_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: Tragedy Mars Momentum From Pocono Finish* NASCAR Nation is in mourning this Monday after losing one of their own, a race fan during a series of storms that turned tragic. As severe weather swept through Pocono Raceway, shortly after the race was called a 41-year-old man was killed and ten injured as a series of lightning strikes hit behind the grandstands (four remained in area hospitals, one critical at press time). In a heartbeat, the smiles surrounding getting the race in on Sunday were replaced by sadness, confusion and concern as everyone tried to figure out what went wrong.
“I’m pretty sure I know which one it was,” said winner Jeff Gordon. “We were walking down pit road, the umbrellas weren’t doing any good, there was a huge, huge crack from lightning. You can tell it was very close. I mean, that’s the thing that’s going to take away from the victory, is the fact that somebody was affected by that.”
NASCAR, for its part immediately expressed compassion and concern over the incidents, which were centered around the parking lot area behind Turn 3. According to witnesses, several strikes occurred, the most serious affecting the deceased man and two others who were around and/or inside a car at the time of the incident.
“We are deeply saddened that a fan has died and others were injured by lightning strikes following today’s race at Pocono,” said NASCAR spokesman David Higdon. “Our thoughts are with them as well as all those affected by this unfortunate accident.”
“A member of our raceway family here, a fan, has passed away,” added track President Brandon Igdalsky. “On behalf of myself, the entire family and everybody here, (we offer) a really heartfelt (sympathy) that this happened.”
The death erased happy faces on Pocono’s staff – several were understandably shaken by the news – after a year’s worth of breathtaking improvements both in and around this 2.5-mile facility. Profits and attendance were also noticeably up for a speedway that has made its mission, under new Track President Brandon Igdalsky to cater to the fan. In just 18 months everything from repaving the facility, to shortening the race distance and adding a variety of amenities have been met with almost universal positive reaction.
But that sterling reputation, rightly or wrongly will now go under the microscope a bit as an investigation to the tragedy ensues. In the face of such a horrifying incident, the focus will be on how much – if at all – NASCAR or the track could have prevented it. Some are already saying the race should have never began Sunday afternoon, with poor forecasts and an ugly radar making the full 400 miles an impossibility from the start. But what will get the most scrutiny is the timeline of events, both how quickly the race was stopped and in what way fans were informed of possible dangers. According to the National Weather Service, a severe thunderstorm warning was issued at 4:12 for the Speedway, with the heart of the storm expected to arrive at 4:50. Racing stopped shortly after 4:40, giving fans who watched from beginning to end less than ten minutes to run for cover.
NASCAR, quickly has made it clear they would stop competition immediately if they felt any weather posed a physical threat to fans. Spokesman “Kerry Tharp told the Sporting News”:http://aol.sportingnews.com/nascar/story/2012-08-05/nascar-fans-lightning-pocono-raceway-rain-shortened-race the cars were out there until the track was completely soaked in order to keep heat in the asphalt, officials hoping the storm would pass and fans would get to see more racing. The track also clearly issued warnings, several times and loud enough for all to hear as fans were urged to run for cover.
In the coming days, the focus will be on whether that was enough while the racing world starts the process of healing. In one split-second lightning strike, the positive vibes from a year of racing at Pocono now come with an asterisk attached. _–Tom Bowles_
*Izod IndyCar Series: Could the IZOD Indy Car Series Return to a Pocono With More than Three Turns?* INDYCAR’s possible return to Pocono might not be exactly what everyone expects. The track’s name has been bandied about in conversations about adding more ovals to the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule because interest in the possibility of a return to the Pennsylvania track has been expressed by both series and track management. IndyCars last raced at Pocono in 1989, some 23 years ago despite first taking to the track long before NASCAR debuted there in 1974.
So is the triangle a serious contender for racing in 2013? Yes… just not the way you think. Consider remarks made by Pocono’s Chief Operating Officer Nick Igdalsky during MRN’s broadcast of this week’s NASCAR race. Igdalsky discussed the ongoing improvements underway at the track and noted the next phase was a repave of its three infield road course configurations, all using the same material as the oval. He also said the track is in discussions with sanctioning bodies that he couldn’t yet name to stage races on those road courses, be they open-wheel or sports cars.
Igdalsky’s comments bring up a possibility that it seems no one has really considered in speculation about the schedule for the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2013 — that they may, in fact race at Pocono, but on a road course instead of the oval. _–Toni Montgomery_
*NASCAR Nationwide Series: Sadler’s Drive Makes Him Title Favorite* Losing the inaugural Brickyard race may have been the best possible outcome for Elliott Sadler and Richard Childress Racing if Saturday night was any indication. Displaying a raw emotion that was unusual even for the outgoing Sadler, the driver exclaimed, “They’re not taking this championship from us!” in a reference to his criticism of NASCAR after a black flag (for passing before he was allowed on a restart) a week ago at Indy as he took the checkers at Iowa. Not only was this Sadler’s fourth win of the year (already a career-high at any level of NASCAR racing), it was his first at Iowa despite having won three poles at the track.
