Frontstretch Staff · Monday June 4, 2012
Did you see all of the race action this weekend? Or, like a lot 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: Will Busch Force NASCAR’s Hand on Probation? Will this week be the one where we find out if the word “probation” comes with any teeth attached? It could prove to be, as Kurt Busch, slapped with that penalty for a postrace pit road incident at Darlington, was called to the NASCAR hauler on Sunday morning following a postrace interview on Saturday when Busch cursed and made a veiled threat to Sporting News reporter Bob Pockrass. Pockrass asked if being on probation had impacted the way he raced — a legitimate question after Busch traded barbs with Justin Allgaier during and after the 5-Hour Energy 200 on Saturday. Busch, whose comments on the situation had already included a not-so-veiled shot at the sanctioning body, had said, “He thinks we purposely hit him and so he drove like a you-know-what all day and [tried] to door us and try to do stupid things out on the track. I’m on probation, so I can’t even pick my nose the right way.”
When asked by Pockrass, as a follow-up if he had raced differently because of his probationary status, Busch snapped, “It [being on probation] refrains me from not beating the (expletive) out of you right now because you ask me stupid questions. But since I’m on probation, I suppose that’s improper to say as well.” (Click here for a full video of Saturday’s incident) Unfortunately for Busch, this media run-in isn’t his first; the driver lost his seat at Penske Racing, at least in part due to a similar tirade against ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch last year. NASCAR determined at that time that the tirade was serious enough to violate Section 12-1 of the NASCAR rulebook (actions detrimental to stock car racing – inappropriate hand gesture; abusive language), and fined Busch $50,000.
This time marks the first one in recent years, and perhaps the most serious that a driver has tested NASCAR’s tolerance while already on probation, though several others have had repeat incidents once the penalty was ended. If this incident is considered a violation, further fines, points penalties, or even a suspension would be on the list of consequences. All eyes will be on NASCAR Tuesday as a message, and possible consequences will be handed down to show that this penalty either means zero tolerance… or not. –Amy Henderson
Izod IndyCar Series: Owners Pushing for a Change at the Top The IZOD IndyCar Series was basking in the glow of a successful Indianapolis 500 this week. But then… Twitter happened. It was IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard himself who tweeted on Tuesday #INDYCAR @indycar it is true that an owner is calling others trying to get me fired. I have had several owners confirm this. disappointing.
Bernard’s tweet seemed to shift the focus off building on the momentum the series gained at Indy, rolling towards a sold out event at Belle Isle and onto politics instead. In fact, it even overshadows the two-hour red flag in Detroit as chunks of the racing surface came up and had to be repaired (for the complete story on the Belle Isle Grand Prix, check out our IndyCar race report) as the big story this week. The move was confusing to some in the series, especially after such a strong marquee event. There have been some complaints from team owners, though, most notably about higher chassis costs than teams were told to budget for, and also concerning an adjustment to the single turbocharger configuration used by Honda that Chevrolet protested. That manufacturer claims they were left out of discussions about the change. However, Bernard had previously asked that teams not go to the media with these complaints, instead asking that they be worked out within the series.
Talk about breaking your own rules; Bernard, all of a sudden has pulled a 180 and posted about it on Twitter. After the tweet, Speed.com reported that IndyCar founder Tony George and team owners Mario and Michael Andretti, John Barnes, and Kevin Kalkhoven were pushing for the change. However, Mario Andretti says he has spoken to Bernard and told him it was hearsay.
Team owner Roger Penske commented that he prefers that the focus be on racing instead, commenting, “I’m not in favor of making a change in the middle of the season. There are things I’ve been upset about — the turbocharger, for example — but I moved on. It’s time for all of us to focus on racing and getting on the same page.” That’s easier said than done; after Belle Isle, rife with track issues the controversy is sure to intensify. Will Bernard weather the storm or be blown out of town? The answer may come as soon as just a few weeks. –Toni Montgomery
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Title Contenders Or Could Haves, Would Haves, Should Haves… The good news for Richard Childress Racing? They left Dover with the points lead and with three cars that finished in the top 10 (both Dillon brothers and new point leader Elliott Sadler). The bad news? Even though they were able to cash in on the self-induced troubles of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., the fact remains that the No. 6 car was faster than the Nos. 2, 3 and 33 on Saturday.
Despite the recent maladies striking the defending champs, Roush Fenway Racing is consistently putting top 5 cars on the track and have proven to be one of only a handful of entries capable of racing with the JGR Toyotas. That two-car tandem is working wonders; right now, they’re close to duplicating a ridiculous stretch of Victory Lane visits in 2008-09, before the Nationwide COT came into play. The same can’t be said for Richard Childress’ Chevrolets, which have been consistent top-10 finishers but on Saturday at Dover were powerless to drive their way through traffic the way Logano’s winning Toyota (and Stenhouse’s Ford briefly) was.
