Frontstretch Staff · Monday December 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 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: Banquet Wrap-Up… And Looking Ahead To What’s To Come The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season officially came to an end Friday in Las Vegas as the top drivers in the series were honored at the NMPA Myers Brothers Luncheon, the victory lap on the Vegas strip, the After the Lap show, and finally, the main event, the Friday night banquet to honor the top ten drivers. Cup champion Brad Keselowski spoke eloquently and completely without notes, calling for unity within the sport, adding that he would like to be a leader in the garage.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won his tenth consecutive Most Popular Driver award, the only year-end honor voted on by race fans. Jeff Gordon finished second in that vote, but was voted by NMPA members as the recipient of the prestigious Myers Brothers Award for his contributions to stock car racing through his work for childhood cancer victims. Drivers traded barbs and dares during an After the Lap show in which they discussed the merits of Jimmie Johnson’s bicycle shorts, Tony Stewart’s exercise program, and Denny Hamlin’s dance moves. Chevrolet also unveiled its 2013 race car in Vegas, the last of the new models to be rolled out.
But the feeling of finality was diminished this year because several loose ends remain untied as the series heads into its winter break. Richard Childress finally spoke out about the imminent departure of Kevin Harvick, whow ill leave the only team he’s ever driven for in 2014 to drive a Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, possibly taking sponsorship from Budweiser and Jimmy John’s with him. “People are not going to be buying a lot of 29 souvenirs for sure. It’ll make a difficult year. It’s there. We’ve got to live with it and move forward. Again, the timing wasn’t great on the leak. But we’re going to go race,” Childress said. How Harvick’s status will affect the No. 29 team and RCR as a whole remains to be seen.
Also unresolved is the ongoing feud between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon. Several references were made to the rivalry, which culminated in Phoenix when Bowyer turned Gordon into the wall and Gordon retaliated, ending Bowyer’s championship hopes. It had begin months earlier, when Gordon was leading with ten laps to go at Martinsville, gunning for the 200th win for car owner Rick Hendrick, an honor that Gordon desperately wanted to bring to Hendrick, when Bowyer got into the No. 24 and ended his chance for the win. The 200th Hendrick victory ultimately went to Jimmie Johnson. Gordon said that the week in Las Vegas was awkward, noting that the usually affable Bowyer refused to make eye contact with him. Bowyer didn’t rule out further retaliation, possibly during the Chase if Gordon is in title contention.
Finally, five-time champion Johnson called for track changes as part of the solution to fan complaints of boring races with little passing. ““We all want great side-by-side racing,” Johnson tld USA Today on Thursday. “I don’t have the answer, and I’m like everyone else wondering what it is, but I do know the teams have worked so hard over the off-season the last four or five years, and we haven’t seen the impact we wanted, and we need to look elsewhere. As tracks need to resurface, they need to consider more than just (that) but let’s do some redesigns and start looking at the racetracks and taking those opportunities to create more racing.” Whether Johnson’s words will be enough to create a change in surfaces or venues remains to be seen, but it does call into question the schedule, which is heavy with tracks of similar length and shape and which has been a topic of fan negativity on a regular basis. Amy Henderson
Nationwide Series: Big Names In Need Of Big Money As the curtain closes on 2012, many of the sport’s veteran drivers hope that season doesn’t become the final act in what were once very promising careers. Cole Whitt, from JR Motorsports leads a list of big names needing sponsorship to continue their presence in the sport. Whitt, who had four top-5 finishes this season driving the No. 88 Chevy has been pushed aside in favor of Cup Series veteran Regan Smith. While Smith will drive the No. 5, a new full-time entry the No. 88 will turn part-time with owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. taking a turn at the wheel. Whitt, who was to be moved into the team’s No. 7 Chevy, replacing Danica Patrick has to find a backer to replace outgoing sponsor GoDaddy (following Patrick up to the Cup Series).
Whitt, who was looked at as a potential 2012 Cup rookie not too long ago isn’t the only Nationwide driver in need of monetary ammo. Veteran Kenny Wallace also sits with an uncertain future, while brother Mike has always been underfunded with JD Motorsports. Rumors persist Justin Allgaier may need more backing to continue with Turner Motorsports despite a sixth-place finish in the final standings; James Buescher, the reigning Truck Series champ is looking to move up with his father-in-law’s organization.
