The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Championship Material, Bright Spots and Walking Away by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday July 1, 2013

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Pace Laps: Championship Material, Bright Spots and Walking Away

Frontstretch Staff · Monday July 1, 2013


Did you miss an event during this busy week in racing? How about a late-night press release, an important sponsorship rumor, 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 going forward for the week ahead. Let our experts help you get up to speed, no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!

Matt Kenseth has four wins, the most of any driver this season, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a potential champion.

Sprint Cup: Does Kenseth Have What It Takes to Win a Championship? Matt Kenseth is definitely making a case for himself in regards to being a favorite for this year’s championship. On Sunday, Joe Gibbs Racing’s newest driver became the first to win four races in 2013, scoring the victory in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

As it often is for top drivers with new teams, 2013 has been a bit of a resurgence for Kenseth. He already has his first four-win season since 2006, and needs one more victory to tie for the most he’s ever won in a single season, dating back to 2002.

But is Kenseth championship material? That remains to be fully seen. Though he now has four wins through 17 races, he has no other top-5 finishes other than those victories. His amount of top 10s? Nine. While his results have been enough to give him an increasingly snug position in the top 10 in points, thereby putting him in solid standing for the Chase, his lack of other top-5 finishes is a little troubling. What happens come the Chase, when he can win here and there but also has multiple finishes outside the top 20, even top 30?

Kenseth has shown more flashes of muscle than in recent memory, but those flashes need to be more prevalent, to the point where he’s a threat every week. Right now, it doesn’t feel that way. That’s weird to say about the driver with the most wins in the series this season, but it’s true. If and when he’s challenging for a win every week without fail is a whole other story.

Of course, his No. 20 team doesn’t have to do much right now; barring a major meltdown and a herculean effort by two other drivers, he’s in the Chase. Now, it’s a matter of figuring out what works best once September rolls around. It could be that there’s a lot of practicing and trying new things going on, which will result in a more streamlined effort come race 27 of the season.

If that’s the case, watch out. Kevin Rutherford

Nationwide: The Bright Side for Brad Brad Keselowski’s tumultuous Sprint Cup season continues without any sign of turning around, but at least he has the Nationwide Series.

The defending Cup champion roared to his second win of 2013 in the series Friday night, taking the checkered flag in the Feed the Children 300 at Kentucky Speedway. Keselowski held off Kyle Busch, the other Cup ringer in the field, as well as Elliott Sadler and debuting Truck mainstay Matt Crafton. Along the way, he led 59 laps in the rain-shortened event, second to only Busch’s 74.

His win continues a decent Nationwide season. When he’s in the No. 22 for Penske Racing, he’s usually doing well, racking up four top fives and four top 10s in eight starts this year, scoring an average finish of 11.1.

Now, if only that success could translate in the Cup Series. He seems like he could use it right now. Kevin Rutherford

Truck Series: Overhaul Coming to Trucks for 2014 After seeing the cars in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series go through a major overhaul in the last couple of years, it makes perfect sense that the Truck Series would be next in line. According to Fox Sports’ Lee Spencer, manufacturers representing Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota met with NASCAR earlier this month at Dover to discuss potential changes to the trucks. Brad Keselowski Racing, Kyle Busch Motorsports and Turner Scott Motorsports are all expected to be directly involved in the construction of the new vehicles. NASCAR hopes to have the trucks in the wind tunnel for testing within the next two months before taking them to the track.

“The project is actually moving forward pretty nicely with a very nice aesthetic result. Its goal is to do the same thing that we’ve done with Nationwide and the Gen 6 Cup car, [which] is to put the correct look of the truck back into the trucks,” Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby said. “The design concepts and some of the early (wind)-tunnel testing to see if we can achieve a balance there and everything have been very positive. All three manufacturers are working pretty diligently on the project — as well as we are — to prepare for when they get close enough to start bringing us some things to officially test and move forward on.”

While Darby also mentioned that one of the focuses in revamping the trucks is to keep the costs down, I can’t help but wonder how many teams will fight the financial aspect of an overhaul of their equipment. Purse money in the Truck Series is abysmal and sponsorship dollars aren’t much better for most organizations. But aside from the financial aspect of a major change, I worry about the on-track product. The Truck Series has long been the most exciting of NASCAR’s top three series, and as long as the changes to the truck allow drivers to race even closer on the track, rather than making it even more difficult to race side by side, the adjustments could be a good thing. Only time will tell for sure. Beth Lunkenheimer

Short Tracks: Jones Calls It a Career There aren’t a lot of times during life when someone just up and walks away in the middle of a season. Levi Jones today announced his retirement, effective immediately, from professional racing. Jones is a seven time USAC National Champion in both Sprint Cars and Silver Crown cars. Six of his seven titles came while he was driving for Tony Stewart Racing.

Jones issued a statement that many of us can relate to. It appears as though the time has come where he wants to enjoy his family before the time has all but slipped away from him.

“After reevaluating where I am at this point in my life, I’ve made the decision to step away from my career as a professional driver and focus on my family and our business,” Jones said. “Racing has consumed the majority of my life, and while I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to share this with my family, the time has come for my focus to shift to exploring what lies outside of the sport.”

Jones and his family own several Rural King Franchises in the Midwest, stores that focus on farm and retail and that is where he is going to turn his focus for the near future at least.

Jones won Sprint Car titles in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. His Silver Crown championships came in 2010 and 2011. He’s also the only driver to win the USAC Sprint Car championship five times. He made 393 starts and earned 28 victories in his 16 year career. He grabbed 35 fast-time awards, 157 top 5s and 115 top 10s. Jones also made 74 USAC Silver Crown starts. He won three feature events and scored six fast-time awards in those 74 races along with 22 top 5s. His most recent victory came May 24 in the prestigious Hoosier Hundred event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis before the Indianapolis 500. Jones also made 120 USAC National Midget Car starts during his career, earning four victories, 24 top 5s and 33 top 10s. Mike Neff

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07/01/2013 10:58 AM

Interesting that Chevrolet, Toyota AND Ford sat down with NASCAR. Does this mean Ford is coming back to the Truck Series? I hope so!
As for who they listen to, I hope it doesn’t turn out like the Gen-6 car in Cup. NASCAR may have talked to all the Cup teams about the Gen-6 car, but they only listened to one!

07/01/2013 12:46 PM

If TDR has put its engine issues behind them, then Kenseth has to be considered a championship co-favorite with Johnson. Kenseth has always been consistent, but now they are winning races in bunches. That’s what you need to win the Chase.

07/01/2013 05:51 PM

Ken, Ford is currently with Brad Keselowski Racing and in the Truck Series

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