To see Ty Dillon’s debut go so well, Sadler take the lead and Austin Dillon move into title contention over the course of 200 miles at Dover had to be a breath of fresh air for the organization in their return to Nationwide racing. That being said, with a stretch of “Ford favorite” events ahead – including Roush’s unofficial home track at Michigan – RCR is going to have close the equipment gap fast if they want this lead to stick. – Bryan Davis Keith
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Ty Dillon Continues to be Rookie to Watch Before the checkered flag flew over the Lucas Oil 200 on Friday afternoon, Ty Dillon and the late Ricky Hendrick were tied for the best-ever start by a rookie with five top-10 finishes to open the year. But all of that changed when Dillon brought his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet home in sixth, claiming the record as his alone. With that best start for a freshman, the 20-year-old has a stronghold on the Rookie of the Year standings with his closest active competitor more than 30 points back. (Author’s Note: John King sits second but no longer has a ride; his position will drop with each race he misses.) And if that’s not enough, he sits within striking distance of the championship points lead, just 13 points behind leader Justin Lofton.
To put the younger Dillon brother’s performance in perspective, let’s compare how Ty and reigning CWTS champion Austin Dillon opened their rookie seasons, both driving Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 truck. Austin’s 2010 season started with finishes of 26th, 10th, 16th, 14th, sixth, and 21st in the first six races, compared with Ty’s ninth, second, eighth, ninth, 10th, and sixth. Right away, you can see where Ty has outperformed his older brother already, and that has plenty to do with starting positions and the importance of track position in the Truck Series. Ty has started no worse than 12th this year, including four starts inside the top 5. Whether the forward progression will continue remains to be seen; however, it’s become very clear that racing is in the Dillon brothers’ blood. There is definitely a strong future for Ty, not only in the Truck Series, but beyond as he progresses through Nationwide and eventually to Cup. –Beth Lunkenheimer
Grand-Am: Series to Expand to Three Divisions On Friday, Grand Am announced it will be adding a new class to the series. Slated to begin with the 2013 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, the “GX” class will encompass cars from different manufacturers, including cars running technologies not currently in Grand Am, such as alternative fuels, hybrid powertrains, and turbochargers. While participating companies have not been announced, multiple entries are expected in the near future.
“When there are manufacturers looking to compete, we need to find a model that works to include them in the Rolex Series,” Grand-Am President and CEO Ed Bennett said. “It’s good for the fans, providing another whole group of exciting cars they can relate to. And the fact that the GX class will get to debut at the Rolex 24 just adds to the anticipation and excitement.”
There’s no hint about which particular automobile companies are being targeted; however, don’t expect to be kept in the dark for long. What is even more intriguing, though, beyond the participants are the different technologies that may be introduced. Whether the new class will take off as much as the Daytona Prototype and GT classes remain to be seen, though. The big question mark, and one that won’t be answered until 2013 is whether the GX class can be competitive enough to not become a hindrance to the other two classes already on the track. -Rick Lunkenheimer
Short Tracks: Two Strikes And You’re Out? Four weeks ago, it was Kingsport Speedway and a header that didn’t feel right. This week, it was a rear brake blower that, at least according to the officials, is not allowed. Whatever the case may be, for the second time in as many races, Ronnie Bassett, Jr. has been stripped of a UARA win. Bassett won two of the first three races to open the season, finished second in the third, and was poised to run away with the series championship. As a result, when his team rolled into Kingsport, they were supremely confident that the season-long title was within their reach; but the postrace inspection after they once again took the checkered flag was extensive and eventually, the cylinder head of the winning car’s engine was declared illegal because it didn’t feel right. Ford Racing Technology upheld the belief of the inspectors on the subsequent appeal, and Bassett’s win was officially thrown out.
After that incident, Bassett’s team purchased new engines, had them certified by Ford, and proceeded to Anderson to get back on the winning track. A year ago, Bassett scored his first win at Anderson in this race, only to have the win thrown out on an engine violation. He returned last fall and dominated the race once again, making Anderson seem like an ideal place for him to restart his pursuit of the series title. Toward that end, Bassett did everything in his power by taking the checkered flag first. But then came the second blow of the season when his car failed postrace inspection over the rear brake blower. The technical inspection violation awarded the victory to Scott Turlington, although even Turlington’s crew chief went to the UARA trailer to argue that the decision was bogus. It will be interesting to see where this all shakes out in the next week or two and whether the Bassett family will continue supporting this series after having a second win taken away this year. -Mike Neff
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