Frontstretch Staff · Monday November 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: At The Crossroads Of History One year ago, Jimmie Johnson left Texas with a seven-point lead over Brad Keselowski. Stories were being written, coast to coast about a sixth title for his No. 48 team, ending a one-year aberration after a remarkable run of five straight and the ease with which he would rise up to challenge Richard Petty in 2013. Heading to Phoenix, they should have paved I-10 with gold asphalt (bought from Lowe’s, of course) for the West Coast native because he was already well on his way to getting the crown.
A funny thing happened that year, though when Johnson attempted to ascend the throne; he never got there. An awful run at Phoenix, accentuated by a blown tire and contact with the outside wall got paired with pit road problems, then mechanical failure at Homestead. It was a spectacular fall from grace that had the once-championship leader tumbling to third in the final standings, an awkward ending that’s far from forgotten now that the No. 48 team once again sits in the catbird’s seat.
“The lesson in all of that is I’m not counting on anything,” Johnson said of this coming Sunday. “It does simplify things a little bit. I’m not going to get too excited about things during the course of the week. I’m going to work real hard and train my butt off.”
Brad Keselowski, back then appeared to sneak up on Johnson and Company with a strong run at Phoenix. But this year, the circumstances appear different. Matt Kenseth, second in the standings did not have a white-knuckle, late laps battle with Johnson to take the win at Texas. Instead, it was the No. 48 which dominated, leading 255 laps in a whole other time zone from the field while his challenger in the No. 20 did everything possible simply to finish fourth.
That should give Johnson and Company slightly more momentum, combined with the knowledge of past history that nothing is ever guaranteed. But Phoenix will now serve as that pivotal moment for the No. 48, both short-term and long-term. Put the Chase away, with a second straight dominating day up front and the soon-to-be “Six Pack” will re-assume his longtime spot on top of NASCAR Nation. But crash again? Handing destiny back to Kenseth, risking extending his title drought to a third straight season? Should that happen, it’s fair to say team and driver have forgotten how to close.
It’s the way sport works, a game of inches where the line between success and failure is so close. Right now, Johnson appears to be on the right side of it all, but only time will tell if history will truly be rewritten — or repeated. Tom Bowles
Nationwide: Texas Tightens Things Up Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge won’t go down as a memorable race this season. In fact, chances are you won’t even remember it anytime down the road, unless you attended in person or found something on which to fixate, be it a great run by a favorite driver or otherwise.
But Texas did its job. The race, however frustrating at times, provided a tightening of the championship race. Rather than handing the title to Austin Dillon, Sam Hornish Jr. muscled his way to a third-place finish, leading two laps in the process. Not to be outdone, Dillon also led two laps and finished just behind in fifth.
It’s delightful to see such a close title battle — Dillon leads Hornish by six points entering Phoenix — because, in a season that many will probably forget, managing to retain folks’ attention into November is a tall task. Plus there’s the slight intrigue of the owners championship, generally depending on who — Penske Racing or Joe Gibbs Racing — you’d rather see fail.
And two years ago, Hornish won his first NASCAR race ever in Phoenix. If there’s any track where he might be able to get a leg up on his competition, it’s the desert. This should be sweet. Kevin Rutherford
Camping World Truck Series: Two Weeks To Make A Statement With just two races remaining, Matt Crafton has pretty much sealed up the championship unless the team suffers an epic meltdown. That title bid, becomes a bid of a side story as others try and stand out for various reasons. There are several drivers that would like to make a statement to end the year, and John Wes Townley is just one of them. Once known as John “Wrecks” Townley, that moniker doesn’t really apply anymore as he’s finished inside the top 10 in four of the last five races and hasn’t suffered a DNF since Kansas in April. His teammate, German Quiroga, remains as the only rookie in this year’s battle that has not visited Victory Lane. While he posted a pair of third-place results at Texas (June) and Pocono, Quiroga hasn’t led a lap since Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. Ross Chastain and Miguel Paludo also stand out as drivers that have the equipment to get to Victory Lane but have yet to seal the deal.
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got Ron Hornaday, Jr., the winningest driver in the Truck Series, that has not won a race since before Kevin Harvick, Inc. dissolved. And while he has plenty of victories in the Truck Series, the 55-year-old boasts just six top 5s in two years, a number that pales in comparison to the double digit top 5s he posted from 2007 through ’11. But that’s not to say he can’t win in the equipment he’s currently driving. After all, he just matched his season-high third that he posted at Daytona on Friday night and has looked much stronger in the last handful of races.
Could any of these hungry drivers jump in and steal the spotlight from ThorSport Racing’s potential first championship? Tune in the next two weeks to find out. Beth Lunkenheimer
Short Tracks: “Chasing” That All-American Trophy The Super Late Model world has several big races during the year. While there certainly is debate among fans in the Midwest and Northeast on whether the TD Bank 250, Oktoberfest or Slinger Nationals should be included in what most people consider to be the Super Late Model Grand Slam. Those races are certainly big and draw in a multitude of drivers from their regions however, even though it shows an obvious southern bias, the Super Grand Slam includes the World Crown 300, the Winchester 400, the All-American 400 and the Snowball Derby. Winning any of these races is a huge feather in the cap of a driver. Winning all four of them is a career accomplishment for anyone. Chase Elliott’s victory Saturday night in the All-American completes the career slam for the 17 year-old driver from Dawsonville, GA.
For those people who are unaware, Elliott is the son of Bill Elliott. He has been targeted by Hendrick Motorsports as a developmental driver and has been racing in Pro and Super Late Models along with forays into the Truck Series this season. Saturday night Elliott nursed his tires and track position until there were 50 laps to go in the race then dove into the pits under caution, started near the end of the entire field and drove to the lead in under 15 laps. The win gives him another victory at a historic track where his famous father was never able to go to Victory Lane. He now has wins at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway and North Wilkesboro.
Elliott turns 18 at the end of the month and will then be eligible to compete in the entire Camping World Truck series schedule. Assuming the folks at Hendrick Motorsports are able to secure sponsorship for Elliott, he should be competing for the 2014 Truck series title after completing his career resume in Super Late Model racing. Mike Neff
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