Considering the current state of the NASCAR economy, along with a second-tier series that’s preconditioned to more offseason transition it’ll be near impossible for every name on the list to find funding that’ll put them in a car come Daytona. Which full-time drivers end up holding a pink slip, come February will tell us plenty about the health of a series losing one of its most marketable stars (Patrick) along with two-time defending champ Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Tom Bowles
Truck Series: Eldora Easy Sell For Small Schedule In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s some big news: the Trucks are going dirt racing in 2013. Eldora’s addition to the schedule, rumored for months will happen in late July as Tony Stewart’s speedway becomes host to the first major NASCAR series to race off asphalt since 1970. The rules will be different (only 30 trucks max), the entry list enormous and the crowd an instant sellout for what’s sure to be one of stock car racing’s biggest spectacles within the last 10-15 years.
The problem, though with the Truck Series schedule is how little change there was besides that. With Kentucky and Atlanta off the schedule, cutting down on the 1.5-mile ovals the only other race given to replace them was a road course event at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. The Ontario-based facility, owned in part by NASCAR right-turn veteran Ron Fellows will continue a major presence for the sport in Canada (Montreal is no longer on the schedule for the Nationwide Series). But the audience level for the race is unknown, despite Fellows’ enthusiasm and the Trucks will now be forced to buy and use road course chassis for all of one event out of 22.
Note that final number in closing: 22. Last season, one of the biggest problems the Truck Series had was in building momentum in between events — the schedule had been shortened from its usual total of 24-25. NASCAR did nothing to address that with its latest tweaks, keeping the number the same while leaving a full six weeks between the series’ Daytona debut and the second event at Martinsville on April 6th. With the final five events run consecutively, from mid-October on there’s a number of gaps which make it difficult for the series to sustain its momentum. NASCAR wants to try heat races in this series; it’s a good suggestion. But could they start by doing the math in between off weeks? Tom Bowles
Short Tracks: Local Stars Have Coming Out Party At Higher Levels The Snowball Derby brings down the unofficial checkered flag on the Short Track racing season for 2013. With Erik Jones improbable win in the 45rh annual event, the 16 year-old wrote his name in the recordbooks next to some of racing’s elite and turned our focus toward the 2013 racing schedule. With that focus comes a stark reality about the fleetingness of life. Watermelon Capital Speedway holds Racefest every Spring as racing ramps back up for the new year. Unfortunately, barring some unanticipated developments, that will be the only event to take place at the Cordele, Georgia track in 2013. Marvin Ragan, the owner/promoter of the track is facing some serious health issues and has issued a statement on the track’s web site explaining the dire situation to fans and racers alike.
A message from Track Owner/Promoter Marvin Ragan:
I need to let everyone know that I do not anticipate being able to open WCS in 2013. I have had some health issues recently and just found out yesterday that my prognosis is not good. I have AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) which is one of the most aggressive types, and in my current stage, I have a life expectancy of less than 2 months. This disease is not contagious. The doctors say I can probably extend my life cycle by taking chemotherapy and I plan to start the chemo in the next few days but must be pretty much quarantined during this time so unless a miracle happens, I am not in any position to make any plans for 2013.
I will make plans for Speedfest 2013 to go on regardless of my outcome but anything past this is speculation and I wanted to let everyone know as early as possible so they can plan their racing plans accordingly. I don’t know the future of the track but right now anticipate putting it on the market and hopefully someone will buy it and keep it going. Personal financing will be considered for anyone with good credit.
Don’t feel sorry for me as I’m doing OK right now, I’m in good spirits, and plan to fight this as hard as I can and hopefully be around for a long time. I’ll keep everyone posted if there are any changes. – Marvin
The Short Track community is a tight-knit group. News like this affects everyone in the sport and there will certainly be an outpouring of support for Marvin and his family. Hopefully the good Lord will reach down and take this burden away from Marvin to allow him many more years of racing promotion and track ownership. In the meantime let’s hope someone is able to step up and fill in for Marvin so that the racers and fans who call Watermelon Capital home will have the opportunity to pursue their passion at their home track for the entire 2013 season.
For those of you who believe, an extra moment of prayer to lift up Marvin and his family would certainly be appreciated. We’re thinking about you Marvin. Mike Neff
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