The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: NASCAR Can Build On This, Open-Wheel Offseason Antics And As The Busch Turns by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday January 14, 2013

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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: We Can Build On This! NASCAR Unlikely To Make Major Rules Changes After Test After the three-day Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR and the teams who participated found the 2013 cars successful enough that few, if any changes will be made to the superspeedway package before Speedweeks next month. The sixth generation racecar is designed to look more like its showroom counterpart, and because each manufacturer’s model is slightly different in the nose and tail areas, drivers found it harder to draft with ones of other makes. Sadly, too many of them found out the hard way, the result of experimentation gone wrong. An incident in drafting practice Friday sent several teams home early after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. attempted to push Marcos Ambrose’s Ford with his Chevrolet, triggering a ten-car crash. It’s a clear sign the new cars will certainly spell an end to the tandem drafting, a strategy that had many fans frustrated in recent restrictor plate races. But it also appears that at least some bump drafting is off the table as well.

On Thursday, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were the class of the field, with Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin topping the speed charts for the morning and afternoon sessions, respectively, with speeds of 192.797 and 195.712 miles per hour. NASCAR was reportedly happy with speeds that hovered around 195 on single-car runs and just under 200 MPH in the draft. Jeff Burton set the pace in Friday morning’s test in his Chevrolet, posting a speed of 194.805, while Trevor Bayne’s Ford was fastest in the afternoon drafting practice at a speed of 199.650 MPH. Only 21 of the original 34 teams stuck around for Saturday’s morning runs, with Matt Kenseth topping the charts in his Toyota with a fast lap of 194.062 MPH and Greg Biffle’s Ford the fastest car of 15 in the afternoon with a speed of 194.936.

One concern that was highlighted on Friday was the lack of some parts for the new car a month before the season begins. Many teams have only been issued one deck lid (this part is the only uniform one on all cars, along with the spoiler, and is issued by NASCAR). The lack of a second car led to Jimmie Johnson’s team foregoing drafting practice altogether and to several teams packing it up early after Friday’s crash. Johnson said Friday that Hendrick Motorsports only has four deck lids in total, leading to questions about whether teams would be fully supplied for the start of the season. NASCAR, however said that they planned to deliver 50 of the pieces each week and did not foresee a shortage of parts for any team.

The third and final open test scheduled for the offseason will take place this Thursday and Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Fans will be admitted to the grandstand free of charge to watch the teams run, a test which will turn the focus towards how these new chassis handle on intermediates. Amy Henderson

Jeff Burton, after a rough past two seasons turned some heads with a strong series of single-car runs in Daytona testing.

IndyCar Series: Offseason Updates And YouTube Excitement Missing IndyCar? Things are still happening behind the scenes. The latest driver domino fell into place this week as Takuma Sato signed to drive for A.J. Foyt in 2013. He is moving from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, put on the free agent market after Graham Rahal took that seat. Lotus is also officially departing from competition, although most people would argue that it was generous to ever say they were ever in the ballpark. Finally, for the time being, Jeff Belskus remains CEO of IndyCar following the infamous Randy Bernard ouster.

Of course, little news bites can only do so much to whet your appetite. If you find yourself missing your favorite on-track personalities over the offseason, IndyCar has an answer for that: “The Offseason.” Drivers Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball and Josef Newgarden have been appearing in a series of shorts about bored drivers running amuck at IndyCar headquarters during the offseason. The clips are only a minute or two long, but they are fun and by rolling them out one at a time, IndyCar has something fresh to engage fans and keep their biggest asset, their personalities, visible even while there is no on track action.

Haven’t seen them yet? Here’s a quick look:
Episode One puts drivers in control of the front door
Episode Two details a rookie and a magic piece of glass
Episode Three is about the complexities of the office copier
Episode Four finds our stars in an important meeting. Be sure to check them out… Toni Montgomery

Nationwide Series: Who’s Smiling Now? The last time we checked on Kurt Busch and Phoenix Racing, their divorce was leading to a sigh of relief from both sides. In public, the crew was saying all the right things but a smiley face, painted on the No. 51 car at Charlotte the race after Busch left for Furniture Row Racing said it all. It appeared, after a series of on-track incidents, combined with a one-race suspension that summer Busch had worn out his welcome with owner James Finch and company. Of course, it takes two to tango and it seemed the driver was also “done” trying to wrestle the most out of four-year-old, faulty equipment.

Or maybe not. Here we are, just a few short months later and the two are teaming up again, at least for three restrictor plate races in the Nationwide Series. Finch, with sponsorship in part from Guy Roofing will run Busch at Daytona, twice along with the Spring race at Talladega while targeting a limited schedule for his No. 1 car. It’s part of an ambitious series of moves by the Phoenix Racing program, rumored to fold in October only to put together a strong Cup roster of Regan Smith, AJ Allmendinger, and Austin Dillon to pair with Busch’s Nationwide effort. But will this program be able to tolerate a man they wanted to toss to the sidelines a few months back? One thing that’ll help, on the Nationwide side is for Busch it’s boom or bust; he’s not running for points and won’t need to sit there and run laps down, in 25th if the car isn’t handling right. The crew was at its best with Busch when they connected to his desire to win at all costs — that’ll be easier to do in this division. Still, don’t most couples bomb when they try and get back together post-divorce? They’ve made some really sappy romantic comedies about that… only problem is, Busch doesn’t do rom-coms. Temper tantrums, often in public are more his thing; I hope the crew doesn’t get rudely reminded of that. Tom Bowles

Truck Series: Will There Be A Full Field At Daytona? With just a little over a month remaining before the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, there are so many question marks about just how many full-time teams will be represented. At this point, right around 15 drivers have been confirmed for the 2013 season, and of those, only one will be running for the Rookie of the Year honors. Jeb Burton, who entered 2012 with hopes to run at the ROTY before sponsorship woes sidelined him, is currently the lone competitor on the list. Piloting the No. 4 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet, with backing from Arrowhead electronic cigarettes, the 20-year-old looks to continue the success he found in the early stages of 2012. He’ll join a solid trio of teammates in defending champion James Buescher, Miguel Paludo and Nelson Piquet, Jr., who hope to help the organization build off of their season of firsts.

