The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Toyota's Dominance Turned Disaster, Gauging Larson's Psyche And Solid Starts by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday February 25, 2013

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Did you miss an event during this busy week in racing? How about a late-night press release, an important sponsorship rumor, 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 going forward for 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 edition of Pace Laps!

Martin Truex, Jr. will be looking for redemption Sunday at Phoenix after a promising bid to win the Daytona 500 went south with a souring engine.

Sprint Cup: Camrys Go Kaput At Daytona Heading to 50 laps to go in Sunday’s Daytona 500, it wasn’t a question of if Toyota would be the first foreign manufacturer to win the race but who would have the honor of holding the trophy. At one point, the top six drivers were all running Camrys, pulling away from the pack in a rare display of one make’s dominance over the field. Would Matt Kenseth stay on cruise control, dominating the race to the tune of 86 laps led and win the 500 back-to-back? Or how about Kyle Busch, recovering from a jack problem on pit road to run solidly inside the top 5? Could the third man in the Joe Gibbs Racing trio, Denny Hamlin, snooker them both? Or would one of the three Michael Waltrip Racing entries, driven by Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, or Martin Truex, Jr. take control?

Turns out the answer was none of the above. By the checkered flag, only Martin wove his way inside the top 5 while the rest were scratching their heads in dismay. The biggest culprit, one that was beyond coincidental was horsepower: Kenseth, Busch, and Truex all had engines go south. Add in problems from two small-time teams, Michael Waltrip (driving Swan Racing’s No. 26) plus Joe Nemechek’s self-owned No. 87 and that’s roughly half of Toyota’s 11-car contingent sputtering to the finish.

What went wrong? Hard to say at this point, an answer which clearly didn’t satisfy Kyle Busch. “Pieces that are supposed to go together didn’t stay together,” he said. “Sounds a whole lot like 2012 already.” And that’s not the only driver lashing out; Denny Hamlin unleashed a tirade against Joey Logano on Twitter after he felt the former teammate cost him a shot at winning the race.

Bottom line, there’s a lot of bruised egos and mechanical concerns surrounding a camp that, 350 miles into the Daytona 500 looked to be on the verge of a romp. How they handle that adversity, at Phoenix and Las Vegas the next two weeks will determine whether that short-term disappointment turns into a long-term disaster. Tom Bowles

Nationwide: Unpredictable Weekend for Top Prospect Larson A top young talent lauded by many coming into Speedweeks, Kyle Larson has had an up-and-down week at Daytona. On Monday, he scored a victory in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series race as part of the Battle at the Beach on Daytona’s backstretch. But the win didn’t come without controversy; Larson was on C.E. Falk’s tail the entire last few laps, finally wrecking him in the final corner to take the trophy in a move that left Falk furious. After ho-hum results in the final two Battle at the Beach races, Larson turned his focus to Saturday’s Nationwide Series debut. But after a strong run, he emerged without the entire front of his car on the final lap in a horrific incident no one will soon forget. His engine embedded in the catchfence, dis-attaching itself from the No. 32 Chevy and one of his tires wound up many rows up in the stands. Dozens were injured, two critically.

One has to wonder what this week will do to Larson’s psyche. Sure, he did get a win , and came out of his Nationwide wreck unscathed. However, the rookie was criticized heavily by many for his move in the Whelen race, moving his image away from “innocent, wide-eyed youngster” status. The hits kept coming Saturday. Though the wreck and his subsequent launching into the fence was by no means his fault, knowing that the crash caused injury, no matter how much of a freak accident it may have been, could affect Larson’s confidence. Normally fairly active on Twitter, the Turner Scott Motorsports driver hasn’t tweeted since before the Saturday race.

How Larson carries himself at Phoenix will be interesting to see. Very few expected him to light the series on fire his first few races in, but we could see him more cautious than usual, rather than brash and mixing it up with the big boys. Larson is an unmistakable talent, but this week certainly was no picnic for him. Kevin Rutherford

Camping World Trucks: Sauter Hits The Ground Running For A Change Johnny Sauter has run for the Truck championship the last four years plus. In at least one of them, he would have won the big trophy with something as simple as a top-10 finish at Daytona. Sauter got spun out of the lead that year, dropped to 17th in the running order in a bad-luck ending that had him starting the season trying to catch up. Here’s the crazy part about that performance; it was his best career finish at Daytona in a Truck before Friday night.

