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Sprint Cup competitors take a breather

The NASCAR Sprint Cup series is idle this weekend before taking on 13 straight weeks of racing, culminating with a new champion in Miami in November.

Only two races remain before the chase field is set at Richmond in two weeks. The gap between seventh and 15th position remains tight at only 162 points, so we’ll see some very cautious racing and some petal to the metal racing during these next two races.

The Nationwide series leaves the country this Sunday for their annual international race, this year at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road course in Montreal. If you recall, several years ago, the Nationwide guys raced in Mexico City and each time that series races outside the country, the Sprint Cup guys get the weekend off.

The 2.71mile track in Montreal is named for Gilles Villeneuve, a Canadian open-wheel driver and father of Jacques Villeneuve, former Formula One champion. The younger Villeneuve also tried his hand a stock car racing a few years ago, never making a race and surviving a horrible experiment with Bill Davis Racing.

Although the Sprint Cup series has not ventured outside American borders in many years, there is a history of racing in Canada. In 1952, the series visited a half-mile track in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Good old’ Buddy Shuman won that race in a Hudson with an average speed of 45 miles per hour.

Six years later, in 1958, the series stopped at Canadian Exposition Stadium in Toronto. Lee Petty won the 100-lap race on the one-third mile track in a 1957 Oldsmobile. The Petty patriarch won $575 for taking the checkered flag and the 19 racers in that race shared a purse of $3730. You know, these days some of the drivers wear sunglasses that cost about what Petty took home for winning that race.

Through the years, NASCAR has visited big cities and small towns, not only across the Southeast, but also across the country. In addition to the 22 tracks currently on the Sprint Cup schedule, this series has held races at 146 other tracks since NASCAR’s birth in 1949.

During a four-year stretch from 1962-1965, Valdosta Speedway in Valdosta, GA was on the schedule three times for what was known at the time as the Grand National Series. Three pretty good drivers won those races as Ned Jarrett, Buck Baker and Cale Yarborough won those three races at Valdosta.

There have been races in Montgomery, AL, Macon, GA, Norfolk, VA, LeHi, AR, Pensacola, FL and Thompson, CT.

In 1957, the series ventured to Hollywood and raced at Ascot Stadium in Los Angeles, one of an incredible 53 races that season. Eddie Pagan won that race in 1957 Ford, the same 1957 Ford, with a few mechanical enhancements, that you would have found on Main Street in 1957.

From the days when stock cars were actually stock cars, we return to 2009 racing at Atlanta next Sunday night, for that tracks first installment of the Labor Day race. A race that should still be called the Southern 500 and held in Darlington, SC, but I digress.

Jeff Findley is Publisher of The Post-Searchlight in Bainbridge, Georgia – a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald – and a syndicated NASCAR columnist. He can be reached via email at jeff.findley@thepostsearchlight.com.