_Did you see all of the race action this weekend? Or, like a lot of busy fans, did you miss a late-night adventure, a Friday controversy, 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 during the week ahead. Let our experts help you get up to speed for the coming week no matter what series you might have missed, all in this week’s edition of Pace Laps!_
*NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: How Will Teams Handle The Off Week?* NASCAR’s hectic schedule takes a breather this Monday, with Sprint Cup teams knowing it’s the final time they’ll be able to take an extended break until Homestead in November. For years, the fans have advocated a week off before the start of the Chase but instead, the last “vacation” for NASCAR programs occurs about two months before. So can the “hot” teams, like Hendrick Motorsports keep the momentum flowing through a weekend of no competition? And can other programs, like Carl Edwards’ No. 99 gather the information needed to get it together quickly? For those struggling teams, like the Earnhardt Ganassi outfit now is also a time to re-evaluate their crew chief scenario. Will they make a move with the Chase out of reach? As we saw last year, with the Greg Biffle – Matt Puccia matchup, among others now is the perfect time to make an adjustment if you’re going to do it. _–Tom Bowles_
*NASCAR Nationwide Series: A Blonde Moment — What Will Happen To The Copes?* Although Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. battled to the end in the Dash for Cash race at Loudon on Saturday, the championship race largely held serve, with each of the top four in points all scoring top 10 finishes… but none of the four actually contended for the win. Rather, the stretch of Cup dominance at New Hampshire dating back to 2005 continued, with Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick leading the lion’s share of the laps and polesitter Keselowski taking the trophy.
That said, perhaps the largest takeaway from the latest weekend at a track that’s long been considered a challenge was the struggle that NASCAR’s celebrity development crop had over the course of 200 miles. Travis Pastrana’s day ended courtesy of a blown tire, but the No. 99 car was not going to be contending for a top 15 on this Saturday even before it pounded the turn 3 wall. Danica Patrick worked her way into the top 10, but lost all that progress courtesy of an unassisted spin following the directions of her team and aggressively dealing with lap traffic; the No. 7 car went around exiting turn 4 as she tried to clear Jason Bowles. Lastly, and by the far the least-known of the three, Amber Cope (Derrike Cope’s niece) played what ended up being a critical role in determining the race.
With more than 30 laps down, Cope struggled to stay in a straight line exiting turn 2 and ended up killing Kevin Harvick’s momentum, a move that opened the door for Brad Keselowski to make his race-winning pass. Cope has been a bastion for criticism on Twitter of late, not doing herself any favors by taking shots at Harvick for his fault in the incident.
It just goes to show that there are plenty of folks who want to be out on the track; but, ultimately, this is a performance industry. No matter how much a sponsor or a driver wants it, talent is ultimately going to dictate success. None of the three listed had what could be considered a successful race. _–Bryan Davis Keith_
*ARCA: Bowman Has A Breakthrough* The Cunningham Motorsports team has always been strong on the intermediate ovals, but their 2012 title contender Alex Bowman has turned out to be quite the successful short tracker, leading 93 laps en route to victory at Iowa. Bowman’s won a series-leading three races this year, and all of them have come on the bullrings (Iowa, Salem, Winchester). That’s a tremendous advantage for Bowman, one of four drivers within 100 markers of the points lead, on a variety of fronts. For one, the summer stretch of the ARCA schedule is short-track heavy, with trips to IRP, Berlin, Madison, and Salem left on the tour during the next few months.
But most importantly, it keeps Bowman, who currently has all the momentum the ARCA Racing Series has to offer on the back of consecutive oval victories, on a level playing field with the more-established title contenders in the field. Nine-time champion Frank Kimmel has won on just about every short-track on which ARCA has ever competed; Chris Buescher has scored five of his seven career wins on the shorter ovals. That leaves points leader Brennan Poole who, although was a formidable contender driving for Venturini Motorsports, has faced mechanical woes of late; the No. 25 car has blown tires in each of the last two short-track events and also suffered through a rash of blistered tires at Michigan.
Bowman cut a 165 point deficit to 75 after this weekend’s race at Iowa. That kind of short track success means something in a series that still values the bullring. _Bryan Davis Keith_
*Short Tracks: Shirley’s Success* They don’t call it the Hell Tour for nothing. The schedule showed 29 races in 32 days and in the end, all but one of them were contested. The only exception was Lincoln Speedway on July 1st that was canceled due to heat concerns. But when the final checkered flag flew in Wauseon, OH, it was Brina Shirley holding the big check.
Shirley led the Tour this Summer with five victories, but he also had an impressive 66 point per race average over the 28 races. The title wasn’t easy as Shannon Babb chased him to the very end but ultimately came up 76 points short with four wins. Rounding out the top 5 in the Tour standings were Brandon Sheppard, Jason Feger and Ryan Unzicker. For Sheppard that is a very impressive effort taking over the Josh Richards ride after Richards committed to running in NASCAR this season. Along with the top-5 drivers, hats off to Jason McBride, Mike Spatola, and Nick Bartells for competing in all 28 races.
Congratulations also go out to Kenny Wallace for taking the Modified Summer Nationals Championship on Saturday night. Initially, Wallace had resigned himself to not running Saturday, which would have left him with nine races during the tour. Modifieds count their best 10 races and that missing race would have prevented Wallace from winning the title. At the last minute Saturday, Wallace accepted an offer from Tony Stewart to fly down to Oakshade Raceway for the finale and ended up winning the championship by coming home in sixth place.
The UMP Summer Nationals is a true test of man and machine and, for 2012, the team of Brian Shirley can claim they are the best. _-Mike Neff_
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