This one was big. Sadler capitalized when Austin Dillon finally had a slip-up. He won at a track that defending champion Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. made his personal playground for the last three races. Not only winning, but taking it from a resurgent Justin Allgaier who’s starving for a win himself. Elliott Sadler is on the verge of going from the solid performer he’s been since dropping back down to race Nationwide last year to be the powerhouse many expected.
Earlier this weekend, Carl Edwards revealed that part of the reason he was being put in a Nationwide car for Watkins Glen after not racing AAA all year was because Stenhouse’s No. 6 team needed another squad with whom to bounce ideas off… and left the door open that he may be racing more Nationwide events before 2012 is over. If the No. 6 team is throwing in the towel as a single-car bunch and calling for help, make no mistake: RCR poses a lethal threat to their hopes of defending the 2011 crown.
And for all Austin Dillon’s shown this summer, it may well be Sadler who’s taking the point in that camp. _–Bryan Davis Keith_
*NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Bodine Starting an Unnecessary Feud?* Todd Bodine left Pocono Raceway Friday with a wrecked truck and a hot head. After turning across Nelson Piquet, Jr.’s nose and wrecking hard into the inside wall, the driver of the No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota proceeded to throw his helmet at Piquet’s truck. And if that wasn’t enough, Bodine continued to place the blame on Piquet during his post-wreck interview, calling the Brazilian an “idiot” for not moving over when Bodine attempted to remain behind then-leader James Buescher to grab a bit of the draft.
Can you say failure to take the blame? Through several different angles on the replay, there was absolutely no question as to which driver was actually in the wrong at that point. Bodine had plenty of racing room up top and could have maintained his line, however when he didn’t, he should have accepted the blame (which, for the record, he did… sort of) rather than trying to pass it along to someone else. Whether anything more will come from Bodine—or whether he’ll be penalized by NASCAR for the helmet toss–remains to be seen, but he’d be smart to take a good look at the replays a few more times and get in touch with Piquet before they head off to Michigan in two weeks. _–Beth Lunkenheimer_
*ARCA: Title Race Heats Up as Series Heads to the Short Tracks* It’s perhaps fitting that this weekend’s 125-miler at Pocono did little to shuffle the championship picture. Though Brennan Poole did end up taking the points lead on the strength of a runner-up finish, fellow contenders Alex Bowman, Frank Kimmel, and Chris Buescher all finished in the top 5 as well, leaving only 175 points between first and fourth in the standings.
Why was it fitting that Pocono was a largely uneventful race? Because it’s time for ARCA to kiss the big-time NASCAR circuits goodbye. The real season is about to begin for the ARCA regulars, with three short tracks and two dirt tracks on the schedule before the season finale at Kansas Speedway. The mega-horsepower that drove Saturday’s event will now take a back seat, with bullrings and challenging surfaces putting this championship battle in the drivers’ hands. Will Venturini Motorsports avoid the mechanical woes that plagued them during the early summer? Will Alex Bowman keep on winning and avoid the wrecking? And is this the year that Frank Kimmel finally capitalizes on the late season stretch of Salem, Springfield, and DuQuoin to score elusive title number 10?
Compelling storylines abound. It’s a shame there are no more ARCA telecasts until that finale at Kansas. _-Bryan Davis Keith_
*Short Tracks:The End of the Line for Concord Speedway?* It has been a tough week for Concord Speedway. After a decision earlier this year to cut back on the prize money for the Late Model division, the season wrapped up last Saturday, before August was even upon us. This Saturday the UARA cars ran at Concord, and, although the race was great, a last lap crash saw a car leave the track and take down some 50 feet of catch fence.
Concord is a very fast race track located in Concord, North Carolina, the heart of racing country. It should be one of the most popular tracks in the country, but it is struggling to reassert itself on the national stage. New ownership looked poised to turn things in the right direction, but unfortunately they weren’t able to stick it out to the end of the season to try and rebuild the driver base. There are a couple of races left on the calendar this season for the half mile track, with touring series who have rented the facility, but no more regular events.
There is no word on the plans for 2013 at Concord. Hopefully the owners will stick it out and work with the area drivers to rebuild the track and, ultimately, the attendance. If they don’t choose to continue, it will be sad to see such a great track, in such a great location, shut down. _-Mike Neff_
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