Frontstretch Staff · Monday July 30, 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 Monday’s edition of Pace Laps!
Sprint Cup Series: Carl’s Last-Ditch Move To Make The Chase: Win At All Costs? For Carl Edwards, the high point of Sunday’s race at Indy was simple: taking the plane ride home. Starting second, on the outside of the front row it took less than 15 laps for the No. 99 car to develop major engine issues; that forced several off-sequence stops, both under green and yellow before the cause of the problem was finally found. Dropping four laps off the pace, there were no Lucky Dogs to help him; just a lackluster performance, served up at the wrong time as a 35th-place result left him in the midst of Chase disaster. Now an all-but-insurmountable 61 points behind Clint Bowyer, who’s 10th in the standings a winless Edwards knows with six races left his key to making the playoffs won’t come through a handful of top-10, even top-5 finishes down the stretch.
“I think we are officially racing only for wins,” he said matter-of-factly after Indianapolis. “I think it will involve lots of pushing on the right pedal and turning left and going as fast as possible. We have to take chances. We have to go race. We can do that, we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice.”
The question is in what way will Edwards be aggressive? And will that last-ditch effort involve a quick return by Bob Osborne on top of the pit box? The team was tight-lipped about the head wrench’s health problems, serious enough to force him off the road in favor of Chad Norris. But recovery appears to be a week-to-week timetable, which means if speed returns at the No. 99 shop in the next few weeks will RFR consider bringing back their prized mechanic? Remember, Edwards’ closest brush with victory this season came at Richmond – the regular season finale this September.
Of course, Mr. Edwards isn’t the only one entering desperation mode. With such a large gap in the standings between the top 10 and the field – Bowyer is over a full race’s worth of points ahead of 11th – that means the race for the “wild cards” really should get wild. Jeff Gordon, whose quest for Indy victory was dashed by a faulty pit stop now is looking at winning two out of the final six to get in. Joey Logano, whose future in the Cup Series may rest on making the Chase needs one more; so may Ryan Newman. When will these drivers change the way they race, and what effect will it have on the rest of the field? We’ll should start hearing those answers this week, with it all playing out during a frantic Pocono 400 this weekend. -Tom Bowles
Nationwide Series: Sadler’s Sad Reality: The Fallout From RestartGate Continues: Triumph turned tragedy for Elliott Sadler on Saturday afternoon, courtesy of a pair of seemingly inconsistent calls by NASCAR officials regarding outside line restarts. After the inaugural Brickyard showing for the Nationwide Series opened with a Kyle Busch sprint out front that looked a whole lot like a jumped restart, Elliott Sadler surged out ahead himself courtesy of a similar charge late in the race. With leader Brad Keselowski having spun his tires, Sadler appeared to have legitimately taken the point and seemed well on his way to victory.
However, NASCAR said otherwise, penalizing the No. 2 team with a pass-through under green inside of 15 laps to go. That completely derailed a race weekend in which the No. 2 team had a true advantage; namely, a driver that had previous experience at the Brickyard compared to his closest rivals. Instead, Sadler dropped outside of the top 20 (he’d finish 15th), lost all but a single point of his lead to teammate Austin Dillon and allowed Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to gain ground on a day where the No. 6 team was a distant top-10 car rather than a factor. And NASCAR’s side? That’s still unclear, Mike Helton taking an extended period of time explaining restarts during a Sunday morning driver’s meeting in the Cup Series… and adding confusion rather than clarity by the end of it.
Time will tell if NASCAR actually “took the championship from him” as Sadler exclaimed over the radio when heading to pit road to serve his penalty. But having said that, there’s no debate the call had a huge impact both on this race and the title chase. It was sad enough watching a 250-mile parade replace the short-track action of Lucas Oil Raceway this weekend. To see that parade hugely affected by an officiating call, and a bad one at that, just made a disappointing situation worse. -Bryan Davis Keith
IZOD IndyCar Series: Going Dancing Again It was announced this week that Helio Castroneves would compete on the ABC Television series “Dancing with the Stars” again as part of an All-Star Edition this fall. Castroneves won the coveted Mirror Ball trophy (he keeps it next to his Borg Warner) in 2007 and was very popular with viewers, making him an excellent ambassador for the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“Winning the Mirror Ball trophy was an unbelievable experience and I’m honored that the show has asked me back to compete again this season,” said Castroneves. “I’m super excited to be in this position, and when I told my team, they also were excited for me to do it again.”
The Season 15 premiere on ABC will be at 8 p.m. ET, September 24th, nine days after the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale. Castroneves is a championship contender, currently sitting second behind points leader Ryan Hunter-Reay so it’ll be interesting to see how the show serves as a distraction – if at all. He’ll likely start practice sessions with his professional dancing partner in early September.
