It will be the first restrictor plate race on a 1-mile oval this weekend after lengthy discussions over safety issues at the New Hampshire Circuit.

Two weeks ago, the Dura Lube 300 was in danger of not being run at all after a number of drivers voiced their concerns over the lack of safety modifications that NASCAR had made at the track which has claimed two lives already this year.

Tony Stewart took a joyless victory in July's thatlook.com 300 at the New Hampshire International Speedway on a weekend where young star Kenny Irwin lost his life. Two months later the Winston Cup teams return to the New England track once again for the Dura Lube 300, complete with restrictor plate engines in an effort to curb speeds and prevent a third fatality this year.

The restrictor plates used this weekend will be slightly larger than the ones used at Daytona and Talladega and they are expected to keep speeds at around 140 mph. In addition to the engines, Jack Roush has also introduced an automatic engine kill switch that can detect if a throttle has stuck open. Jeff Burton used the system in the supporting Busch Series race at Richmond last weekend and the team are expected to have the device available to all cars in time for Sunday's race.

Drivers already have access to an ignition kill switch, which can be found on the steering wheel of any Winston Cup car, enabling drivers to cut the engine as soon as they feel their throttle sticking open. However at Darlington two weeks ago, Bobby Labonte suffered a stuck throttle in practice and had no time to activate the switch before he hit the wall and question marks were made over the reliability of the system.

NASCAR are also making several other moves to ensure that the drivers are safe although they stopped short of placing Styrofoam blocks in front of the concrete walls at specific areas of the track. In practice and qualifying, all cars will complete a designated number of laps behind the safety car to allow drivers to warm their throttle and brakes to normal working temperature. Both Irwin and Adam Petty, who lost his life at the same spot as Irwin in May, were thought to have problems with sticking throttles.

The fact that the Winston Cup is heading towards a dramatic climax is almost an afterthought this weekend and Bobby Labonte can almost relax for the first time this year. Dale Jarrett's 31st place finish at Richmond helped Labonte increase his points lead to more than 150 over new second place man Dale Earnhardt while Jeff Burton continues his late season charge and is now less than 200 points behind Labonte. However the #18 Joe Gibbs driver would need to have a complete disaster if he is to lose the points lead this weekend and he can almost relax and concentrate on racking up his 18th top ten finish of the year.

Tony Stewart, in the second Joe Gibbs entry won a rain-shortened race here back in July and the young driver is still looking to join Rusty Wallace as the only four-time winner this year. Stewart will have competition for that honour from Jeff Gordon who is likely to be in a foul mood after he was deducted 100 points from his Richmond win after his car breached technical regulations. Gordon and his Rick Hendrick team were livid at the decision so expect no prisoners from 'The Kid' this weekend.

Last year Joe Nemechek scored an unlikely victory for the SABCO team and although he now drives for Andy Petree Racing, Front Row Joe will be looking to go one place better than his runner up spot in July and retain his place inside the top 20 in points.

Others looking to impress on a weekend where many teams are still in the dark as to what set-up they will have to run with the restrictor plate engines, include the currently unemployed duo Chad Little and Mike Bliss while other drivers who may find themselves looking elsewhere in 2001 if they do not start performing soon include Bobby Hamilton and of course Joe Bessey, who is driving his self-owned #60 Chevrolet in place of Geoffrey Bodine who was fired this week. Bessey knows that he must put his car in the spotlight as there is no main sponsorship deal in place for 2001 and his team could face closure if results do not improve.

Dale Earnhardt will have to overcome his dislike of restrictor plates and get on with the task of further reducing Labonte's points lead while Jarrett and Burton both have good form at Loudon. Rusty Wallace will be looking to end his current streak of bad luck that has seen him retire from the last two Winston Cup events while team-mate Jeremy Mayfield will just be looking to make it to the finish after a rotten run of results.

Not all teams were happy with the late decision to run restrictor plate engines and for many of the small market teams, the decision has meant a frantic late scramble to get their cars prepared in time. Several cars, including Rick Mast's AJ Foyt's entry may not even be ready in time and the team may even be forced to scratch from the race.

However it is hoped that these moves will at least allow the racing to take top priority this weekend and also allow all drivers to safely leave the track on Sunday evening.