Frontstretch Staff · Monday November 18, 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: Johnson Claims Sixth Title While Only Briefly Breaking a Sweat It should come as no surprise that Jimmie Johnson locked up his sixth Sprint Cup championship Sunday evening at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Entering the race, Johnson only had to finish 23rd or better, regardless of what Kenseth did to claim the title. As a result, Johnson spent much of the race running strongly, but potentially not laying his cards on the table. Of note, Johnson spent a good chunk of the race running the low line while most of the rest of the field was up near the wall. Despite Johnson’s contrarian approach, he was still very fast.
However, much like the AdvoCare 500k in Phoenix, Sunday’s race was not devoid of scares. On the restart from the sixth caution on Lap 194, Jeff Gordon spun his tires on the front row. The entire field stacked up behind the four-time champion. Johnson was hit in the left front fender and dropped out of the top 20. The fender did rub the tire briefly, but not enough to cut the tire. Once he regained his bearings, Johnson methodically made his way towards the front.
Johnson did not re-enter the top 10 until after the final pit stop, but he recovered to eventually finish ninth. While he did lose points to Kenseth, claiming the title by only 19 points. However, the result never really seemed to be in doubt.
Kenseth did everything he possibly could to position himself to take the title if Johnson faltered. Although he did not win on Sunday, he put up a performance somewhat similar to what Dale Earnhardt did in the 1995 NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway while trying to claim his eighth title. Kenseth led early and often, racking up 144 laps on the point. However, his car fell off a little after the sun set, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin’s cars came to life. Phil Allaway
Nationwide: A Champion Without a Win Austin Dillon did something no one else has done Saturday afternoon: win a series championship despite never winning a race in said series that year.
That tidbit of information has been recycled often, from weeks before the season ended all the way to Homestead. It’s been touted as a sign of the Nationwide Series’ unhealthiness — that its champion could be a champion even though he never stood in victory lane in the series in a given season.
But in the end, a series title is all about one thing and one thing only: scoring the most points, and that’s exactly what Dillon did. He played the game how it’s supposed to be played and scored the most points in a season. He may never have visited victory lane, but he did score a handful of runner-up finishes and a few more finishes that, eliminating Cup drivers from the running order, would have seen him first.
It’s not like Austin Dillon had a poor season. He did exactly what he needed to do in order to win a title. Can’t really fault him for that. Kevin Rutherford
Camping World Truck Series: Crafton Scores First Career Championship In his 13th year of full time competition in the Truck Series, Matt Crafton has finally snagged the championship trophy that has eluded him for so many seasons. Though he only won a single event (Kansas in April), the driver of the No. 88 Toyota posted one of his best seasons to date. Crafton scored 19 top 10s, including 16 straight to open the season, and seven top 5s.
“It’s an honor to be able to drive this Menards Toyota Tundra. For Menards and all the people that have been behind me, every one of these guys that work on this truck, it’s an honor to be able to give them this championship,” Crafton said. “These guys are the ones that work so hard. I’m just the one that gets to celebrate and look like the hero because I got to drive a great truck all year.”
The Tulare, California-native has 316 career Truck Series starts and boasts three victories, 63 top 5s and 173 top 10s. The bonus for the champion? He’ll be back behind the wheel of the No. 88 Toyota next season alongside teammate Johnny Sauter running for the championship once again. Beth Lunkenheimer
Short Tracks: Pulliam the Champ … Again Lee Pulliam has won the Whelen All-American Series National Championship the last two seasons running for Pulliam racing. He’s been responsible for the finances and putting the whole operation on the track. Not saying he paid for it but he had to make sure the bills were paid and arrange for sponsors to make that happen. That is possibly going to change. It is definitely changing this coming weekend for the Myrtle Beach 400. Sunday Pulliam posted a picture on his Facebook page of a race transporter from Kiker Motorsports that lists Pulliam as the driver on the side. He is going to pilot their entry for the Myrtle Beach race next weekend and it is reported that there are also discussions underway to have him run the car for them for all of 2014 as well.
Pulliam was on the And The Winner Is… radio program last week and said he isn’t sure at this point what the future holds for him. The opportunity to win the National Championship three consecutive years is a large carrot because it has never been done before. Pulliam also made several starts in a Super Late Model after the season wrapped up, notching a victory at Southern National Motorsports Park in a Pro-Cup race. Pulliam is 25 years old and the door for him to advance to the national levels of NASCAR racing is rapidly closing. That is weighing heavily on his decisions for 2014. Mike Neff
Sports Cars: Sebring Hosts TUSC Open Test While NASCAR’s National series were all in action at Homestead-Miami Speedway, 25 teams from the newly formed Tudor United SportsCar Championship (TUSC) were at Sebring International Raceway for a two-day test session designed for teams to check out new equipment and rule changes to existing equipment. Two Daytona Prototypes, Corvette DP’s from Action Express Racing and Marsh Racing, were outfitted with some of the new equipment designed to equalize the cars with the P2 machinery. The new pieces include a rear diffuser, a two-plane rear wing as opposed to the single element wing, underbody tunnels, carbon fiber brakes and new wing endplates.
The No. 5 Chevrolet Corvette DP Evo driven by Joao Barbosa turned in the fastest lap of the test with a 1:53.266 on Saturday. The lap is roughly two seconds slower than the P2 class pole for this year’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, but four seconds quicker than the fastest P2 car at the test. The No. 31 Corvette DP Evo shared by Eric Curran and Boris Said only turned laps on Sunday. According to SportsCar365.com’s John Dagys, Marsh Racing’s No. 31 was not running the carbon fiber brakes on their car due to the substantial costs. Despite the last of but still turned a quick lap of 1:55.688, good for second. The DeltaWing Coupe was third quickest with a 1:57.508. Only one PC (Prototype Challenge) team turned up in Sebring, that being Muscle Milk Pickett Racing, the ALMS P1 Champions from last season.
In the GT Le Mans class, the SRT Motorsports Viper No. 93 was the fastest car for much of the weekend, turning in laps on Sunday in the high 2:01 range. That pace held in the GT Daytona class as well, where the Riley Technologies SRT Viper GT3-R of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen was quickest on Saturday (they chose not to participate on Sunday).
The TUSC teams will have another open test Tuesday and Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway. As of Sunday night, 37 teams (9 Prototypes, 4 Prototype Challenge, 4 GT Le Mans and 20 GT Daytona) have announced their intention to test. It will feature the on-track debut of Turner Motorsport’s GT Daytona-spec BMW Z4. Phil Allaway
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