The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Gordon's Great Mistake, Penske's Rise To Power And Helio's Hard Hit by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday August 12, 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: Gordon’s Great Mistake – For the past two years, Jeff Gordon has suffered from more bad luck than most black cats, broken mirrors, or poorly placed ladders can create in their lifetime. With five DNFs this season, four for wrecks his 2013 has been defined by wrong place, wrong time. It’s driven crew chief Alan Gustafson nuts; even owner Rick Hendrick admitted, a few weeks ago it’s put a lot of stress on a crew who does everything right only for circumstances outside their control to ruin it all. Gordon was Bobby Labonte’s soft wall at Michigan, a pinball at Charlotte and Matt Kenseth’s roadblock after a blown tire left him helpless at Bristol. It’s taken a promising year, one in which the No. 24 team has had top 5 equipment most weeks and turned it into a Chase nail-biter.

But the one incident that may truly keep this four-time champ from the postseason, just one week after a second-place finish at Pocono rests on no one but Gordon himself. Just after the esses at Watkins Glen, gearing up down the long straightaway a driver known for his road course expertise simply lost control. The man with more right-turn victories than anyone in the modern era – five at Sonoma and four at Watkins Glen – looked like an amateur in turning his AARP Chevrolet into a candidate for early retirement.

“It’s unfortunate. I had a big run on the No. 11 and I got up on him and the nose just completely took off and put me in the wall,” he said. “That was my mistake. We can’t have stuff like that happen.”

Especially when all the other “bubble” contenders cashed in with outstanding days. Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr., and Kurt Busch posted top-10 finishes, creating distance between themselves and their rival while gaining momentum for the four remaining races. Gordon, in contrast now finds himself 15 points outside the top 10. On paper, it’s not insurmountable; Hendrick has had the fastest cars on the track, all season long. It’s just with the luck Gordon’s having, within a crowded “bubble” field the one thing he can’t count on is no problems the rest of the way. What if there’s another wreck at Bristol? Or a blown motor at Michigan, where HMS struggled to finish the race in June? That wouldn’t be just catastrophic for Gordon’s chances now; it would be postseason-ending. Clearly, the pressure push for the postseason has shifted dramatically over to the No. 24. Tom Bowles

Nationwide: Penske’s Push To The Top If there was any doubt Brad Keselowski could still win a NASCAR race before, say, April, those doubts have since been erased — and then some.

He’s just not winning copiously in the series one might have expected.

After a winless first six races of the season, Keselowski has won every race he’s entered, now riding a four-race win streak into his next series start. That’s of course encouraging to Roger Penske, Keselowski’s owner in all series but his occasional Truck Series ventures (in which he’s the owner/driver). He’s trying to win a owners championship with the No. 22, and Keselowski’s win makes seven the car has won in 2013.

However, despite a runner-up finish on Sunday in the Cup race (his best finish of the season), Keselowski’s still nowhere near his 2012 title form in Sprint Cup, sitting winless and a mere eighth in points, even though that technically puts him in the Chase — for now.

Penske Racing is a weird place right now. It has a Nationwide effort with a potential series champion (Sam Hornish Jr.) that’s often pushed off to the side in favor of the No. 22’s owners championship efforts. In Cup, the team hasn’t won this year at all, and there’s still the overarching possibility that both its teams might miss the Chase, even though Keselowski’s in position at the moment.

But hey, at least the Nationwide program is getting results… Kevin Rutherford

IndyCar: Helio’s Hard Hit Tony Stewart’s crash started the debate on whether drivers should be racing in other series during their free time. Racing is a dangerous sport and injuries suffered while racing “for fun” can at the very least disappoint fans and sponsors, and at worst, cost championships. IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Helio Castroneves traveled to Brazil to race in the Stock Car Brasil race this weekend while the IZOD IndyCar Series takes some time off. Castroneves leads Scott Dixon by 31 points and is attempting to win his first series title.

As if to add to the debate, Castroneves had a hard crash Friday in practice when his brakes failed. He got out of the car under his own power but suffered cuts on his legs and reported neck and back pain. Castroneves was taken to the local hospital for evaluation but was released. Doctors did not, however, clear him to run the race.

“The good news (is) I didn’t break anything,” said Castroneves.

Perhaps, and it’s also probably a good thing that Castroneves has another two weeks to mend before the IZOD IndyCar Series returns to action on August 25th in Sonoma, but this does add more fuel to the debate over drivers racing outside of their primary series. Toni Montgomery

Short Tracks: A Big Name Still Waiting For A Big Payoff Some folks chase a Holy Grail, some chase riches, others hope to accomplish a list of things before they are too old to complete them. In the world of racing, there is usually a bucket list of races that drivers of a certain type of car hope to win. In IndyCar, it is usually the Indy 500, Long Beach while it is on the IndyCar schedule, and Milwaukee. In the Sprint Cup world there is Daytona, Darlington, Charlotte and Indianapolis. For midget racers the Chili Bowl, the Copper World Classic, and the night before the 500 are some of the biggest. There are great drivers in all types of vehicles and there are some stories that are legendary about their trials and tribulations trying to win their most important races.

In the world of Super Late Model racing, “Bubba” Pollard is one of the most well known and liked drivers in the sport. Pollard has won championships and races throughout the Southeast but has been snake bitten in some of the biggest races. Last year he ticked the Rattler off of his bucket list after several years of disappointment trying to win that race in Opp, Alabama. The Snowball Derby is another big race that has been tough on Pollard. He holds the Snowball qualifying record but has not been able to win it. The same has been true of the World Crown at Gresham Motorsports Park.

Pollard won the pole for the rain delayed World Crown this weekend and looked to be in great position to check another off of his bucket list. Pollard was in the mix all night, traded the lead with some of the other best known drivers in Super Late Models but ended up one position short when the checkered flag waived. Pollard is continuing to chase his dream and one day may check off all of his bucket list races but, for now, the World Crown and the Snowball Derby are in the “yet to win” column. Mike Neff

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Charles
08/12/2013 03:12 PM
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What happened to Gordon at Watkins Glen was classic case of aero-push. He got behind the #11 car and then the car wouldn’t turn. I think what happened was that he was as surprised as anyone else because aero-push had never been such a factor there before, but it was a big problem in Sunday’s race, and that was the most glaring case. And that incident may be what knocks him out of the Chase, because I expect him to lose more ground this week at Michigan, simply because he’s going to have a slow car (or not want to drive it to it’s full potential on that fast track).

And if he falls to about 15th in points, and around 25-30 points behind 10th, which is very doable, even if he has a trouble-free day, I think he’s through for this year.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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