That’s when Sauter threw a monkey off his back, turning chance number five at Daytona into Victory Lane after getting wrecked in all his other appearances. Now, instead of starting the season some 20 points behind the leader, sometimes more (if you convert out the old system) this title contender enters the next race at Martinsville on top of the heap. Yes, it’s still extremely early, and the six weeks between events one and two typically serve to blunt momentum in the Truck Series. But in a 22-race schedule, for the top contenders dodging bullets at Daytona and Talladega can be incredibly important. Sauter, for once has done so while watching reigning champ James Buescher (12th) and last year’s runner-up Timothy Peters (27th) dig some holes.

Does that guarantee Sauter’s back as a force to be reckoned with, one season after a ninth-place finish in the final standings? Will it give him an extra boost over other contenders Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Ty Dillon, both of whom were right on his heels with strong Daytona performances? It’s going to be four or five races before we know the truth. But right now, after letting the pack get ahead of him every single year Sauter has got to be sitting at home satisfied that he’s the one getting chased for a change.

“We’re going to Martinsville next, which is a great racetrack for us,” he said Friday night. “We’ve won there. So I’m digging right now where we’re sitting, that’s for sure.” Tom Bowles

Short Tracks: The Sun Sets On The Sunshine State’s Sizzling Start Speedweeks comes to an end officially with the checkered flag that concludes the Daytona 500. For the rest of the racetracks in Florida that have been hosting races for the last two weeks, their events finished on Saturday night. The UNOH DIRTCar Nationals ended at Volusia Speedway Park, with Brett Hearn and Darrell Lanigan securing wins in the final features. At Bubba Raceway Park, the final checkers of the Winternationals was handed to Tracy Hines. The other Winternationals at East Bay ended with Shane Lewis and Danny Holtgraver scoring wins, while the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing also wrapped up at New Smyrna Speedway as Chuck Hossfeld, Brad May, Travis Cope and Jessica Murphy took trophies home.

Daytona is often a vacation destination for race fans. It starts off the NASCAR season and Speedweeks culminates in the biggest race of the sport. Along with those supporters, there are literally hundreds of racers who travel to Florida and can spend nearly four weeks on a racing pilgrimage around the state. From Tampa to Ocala and Daytona to Lake City, the drivers and their teams get to compete against rivals they don’t normally face on tracks that they only visit once a year. For some of them, it is a rare chance to compete against some of the drivers they only hear of during the regular racing season. Finally, they get to take a shot at winning a race with a top prize they can only dream about at their local track.

The racing season has officially been underway for a few weeks now, but as all of the local teams head home from Florida, it is time for their local tracks to get cranked up, too. Very glad that local racing is going to be off and running full speed in the next couple of weeks. Mike Neff

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02/25/2013 12:48 PM

Boy it sure is a good thing JGR closed their engine shops and outsourced it all to TRD. They’ve had many more mechanical issues since they did that last year. Saving a buck huh? didnt quite pan out…

02/25/2013 02:57 PM

Best drive of the day goes to Brad K. He got his damaged car in the top five.
The Toyotas only dominated when it didn’t count.Same goes for Jeff G. who was woeful after losing the lead pack

02/25/2013 08:42 PM

The only way Toyota will beat Chev is if they pay Brian more than Hendrick does. They should follow the rules just like Hendrick does.

Steve K
02/25/2013 11:58 PM

I felt like I was reading college football recruiting news when you refer to Larson not tweeting. Why are you wasting time reading into that. Too funny. He was more than ho-hum in the other two short track races at Daytona. He was also up front the last half of the Nationwide race. The kid seems to be fearless. It hardly seemed phased after going airborne in Daytona. I would bet Ganassi has a third cup car next year or Montoya may be Memo Rojas’s teammate next year.


Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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