Frontstretch Staff · Monday August 27, 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!
Sprint Cup: What Effect Will The Stewart-Kenseth Feud Have On The Chase? Bristol featured plenty of beating, banging, and crashing, but perhaps no incident had the potential to grow into something more than the one that occurred between Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart as they raced for the lead with 167 laps to go. Stewart made a move to the outside of Kenseth, who parried by pinching Stewart by the wall. Stewart then appeared to turn into Kenseth in an attempt to gain some racing room, sending both the No. 14 and the No. 17 into the inside SAFER barrier. Each driver blamed the other for the incident, with Stewart waiting for Kenseth on pit road and hurling his helmet at his rival’s car.
Tempers only flared higher from there. Stewart said that he had attempted to give Kenseth room, but that he wouldn’t try to do that in the future. “We weren’t that great of a race car. But we were definitely faster than that after that restart,” he explained after getting released from the infield care center. “I checked-up twice to not run over him (Kenseth) and I learned my lesson there; I’m going to run over him every him every chance I’ve got from now ‘til the end of the year, every chance I’ve got.”
Kenseth, as you might expect had a different perspective, claiming that Stewart was still stewing over a perceived blocking incident at Indianapolis and that he felt that the Bristol incident was payback. “I was running the top lane, and he got a run and he went into Turn 1 like I wasn’t there and went straight to the fence. If I wouldn’t have lifted, then we would have wrecked,” Kenseth told media of the crash. “Then I got a run back, drove all the way alongside him and kept going, and he chose not to lift. So I don’t know. I did the exact same thing down there, except he didn’t give it to me. I guess he wanted to do all the taking.”
Neither driver seems ready to apologize, so the big question here is whether the spat will spill over into the Chase. We’ve seen payback derail championship bids before (see: Kyle Busch, Kansas, David Reutimann) but never when both sides are in serious contention for the title. If on-track retaliation plays out here, not only could it effect Stewart’s and Kenseth’s title hopes but also derail others should they get caught in the fracas. Although it’s unlikely that either driver, who both have Sprint Cup titles, will do anything to jeopardize another title run, anything can happen in the heat of the moment, so this rivalry is worth keeping an eye on for the next 12 weeks. Amy Henderson
IndyCar Series: The End Of The Road Is Near With the September 15 season finale at Auto Club Speedway drawing near, INDYCAR has started working on the aero package teams will use for the 500-mile race. Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, and Takuma Sato put in a full day of testing with series engineers and INDYCAR Vice President of Technology Will Phillips in attendance.
The drivers started with a base package similar to what was run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. According to Phillips, it was a hot and windy day and the drivers found conditions challenging in the morning session.
“In the drivers’ eyes,” he says. “[This test] was harder than Texas was in the race, so the conditions were very difficult. They thought it was perhaps too hard and a bit more downforce was needed.”
Tweaks were made throughout the afternoon and by the end of the session, drivers reported that the cars ran similar to the way they did in Texas, with the ability to run flat out for a few laps before the tires and grip started to fall off.
Phillips and the technical team will also get feedback from another test scheduled for September 6 that will set the aero specs for the race. “We’ll be able to go into the week of Fontana,” he explained. “Knowing what we’ll be able to run.”
According to Sato, the track surface could also provide a challenge. “It’s quite bumpy,” he claimed. “Through the corners and the four corners are different, which makes it very challenging.”
Seventeen cars are expected to test at the track on September 12 in advance of the race. Toni Montgomery
Nationwide Series: Will A Bad Bump Lead To A Dirty Championship Chase? Two weeks ago, following the best finish NASCAR has seen in any series this season, Brad Keselowski remarked that it was as much of a pleasure as it was to race Marcos Ambrose for the win at Watkins Glen because he understood how to bump and rub without getting irate and ending someone’s day. The two drivers traded paint without getting nasty with each other, scored top-5 results and put on a hell of a show.
Whether or not Nationwide leaders Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be capable of doing so following the conclusion of Friday’s race at Bristol remains to be seen. On the final restart of the event, Stenhouse pulled a bump-and-run move just like so many before it that have made the bullring a fan favorite for decades. Neither driver wrecked, both drivers scored top-5 results, and there was some excitement to accompany the otherwise ho-hum conclusion of Joey Logano winning another Nationwide race. But it didn’t end with high fives and general exuberance for a good show.
