The Frontstretch: Pace Laps: Maximizing Opportunities And NASCAR's Minority Breakthrough by Frontstretch Staff -- Monday October 28, 2013

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Pace Laps: Maximizing Opportunities And NASCAR's Minority Breakthrough

Frontstretch Staff · Monday October 28, 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!

In early September, Jeff Gordon wasn’t even part of the original Chase field. Now? He’s primed to finish inside the top 5 in Sprint Cup points.

Sprint Cup: Gordon Taking Full Advantage Of Chase Opportunity After Richmond, Jeff Gordon was not even a member of the 2013 Chase. However, a week later in Chicagoland the postseason landscape changed dramatically. An unprecedented move by NASCAR added a 13th driver to the Chase and Jeff Gordon’s championship hopes were revived. Many didn’t agree with NASCAR’s decision and claimed Gordon didn’t deserve to be there. Some would say the four-time champion’s stint of being a title contender was behind him, that he fell too far behind the younger drivers who have staked their claim as frontrunners.

Fast forward to Martinsville Speedway, the seventh race of the Chase. Jeff Gordon is standing in Victory Lane at a track where he now owns eight victories (tied with Johnson amongst active drivers), his first win here since 2005. Along with that win, Gordon has three top 5s, five top 10s and no finish worse than 15th so far in the Chase. Gordon is taking full advantage of his gift from NASCAR and proving that consistency can still win a championship.

The one-time “Rainbow Warrior” is fighting hard, third in points and only 27 markers behind the tied point leaders Johnson and Kenseth. The next three races (Texas, Phoenix and Homestead) statistically show that Gordon is far from out of championship contention. Amongst the top three in points, Gordon has the best average finish (10.57), most top 5s (7) and most top 10s (11) at Homestead, as well as the most top 5s (10) and top 10s (20) at Phoenix. In addition, Gordon has won at all three tracks, along with Kenseth (Johnson does not have a win at Homestead).

Now many would say that statistics don’t mean much when it comes to the final races of the Chase, but you can’t deny that Jeff Gordon’s record proves he is just as much a part of the championship conversation as Johnson and Kenseth. Also, take a look at how Gordon won during the final laps at Martinsville. The No. 24 had to run down, then pass Kenseth during the closing laps; there was no track position swap on pit road. While Johnson struggled on restarts, it was his teammate mastering traffic and weaving through like the “young gun” who once dominated the Cup circuit in the late 1990s. Chemistry with crew chief Alan Gustafson, reinvigorated during a private conversation the duo had in mid-July, following an awkward race at Loudon appears to have hit an all-time high.

Whether they ride it all the way to a title is still unknown. But no matter what happens once the checkered flag falls at Homestead, Gordon will owe NASCAR a big thank you for allowing him to show the NASCAR community that he still is as strong as any driver in the field. Mike Mehedin

It may be two years since his passing, but the beauty of Dan Wheldon’s spirit lives on throughout the IndyCar community and through charity.

IndyCar: Relaxation For A Cause With IndyCar now facing the sunset of its season, the drivers and teams have a little time to take a breath and enjoy a moment of relaxation. Accompanying this notion was the Dan Wheldon Pro Am Karting Challenge held this past week. A mix of professional and amateur drivers competed in the 100-minute charity race to raise money for Alzheimer’s. Dario Franchitti’s brother, Marino, took the top spot, but the finish was scrutinized for cutting off part of the track, pushing the officials to rule that Ed Carpenter’s team also took first place. Though drivers are uber-competitive, having a tie in a charity race isn’t all that bad.

In other news, offseason testing – yes that’s right, testing – begins soon. Teams will be already looking to get baselines for the 2014 season which is, you know, only five months away. P. Huston Ladner

Camping World Truck Series: An African-American Winner Another breathtaking 200 laps of Truck Series racing at Martinsville culminated with NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity putting their second graduate into Victory Lane in one of the three National Touring Series. Darrell Wallace, Jr., driving the No. 54 Toyota Care Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports handled the last three restarts like a seasoned veteran, as the leader of the race, and drove to his first win in the Truck Series. Wallace bested Brendan Gaughan, Jeb Burton, Ben Kennedy and Ryan Blaney to record his historic victory, the first for an African-American at NASCAR’s top levels in nearly fifty years.

Denny Hamlin started the race from the pole position and looked to be headed towards a victory when he ended up on the outside during a lap 142 restart. As he came onto the front straight, with Matt Crafton to his inside, Hamlin and Crafton got together and the No. 51 slid across the track backwards into the frontstretch wall. While he was able to continue, ultimately coming home in sixth position, Hamlin’s hopes for a win were dashed. Ty Dillon had the lead on the lap 150 restart from that caution but lost the top spot to Wallace on lap 151. Wallace then withstood the assault of Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Gaughan over the final three restarts to score his first win.

MEHEDIN: Full Martinsville Truck Recap

Wallace becomes the second African-American driver to win a race in the three national touring series of NASCAR. The first was Wendell Scott, who lived some 30 miles from the speedway in Martinsville; he scored his lone Cup win at a short track in Jacksonville, Florida way back in 1963. Kyle Larson is the only other Drive for Diversity graduate to score a win in the sport’s top three divisions. He earned a win at Rockingham Speedway, driving a one-off ride in the Truck Series earlier this season.

Ty Dillon and Darrell Wallace, Jr. were at the epicenter of Truck Series storylines this weekend.

The biggest headline outside of Wallace’s victory to come out of the race is that Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon had a heated exchange with their trucks on the track after Dillon spun Harvick in the middle of Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 188. Dillon, angry over the contact attempted to spin Harvick multiple times on the way back to the pits. Once the trucks were on pit lane, Harvick stopped in front of Dillon’s pit and was confronted by several members of Dillon’s crew, one of whom launched a large orange sledgehammer in his general direction. While Harvick’s chances of winning a Cup Series title were slim at best going into the weekend, they are probably even less now that he’s irritated his car owner by torpedoing said owner’s son’s faint Truck title hopes.

HENDERSON: Short Track Takes From Saturday

“Exactly the reason why I’m leaving RCR,” Harvick said. “Because you’ve got those punk-ass kids coming up, and they’ve got no respect for what they do in this sport and they’ve had everything fed to them with a spoon.”

On Sunday, the driver was apologizing to Childress, along with his grandsons Ty and Austin after the verbal tirade. Everyone was playing nice on camera; but off it, the damage has surely been done to a marriage that now can’t be dissolved quickly enough. Mike Neff

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pepper
10/28/2013 11:05 AM
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How do you deserve something you didn’t earn?

Anne
10/28/2013 04:27 PM
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What has Jeff earned this year or the last few years for that matter? Nascars script is going according to plan.

RickP
10/29/2013 07:44 AM
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Once again, it’s the media and NASCAR that sees color/sex/race in everything. The rest of us fans see a talented driver.

 

Contact Tom Bowles

Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

Did You Notice? ... A Return To Richmond, Post-Spingate And Quick Hits
Did You Notice? ... Breaking Down A Sprint Cup Season Eight Races In
Did You Notice? ... Drivers Still Make A Difference... But Silly Cautions Don't
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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.