P.S. – The next time they show Danica Patrick pull her hands off the wheel to protect herself during a crash, consider what happened to Charlie Kimball during a test at Mid-Ohio this past week. Kimball went off track during the session and pulled his hands off the wheel but wasn’t clear; when the wheel snapped back, it caught him, breaking the fifth metacarpal of his right hand. -Toni Montgomery
Grand-Am: Pruett And Co. Forward At Indy… With A Little Humility Although excitement and buzz surrounded the inaugural Brickyard Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was the rain that stole the story Friday afternoon. All teams started with rain tires, but each was forced to choose when to switch to slicks once the track began drying out. However, they were caught off guard when the rain fell heavily once again later on; several became victims of the slick track by making the wrong decision.
Meanwhile, the No. 01 team of Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett saw an interesting strategy play out as Mother Nature reigned. With Rojas starting the race, Pruett hopped in the car for fewer than 20 laps before once again giving up the seat to his co-driver. He then got back in on a lap 64 stop to run the final portion of the race. The swap was made only following damage to the No. 01 after Rojas got caught up with GT driver Ronnie Bremer in turn one; they ended up finishing second in the DP class as a result.
“I got out because Memo was just rocking in the rain. I wasn’t as quick as he was,” Pruett said. “We’re running for a championship, and I’m not too proud to notice he’s doing a better job in these conditions.”
What a smart move it was for the duo, who maintain their hold on the top spot in the standings by 11 markers over the team of Ryan Dalziel and Enzo Potolicchio. With just four races remaining on the schedule, Pruett and Rojas look to bring home another championship for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. The decisions made in the rain on Friday could ultimately make the difference when the checkered flag flies over the final event at Lime Rock Park (Lakeville, CT) in late September.
Also of note, the North American Endurance Championship went to StarWorks Motorsport in the DP class and Magnus Racing in GT. Separate from the Grand-Am Rolex Series championship, the NAEC rewards the top team (all cars included) in each division based on their performance in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen and the Brickyard Grand Prix. -Beth Lunkenheimer
ARCA: Kimmel’s Comeback Moment As drivers’ careers head toward their twilight, it can be tough for some of them, along with their fans, to accept. It can be even harder when the driver is a legend in the sport. Such has been the case for Frank Kimmel. Kimmel is the nine-time ARCA series champion and looked poised to set the all-time victory record in the series several years ago. Unfortunately, he hit a slump, upon starting his own team that turned into a bona fide dry spell of over 70 races. With the record of 79 wins beginning to look like it was going to be less and less attainable, Kimmel made a move to ThorSport Racing for 2012 in an effort to jumpstart his career. While wins didn’t immediately result, the team showed moments of potential, leading three different races before Friday night’s event at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. Kimmel noted during his post-race interviews that the team had stretches during events where they were fast, but they didn’t put a whole race together from start to finish. Friday night changed all that.
In his 75th race since his last win, Kimmel notched his 75th career victory, also his first career win at Lucas Oil Raceway. He is now four races shy of tying Iggy Katona for the top spot on the ARCA win list, also reminding his rivals there’s a darkhorse when it comes to the championship. While he knows that he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, Kimmel still feels like he is competitive and capable of putting his car in Victory Lane. After Friday night’s performance, there is no question that is the case and Katona’s position at the pinnacle of the series win list is in some jeopardy. -Mike Neff
Short Tracks: Teenage Phenom Making History Shortly before Frank Kimmel notched his 75th career ARCA victory at the age of 50, Kyle Benjamin put his name in the CRA series record book as the youngest driver in the history of the sport to win a race. At 14 years of age, Benjamin is quickly proving to be a force in the Pro and Super Late Model asphalt racing worlds. Benjamin started off the season being crowned the Super Late Model champion for the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car racing at New Smyrna Speedway during Speedweeks. He has since logged wins at Winchester, Mobile and now Lucas Oil Raceway, building a resume most driving adults can only dream of. He is consistently at the front of the pack, with opportunities to win if he isn’t wrecked by another competitor. Case in point: he was leading both of the races at the Rattler this year, only to be taken out by others around him. Similarly, he ran at the front of the pack all day at the World Crown, only to be wrecked by another driver before he was able to give Chase Elliott a run for his money.
Here’s the catch to these accomplishments, making them even more impressive: Benjamin’s team is unsponsored. The entire operation is funded by his family and races against some teams with ample backing, routinely beating all of them. One senses that won’t be the case for long. Benjamin is scheduled to run in a handful of races the rest of the season but, assuming a savvy owner signs him to a development deal, he’ll most likely be running more events. There is no question that Benjamin is a very talented driver who, given the right situation, will be a rising star in the sport in the very near future. So keep an eye out for the No. 71 at a track near you. You won’t want to miss this future star of stock car racing.
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