The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Hendrick's Horror Story, Regan Royalty, Tricky Travel And LEFTurn by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday June 17, 2013

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Rick Hendrick knows he’ll have work to do after one bad luck move after another left his four-car team in shambles after Michigan.

Sprint Cup: Hendrick’s Horror Story How bad of a weekend was it for Hendrick Motorsports? Try eight years worth of bad. Sunday marked the first time since Sonoma, in mid-2005 where all four HMS cars ran outside the top 25. Bad luck, not bad handling was the culprit, with anything from blown engines to flat tires creating chaos for what otherwise had the chance to be a 1-2-3-4 day. That’s right… these cars were that good.

“Things were working out,” said Kahne, who was the second of the four cars to “bite the dust” when a tire blew out on Lap 104 — while he was out front. “I thought it was going to be between myself and Jimmie (Johnson). We both had two really fast cars.”

So did teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who led for a bit himself before the engine went sour on his ride on Lap 134. Add in Jeff Gordon, whose Lap 5 incident with Bobby Labonte ended his day before it even began and the one last hope was Johnson in the No. 48 car. On paper, the Lowe’s Chevrolet should have run away with it; in reality, Chad Knaus was looking at Arabic, not English in making a number of confusing strategy calls that cost Johnson more than two dozen spots on pit road. The battle to work up the field wound up so difficult, with the laps winding down Johnson overdrove his equipment and blew a tire while trying to catch winner Greg Biffle.

“I’d get to first or second, a caution would come out and then something would happen again,” he said. “And we’d lose track position. But we had a great race car and I hate having that problem at the end.”

You’d also hate to be at the HMS shop Monday morning. The question now, amongst the foursome is if a day that gruesome comes with any long-term effects. For Johnson and Kahne, probably not; they’ve been the kings of the stable, have wins under their belts and the speed to feel confident going forward. Even Gordon, although well outside the top 10 in points has the talent to win at any time; with his road course record, that could come as quickly as Sonoma this Sunday. But keep an eye on Earnhardt. Just 32 points above the Chase cutoff, he’s winless and without the speed to contend at most racetracks not named Daytona and Michigan. Sonoma, this weekend is one of his worst places to race, followed up by relative newbie Kentucky. Add in a bad break at Daytona, where plate racing is the equivalent of Russian Roulette and it’s possible the No. 88 could be on the outside looking in. Crew chief Steve Letarte has a project on his hands, keeping confidence high to ensure his emotional driver doesn’t get down on himself at the wrong time. Tom Bowles

Nationwide: Regan Rolling Over The Competition One year ago, Regan Smith was an also-ran of the Sprint Cup Series, a driver who had scored his first win the previous year with Furniture Row Racing but never impressed much beyond that. A few months later, he was out of a ride, with Kurt Busch taking the helm.

But NASCAR impressions can be a fickle business, where second chances can lead to future opportunities. Nowadays, Smith is doing good. On Saturday, he became the first Nationwide regular to win two races this season, leading the final 14 laps at Michigan to win the Alliance Truck Parts 250 — holding off a strong charge from Kyle Larson. The win only pads his points lead, and now the JR Motorsports driver is ahead by 58 over Sam Hornish, Jr.

Going from one of the smaller, less prestigious Cup teams to an extremely established Nationwide team doesn’t hurt, but Smith is, at long last, really showing he can perform. It was rarely a question of whether or not he could, but the right organization was needed, and the pieces seem to have fallen into place in 2013.

It’s still too early to crown a champion, obviously, but seeing Smith emerge victorious at Homestead would be fulfilling. After coming down from the Cup Series, Elliott Sadler hasn’t been able to capture a championship, so it would be interesting to see what happens to a Cup guy who goes back a step and finds success. Will said title precede a promotion? Or will it be just the beginning of a fruitful second stab at Nationwide?

If this trend continues, we could be seeing an answer to that question very soon. Kevin Rutherford

Ryan Briscoe is back with IndyCar after signing to run a limited schedule with Panther Racing.

