Frontstretch Staff · Wednesday September 4, 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: Chase-Clinching Scenarios How big was Atlanta for the Chase bubble contenders? Look no further than Sunday’s top-5 finishers. Behind winner Kyle Busch, each one that followed – Joey Logano, Martin Truex, Jr., Kurt Busch, and Ryan Newman – were fighting for a coveted spot in the 12-driver field. Even sixth-place Jeff Gordon joined the mix, a strong weekend for this crowd as they jostle for position in one of the closest battles to make the postseason in recent history.
Heading to Richmond, here’s where we stand. The top six drivers: Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Busch, and Matt Kenseth are locked into the field. Kasey Kahne, sitting outside the top 10 in points but armed with two wins is also assured of making the Chase; we just don’t know, as of yet whether it will be as a “wild card” or through points. That leaves ten men, mathematically fighting for the final five spots in the field…
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Likely the safest of the five. Seventh in the standings, he’s 37 points ahead of his teammate Jeff Gordon and merely needs a 32nd-place finish to clinch (it gets easier if he leads a lap).
Joey Logano – Armed with a win, he should feel pretty safe as he’s eighth in points, 16 up on 11th-place Jeff Gordon. A finish of 11th or better clinches a spot for him through points, although the “wild card” option likely means he’s in unless there’s some sort of wreck or DNF.
Greg Biffle – 14 points up on 11th-place Jeff Gordon, Biffle has his Michigan victory that also serves as extra protection. Ninth or better Saturday night earns him a spot in the postseason no matter what.
Kurt Busch – Six points up on Jeff Gordon, a winless Busch can only secure a spot by running second and leading the most laps in the race, totaling 44 points. More than likely, a top 5 will get it done but as we saw this Sunday, with the bubble field running so well… this team should be gunning to try and win the race.
Jeff Gordon – Winless, the four-time champ needs to gain six points on Busch (or surpass one of the other drivers ahead of him) to make the field. However, should he win Gordon is automatically in through the “wild card” system – 11th, with a victory no one would be able to surpass him.
Kasey Kahne – Already in, but listed here as a result of his two victories. 12th in points, should Kahne reach the top 10 that opens it up for another one-victory driver to make the field through the “wild card.” If not… all those outside the top 10 with one win will be duking it out for that final spot.
Martin Truex, Jr. – 13th in points, 15 out of 10th Truex does hold the second “wild card,” as of now courtesy his Sonoma victory. But with men like Biffle who could drop out of the top 10, holding a victory in hand themselves this team has no guarantees on a postseason bid.
Ryan Newman – 14th in points, Newman sits 20 back from 10th-place Kurt Busch and five behind Truex for the final “wild card” spot. Armed with a victory, a second would assure his place in the postseason while anything less leaves the path much more difficult.
Brad Keselowski – Winless and momentum-less, coming off a blown engine at Atlanta the odds for the Chase’s defending champ are long. 15th in the standings, he’s 28 behind 10th-place Kurt Busch and 13 behind Truex and the final “wild card” spot. To even be eligible for that, the No. 2 car must win which is something the driver has never done, in a Cup car at Richmond. Do you believe in miracles?
Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard are also mathematically eligible. McMurray, 39 points behind 10th would need a top-5 finish, at minimum and a lot of help; Menard must win and have chaos break loose in the standings. But on Saturday night, with so much at stake you better believe Richmond will create a central focus around these ten men, all night long. Tom Bowles
Nationwide: Kyle Larson’s Development Possibly the biggest news out of the Nationwide Series camp this week didn’t come as a direct result of its Atlanta race Saturday night; rather, it came from the announcement that one of its young guns would be making the jump to the Sprint Cup Series in 2014.
Kyle Larson, current driver of Turner Scott Motorsports’ No. 32, will join Earnhardt Ganassi Racing’s Cup team next season, filling the seat left vacant by the departure of Juan Pablo Montoya from the team.
It’s a move hotly debated by many. Larson will enter 2014 with just one full season of NASCAR racing on the national level under his belt, with just a few additional races in 2012. As of the announcement, he hasn’t even run a Sprint Cup race, though that’s certain to change before the season’s over, likely in Phoenix Racing’s No. 51. He sits eighth in Nationwide points and hasn’t won a race.
