The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Toyota Triumphs, Troubles And The Dark Side To Driver Development by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday June 3, 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, no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!

Martin Truex, Jr. was caught completely off guard when his engine went south at Dover Sunday afternoon.

Sprint Cup: Toyota’s Troubling Trends For as much Dover rewarded Tony Stewart’s late surge on Sunday, he inherited a race so many others lost. There was Jimmie Johnson, resigned to 17th after getting black flagged for jumping the restart. Kyle Busch, an early dominant force up front let bad handling get to his head. You could even make a case older brother Kurt was in position to take it until bad pit strategy down the stretch.

But perhaps the biggest storyline came from those frontrunners whose days ended sitting in the garage. Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex, Jr., both big-time Toyota drivers had the same type of valvetrain issue which sidelined their engines long before the checkered flag. For Kenseth, it’s the second time this season he’s been bit by a bad motor while in position to win; the first cost him perhaps a repeat Daytona 500 triumph. Overall, Joe Gibbs Racing has four engine failures in 37 starts, an 11 percent clip that’s far higher than any other title contender. In fact, the other drivers in Chase position entering the race on Sunday totaled just two engine failures amongst all of them combined.

JGR, it seems like we’ve got the best cars,” Kenseth said upon exiting his Toyota. “But we’ve got to finish these things.”

It’s a simple truth, part of the blessing and a curse that’s been 2013 for Toyota’s home office. Clearly, the speed is there, its top team led by Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin leading a total of 2,080 laps. (Kenseth and Busch are 1-2 in that category for Sprint Cup). They’ve combined for five wins, more than any other organization to date. But what they’ve gained in speed, making them virtually unbeatable at tracks one mile or more in length has been hampered by inconsistency. 11 percent is one out of every nine/ten races, there will be an engine failure. It’s the type of freebie Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, and others will capitalize on in the Chase when the Camrys give up 40 points Gibbs would have otherwise earned. And Kenseth, while calm under fire certainly knows it.

Toyota had no concrete answers on their failures. In the end, it really doesn’t matter if they give it to the media; what they need to do is keep the teams informed on what the problems are. Period… and give solutions on how to fix them. Because Kenseth and Busch, who combined have led 43 percent of races this season are having too good a year to see their championship defined by a motor they didn’t build that falls apart. Tom Bowles

Nationwide: Busch-Whacked Same tune, different lyrics.

After his most recent spell of domination, Kyle Busch was defeated in the 5-Hour Energy 200 at Dover. Despite leading a race-high 72 laps, becoming the class of the field for much of the race’s second half, Joey Logano took the lead at lap 164 and held it for the remainder of the race, winning his first event of 2013 and continuing his streak of at least one win in each of his seasons in the series, dating back to 2008.

Though the “anyone but Kyle” mentality might have been appeased for some with a Logano victory, his win continued a trend of Cup winners in the series, with only Sam Hornish, Jr. and Regan Smith scoring victories for Nationwide regulars. It was Logano’s third straight win at Dover, continuing a recent trend of dominance that could continue when the series returns to the track in September — granted Brad Keselowski doesn’t step into Penske’s No. 22 for that weekend.

Thankfully, Saturday wasn’t all about the Cup guys, at least off the track. Richard Petty Motorsports made two big announcements over the weekend, affirming the acquisitions of Ryan Truex and Corey LaJoie into its driver development program. Though team competition director Sammy Johns said that sponsorship will determine each driver’s schedules, it’s certainly likely the two could see action in the Nationwide Series before the end of the 2013 season, as teammates to Michael Annett, with possibilities of running full-time in the series.

And with this kind of Cup dominance, new blood in the series is most welcomed. Kevin Rutherford

BOWLES: Nationwide Series Recap / Analysis

Matt Crafton appears more focused than ever behind the wheel of a truck these days. Will it pay off with a championship?

Camping World Trucks: Can Crafton Craft Himself A Title? Since inheriting the points lead, after a penalty for teammate Johnny Sauter at Kansas Speedway, Matt Crafton has managed to not only hold onto his gap atop the championship but expand it. In fact, Friday marked only the third time in his career that he’s led the standings by at least 30 points. The other two times came in 2009, when he led for two weeks in June before dropping back to an eventual runner-up finish in the title race to Ron Hornaday, Jr. Can Crafton wind up one spot better in 2013?

Honestly, it’s hard to say for sure that bad luck won’t suddenly plague the No. 88 team for multiple weeks in a row. However, Crafton is officially off to the best start of his career. He’s finished outside the top 5 just twice — ninth at Daytona and sixth at Rockingham. His other results? Second, first, fourth and second. It comes out to an average finish of fourth for the only driver in the series to run inside the top 10 during all six events held so far. And while there’s still plenty of racing left to go, Crafton’s solid start, combined with his team’s ability to capitalize on wholesale changes when the truck is way off in practice provides just the foundation needed for a championship contender. It’d be fitting for Crafton, of all people to bring home that first championship for an organization that has shown him incredible loyalty and support throughout his decade-long Truck Series career. Both parties believe in each other, and that’s why they’ve become a formidable force to be reckoned with once again. Beth Lunkenheimer

LUNKENHEIMER: Truck Series Recap

IndyCar: Underdogs vs. Powerhouses Seven races into the IZOD IndyCar Series season, the powerhouse teams of Penske Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing remain winless. But the question is, is it more remarkable that these teams haven’t won or is it more amazing to see who has?

Sure, Andretti Autosport, also a big operation but usually seen as just a step behind the big two, has gotten a few of them (two for James Hinchcliffe, a first-time winner this season, and one for defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay), but the rest have gone to Takuma Sato and A.J. Foyt Racing, Tony Kanaan and KV Racing Technology, Mike Conway and Dale Coyne Racing, and Simon Pagenaud and Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports. Conway isn’t even a full-time driver in the series because he doesn’t race on ovals. The car was entered as driver TBD and Conway first met his Dale Coyne Racing team Friday morning. Like Hinchcliffe, Sato and Pagenaud are also first-time winners.

It might make more of an impact to look at this trend in NASCAR terms. It would be like getting one third of the way through the Sprint Cup Series season without Hendrick or Joe Gibbs Racing posting a win. Roush Fenway Racing has grabbed a few, but the remaining races have been won by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Furniture Row Racing and Front Row Motorsports. No doubt, it’s a topsy-turvy world in IndyCar right now, and no one knows exactly when or if it’s going to stop. Toni Montgomery

Short Tracks: The Dark Side To Driver Development Going to a historic racetrack to watch races is a special event. Some tracks offer better competition than others, but they all offer a special feeling of history when you walk through the gate. That was the case on Saturday at Bowman-Gray Stadium. Not only were fans witnessing the oldest continuously running NASCAR short track on the schedule, but so were several Hall of Famers. Jack Ingram, newly voted inductee for the Hall was one of the grand marshals for the K&N Hall of Fame 150. Ben Kennedy, from NASCAR’s France family won the event while Dylan Kwasniewski came home in second place.

While the history and grandeur of the experience was palpable, the underlying state of the once proud Busch North Series is rather sad. Looking down the lineup of teams and drivers, there are primarily young rich kids and minorities filling the seats all the way down the grid. There does not appear to be more than one or two drivers in the series who are actually there because of one simple trait only: driving a race car. While it is neat to see the future drivers of NASCAR developing their skills, it is somewhat disturbing to see that they’re going to be getting rides at the next level because of the money or uniqueness they bring to the table rather than the skills they possess. 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.

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