The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Shaking Down The Chase Field, Brad's Big Night And "Craftiness" by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday August 5, 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!

Sprint Cup: Focus On The Wild Card – With five races left, the “wild card” race on the Sprint Cup circuit is far from decided. Jimmie Johnson’s tire problem, midway through the race at Pocono left a win up for grabs, one Kasey Kahne snagged from Jeff Gordon on a green-white-checkered finish. That second win, in all likelihood will get the No. 5 car in the postseason field even if he falls outside the top 10 in points.

Behind him, though, the logjam continues with just 48 points separating ninth place Gordon and 18th place Aric Almirola in the standings. Gordon, who knows he let an opportunity slip away still has the inside track on a Chase position. He’s the winningest driver in the modern era on road courses, leaving him in good position for the Glen and has won at every remaining track on the regular season schedule.

Who the tenth spot goes to, along with the “wild card” positions is the biggest question mark. Right now, Greg Biffle sits tenth in points, holding a win in hand from Michigan but hasn’t finished in the top 5 since mid-June. He could easily fall out into “wild card” territory, along with Kahne, who’s eighth in points but now holds the security of two wins. Tony Stewart and Martin Truex, Jr., respectively currently hold the “wild card” spots; however, Ryan Newman sits just nine points back from Truex, posting two consecutive top-5 results as one of the hottest drivers on the circuit. That’s five drivers, each of whom with a win or more that could all be outside the top 10 in points when all is said and done.

Notice two names we haven’t mentioned yet: Kurt Busch and defending champion Brad Keselowski. Both men were in the top 6 at Pocono but remain just barely outside the top 10 in points and still winless. Each could easily catch fire and displace one of the drivers we mentioned above. So strap on tight and get ready for a rollercoaster last five races of the season. These Chase spots are more undecided than we’ve ever seen them before… and one big name, at least is going to wind up missing the field. Tom Bowles

Nationwide: Brad’s Big Night At the very least, admire Brad Keselowski’s tenacity.

The Cup regular has found varying levels of success in the Nationwide Series this season, but in order to score his third victory of 2013, he certainly had to overcome some pitfalls. To start, he was in a constant mindset of traveling, having to split time between Iowa and Pocono this past weekend, with the added bonus of having his Truck Series team to consider as well.

Once Saturday night’s Iowa race found its start, Keselowski seemed strong, but an early pit violation set him way back in the field, meaning the defending Cup champion would have to fight his way back to the front, rather than linger there for the entire race before striking. Overheating issues, which remained looming throughout the race, threatening to ruin his race entirely at any moment.

But with just over 30 laps remaining, the driver of Roger Penske’s No. 22 finally took the lead for the first time in the race and held it to the end. Another Cup winner? Yeah, sure. Hey, at least he made it interesting.

Besides, after the disappointment of losing the Cup race the next day despite running up front all day long, thus keeping him out of Chase contention, he kind of needed the pick-me-up. Kevin Rutherford

IndyCar: Kimball’s Star in on the Rise It wasn’t all that long ago that the average INDYCAR fan would roll their eyes when the topic of Charlie Kimball came up. At best, he was “that mediocre diabetic driver”, at worst, he was, “one of those damn ride buyers with sponsorship money.” Ouch.

Those fans will have to eat those words after Kimball’s performance on Sunday. Faced with a risky pit strategy that forced him to essentially run qualifying laps each lap in order to outfox the leaders, Kimball stepped up to the plate in a way that he has never done in his entire career. Kimball simply outdrove everyone on Sunday, proving to himself and everyone around him that he is more than just “the guy with diabetes.” Rather, Kimball deserves the title of “damn fine driver,” and after Sunday, he can add “INDYCAR winner” to that list of titles as well.

Kimball clearly has the talent to hang with the big boys in INDYCAR, and considering he has solid sponsorship from Novo Nordisk and full support from one of the top team owners in the garage (Chip Ganassi), it certainly is not unreasonable to think that Kimball could be the next star of a sport that desperately needs them. What’s not to like? His story is as heartwarming as they get, he is well-spoken and personable, and he is becoming a true force on the race track. That’s a recipe for stardom.

It’s probably still too early to say that Kimball’s on track potential has fully reached the level of his marketing potential, but in an era of racing where marketable, sponsor-driven drivers have developed a bad rap among fans, it’s nice to see one show real talent on the track. All told, Charlie Kimball is now a true INDYCAR winner, and he’ll never be referred to simply as “the mediocre diabetic driver” anymore. Matt Stallknecht

Camping World Truck Series: Can Anyone Catch Matt Crafton? Points leader Matt Crafton has held the top spot since teammate Johnny Sauter was hit with a penalty for an illegal fuel cell at Kansas Speedway in April. Week after week, that point margin continues to grow as the driver of the No. 88 Menards Toyota attempts to score his first career championship. Yes, the season is only reaching the halfway point of the year, however Crafton currently holds a 52-marker lead, and that margin continues to grow week after week. Despite some nervous moments during the two green-white-checkered attempts on Saturday afternoon, Crafton managed to bring home an eighth-place finish, enough to add another four points to his lead.

“It’s really, really good — it just shows how hard these guys work and what they do to these trucks and get what they can get, every race,” Crafton said of his lead after Pocono. “It’s an honor to be driving their stuff.”

With one victory, five top 5s, 11 top 10s and an average finish of 5.5, Crafton appears to be untouchable at this point in the season. But perhaps the thing that his fellow competitors should be concerned about is, even when Crafton complains about how terrible his truck is, he still manages to pull out a decent finish. He even said after Saturday’s race that his truck wasn’t good at all for the first five to ten laps in a run, yet he still managed to pull off a top 10, and the same thing happened earlier this year at Kentucky—after the race, Crafton said how the setup for his truck was completely off. But his finish? 10th. I’m not trying to hand the driver of the No. 88 Toyota the championship yet, however the rest of the field needs to be well aware that he’s easily their target, and at this point, it’s his championship to lose. Beth Lunkenheimer

Short Tracks: Tragedy Strikes Life is a fragile thing and once again we are being reminded of it in the realm of Short Track racing. On Friday, as teams were unloading for the PASS race weekend at Southern National Motorsports Park, the New Day Motorsports team of Brandon Ward was doing the same thing they’d done hundreds of times before. As they rolled the car out of the hauler onto the tailgate, Mike Sabiston lost his footing and fell off of the tailgate. He was a retired judge who loved racing and sponsored Ward’s No. 62 car.

Additional sad news came out this weekend when it was discovered that Kramer Williamson passed away from injuries suffered during a sprint car accident at Lincoln Speedway. Kramer is a racing legend in the Pennsylvania area where he has been racing for so long most people have no idea when he started. It has been over 40 years that Williamson has been racing. He was the 1971 Rookie of the Year at Williams Grove Speedway and a multi-time champion there. Williamson is a member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

Racing is a love of millions of people and the passion that each and every fan of Short Track racing shares is based on the guts and determination of every driver to go out on the track and cheat death. Unfortunately, especially this year in the Sprint Car ranks, we’ve been reminded all too often that you cannot always cheat death. Mike Neff

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Michael in SoCal
08/05/2013 10:52 AM
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A Cup driver and current reigning champion winning in the Nationwide Series is never interesting.

 

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.