Instead, Stenhouse went directly from exiting his car to try and clear his name, even before Sadler managed to get out of his own machine. And though Sadler remained calm and stone-faced throughout Stenhouse’s explanation, he concluded his own post-race interview by noting that the door was now open for any type of racing for the championship, from here on out now that he had been supposedly wronged on the track.
Will Stenhouse’s soliloquy make a difference once Sadler has time to think about it? On one hand, it’s a sign that he has apparently learned a lesson to get ahead of these situations… an on-track shoving match with Scott Speed cost him a shot at the 2008 ARCA championship in Toledo. That there is a situation though, is disappointing. A bump-and-run shouldn’t cause this much bad blood, at least not yet. Though hey… it also may make Richmond that much more interesting. Bryan Davis Keith
Camping World Truck Series: Peters Pulls Ahead… So Who Will Step Up? Following a runner-up finish at Daytona in February, Timothy Peters came out of the season-opening wild card in the runner-up spot and spent just two races working his way to the top of the standings. But despite dropping to second for a few weeks, he’s once again led the points for six straight races and is quickly making a case for why he’ll be the next champion. With 13 events in the books in a slim 22-race season, the driver of the No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota has just one finish outside the top 15 — a 22nd at Pocono where he finished ten laps down after spinning and damaging the nose of his machine. Combine that performance thus far with two victories, including last Wednesday when he stomped the field, leading all 204 laps en route to Bristol domination and you’ve got a driver primed and ready to celebrate at the banquet in early December.
But in order for Peters to take home the big trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he’ll have to go through early season favorite James Buescher. The driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet has set himself apart from his teammates with three wins (Kansas, Kentucky, Chicago) and nine top 10s in 13 starts. And although he actually set a better pace at the beginning of the 2011 season, scoring 12 top-10 results in his first 13 races (minus Phoenix, where he failed to qualify), the driver of the No. 30 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet and his team have shown a better ability to deal with adversity this year.
The bottom line is that with nine races left to crown the champion, the Truck Series is setting up for an intense battle for the championship, and although there are several drivers within striking distance of the lead, it’ll likely come down to Peters and Buescher barring a string of several bad races for the pair. Beth Lunkenheimer
Short Tracks: The Dog Days Of Summer Mean… Celebrity Appearances The Camping World Truck series has lost three races off of their already slim schedule this year, but that has allowed several of the drivers from that division to make some appearances at local short tracks. And they’re not alone. This past weekend, NNS regular Austin Dillon was set to make two starts with the World of Outlaws, his first since 2010 at Charlotte. Unfortunately, the Saturday night race at Winchester Speedway in Virginia was rained out, so Sunday’s event at Selinsgrove is the only start he made this weekend. Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Erik Darnell are among the drivers in the Nationwide Series who have also made stops at local short tracks for races this year.
It isn’t just NASCAR’s top minor leaguers who make spot appearances, though. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Tony Stewart have all taken time out from their busy schedule to run events this season. The appearances not only help the track promoters sell tickets, they also give fans an opportunity to see their favorite drivers in an environment that is far less structured and more relaxed than a NASCAR weekend.
Local short tracks are also the place to see former full-timers from NASCAR’s past (and present) still competing on a frequent basis. Ken Schrader’s race schedule is legendary. He routinely competes in 100 races per year at local tracks all across the country. Red Farmer, who is reported to be 80 years old, still runs a dirt late model, and wins, on local tracks. Buzzie Reutimann, Sterling Marlin, and Geoff Bodine are among other former NASCAR drivers who compete at different tracks across the country.
Local short tracks are great places to see the future stars of auto racing on a weekly basis. However, if you pay attention and keep your eyes and ears open, you just might be able to see one of your favorite drivers run at a track right down the street from you. Not only will the ticket be much cheaper than a NASCAR event, but you just might get the chance to talk to them one-on-one during an autograph session or between races. Mike Neff
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