Frontstretch Staff · Monday March 12, 2012
Did you see all of the race action this weekend? Or, like lots of busy fans, did you miss a late-night adventure, a Friday controversy, or a juicy piece of news? If you did, you’ve come to the right place! Each week, The Frontstretch will break down the racing, series by series, to bring you the biggest stories that you need to watch during the week ahead. Let our experts help you get up to speed for the coming week no matter what series you might have missed, all in this week’s edition of Pace Laps!
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Johnson, Knaus Will Get Verdict Tuesday Two weeks after receiving fines, points deductions for driver Jimmie Johnson and owner of record Jeff Gordon, and suspensions for crew chief Chad Knaus and car chief Ron Malec, the No. 48 team will have their case heard by an appeals board at NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, NC. The team is appealing penalties for the C-posts of the Daytona 500 car, alleging that the car was never actually inspected and the penalty was therefore based on nothing more than a visual once-over by officials. NASCAR has since said that the posts were measured with its gauges, but has not released exactly what the issue with the pillars was or how they were measured. NASCAR also didn’t indicate whether the measurements were made before or after the C-posts were cut off the Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Whether or not they are fans of Johnson and his team, fans of the sport should pay close attention to the outcome of this appeal and the precedent it sets. Should the penalty be upheld, will other teams be affected in similar situations if an inspector sees something questionable before the car is actually inspected? On the other hand, if it’s overturned, will that create an even tighter inspection process on certain areas of the car, taking away opportunities for a team to improve its performance and giving a boost to complaints that the cars don’t allow for innovation by teams. No matter how it turns out, this is one to watch, because the outcome has the potential to affect every team in the garage. –Amy Henderson
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Will Bayne Be The First Casualty of Sponsorship Woes? As it stands, the Nationwide Series will head to Bristol this coming weekend without one of its stars – and the driver fourth in points – on the entry list. After securing no sponsorship over the first three weeks of the season, Bayne and the No. 60 team are expected to be parked until later in the year. Is it an indictment of just how bad the economy is? The latest casualty of financial reality? Bayne and his story fit both bills.
But the larger story here that’s going largely ignored is Roush Fenway Racing’s seemingly unquestioned use of a business model that no longer fits the climate it’s being employed in. For years now, the cost of sponsoring a Nationwide Series car in the Roush stable has been the highest in the garage (roughly four races on a Roush car costs a sponsor what it costs to keep Eric McClure on track for the full season). Granted, there’s a level of performance that comes with that. But in the case of Bayne, especially after he lost a big chunk of seat time last season during a bout with Lyme Disease, being in a car full-time is of paramount importance.
That’s true even if that means that the car isn’t capable of winning. There are a number of cars throughout the field in the Nationwide Series which, on next to no sponsorship, manage to race every week. It’s done with used motors, scuffed tires and limited resources, but it’s done. And if they can do it, there’s no reason Roush Fenway can’t find a way to do the same.
Bayne is lucky. He’s not someone that’s going to fight the exposure issues of the typical NASCAR underdog. He has a fan following, he has name recognition, and the media is following his every move. Even running for 25th, Bayne will get TV time, he will stay in the public eye, and he’ll get seat time doing it. Times are tough, and even for the big boys, its time to swallow some pride and do what’s necessary to survive, rather than what the business model says it takes to win. -Bryan Davis Keith
ARCA: Points Leader Gale And Youngsters Take Center Stage After Mobile Cale Gale took full advantage of the Truck Series’ month-long hiatus by taking to the track for the ARCA Racing Series’ debut event at his hometown Mobile International Speedway, leading 76 of 203 laps en route to scoring his first ARCA win since 2006. Gale held off a furious charge from Chad Hackenbracht late to bring home the victory, a hugely popular win if the grandstand reaction was any indication (promoters in Victory Lane asked Gale if he’d come back and run at MIS the following weekend).
Gale leaves Mobile the ARCA points leader, though Brennan Poole is the new leader among drivers expected to run the full 2012 schedule after finishing seventh. Of note, Chase Elliott finished 10th in his ARCA debut while 15-year-old Erik Jones became the youngest driver to ever start an ARCA race, qualifying third and leading laps but finishing 29th after stalling his car in the pits.
The ARCA Racing Series returns to action April 29th at Salem Speedway. -Bryan Davis Keith
Short Tracks: Where Was the Champ? The Late Model racing season kicked off at South Boston Speedway with the NASCAR Whelen Late Model 300 presented by Danville Toyota. C. E. Falk took the win, giving himself a leg up on the rest of the Late Model crowd. But while Falk’s win was the final story, it was far from the biggest one of the weekend. Instead, it was a driver who wasn’t there grabbing the headlines. Four-time and defending NASCAR Whelen All-American National Champion Philip Morris was nowhere to be found.
Having the defending track and national champion miss the race was a complete shock. While the whole story is far from known, public statements blame Morris’ absence on a lack of funding. Jim Dean, Morris’ car owner, stated that a driver development deal that was going to help fund Morris this year fell through at the last minute, leading to them not bringing a car to the track for the champion. Dean did have a car in the race for Darrell Gilchrist, though ironically with Morris’ longtime sponsor Clarence’s Steakhouse on the hood. Dean claims there are no problems between he and Morris and this move was purely a financial decision.
If you are not familiar with local short track racing, this anomaly would be the equivalent of Tony Stewart not showing up at Daytona last month but John Wes Townley showing up at the track instead with a No. 41 Office Depot Chevrolet. This story is far from over and bears watching as further details will almost certainly come out in the months ahead. One thing is for sure: the Late Model world in the Southeast has not had a buzz like this one swirling around in a long time. -Mike Neff
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