The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Underdog Invisibility, Say It Ain't So, Marty And The End Of Eras by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday September 30, 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!

The Chase flag was flying high at Dover. For the first time in NASCAR’s playoff era, each one of Sunday’s top-10 finishers was eligible to compete for the series championship.

Sprint Cup: The Chase vs. The Field No one has dominated Dover like Jimmie Johnson, setting a record for most Cup victories there Sunday with number eight. But that wasn’t the only history we saw unfold at the Monster Mile. For the first time in NASCAR’s playoff era, everyone who finished inside the top 10 was Chase eligible.

That’s right; the other 30 drivers in the 43-car field could do no better than 11th-place Jamie McMurray. It’s part of a disturbing trend, one where just McMurray has been able to crack the top 5 in any of the three postseason events. There’s a lot of reasons to blame for their decline; superteams filtering top cars to playoff contenders only, difficulty passing and the “rich vs. poor” difference in NASCAR, to name a few. But the end result to the “class hierarchy” it’s causing is crystal clear, removing additional storylines at a time when NASCAR is desperately in need of them. There’s a certain dynamic, you see to these “underdogs” muddling things up and replacing others’ title dreams with their own. It helps spread TV coverage and keep the focus from being on 13 drivers, continuously for the final ten weeks of the season.

Instead, right now the opposite is happening, 30 cars doing nothing but taking up spots on the grid and serving as lovely-looking museum pieces in lapped traffic. That’s not the way NASCAR wants its playoffs to turn out every year; the mileage from a three-driver Chase storyline, combined with an Earnhardt “near-win” on Sunday can only go so far. In private, they’re hoping Kansas sprinkles these underdogs – and their unique stories – back into the mix. Tom Bowles

IndyCar: Title Sponsor Jumping Ship After 2013 INDYCAR announced on Friday that IZOD will end its title sponsorship of the IndyCar Series at the conclusion of this year. The clothing company, a longtime racing backer appears to be pulling out of open-wheel competition completely.

“After an exciting relationship that has been as enjoyable and fast-paced as INDYCAR itself, PVH Corp. has made the decision to not continue IZOD’s title sponsorship with IndyCar beyond the 2013 season,” said Mike Kelly, Executive Vice President of the PVH Marketing Group in a statement. “As we and our retail partners shift the IZOD brand’s product focus, we need to shift our marketing spend to complement it.”

Out with the old, in with the ??? After four years as series title sponsor, IZOD decided to discontinue their relationship with IndyCar at the end of the 2013 season.

IZOD entered the sport in 2008 as the official apparel supplier and became series sponsor in 2010. Mark Miles, Chief Executive Officer of Hulman & Co., the parent company of INDYCAR, seemed confident though the series would be able to find another entitlement sponsor in time for next season.

“Our on-track competition is at an all-time high and INDYCAR offers a unique activation platform with brand attributes of speed, technology and innovation. With changes we’ve made to our overall company structure,” Miles added, “And the master facility plan underway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we’re heading into discussions with some very creative opportunities.”

INDYCAR also announced that a race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course will be added to the schedule next season. The new race will take place on the opening weekend of the Month of May festivities at IMS. The course, which once hosted Formula 1 will be reconfigured over the fall and next spring to create a racier circuit with better viewing areas for fans. Toni Montgomery

Nationwide: Longtime TV Voice Taken Off The Air On a weekend where a Cup driver winning (Joey Logano) became another run-of-the-mill story on-track… geez, how about Marty Reid becoming a story off it?

After many years as ESPN’s play-by-play announcer for the Nationwide Series, it was announced this weekend that Reid had been let go from the network, effective immediately. That’s after three decades with not just racing but ESPN; Reid had begun his career at the station in 1982.

The move comes following an iffy broadcast at Kentucky last weekend, during which the veteran broadcaster accidentally called the race a lap early, announcing Ryan Blaney as the winner prematurely. For this week’s Dover race, he was replaced by Allen Bestwick in the booth, and will be for the remainder of the season.

An ESPN spokesman said that the network was taking a different direction with its Nationwide Series broadcasts, pinning that as the reason for the split. But the move causes one to wonder. Was Reid’s departure a response to his Kentucky gaffe? Or was it was a long time coming?

Either way, the makeup of the Nationwide Series broadcasts could be in for a bit of a facelift in the near future. Who might grab the helm if Bestwick doesn’t, especially with ESPN leaving after 2014? Your guess is as good as ours. Kevin Rutherford

RUTHERFORD: Saturday Dover Analysis

Can Matt Crafton hide from potential disaster at Talladega in two weeks?

