The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Focused At The Front, A High Point And Tragedy Strikes by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday June 10, 2013

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Pace Laps: Focused At The Front, A High Point And Tragedy Strikes

Frontstretch Staff · Monday June 10, 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, no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!

Sprint Cup: Jimmie’s Focused Performance Make no mistake, Jimmie Johnson was mad after a Dover restart penalty cost him what would have been a record-setting win at the Monster Mile. It’s not often the five-time champ gets on the verge of getting in trouble with his mouth; however, all week he was choosing his words carefully, clearly miffed over a NASCAR call he feels should have gone a different direction.

Turns out his frustration led to focus. As crew chief Chad Knaus has done so often through the years, he was able to turn a negative into a team-wide positive, a powerful motivator that led to the No. 48 dominating at one of their weaker tracks. At Pocono, Mr. Johnson was on another planet – simple as that – while the rest of the field spent all day playing catch-up. During a regular season where, so often teams turn some races into test sessions that emotional boost was all that was needed to make Sunday’s Party In The Poconos a ho-hum, one-person attendee at the front.

Is Johnson now the favorite to cruise through the Chase? The Toyotas still have the top speed; fix their engine problems and it’s a whole lot closer than it looks in the current standings. But with three victories now in 2013, plus a points lead that’s over a full race Johnson is making it clear he’s a man on a mission for a championship. Tom Bowles

Nationwide: Trevor’s Trip Back To The Top In 2011, the sky seemed the limit for Trevor Bayne, a Tennessee native who at 20 years and one day became the youngest winner of the Daytona 500.

Two years later, little has changed. Perhaps it’s due to sponsorship woes, or the 2011 illness that knocked him out of the sport for over a month, but Bayne hasn’t become the star many expected him to become. As in 2011, he’s a part-time competitor for the Wood Brothers in the Sprint Cup Series and a full-time driver for Roush Fenway Racing’s Nationwide campaign.

But after a winless 2012, Bayne finally returned to victory lane Sunday with a win in the DuPont Pioneer 250.

It’s been a decent year for Bayne, now Roush’s top driver in the series after Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s promotion, but his spot outside the top 10 in points entering the race was certainly worrying, perhaps a sign that the young gun wasn’t cut out for inclusion among the best of the best. His win Sunday at Iowa, the second of his career in the series, may not have changed much, but it does reestablish Bayne as a threat, rather than a guy you honestly kind of forget is even racing in the series sometimes, as has unfortunately been the case through much of 2013.

Regardless of whether or not he had the best car all day (a distinction which, by the way, goes to Austin Dillon), his victory still caps one of the season’s better races, during which the potential future stars of NASCAR duke it out for a win rather than getting paced by Cup guys. Bayne may still be only that — a potential star — but a win certainly gets him back on the right track. Kevin Rutherford

IndyCar: Helio On A High With the win at Texas Motor Speedway, Helio Castroneves has a total of 28 first-place trophies in IndyCar, three of them Borg Warners for winning the Indy 500. He has 73 total podium finishes in a career that started in 1998. The one thing he hasn’t accomplished is winning a championship, something the driver would very much like to do to add that period to his career.

At 38, Castroneves is definitely in the latter stages as a driver, and after a down year in 2011 that saw him go winless for the first time, the murmurings started. He’s too old, he’s lost it, he’s just not as good as he used to be. Apparently, Castroneves didn’t get that memo because with the win, he also moves into first in the championship fight by 22 points over second place Marco Andretti.

We’re just shy of halfway, with eight races run of the 19-race IZOD IndyCar Series schedule, so there’s a long way to go. But the Penske outfit knows how to run for championships and unlike teammate Will Power, Castroneves does not have an Achilles’ Heel among the remaining tracks. He can win on an oval, a street course, or a permanent road course. Is this the year he finally fills in that one remaining blank for his career? Toni Montgomery

Camping World Truck Series: Can a Rookie Win the Championship? With his victory on Friday night, Jeb Burton moved seven points closer to leader Matt Crafton and is now 23 markers out of the lead. Last week in Mirror Driving, we pondered whether a rookie can win a championship in any of NASCAR’s top three series, and Burton is making a case that just maybe he can. Just seven races in, it’s hard to say what will happen, especially with the wild cards of Eldora and Talladega ahead, along with a lack of experience on several of the remaining tracks on the schedule.

But what does history have to say? In the last five years, no rookie has even come close to the spot that Burton sits in right now, except Ty Dillon last year. Seven races into the 2012 season, the then-rookie sat third in points, only 12 markers back. And throughout the remainder of the year, he managed to sit atop the standings for five races before the results went downhill in what was arguably one of the most competitive seasons in the Truck Series. Finishes of 28th, fifth, 15th and 25th saw him drop to an eventual fourth in the standings. while there is still plenty of racing left to go, there’s no doubt the rest of the season will be entertaining in more ways than one. Beth Lunkenheimer

Short Tracks: Losing An Ace In The Hole The short track world revolves around not only the competitors and fans, but the people who work at the racetracks. The people who run local racetracks generally don’t do it to make a ton of money — they do it because they love the sport. The people who work at local race tracks have an even greater love for racing to show up, week in and week out to deal with racers who are seldom happy. One of the nicest people you’d ever meet at a race track was Mackie McBroom, who worked at Ace Speedway as a race official and race director. Mackie lost his battle with cancer this week and the entire short track racing community is lessened by his loss.

In another sad note, while not short track racing a track worker at the Canadian Grand Prix died after a strange post-race incident. Shortly after the checkered flag flew on the F1 race in Canada, a track worker was guiding a crane that was returning a disabled car to the pits. He dropped his radio and bent over to pick it up. He somehow lost his balance and fell under the wheel of the crane. While he was stabilized at the scene, quickly airlifted to a hospital, he later succumbed to his injuries.

Racing is a dangerous sport, but it is also one that has a very tight knit family who watches, participates and supports the industry. Whenever anyone involved is lost, it tugs at the heartstrings of anyone involved. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Mackie and the McBroom family, along with the family of the Canadian Grand Prix track worker. Thank you for making life better with your efforts involved in racing. Mike Neff

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Did You Notice? … A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
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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.