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, no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!
Sprint Cup: Four Is The Magic Number Jeff Gordon did it three times. So did Dale Earnhardt. And then Jimmie Johnson went out and did it a fourth. Johnson’s win in the Sprint All-Star Race made him the first four-time victor in the more than 25 years the race has been run. He also became the first back-to-back winner of the event since Davey Allison won two in a row in 1991 and ’92, the only other driver to win the event consecutively. Six drivers (Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt, Allison, Mark Martin, and Terry Labonte) have more than one win in the annual event that was formerly known as The Winston.
Those are some impressive peers, and Johnson is certainly no stranger to putting up stats that rival the best the sport has ever seen; his five Cup titles rank him third all-time, and he’s eighth on the all-time wins list. After the race on Saturday, Johnson talked about his place in NASCAR history and was quick to point out that his story is not yet complete.
“Truthfully, I don’t think it’s a question that I’m to answer,” said Johnson. “I still have a lot of years left in my career, and that’s something that the public, the mass, that’s what other people come up with. I don’t think it’s right for me to sit here and say, hey, I’m this guy, I’m the guy or anything in between. Very proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I still feel like there’s a lot left I can do in this sport, and I’ll work hard to do that. When I’m old and sit in a rocking chair, hopefully people think highly of what I’ve done and give me a tip of the hat.”
However, Johnson does have plenty to prove at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the track he once referred to as “my house” after winning four points races in a row and five of six in 2003-‘05. Johnson hasn’t won a points-paying race there since 2009, and his average finish in the six races since his last victory is 19.3. Johnson has a pair of third-place finishes in that stretch, his only top-10 runs during that time. Since the track was repaved, Johnson just hasn’t found the magic over the long haul… could Charlotte, once his best track be the driver’s Achilles’ Heel come Chase time? The Coca-Cola 600 will go a long way to helping us figure that answer out. Amy Henderson
IndyCar: The Little Owner/Driver That Could Derrick Walker, the new President, Operations and Competition of INDYCAR effective May 27, said he hoped the media would focus on what an amazing story Ed Carpenter winning the pole for the 97th Indy 500 is and we completely agree with Mr. Walker. To put in perspective how amazing it is, not only does Carpenter run for a small, self-owned team, but the Fast Nine qualifying session featured five cars from Andretti Autosport, three cars from Penske Racing, and Carpenter. And he beat them all. It seems to continue the theme of a season where the current points leader is Takuma Sato driving for small-time (by comparison) A.J. Foyt Racing.
One thing is clear, though; Carpenter is no longer sneaking up on anyone. Small, self-owned team or not, when the IZOD IndyCar Series is racing on an oval, Carpenter very much should be part of the conversation.
“It’s an honor to win this pole because it is a really competitive field,” said Carpenter. “This is a good start. I want to make sure we keep the team focused. I hope this is part one of a really magical month, and we’re here for race day. This is awesome, and it’s bigger than our wins and it’s huge for the team, huge for Fuzzy’s Vodka. It’s definitely a landmark day, but I don’t want to get overly focused on this because we have a lot of work to do yet.”
In other news, Chip Ganassi’s operation continues to struggle, with Scott Dixon starting 16th, defending race winner Dario Franchitti in 17th, Charlie Kimball 19th and Ryan Briscoe in 23rd.
Only one driver, Michel Jourdain, Jr., missed the field when the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team was unable to get enough speed out of his car. Katherine Legge, driving a third entry for Sam Schmidt, sat on the bubble as qualifying wound down waiting to see what Jourdain would be able to do. She wound up as the last driver to make the field, in 33rd.
Click here to see the full starting lineup for the 97th Indianapolis 500 and stay tuned to Frontstretch for more special Indy 500 coverage this week. Toni Montgomery
Camping World Trucks: Busch’s Dominating Record Continues There’s plenty of storylines surrounding the 2013 Truck Series season. Matt Crafton, the current point leader could be in position to capture his first championship. Rookie Jeb Burton, second in the standings continues to impress. Older veterans, like Ron Hornaday, Jr. have showed flashes of their former selves while groundbreaking drivers like Darrell Wallace, Jr. have made their presence felt.
But at Charlotte, for better or worse the whole Series is forced to take “time out.” For when Kyle Busch is in a Truck field, at this track, in this race it’s as simple as the Fat Lady singing before the green flag. Eight times now, Busch has started a truck race here and he’s won a total of five times. Leading 80 laps Friday night, it wasn’t a matter of if the driver was going to pull away down the stretch but when. With three wins now within the last four years (Busch didn’t start last year’s edition) the race might as well be named after him. Most weekends, the Truck Series is one of the most unpredictable races in town. But Busch, going forward has made Charlotte so much of his personal playground the goal for all the full-timers each year is now simple: survive and scrap for second. Tom Bowles
Short Tracks: That “Other” Race Which Makes Hoosiers Proud Memorial Day Weekend is right around the corner. Fans of the Coca-Cola 600 are getting psyched up for the longest race on the NASCAR schedule. IndyCar fans are completely wound up for the Greatest Spectacle in racing, the Indianapolis 500. But while the bright lights are shining on the big leagues, the brightest lights of local open-wheel racing are shining on the USAC Silver Crown series as they head to the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Thursday night to run the annual Hoosier Hundred. As dirt races go, this one probably has the deepest, richest history of any held in the country. The 2013 version will be the 60th annual running of the historic event.
For years, the 100 has been run on Friday night. This year, the folks at USAC have decided to try something a little different and run the show on Thursday. The hope is to not interfere with the activities of carburation day at the Speedway and many other open-wheel dirt shows around the Midwest.
The Hundred used to be populated with the majority of the drivers that were competing in the Indy 500 that year. It afforded fans an opportunity to see their heroes up close and personal in a much more relaxed atmosphere than they would be in at the big track. Nowadays, while the names on the Silver Crown cars at the Fairgrounds won’t be the same as the ones on the rockets running around at IMS this Sunday, they very well may be someday. So if you want to see racing like it used to be, at a venue that has been hosting it for 60 years, check out the Hoosier Hundred on Thursday night at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. The roots of open-wheel will be sprouting the next generation of racers. Mike Neff
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