Pace Laps · Frontstretch Staff · Monday September 3, 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: 11 Drivers Locked Into Chase, but Things Still Up For Grabs Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 almost completely filled out the cast of characters for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. The “almost” is important here. There was a fear earlier in the season that the top-10, plus the two Wild Cards, would be set weeks in advance and there wouldn’t really be much to race for in Richmond other than positioning. However, that is not the case.
The top-9 drivers are officially locked into the top-10 and can redeem their victories for bonus points. The exceptions here are Martin Truex, Jr. and Kevin Harvick, who, despite dominating portions of Sunday’s race, are both still winless. Denny Hamlin’s fourth win of the season Sunday means that he has earned 12 bonus points and at least a share of the points lead at the beginning of the Chase in Joliet.
Tony Stewart has clinched a Wild Card spot, but he has struggled in recent weeks. Last night, Stewart started from the pole, but fell out of the top-15 before the first round of stops and was never a factor, finishing a lap down in 22nd. He ran worse than that during portions of the race. That performance follows up his 27th-place run at Bristol. Of course, that will be known more for the helmet toss than anything else, but it was still an unsatisfactory finish for the three-time champion. With four straight finishes outside of the top-15, Stewart is in trouble.
Even with all of Stewart’s problems on Sunday night, his margin over Kasey Kahne in 11th actually grew by two points to 18. This was due to Kahne having an equally bad night. However, Kahne clinched at least a Wild Card for the Chase since he’s the only driver outside of the top-10 in points that has more than one victory.
Of the remaining drivers fighting for the 12th and final spot, Kyle Busch holds a 12 point lead on Jeff Gordon (both drivers have one victory). Gordon has his work cut out for him since Busch is very good in Richmond. For Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman, and Joey Logano, the objective is simple for Saturday night: go out and win the race. If either one of the three can do that, they would be in, so long as the scenario of Stewart collapsing and Kyle Busch leapfrogging both Stewart and Kahne doesn’t occur. If that were to happen, they would have no way to qualify for the Chase since Stewart and Kahne would take the Wild Cards (Ambrose is closest to Kahne, but he’s 40 points behind him).
Carl Edwards is all but eliminated in 14th after his blown engine late on Sunday. As of now, it would take both Busch and Gordon having problems, Stewart to keep himself in the top-10, and a win for Edwards in Richmond, for him to be in any contention. _Phil Allaway
IndyCar Series: Championship Down To Two And so it will come down to the final race of the season to determine the IZOD IndyCar Series champion. After Ryan Hunter-Reay took the win and Will Power finished sixth in Baltimore, they head to the 500 miler at Auto Club Speedway with Power leading the points by 17 over Hunter-Reay. Helio Castroneves, at 52 points behind, and Scott Dixon, at 53, are technically still in the fight; but, realistically, it’s a two-car battle.
“We still have a shot,” said Hunter-Reay after the race. “We all want it bad enough, we can go get this thing. The team deserves it; it’s a matter of if we can put it together.”
Hunter-Reay has four oval track victories on his record including two this year at Milwaukee and Iowa. Power, not known for being strong on the ovals, has only one, in 2011 at Texas Motor Speedway. Power was hoping for a dominant day in Baltimore like he had when he scored the victory there last year, but a miscall on tire strategy when a brief rain shower hit during the race, left him scrambling for position while Hunter-Reay’s team made the right call and scored good track position.
“I knew it would be a day like this. It never comes easy,” said Power. “We just have to do our best and fight like a dog till the end. We’ll come out swinging.”
For Power, this is familiar territory. This is the third straight year he has been in the thick of the championship battle but he came up short in the last two. Toni Montgomery
Nationwide Series: The Ugly Side of Debris Cautions It’s a dark insinuation that my colleague Mike Neff pointed out in Saturday’s Nationwide Breakdown, but one that definitely deserves a close eye as the following weeks play out. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski exchanged some less than pleasant words following a post-race spat over the debris caution that cost Harvick the win…and Keselowski’s alleged role in causing it.
Keselowski’s 110% correct…throwing water bottles out the window is a standard practice and one that any number of drivers has been caught on camera doing. There’s an issue in itself that a debris caution could be triggered by something as insignificant on a 1.54 mile oval as a plastic bottle. But that’s NASCAR for you.
What Mike pointed out was that the way ESPN broadcasted Keselowski’s bottle toss, one would think he definitively brought out the yellow flag that drastically altered the 300-miler…and also allowed the No. 22 to best the No. 33 coming to the checkers. It was a made for TV drama move…that one could certainly argue was far more in line with a misleading edit job than a live race telecast.
I’ve made no secret of my contempt for ESPN and their efforts since returning to NASCAR broadcasting in 2008, so take it with whatever grain of salt one wishes. The fact remains, one could easily draw the conclusion from Saturday night’s race that the media covering the race was trying to start something. Playfully, ignorantly, or otherwise, even the appearance of such an impropriety is something to be scared of. Especially on race circuits that are so large that, by their nature, require camera coverage to ensure all events can be documented and officiated properly. Bryan Davis Keith
Camping World Truck Series: Can Dillon Make Series History? Ty Dillon notched his name as the sixth different first-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series Friday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and with that victory, he’s once again within nine points of leader Timothy Peters in the championship standings. With eight races left to determine who will take home the big trophy at Homestead in November, there has once again been chatter about whether Dillon can become the first Rookie of the Year to also win the series championship in the same season. But is it likely to happen?
It’s certainly possible, but like I said in “Tracking the Trucks”: http://www.frontstretch.com/blunkenheimer/41385/ over the weekend, I’m not quite sold on the consistency of how Dillon has been running thus far. He’s got some pretty tough competition in Peters and James Buescher, who sits second at six markers behind the leader. The pair has a combined five wins and ten top-10 finishes in 14 starts and will prove to be stiff competition for the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet. While I’m not completely ruling out he possibility that Dillon will make history this season, he’s just not quite ready for that next step, though I wouldn’t rule out following up his Rookie of the Year run with a solid 2013 season that results in a championship during his sophomore season. Beth Lunkenheimer
*Short Tracks: * Mike Neff
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