The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: A Passion To Prove, Sam's Town, And Surprise Winners by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday March 11, 2013

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Pace Laps: A Passion To Prove, Sam's Town, And Surprise Winners

Frontstretch Staff · Monday March 11, 2013

 

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!

Sprint Cup: Kenseth Clawing Forward In No Time Just three races removed from Roush Fenway Racing, after choosing a fresh start Matt Kenseth is making his presence felt with new owner Joe Gibbs. The driver winning on his birthday, just the third driver in Cup Series history to do so was special enough. But to cash in at Vegas, a place his former employer has dominated – Roush had captured seven of 15 Cup races here entering Sunday – made him that much more emotional. Everything, from screaming at his spotter during the final laps to thanking the Lord post-race felt out of character for the usually even-keeled, deadpan humor type from Wisconsin we’ve come to know. But it’s clear that, whether it’s disrespect he felt at RFR or simply nervousness about such a major career decision Kenseth has felt the need for instant success.

“I felt a lot of pressure that I put on myself to come in here and perform,” he said. “My goal was to win and to win early. You don’t want to disappoint people.”

Clearly, Kenseth has done anything but that, tied for seventh in the standings despite a DNF in this year’s Daytona 500. In that one, he had the fastest car, putting forth a dominant performance before being sidelined by engine woes. Leading the circuit with 128 laps led, Kenseth has proven already the versatility required to be a champion. Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, above him have better consistency; but overall, through the first three races it appears JGR, through Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin have better overall speed. Will the two titans at the top have to make room for Kenseth and his crew?

Early accounts point to a resounding “yes.” Kenseth has gotten off to this type of start before, winning the first two races of the season back in ’09 but what we saw Sunday was a type of resolve that won’t lend itself to a summer slowdown. Ladies and gentlemen, get used to the No. 20 running up front, consistently once again throughout 2013. Tom Bowles

Nationwide: Vegas Is Sam’s Town, Indeed… A 36-race losing streak might pale in comparison to, say, Carl Edwards’s 70-race run snapped at Phoenix, but for Sam Hornish Jr., a win in the NASCAR Nationwide Series couldn’t come soon enough. Despite top equipment and a fourth-place finish in 2012 points, Hornish went without a win after his victory at Phoenix in late 2011, but the dry spell was snapped at Las Vegas in the Sam’s Town 300.

Hornish still may not be a favorite for the series title over the formidable lineup at Joe Gibbs Racing, but he takes a 19-point advantage into Bristol this weekend. Sure, that track can be unpredictable and the Penske driver could lose all of his lead and then some to pursuers Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler, but that big a lead is still that big a lead, and provides the Ohioan with a nice cushion. Last year he was a dark horse. This year, consider him a front runner. Kevin Rutherford

ARCA: Enfinger Gets His Chance To Shine Sometimes, good guys do finish first. Grant Enfinger has been a mainstay on the ARCA circuit for several years, trying in vain since ’09 to win a series event. In the meantime, he’s won in just about every other car he’s ever driven but bad luck has caused potential ARCA victories to elude him… until this weekend. Mobile International Speedway is Enfinger’s home track, for all intents and purposes and the perfect place for the veteran to “cash in.” When he rolled into Victory Lane, it was one of the biggest cheers heard in a long time at an ARCA race. The only louder cheer on Saturday was when Enfinger donned an Alabama Crimson Tide baseball cap during the victory celebration.

15-year-old Kyle Benjamin gave Enfinger a run for his money in his first ever ARCA start. Leading 26 laps, Benjamin was at the point when Enfinger grabbed the lead for the final time on a restart. Benjamin was making a move to reassume first place, putting himself in position when a final caution flew. Enfinger held the teenager off on a final restart to score his first win for himself and BCR racing. In addition to Benjamin, Anderson Bowen, another 15-year-old, crossed the finish line in third as the “young guns” took center stage. The two youngsters are 63 years younger than James Hylton, the 77-year-old driver who is the oldest competitor in the ARCA series. Mike Neff

Short Tracks: Big Names Off To Big Starts Lee Pulliam had a storybook 2012 that culminated with his claiming the National Championship in the Whelen All-American Series. The third-place finisher in the points last season was C.E. Falk. The two of them split the twin features at South Boston Speedway to kick off the season for the storied race track. Pulliam followed that win with a victory at Caraway Speedway, on Sunday as the Asheboro track started off their season as well. If this weekend is any indication, Pulliam and Falk might be preparing to have a season long duel for the National title. There are thousands of drivers across the United States that will have something to say about who takes the crown, but these two are certainly setting up to duke it out for supremacy in the state of Virginia if not the nation.

Ronnie Bassett Jr. had some success during 2012 but he also had some difficulties. Bassett was disqualified from two different UARA races and was suspended indefinitely from NASCAR after a dispute about caution flag positioning during the Virginia is for Racing Lovers’ 300. As the UARA kicked off their 2013 season, Bassett was back in Victory Lane, taking the win at Southern National Motorsports Park. Bassett finished off 2012 with four wins at the track so he obviously knows his way around. It will be interesting to see, should he be reinstated by NASCAR, will he run for the UARA title or begin chasing a NASCAR championship of some sort? Mike Neff

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Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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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.