The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Inside A Hot Streak, Crowd Concerns And Dancing An Offseason Away by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday September 24, 2012

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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’s The Key To Hamlin Getting Hot? Denny Hamlin has been dominant in recent weeks, the most recent driver on a hot streak. Earlier in the season, Greg Biffle had one. So did Jimmie Johnson. Things change fast in NASCAR, and Hamlin’s hot streak, as well as some of the runs before, shows that even in an era where there isn’t much freedom to work on the racecars, the team who can adapt to the current rules the quickest has a distinct advantage. Back in August, Brad Keselowski mentioned that Johnson’s car, and the other Hendrick Motorsports entries had rear end geometry that looked funny. The Hendrick cars, as well as those from a few other teams, looked a bit sideways on the straightaways, the product of a rear end designed to turn more easily in the corners. NASCAR said that the numerous teams who had figured out how to make the rear end travel better by having a trailing arm that traveled with the car were all within the rules. And then the sanctioning body changed the rule that the teams were working within.

That rule change and the weeks just before it was implemented, mark the start of Hamlin’s dominance. But that’s not necessarily because they weren’t experimenting with geometry. Has the No. 11 team been the first to find another way to make that rear end turn now that the travel of the trailing arm has been limited to ¼ inch? If Hamlin’s dominance this week was any indication, they just may have, even before the rule went into effect. The No. 11 looked a bit sideways on the straightaways, adding further evidence that Darian Grubb and Co. have already found a fix to the rule change. And in the tight competition of today’s NASCAR, that edge might just be the deciding factor in the title race. In a time when there is little room to innovate, the team that finds that place and finds it first becomes a threat, especially when they find it just in time for the Chase. Amy Henderson

IndyCar Series: Edmonton Date Erased For 2013… But Dancing Alive And Well INDYCAR officials have not yet announced the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, but they have revealed that Edmonton will not be on it.

“We thank the city of Edmonton and all the fans for their support of the event over the last eight years,” said Randy Bernard, CEO, INDYCAR. “This has not affected our plans for a minimum of 19 races next season, and we remain optimistic that we will return to having two races in Canada as early as 2014. We anticipate announcing our full 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule the first week of October.”

Until the release of the schedule, fans looking for an offseason IndyCar fix can enjoy Penske Racing driver Helio Castroneves on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars” which premieres Monday, September 24, at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Castroneves, who won the competition in 2007 with partner Julianne Hough, will dance this time around with professional dancer Chelsea Hightower. The two have already been practicing for the premiere, where they will start off with the Foxtrot.

“(The performance) will bring out his personality, which is one of his biggest strengths,” Hightower says. “We have a lot of technical things as well. We’re really going to hammer out that technique because this season it’s not only going to be about performance but about the overall package because we have so many great dancers. We’re all going to need to deliver with technique, with performance, with choreography and chemistry. We’ve got chemistry nailed already.”

Viewers can vote for their favorite pairs throughout the season online, by text message, or by telephone so Castroneves is hoping IndyCar fans will vote every week and often.

“Viewer voting was a huge part of our success last time,” said Castroneves. “Certainly we are going to need a lot of votes because it’s going to be an amazing season.”

Castroneves shared some of his moves with teammate Will Power at Fontana. Toni Montgomery

Nationwide Series: Ghost Crowds Causing Major Concern As important as it was in terms of shaking up the points, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.s brush with the wall at Kentucky Saturday did little more than to reset the points race with six events to go. Before the damage, the No. 6 car was right up front with RCR’s Nos. 2 and 3 machines. All three contending teams were fast off the truck, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue through the rest of the fall.

The larger story is even bigger picture than that of a razor-tight title fight that now suddenly has a third player again. That is, when do concerns over the viability of these series become critical? Two examples worth looking at. One, the crowd. Kentucky Speedway got a Cup race because it demonstrated an ability to draw 60,000+ fans for Nationwide Series standalone races. Nobody could have expected that to continue once the track went to two race weekends, but Saturday’s crowd was beyond distressing…and nowhere near as large as the 23,000 estimate published with NASCAR’s race results. Regardless of how tight the points battle, the crowd on hand was about what one would expect for a Division II football game.

