Frontstretch Staff · Monday October 21, 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: A New Point Leader… And A Familiar One The “wild card” in this year’s Chase wound up being the opposite down the stretch. Talladega’s single-file finish, unexpected after a day of three and four-wide racing led to minimal changes atop the Sprint Cup point standings. Pending NASCAR’s official results, released on Mondays only one of the sport’s 13 Chasers finished outside the top 20 (Kasey Kahne, continuing his disappointing postseason performance). That led to minimal, if any changes as to who’s in title contention with four races left. Five drivers, including Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch remain within a race’s worth (47-point swing) of the lead. Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson still have plenty of breathing room at the top.
But it’s the order of those two drivers that now becomes the most intriguing story. For the first time, over the course of this Chase it’s Johnson that’s taken the point lead. It’s a change that could have happened as early as Kansas, two weeks ago except for some bad luck and incredible defensive maneuvering by Kenseth to keep the ’03 champ just a few points ahead. However, the boost of confidence for Johnson looms large heading to one of his best tracks, statistically at Martinsville – and Kenseth’s weakest. The fact remains the No. 20 team has had some ill-handling Toyotas, three weeks in a row where even at Talladega, the car became so awful to drive crew chief Jason Ratcliff had to throw the book at it to keep them in the lead draft.
“I don’t think it will affect my team,” said Kenseth of dropping from first to second in the standings. “I think I have one of the greatest teams out here obviously and I feel like we can go everywhere else, and honestly we can race with anybody when we’re at our best. Hopefully, we’ll be at our best the next four weeks and we’ll give them a run for their money.”
We’re about to find out if those statements ring true. Right now, this title tilt looks suspiciously like ’06, where Johnson ran down a rundown Kenseth and then pulled away easily for title number one. At some point, the now “challenger” out of this duo needs to get back to playing offense before the deficit becomes impossible to overcome. Tom Bowles
IndyCar: So What Happens Next? Now that Scott Dixon officially captured the championship, through a survivalist 500 miles at Fontana IndyCar officially shifts into offseason mode. First on that docket is Silly Season, which in IndyCar remains a roving target at this point. Tony Kanaan is moving to Ganassi Racing; James Hinchcliffe is staying put with Andretti Autosport; and Sebastien Bourdais is taking Kanaan’s old spot at KV Technology. But there are still drivers playing duck-duck-goose, namely Takuma Sato and Simona de Silvestro. While it must be considered a possibility that both will re-sign with their respective teams, A.J. Foyt and KV Technology, it doesn’t mean that both moves are a lock.
The other news that is worth pursuing is the release of the 2014 IndyCar schedule. The 18-race tilt is condensed into a five-month period which should appease fans, though one might wonder if the lack of oval-course racing might be an issue. The long layoffs of 2013 seemed problematic in developing a rhythm, both nationally and with hardcore supporters so the new schedule should help with that. But there still seems to be a public desire to see the cars run in circles, like Fontana far more than we did this season… or what’s proposed for next. P. Huston Ladner
Nationwide: Changes Coming At RCR Richard Childress Racing will look a bit different in the Nationwide Series come 2014, and that’s not a bad thing.
As of now, the only driver returning to the team in the series is Brian Scott, the new-ish addition to the organization who currently sits seventh in points and recently made his Sprint Cup Series debut. But with Austin Dillon graduating to Cup next year, replacements were needed. It just so happens that more changes will be made than originally thought.
Dillon’s ride will be taken by brother Ty, but, as was announced earlier this week, the team will field a third full-time team for a single, non-Cup driver: Brendan Gaughan. The Las Vegas native returns to the series after a brief respite, having driven for RCR in the Camping World Truck Series this season. A fourth team, run part-time, will feature a rotation of drivers.
What’s nice is Childress’ dedication to separation. There’s the organization’s Cup teams, followed by its Nationwide program and then — assuming they’ll be back, though it’s said they should be — the Truck teams. Rather than running full-time teams in the lower series with an array of drivers moving down, giving the team an established identity in each series helps solve the issue of fewer top organizations in the lower series rather than hurting it.
Gaughan and Scott may bring money, but both have shown ability in their varying careers on the NASCAR stage, while Dillon’s talent has already been established. Together, we could be looking at a fairly formidable three-hit punch for the Nationwide Series in 2014. Kevin Rutherford
Camping World Truck Series: A Top Team’s Future In Peril When the checkered flag flew over the Fred’s 250 at Talladega Superspeedway, Saturday afternoon Kyle Busch Motorsports had three trucks that left on a wrecker. But that’s not the only race where their present – and future – could be wrecked. According to a report from FOX Sports’ Lee Spencer, KBM’s time on track could be limited due to financial issues. Much like other teams in the series, their success hinges on sponsorship. Without that backing, a strong foundation to build on could end with an auction for parts and pieces come 2014.
“A lot of that comes from the unknown with what’s going on in the world of sponsorship,” Busch said, after announcing he’d released ten employees from KBM. “For the Truck Series, it’s very tough. For Kyle Busch Motorsports, it’s been very tough. You know obviously without the support of Toyota that we get, we probably wouldn’t be here, so we appreciate them as much as they do for us, as much as they do for JGR, MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) and all the Toyota teams.
“It’s a little frustrating to not have a better plan organized right now, and I’d certainly like to keep it the same [teams for 2014] if not better than what we’ve got, but it doesn’t look like much is materializing and it’s really late in the game. [For] … trucks especially, it’s year to year, whether it is even year to year if you can keep yourself afloat.”
While nothing is set in stone, one way or another, the sponsorship situation for KBM is definitely something to keep an eye on. Any organization that’s willing to go out on a limb to develop the talent that young drivers have is a positive across the board, and especially in the Truck Series. It sure would be a shame to see the team have to close its doors. Beth Lunkenheimer
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