Tough night for Kansas native Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray on home track

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Last night, Clint Bowyer was hoping to cap off what had been a stellar week for him off the track with a victory in front of his fellow Kansans.

In the days leading into the 5-Hour Energy 400, the Emporia, Kansas native not only earned himself a multi-year extension with Michael Waltrip Racing but also found out that he and his wife, Lorra, were to become parents in the fall.

And it seemed that he had another good omen for Saturday as his mother was brought in to wave the green flag for the race.

But things went poorly instead for Bowyer, who finished three laps down in 23rd place.

“Well, that was disappointing and certainly not how I wanted to finish the race at my home track,” Bowyer said in a brief post-race statement.

“We just couldn’t seem to get the handling right tonight on our No.15 Cherry 5-hour Energy Toyota. Just a disappointing end to a great week.”

Starting 23rd, Bowyer made early headway and moved into the Top 15. But while battling Marcos Ambrose on Lap 47, Bowyer got loose off of Turn 2 and spun out down the backstretch.

Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were able to evade Bowyer, who came to a stop without hitting anything. However, that incident would put him two laps down to the leaders and he was rendered a non-factor for the rest of the 267-lap event.

Bowyer will now shift focus to the Sprint Showdown on Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The top two finishers in the Showdown will move on the Sprint All-Star Race the next night.

Another “local” driver, Jamie McMurray, will also look to bounce back on All-Star Weekend after a tough night in the Heartland.

McMurray, who hails from Joplin, Missouri and considers Kansas his home track on the Sprint Cup circuit, went into the Turn 3 wall hard on Lap 149.

Running fourth at the time, McMurray’s car quickly caught on fire after the impact. When it came to a stop on pit road, some of his crewmates on the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team helped their driver get out of the smoking Chevrolet.

“I’m not 100% sure what happened,” said McMurray, who was credited with 39th place. “I entered Turn 3 and heard a small pop, then just lost all the steering and got into the fence and knocked the oil-lines off and had a little fire.

“Not sure, because we didn’t have any tire issues all weekend.  So, not sure if it was a bad tire or if we ran over something, but a disappointing end to a really strong run for our McDonald’s Chevy.”

(Updated) NHRA shocker: Englishtown ceases drag racing operations immediately, cancels NHRA Summernationals

Photo courtesy NHRA
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If put in baseball terms, Wednesday morning’s news from the NHRA is comparable to Yankee Stadium closing down for good.

One of the most popular and longest-running race tracks on the NHRA national event circuit — Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey — announced in a statement that “it will no longer host any drag racing events at its facility, effective immediately. This includes the 49th Annual NHRA Summernationals, scheduled to take place this June.”

This is massive — and terrible news — for NHRA fans, particularly those on the East Coast, as the track more commonly known simply as “Englishtown” has long been a destination point for fans in the New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland area for decades. That not only includes NHRA national events, but also local bracket racing at the track.

Few details on the decision to stop all drag racing events are known. However, the track has long struggled being landlocked and unable to expand its runoff area for cars that have problems stopping under their own power. That is especially problematic for Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, which are the most powerful cars in the sport and, due to the 10,000 horsepower they produce, often need longer stopping distances.

NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta was killed in a crash at Old Bridge Raceway on June 21, 2008, when his car was unable to stop in the runoff area and collided with a portable crane past the runoff area.

NHRA spokesperson Jessica Hatcher told NBC Sports in an email Wednesday morning that the sanctioning body will not look to find a replacement venue for Englishtown on the 2018 racing schedule.

As a result, the 2018 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule will shrink from 24 to 23 going forward with Englishtown’s departure.

” ‘Stunned’ is the perfect word to describe how we are all feeling right now,” Hatcher said. “For 2018, we are focusing on the remaining 23 events and do not foresee any additional changes to the schedule.”

UPDATE: Hatcher reached out again to NBC Sports later Wednesday afternoon with an addendum that could be promising for race fans in other markets: “Upon hearing the news about the Englishtown track, we’ve received a significant level of interest from other track operators about hosting a national event in 2018.  We’re not sure if this is possible for 2018, but we’re definitely looking into it, if not for 2018, then perhaps for 2019.”

New NHRA president Glen Cromwell said in a media release, “NHRA drag racing events have been held at the track in Englishtown for almost 50 years. The Summernationals have played an important part of our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another of our events.

“Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partners and tracks.”

The nearest venues to Englishtown that will host NHRA events this season are Maple Grove Raceway outside Reading, Pennsylvania (105 miles west of Englishtown) and New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire (310 miles northeast).

The Napp family, which owns Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, issued a statement that the facility will remain open and continue business as usual going forward — with the exception of eliminating all drag racing events, both national and local.

“Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, the Napp family owned and operated business announced today a reorganization of the company’s business operations,” the statement said. “To achieve this goal, Raceway Park will no longer conduct quarter mile or eighth mile drag racing events effective immediately.

“Raceway Park will retain and use the ‘stadium’ portion of the facility including the VIP hospitality tower and grandstands and continue most of its operations including the spring and fall auto swap meets, numerous car shows, both motocross racing and practice, kart racing, as well as drifting, a full schedule of road course activities, mud runs, monster truck shows, musical concerts, & festival events and more. The long standing Old Bridge Township Airport, owned and operated by Raceway Park will also continue to operate as normal.”

From a driver’s perspective, veteran NHRA racer Shawn Langdon, who is switching from a long career in Top Fuel to Funny Car this season for Kalitta Motorsports, won in Top Fuel at Englishtown in 2013 and laments the decision to drop drag racing there.

“It really caught me by surprise because I had not heard a thing about that,” Langdon said. “It’s unfortunate because that place has such rich history and so many great things have come out of that race in the past. It was a track that meant a lot to the Kalitta family and with Scott. They always wanted to win one for Scott. We’d have loved to have the opportunity to go back to the track and win that race for Scott.”