHMS will retain the same spots on the schedule it had this year with races on July 14 and Sept. 22 next year, he said.
A Nationwide race will again be one of the support races in July, Gappens said, while the schedule for the September race weekend has yet to be finalized.
In the past, a Camping World Truck Series race has been held on the Saturday of Cup weekend in the fall. This weekend, Nationwide and the Truck Series are in a doubleheader at Kentucky Motor Speedway, which like NHMS is a Speedway Motorsports Inc. track.
The options for next year on Saturday in the fall include another Nationwide race, a Truck race or a schedule like this year that features three races that are more regional in nature, the Modifieds, K&N Pro Series East and a Bond American Canadian Tour Invitational race.
How the Saturday doubleheader does at Kentucky and how the tripleheader goes here will likely impact next year's schedule, Gappens said.
“I'm not sure if Kentucky will do the same weekend or not,” Gappens said. “I'm real anxious to see how we do from a gate standpoint and compare because if there's an option to get another Nationwide or Truck race, it's something we want to look at. But before I agree to something, I want to see how we do with this one Saturday.”
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The cars of the K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour set up in the infield garages at the racetrack during the day Thursday.
The Sprint Cup car haulers made a grand parade through the FanFest just outside the infield in the evening and then entered their garage area.
Andy Seuss of Hampstead, who is now living in Salisbury, N.C., while he pursues driving opportunities, is racing his family's modified in the Whelen Modified race on Saturday.
Seuss, a regular on the Southern Modified Tour, finished seventh in the Modified race here in July.
“We were coming on strong at the end,” Seuss said. “Hopefully we'll get a little better finish this time and maybe crack the top five.”
Seuss has rebounded from some tough luck early in the season and thanks to a win last weekend at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway is up to fifth in the Southern Modified standings.
“It's not where we wanted to be,” he said. “But we're headed in the right direction.”
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THE Sprint Cup drivers have just one practice today, from noon to 1:30 p.m., before their qualifying begins at 3:40. Two more Sprint Cup practices are set for Saturday, from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. and 11 to 11:50 a.m. . . . K&N qualifying for Saturday's G-Oil 100 is at 2 p.m. today and Whelen Modified qualifying for Saturday's F.W. Webb 100 is at 5 p.m. today.
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Allen Lessels covers motor sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at email@example.com.