The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Penske's Power Move, A Successful Debut And Championship Comebacks by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday August 19, 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: Penske’s Power Move Roger Penske’s stock car organization has spent most of the year in the news for all the wrong reasons. First, star driver-slash-reigning champ Brad Keselowski makes waves in a February interview, with USA Today that’s highly critical of NASCAR. Next, his two Sprint Cup teams lose 25 points, then get docked with fines and suspensions for improper modifications to the Gen-6 rear end. An appeal, while moderately successful still leaves those deductions that could ultimately keep him out of the Chase. To add insult to injury, the Cup program’s gone winless, through midsummer which served as one of its longest droughts since rejoining NASCAR, full-time in 1991.

That’s why Sunday was so important. In the Big Three’s backyard, during his first year aligned with Ford Penske’s two teams spent most of the day solidly inside the top 5. At one point, it looked like Keselowski would come out on top until pit strategy tilted the scales back towards Joey Logano. Sliced Bread then sliced up the competition, in position to capitalize when Mark Martin ran out of gas to earn the organization’s first Cup victory of the season. All of a sudden, a No. 22 team that wasn’t expected to make the Chase is very much a contender to be in it.

It’s a resume builder that puts Penske back on top, within the Blue Oval camp two months after Roush Fenway Racing topped the Michigan mountain with Greg Biffle. A move that was controversial when it happened, in 2012 along with Logano’s hire is now getting validated. Add in AJ Allmendinger’s Nationwide Series triumph, leaving him two for two on road courses this season and the Captain couldn’t be smiling wider. How far can this momentum take them? Not sure yet; but the timing couldn’t be more perfect. – Tom Bowles

Nationwide: A+ Debut On The Road Course The Nationwide Series at Mid-Ohio? Let’s call it a success.

It may not have been the season’s top race, but the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 was certainly among the best in 2013, providing a thrilling road course event for a crowd whose numbers skyrocketed to the point where many reported standing room only for many spectators.

Really, the only gripes may have been due to NASCAR’s penchant for throwing a full-course caution when it wasn’t necessarily needed. After all, tracks like Mid-Ohio and Road America are fairly lengthy affairs, and getting through an entire pace lap, let alone multiple at a time can be quite boring for spectators at the track and watching on TV alike. Just because a car spins out, for a few short seconds doesn’t mean the pace car needs to come out.

Otherwise, it was a great showing, with AJ Allmendinger pacing the field for 73 laps, winning his second race in as many tries in Penske’s No. 22. Along the way, we saw many drivers acclimating to a new racetrack, successfully while new potential heroes in the form of road course ringers emerged. It’s a perfect recipe to form another successful visit in 2014.

I know I’m looking forward to it. Are you? Kevin Rutherford

Camping World Trucks: Can Buescher Mount A Comeback And Repeat As Champ? It’s no secret that the 2013 season has been far from what defending champion James Buescher and the No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports team had in mind back in February. Instead, it took six months before they reached Victory Lane, and he’s only managed to snag a top 10 in half the events this year. Now sitting third in points after his win at Michigan Saturday, Buescher mentioned, “[This win is] a good way to start that turnaround.” But can he manage an upset run to take the championship from Matt Crafton, who has been so dominant this season in the standings?

Well, let’s take a quick look at the races we’ve got left. Immediately, two races stand out as big “wild cards” in this championship battle — Talladega and the Truck Series’ inaugural visit to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (better known as Mosport). Talladega is in there for the obvious reason that plate racing tends to be more about survival and longevity rather than strategy. But Mosport is likely a date most teams have circled as much as they did Eldora. The uncertainty of what to expect can change everything when it’s all said and done. Road course racing tends to lend itself to difficulty passing, something that’s already present in the series with how aerodynamically dependent the trucks are, so track position will likely be key that weekend.

Aside from those two “wild cards,” the remaining ten races on the schedule include four mile-and-a-half tracks where Buescher and TSM excelled last season. Would that be enough to close the gap? Weaknesses would include Martinsville and Phoenix, tracks where their rivals have excelled. Minimizing those stumbles and taking advantage, in the event Crafton and the No. 88 team find themselves in a tough spot is exactly what the No. 31 team needs to do to have a chance to become the first to win back-to-back championships.

It won’t be easy. And oh, by the way, he still has to get around teammate Jeb Burton, who has shown so much promise as a rookie, scoring two poles and a victory already this year. So while it is possible for Buescher, or just about anyone inside the top 4 for that matter to sneak in and grab a championship, this better be the moment they start making their move. As the number of races remaining on the schedule dwindles, it’s definitely past go time for anyone hoping to have a shot come Homestead in November. Beth Lunkenheimer

Short Tracks: Filling A Father’s Footsteps Being the son of a legend and following in your father’s footsteps can be a daunting task no matter what profession it was that allowed him to become that legend. In the world of sports, the statistics will haunt the offspring forever. Whether you’re the son of Bob Griese or Jackie Robinson, living up to the numbers of dad can be a challenge. The same thing is very true in racing. Kyle Petty and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have been living up to the names of their fathers for years. In the world of short track racing, Terry Phillips has been living up to his dad, Larry Phillips, formidable resume for many years. The younger Phillips has held his own, winning six MARS dirt series championships to his dad’s five NASCAR national championships. This weekend he was able to put a notch in his belt that his legendary father never did.

The Comp Cams topless 100 is one of the biggest Super Late Model races of the year and Terry Phillips has been chasing the title in that race for years. Finally, after a day’s delay due to too much rain, Terry Phillips was able to make a dream come true. Phillips passed Jimmy Owens on lap 79 and held on through a last lap attempt by Owens to regain the lead. The $40,000 first prize is certainly a big plus but the six foot tall trophy and having his name in the record book as a Topless 100 winner is going to last forever. Larry Phillips left some very large shoes for his son to fill and Terry Phillips is doing just fine filling them up. Mike Neff

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dyno dave
08/19/2013 01:50 PM
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Congratulations to Terry Phillips on his big win. We’ve raced against him here and there over the years and he is a great driver and a good guy too. A much deserved win…

 

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.