But Larson has shown major promise. Earlier this season he won his first Camping World Truck Series race and has a handful of runner-up finishes in the Nationwide Series, and would likely have more than a few wins if the series didn’t have so many Cup drivers winning races in 2013. Plus, it’s said that Larson could be running the full Nationwide schedule again in 2014 in addition to his Cup effort, which would only benefit his rookie campaign further.
It’s interesting to see a bright star in the series already leaving so soon, especially considering that Austin Dillon, another of the series’ talented youngsters, will be moving up in 2014. What’s important as the season ends is to see how Larson’s progressed on some of the tracks he’s visiting a second time in the season. If he shows even more promise than before, chances are he’ll be just fine in the Cup Series. Kevin Rutherford
IndyCar: Baltimore’s Big Moment… For The Underdogs Sunday’s wreckfest, down in Maryland gave some of the lesser-known names a chance to come to the front. None of the top-5 finishers were from the Big Three of Andretti, Ganassi, and Penske. Simon Pagenaud found success earlier this year by winning Detroit, so his second victory is not ground-shaking, but Josef Newgarden’s second-place finish was a bright spot for a team that has struggled all year. Newgarden’s finish also gives hopes of having another American driver become prominent. Is that to say that the series is too international? No, but it is a way of helping maintain and grow the fan base in the states.
And how about Dragon Racing? The team is never going to be considered one racing for the overall championship, but races like this one show that they can contend. Sebastien Bourdais earned another third-place finish and Sebastian Saavedra took eighth.
Perhaps the most heart-warming moment of the weekend in Baltimore, though was seeing Al Unser back in an INDYCAR. Unser led the field to green in the Honda two-seater. Mario Andretti has long been driving that car, with Arie Luyendyk sometimes filling in, at the opening. It was great to see Unser again behind the wheel. Huston Ladner
Camping World Truck Series: Will Ty Dillon Retaliate? – Ty Dillon was one of many drivers plenty upset when the checkered flag flew at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park Sunday afternoon. In a race where he thought he was running out of gas with two laps remaining, it looked like he might snag the victory in the Truck Series’ return to road racing. Instead, Chase Elliott drove his truck hard into turn 10 and dumped Dillon out of the lead on his way to Victory Lane. To say the least, the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet was none too pleased.
“I hope he runs Iowa (next week),” Dillon said after the race. “He won’t finish the race.”
And of course, that simple comment begs the question of whether Dillon will actually retaliate if he’s given the chance next Sunday afternoon. I’d like to think he’ll take the high road and think about the big picture. However, at 63 points behind the leader with eight races remaining, he’s merely a longshot at the championship. Elliott is supposed to run next weekend at Iowa Speedway, according to the schedule posted on his website, so it will be worth keeping an eye on the pair throughout the race. Don’t be surprised if Elliott and Dillon tangle come Sunday. Beth Lunkenheimer
Short Tracks: A Track Within A Track Atlanta Motor Speedway is like most of the SMI Intermediate tracks; its biggest oval isn’t the only place you can race. The speedway also has a 1/4-mile oval built onto the front straight, made for US Legends car racing and the occasional other form of motorsports. This weekend, the track hosted a very unique event, as the USCS Winged Sprint Cars came to visit for the first time in Atlanta’s history. The cars started the weekend’s racing activity by setting the all-time track record for the Atlanta 1/4-mile as Brian Gingras turned a lap around the track in 13.7 seconds. The lap was 1.2 seconds faster than the previous record, held by Mason Massey in a Legends car. Gingras went on to lead the first 45 laps of the 50-lap feature before he ran up onto some lapped cars. As he was held up, JoJo Holberg took the opportunity to sweep by and take over the top spot. From there, Helberg held off Gingras to score the first win ever for the USCS cars on the 1/4-mile.
The event was titled the Tim Smith’s Climax Moonshine Sprint Car Shootout. Tim Smith is one of the primary characters from Moonshiners on the Discovery Channel. He is from Climax, Virginia and is working on producing a legal spirit entitled Climax Moonshine. Smith decided to sponsor the USCS race at Atlanta on Friday night because, in his words, “Moonshine and racing go together, and I like the competition of the Sprint Cars,” Smith said. “The guys don’t have a whole lot of money, they like the competition, and maybe they can move up to the next stage; that’s what we’re trying to do.” Short track racing and alcohol consumption. Can it get any better? Mike Neff
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