The second is the continued proliferation of start-and-park teams. There’s the usual suspects of teams that have been doing it all season long, be it to stay in the garage or support a full-time team, but there’s now teams that started the year off racing parking. There’s teams locked into the top 30 that don’t feel pressure to maintain their position parking to preserve standing for 2011. There’s over 25% of the field not making through the first 100 miles of an event.

Over a quarter of the field can’t compete for a crowd that doesn’t seem to bother showing up. There’s a state of the union address that race fans must love hearing. Bryan Davis Keith

Camping World Truck Series: Two Drivers Take Center Stage In Title Race Going into the Friday night’s Kentucky 201, the top 3 in the standings found themselves separated by just 11 points, but leaving the mile-and-a-half oval, third-place Timothy Peters now finds himself 26 markers behind the leaders. While the entire top 5 still has a shot at the championship, points leader Ty Dillon and Kentucky race winner James Buescher have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Currently, Dillon holds the top spot by a slim four-point margin.

If you take a look at their numbers 16 races in, you can clearly see why Buescher and Dillon have seaparted themselves from the rest. While the driver of the No. 30 Chevrolet does have the edge four victories this year, he’s suffered five finishes outside the top 10 compared to Dillon’s two. And despite that disparity, Buescher manages to hang close to Dillon using bonus points—he’s led in 10 races compared to Dillon’s six—and those victories. With all of that said, there’s no reason to count anyone in the top 4, maybe even top 5 if the breaks fall the right way, but barring a major disaster for the No. 3 and No. 30 teams, the 2012 champion will be one of those two drivers. Just don’t ask which one since that can change from week to week. Beth Lunkenheimer

Short Tracks: Larson Loving Life On Bullrings, Increasing Stock As Future Prospect Kyle Larson has been the subject of some of our short track columns on Frontstretch before, for good reason. This weekend he showed, once again, why he is a future star of not only stock car racing but auto racing in general. Larson scored the win in a thrilling finish at New Hampshire over Corey LaJoie in the K&N East race Saturday during the day. He then hustled to Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio for the USAC portion of the Four Crown on Saturday night.

In the first race of the night he started ninth in the Midget feature and carved his way through the field to score the win. He then ran the Sprint race and was poised for another strong finish before he had a wild flip to end his race. Set to start on the pole for the Silver Crown race Larson was forced to sit it out because he was at the hospital being checked out after the Sprint flip.

Two wins in two different states on two different racing surfaces in two completely different style cars once again displays the overall versatility of Larson as a wheel man. Much like Tony Stewart, Larson has cut his racing teeth on dirt but has quickly adapted to any kind of car on any surface. He won his very first full fendered stock car race at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida in February and hasn’t looked back. He’s run over 100 races this season and has notched wins in Mini Outlaws, Midgets, Sprints, 360 Sprints, 410 Sprints, Super Late Models and K&N East cars. He drives for Rev Racing in the K&N Series as a member of NASCAR’s Driver for Diversity program and is also a development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. While he is 20 years old and looks like he is about 12, he drives whatever he gets in with the aplomb of a seasoned veteran and is going to be a fixture on the national scene for years to come. Mike Neff

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Michael in SoCal
09/24/2012 12:04 PM
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The gathering of strangers at Kentucky (much too small to call that a crowd) for the standalone races this weekend was pitifully weak. That crowd could’ve filled Irwindale, and the racing would’ve been great! HINT HINT Nascar!!!

And no, I’m not suggesting that a Cup race should be at Irwindale, but a standalone NNS or Truck race there could be something.

knuckles of white
09/24/2012 02:50 PM
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Indy car needs to race twice a year at INDY! Even if the second race of the year gets only half the people the 500 gets. the attendance will still be better than what I have seen at most of the other boring tracks they race at. Indy cars were designed to race at Indy! Nascar goes to Daytona twice a year and that works ok! Indy cars at INDY is intriguing. No so at most of the other tracks. INDY 2 times!

 

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