Camping World Trucks: A Two-Week Breather Before A “Wild Card” Comes Into Play For the next couple weeks, the Truck Series will become an afterthought while the drivers take two weekends off before heading to Talladega Superspeedway. For those looking to recharge before the final five events of the season, it’s a welcome break. But for drivers like James Buescher and Ty Dillon, who hope to have a fighting chance to catch Matt Crafton in the championship battle, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Crafton maintained his 41-point lead over Buescher and 53 over Dillon on Saturday afternoon, despite the drivers inching just a tad bit closer each week. However, the biggest remaining “wild card” on the schedule is the series’ next stop, the perfect place for the challengers to capitalize and build some momentum down the stretch.

Talladega Superspeedway has long been known as the great equalizer when it comes to equipment, and it has certainly been known to dash the dreams of championship hopefuls throughout all of NASCAR’s top 3 series. All Matt Crafton needs to do at Talladega is come out mostly unscathed; so, don’t be surprised if he takes very few chances when that race does come around. However, if he takes it too easy, he’ll lose the draft and the lead pack, putting himself in a situation no driver wants to be in. And, assuming Crafton suffers misfortune, it will be up to Dillon and Buescher to capitalize on it or let the championship slip through their fingers. Beth Lunkenheimer

LUNKENHEIMER: A Look Back At Las Vegas Saturday Night

Grand-Am: A Sanctioning Body Comes To An End This past weekend’s Championship Weekend presented by BMW was not only the final race of the year for both the Rolex Sports Car Series and the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, but the final race for Grand-Am as a sanctioning body. As of Tuesday morning, Grand-Am will be no more (the banquet is scheduled for Monday night in New York City). That’s the result of a merger with the American Le Mans Series that resulted in the creation of United SportsCar Racing. The Tudor United SportsCar Championship will contest 12 races next year, starting at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

Lime Rock Park, the site of this past weekend’s finale, will not be part of the new series (at least for now). Having said that, Lime Rock put on three excellent races this weekend. Friday saw the Street Tuner finale come down to a five-lap shootout after a late crash. Joel Miller, a regular in the Rolex Series’ GX-class, took his Mazda MX-5 to the outside in Big Bend (Turns 1 and 2) with a couple of laps to go and passed Greg Liefooghe. Liefooghe didn’t take it lying down and fought him to the checkers, missing out by just .131 of a second. Meanwhile, Terry Borcheller and Mike LaMarra, driving a BMW 128i for Burton Racing, won the ST championship by finishing fifth after nearly getting lapped early on.

We even had some bush league antics take place here. Borcheller and LaMarra’s main challengers for the title were Ryan Eversley and Kyle Gimple in a Honda Civic Si for Compass360 Racing. Compass360 Racing entered four cars in the race, and for a period of time, Borcheller was stuck behind Compass360 Racing’s No. 77, driven by Robert Thorne. Thorne, who was off the lead lap at the time, proceeded to block the heck out of Borcheller for laps on end, even brake-checking Borcheller on the frontstretch at one point. Eventually, Grand-Am black-flagged Thorne and brought him in for a stop-and-go penalty. Borcheller went on record after the race during the brief press conference, stating that he believed Thorne’s actions were intentional in order to benefit his teammate.

Andy Lally left Lime Rock disappointed after failing to win the championship in GT.

Saturday morning’s Grand Sport race went caution-free for 2.5 hours. It looked like the duo of John Edwards and Matt Bell had the race won, but part-time Nationwide Series competitor Billy Johnson ran Bell down from over ten seconds behind in the final laps. The two fought hard for the position, with Bell even drawing a warning from Grand-Am officials for blocking. On the final lap, Johnson, much like Miller on Friday, took the contrarian outside line in Big Bend and made it stick, despite putting a wheel in the dirt on exit. It was Johnson who walked out of there with the trophy.

The marquee Rolex Series event was full of action. The championship battle was supposed to be quite fierce in GT, but it was effectively over in 90 seconds. On the second lap of the race, series debutant Richie Stanaway, driving the still-in-development No. 66 Aston Martin Vantage for TRG-Aston Martin Racing, went wide at Big Bend, then bashed into points leader John Potter, spinning him out. Potter was then hit by the sole Lotus Evora in the field and a BMW M3. The crash put Potter and co-driver Andy Lally behind the wall and out of the championship hunt (the Porsche did come back out to finish, but it was 100 laps behind the class winners by the end).