But despite that feel-good story, alarm bells should be going off right now in Trucks. Since this series typically represents the jumping off point for those hopeful of making it to Sprint Cup, the lack of rookies confirmed for this season is a bit concerning, especially since NASCAR’s top-level rookie class has been virtually non-existent for a few years now. Of course, that could all change over the next month since most announcements hinge on piecing together enough sponsorship to cover the full 22-race schedule… but it’s getting late in the game. Whether there’s an influx of young talent or not, the Truck Series competitors who do have funding shouldn’t disappoint in 2013. I just hope there’s enough of them to make a full field come Daytona. Beth Lunkenheimer

Short Tracks: Chili Bowl Doesn’t Disappoint For the 27th year, the Tulsa Expo Center hosted the battle for the Golden Driller, also known as the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. 268 competitors took to the indoor dirt track to battle for the most prestigious midget racing title in the world. Amazingly, for the fourth consecutive year, Kevin Swindell took home the A-Main trophy. Swindell started on the outside of the front row, next to his father Sammy, and kept the field at bay for the majority of the race. Early in the event, the Swindells and Kyle Larson waged a heated battle for the top spot but, after Larson drove into the first turn too hard and stalled to bring out a caution, the track became completely rubbered in and the last half of the 55-lap feature was a train around the low groove. The top 5 included both Swindells, Brad Sweet, Tim McCreadie and Dave Darland.

It was a perfect bookend for Swindell, who started the five-day event by winning the Race of Champions on Tuesday night. Larson took the A-Main on that first qualifying night, while Sammy Swindell won the A-Main on Wednesday’s qualifying night. Kevin Swindell hit the track again on Thursday night and secured the A-Main victory. Then, on the final qualifying night, Chad Boat grabbed the final A-Main event before Saturday’s feature activities.

Who won the rest of the hardware? Winners during Saturday’s alphabet soup of features included…

K-Mains: Trey Starks and Danny Smith
J-Mains: Shane Cockrum and Kip Hughes
I-Mains: Riley Emmel and Bobby Michnowicz
H-Mains: Tyler Robbins and Blake Edwards
G-Mains: Travis Berryhill and Cody Ledger
F-Mains: Blake Hahn and C.J. Leary
E-Mains: Joey Moughan and Jesse Frazier
D-Mains: Josh Lakatos and A.J. Fike
C-Mains: Bobby East and Alex Shutte
B-Mains: Gary Taylor and Jerry Coons, Jr. Mike Neff

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Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
Tech Talk with Tony Gibson: Taking Stock Of Danica Patrick In Year Two
Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
Going By the Numbers: Top-10 NASCAR Variety Hard To Come By In…
Truckin’ Thursdays: Lessons Learned Just Two Races In
Fantasy Insider: Team Revelations For NASCAR’s Short Tracks

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john
01/15/2013 10:14 AM
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Congrats AJ, you hired the only driver who might wreck your car MORE than your grand son.

babydufus
01/15/2013 12:22 PM
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hehe john
wait…
might?
aren’t you being too kind?

Bill B
01/15/2013 12:47 PM
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I’ve heard that before… “we are happy with how everything works and expect no changes when we come back in February”.

Then they come back and get serious, speeds go up, and then changes are announced at the last minute.

Anybody want to bet that nothing changes?

Busch supporter 4 life
01/17/2013 04:43 PM
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Ahhh! The reporters just can’t stop talking smack about the Kurt Busch even during the off season. Thanks for making me want to support him even more. Just dusted off my Kurt Busch diecast #2 IROC car!

Andy D
01/18/2013 03:14 PM
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Why did we lose so much testing time at Charlotte this week? What about the 1/2 hour minute track drying that Brian France talked about?

I don’t know how steady the rain was on other days, but it wasn’t raining or snowing Friday morning. Why did it take all morning to dry that track off? This was a NASCAR sanctioned test, why weren’t the magical new NASCAR track dryers in place?

FS_Amy
01/18/2013 04:18 PM
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Andy, the problem was in the 3” or so of rain we’ve had in the last four days, not so much the dusting of snow. The dryers were on track from very early this morning until after noon. There was water seeping onto the track from ice that built up behind the SAFER Barrier and from underneath the pavement in Turns 1&2. They would get it dry and it would seep up again because everything is so saturated. Track crews worked for hours on getting the track safe for the teams.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
Did You Notice? ... NASCAR's Free Agent Lynchpin, Uncomfortable Reality And Gambling
Did You Notice? ... Toyota Trouble, Limping Into Action And Testing The Waters

If you want to know more about Tom Bowles or to view all of his articles here at the Frontstretch, check out his archive and bio page.

Want even more Tom Bowles? Check out Tom's archive at SI.com.