IndyCar: Briscoe’s Big Weekend Ahead It’s a pretty tricky travel arrangement to shuttle back and forth between oh, say Sonoma and Milwaukee, something NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have done while trying to also run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. But how about Milwaukee and Le Mans in France? Ryan Briscoe did just that this past weekend.

He arrived in Milwaukee from France to join up with the Panther Racing team on June 13 and he was scheduled to be back on a plane, returning to France just hours after the completion of the June 15th race. So what would have happened if the weather had been uncooperative? Oriol Servia would have happened. Servia was on standby in case bad weather delayed the race and made it impossible for Briscoe to drive the car.

Why all the extra back-and-forth? Briscoe is competing full-time for Level 5 Motorsports in the American Le Mans Series and is in France with the team, competing in the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans race next week. However, he had the blessing of team owner Scott Tucker to make the trip to drive the Panther Racing IndyCar.

“Ryan had a great opportunity to run an IndyCar in Milwaukee,” Tucker said. “We know he is committed to our program, and I wanted him to be able to do both. He’s a great competitor, and his eagerness to take on this additional challenge is proof of that.”

Panther team owner John Barnes has already said that for now, his plan is to run both Briscoe and Servia in the car for the remainder of this season. Briscoe does not have a full-time IndyCar ride, after parting ways with Penske Racing following last season while Servia is unemployed since his DRR/Panther team parked the car for at least the remainder of this season after the Indy 500. Toni Montgomery

Short Tracks: Leffler Investigation Continues Any short track action this weekend was overshadowed, as expected by the tragic death of Jason Leffler. Leffler’s death, occurring at Bridgeport Speedway at a Winged Sprint Car event cast an ugly reminder that even slower-speed racing at your local speedway is never 100% safe. Early signs of the investigation, though being conducted by the New Jersey State Police seem to minimize the impact of the track itself in the crash. Leffler died of a blunt force neck injury, according to the initial autopsy but a fuller investigation of both his body and the events leading up to the wreck will take several more weeks. Multiple sources have claimed a part broke on the car, but exactly what part and how it affected the actual incident itself is still open speculation.

Bridgeport, on its website released a short statement, from track owner Brian Ramey that claimed, “The management team is deeply saddened by this tragic incident. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, including son Charlie Dean, friends, and fans of Jason Leffler.”

But those bad feelings won’t stop the world from turning. Saturday night, just three days after the tragedy there was racing at Bridgeport. Dominic Buffalino swept the Twin Block Modified Features, a fine competition at the facility but with the memory of Mr. Leffler heavy in everyone’s heart. It will be interesting to see if the crowd is affected, long-term after witnessing such a horrific incident last week. Tom Bowles

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pepper
06/17/2013 08:19 AM
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I can’t help laughing at you Tom, for your remark about Steve keeping Jr’s confidence high. It was Jr who got out of the car and had a pep talk with Steve and the pit crew to keep their confidence high. I guess you need to put somebody down to make yourself look better. It’s not working.

jerseygirl
06/17/2013 09:14 AM
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Well, it is Gordon that I am most worried about (since he’s my favorite driver, I’m biased). They need to qualify better for starters, since the Gen6 car still seems to make passing difficult unless you are driving the 48 car. I wonder how many changes Chad will make (or who’s pit crew he’ll steal) to improve things for the 48. He seems to be able to make whatever changes at will, while all the other HMS teams have to just eat it.

Charles
06/17/2013 03:57 PM
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Mr. Bowles, HMS would never have finished 1-2-3-4 because Jeff Gordon would never have been competitive with the front runners, simply because his car is 2-3 MPH too slow. In fact, I felt that, even without the crash, he would have had a hard time even running in the top 10.

There’s no doubt that the other three HMS cars could have run 1-2-3 easily, but had Gordon not gotten in a crash and they would have had a long run, he probably would have been lapped in 60-70 laps because of the speed difference between his car and the other HMS cars.

DoninAjax
06/17/2013 07:21 PM
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I guess Hendrick was phoning Goodyear and his engine department this morning instead of Brian. Brian is still thanking his God, the $.

 

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.