The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: NASCAR Chase Down to Two?, Bernard Gets the Axe, & Big-Time Buescher by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday October 29, 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 moving forward. Let our experts help you get up to speed for the coming week no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!

Sprint Cup: Title Race Down To Two? Headed into Martinsville, the question on everyone’s mind was whether either Clint Bowyer or Kasey Kahne could close in on the top three title contenders: point leader Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin. That question was answered with a fairly convincing “no” on Sunday. Not only did Bowyer and Kahne fail to gain any significant ground on the top spot, but Hamlin saw his Chase hopes plummet when an electrical malfunction cost him 34 laps to Johnson, who won the race from the pole. Hamlin is now fifth on the charts, a dismal 46 markers behind new leader Johnson. That’s almost an entire race’s worth. Bowyer and Kahne, now third and fourth, 26 and 29 points behind, respectively, are still alive, but on life support. What would they have to do to on the track win the title in three races? Bowyer would have to beat Johnson by nine positions each race (that’s barring bonus points for either of them, and would change very slightly if either were to lead a lap or Bowyer were to win and lead the most laps in an event), while, at the same time, beating Keselowski by eight spots just to tie him and maintain his lead over Kahne. Again, without bonus points in the equation, Kahne would have to outrace Johnson by 10 positions, Keselowski by ten as well, and Bowyer by more than one, because while while one point per race would tie Bowyer, Bowyer would prevail on wins.

Clint Bowyer failed to gain any significant ground in the points this weekend, leading many to wonder if he is now out of contention.

What that means, essentially, is that although Bowyer and Kahne could do everything right in the next three weeks, the championship is out of their hands, because the finishes required for Johnson and Keselowski for it to happen would be completely uncharacteristic of either one. Although Johnson and Keselowski only have each other to race, Kahne and Bowyer have them both, as well as one another. So, although the point margin looks slim, the number of things that would have to happen stack the odds heavily against someone other than Johnson or Keselowski winning the Cup this year. Amy Henderson

IndyCar: Bernard Gets The Axe INDYCAR announced that CEO Randy Bernard has stepped down from his position, effective immediately. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation President and CEO Jeff Belskus has been named interim CEO of INDYCAR.

“We are very grateful for the tireless effort that Randy has invested into learning, understanding, and working to grow the IndyCar Series over the last three racing seasons,” Belskus said. “As both Randy and our organization have reflected on the past season, and as we look toward the opportunities ahead and how to best take advantage of them, we agreed that the timing was right to pursue separate paths.”

Belskus said there is no specific timetable to announce a permanent replacement, but that it will be addressed as part of a current strategic planning process. Bernard will stay on as a consultant to the sport.

“I have developed a passion for the sport of INDYCAR, and I look forward to being involved at a strategic level as an advisor to the INDYCAR leadership,” Bernard said. “As INDYCAR fans, we need to unify behind the sport in order to move it to the next level, and I look forward to providing input and being part of that unified voice along the way.”

This announcement comes just one week after Tony George resigned his position on the board of Hulman & Company, citing conflict of interest due to his involvement with a group that was attempting to purchase INDYCAR. Belskus reitrerated that INDYCAR is not for sale but one can’t help but wonder at the timing of these two developments.

Given that fan support for a Tony George-controlled INDYCAR is lacking, perhaps keeping Bernard around in an “advisory” capacity is an attempt to force feed George’s regime to an unwilling fan base. Toni Montgomery

Camping World Truck Series: Can Anyone Catch James Buescher? In a championship battle that has been tight for much of the season, James Buescher left Martinsville with a 21-point lead over Ty Dillon. With just three races remaining, time is running for anyone hoping to have a shot at the title. But it wasn’t easy for Buescher to leave the 0.533-mile oval with the points lead.

Though he started tenth, the driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet struggled with the handling and dropped through the field, eventually falling one lap down to then-leader Kevin Harvick. But a well-timed caution gave Buescher the lucky dog and allowed his crew to make some much needed adjustments. From there, he managed to pick off positions one by one while working his way to a solid sixth-place finish in a race where Dillon struggled tremendously for his 28th-place result, six laps down.

“The motto of our season has been ‘never give up,’ and today we proved why we should never give up. We stayed calm and never gave up,” Buescher said. “At the point in the race that we were a lap down, I did have all the faith in the world that we could come back for a top-10, I thought a top-five would be a long shot, but we were battling for it up until a couple laps to go.”

But with all of that said, the driver of the No. 31 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet may still have his work cut out for him. Although he has an impressive four wins, and 14 top-10s in 19 races, the remaining tracks on the schedule aren’t ones that he’s excelled at in the past. In fact, his best average finish of 12.9 at Texas Motor Speedway leads the trio of facilities left to run. Plus, he has yet to find a result inside the top-10 at Phoenix or Homestead. However, Turner Motorsports has shown significant improvement in their mile-and-a-half program, so that could all change beginning with next weekend. One thing is for sure, though: this championship battle is not one to miss. Beth Lunkenheimer

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