Magnus Racing’s misfortune allowed Alessandro Balzan of Scuderia Corsa to win the GT class title by finishing second in class. As Balzan had three different full-time co-drivers during the season (Alessandro Pier Guidi, Jeff Westphal, and Saturday’s co-driver, Leh Keen) it is a solo title for Balzan.

For the race itself, Marsh Racing was pretty much untouchable on Saturday. Substitute driver Lawson Aschenbach took class pole (Boris Said was supposed to drive, but couldn’t get back to the United States after helping out at a driver academy in England) and led much of his stint. Teammate Eric Curran (who has started a couple of Nationwide Series races in the past) sealed the deal. Once Stevenson Motorsports’ John Edwards cut a tire and went into the runoff at the end of the frontstretch, no one was touching the hometown team (Marsh Racing is Massachusetts-based, but located very close to Lime Rock Park) on their GT swan song.

Finally, in Daytona Prototypes, pit strategy was important for the first two hours of the race. However, once the pitting was done, the best car came to the fore. That was the No. 10 Velocity Worldwide Chevrolet Corvette DP driven by Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor. With Taylor at the wheel late in the race, no one was even in his league. Taylor stretched out to a lead as large as 16 seconds before a late-race caution bunched everyone back up. Despite the tightening, Taylor pulled away over the final five-lap sprint to win by five seconds and not only claim the win (the fourth in a row at Lime Rock for WTR), but the Daytona Prototype championship as well for himself and Angelelli.

The Rolex Sports Car Series was created when Jim France bought the ruins of the former United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC), which had folded in the middle of the 1999 season. With understated influence from NASCAR, the series evolved into Grand-Am for 2000, running similar equipment to the American Le Mans Series. The series didn’t really separate itself from the American Le Mans Series, though until the introduction of the Daytona Prototypes in 2003. Rolex joined as title sponsor in ’03 and will remain with the merged series next year (Tudor is a line of “cheaper” watches that is owned by Rolex).

Ultimately, the Daytona Prototypes isolated Grand-Am from the rest of sports car racing. Car count has ebbed and flowed since then. In 2003, Rolex Series races often saw teams out of the then-Grand-Am Cup used to fill out short fields. Eventually, there were 20 Daytona Prototypes running full-time. Since then, that number has slipped to 14.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of questions about next year’s championship. The lack of rules for the Prototype class is alarming and will likely keep international teams away from both Daytona and Sebring. Sebastien Bourdais, who I interviewed on Friday (transcript coming soon to Frontstretch) finds the idea of combining the Daytona Prototypes with P2 from ALMS to be insane. He wishes that they could just run as separate classes, eliminating the balancing issues.

Regardless, most of the pieces are in place (including a five-year TV deal with FOX Sports) to give sports car racing in North America a great future. So goodbye, Rolex Series. It’s been a great run. I enjoyed it. Phil Allaway

Short Tracks: A Look At The Modified Tour Andy Seuss went to Victory Lane for the second time this year at Caraway Speedway, upping his totals this week in the Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Of greater importance, though was the finish of George Brunnhoelzl III who came home second. Brunnhoelzl is now 30 points ahead of Kyle Ebersole for the lead in series points with two races left on the schedule. Brunnhoelzl is the two-time defending champion of the series and is looking to be the first three-time consecutive champ in its short history. (Junior Miller won the title the first two years of its existence, in 2005 and ’06.)

On the Modified Tour, that runs in the Northeastern United States, three drivers have pulled off back-to-back championships. Jimmy Spencer was the first to do it, while Mike Stefanik and Tony Hirschman have each pulled off the feat twice. No driver on the Modified tour has ever accomplished the three-time championship, though.

Brunnhoelzl is a Northeastern driver who has come down to the home of NASCAR to pursue his racing dream. While he has yet to break into the ranks of the fendered series, he’s been very strong in the open-wheel division that is the true heart of NASCAR. Brunnhoelzl won his first title in 2009. Burt Myers took the title in 2010, but Brunnhoelzl has been back on top the last two years. He looks ready to hoist the big trophy for the third year in a row provided he avoids catastrophe over the final two events.

The Southern Modified Tour will be returning to Charlotte Motor Speedway in two weeks to run their final race of the season. It very well could be a historic event provided Brunnhoelzl can avoid losing 30 points to Ebersole over the next two races. Mike Neff

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09/30/2013 02:23 PM

Time for Reid to go. ESPN has no interest in Nascar and his monotone didn’t help. I hope they give Ricky Craven a shot.


Contact Tom Bowles

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