_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: Dale’s Double Trouble* All season long, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been cruising along with a little something “extra.” No, I’m not talking about horsepower, conspiracy theorists; it’s called confidence, a personality trait this man usually loses by March in the midst of frustrating finish turned Eeyore-like perspective on the future of his No. 88 team.
It’s easy to put a smile on your face when completing every lap of every race run. But in the last two weeks, suddenly some cracks have appeared in the Earnhardt facade of excellence. Last week, it was mechanically induced – a faulty transmission at Pocono that left him behind the wall. At the Glen? Earnhardt’s fault, losing control in a spinout that’s a second consecutive finish outside the top 20. So much for completing 100% of every race; those results, combined with teammate Jimmie Johnson’s success have now switched the point lead over to the No. 48.
“I just got in the corner and made a mistake and that was pretty much all there was to it,” Earnhardt said of his Sunday snafu at the Glen. “I was just overdriving the car.”
Can he put that poor performance behind him? On paper, it seems the perfect place to finish Junior’s woes is up ahead; Michigan International Speedway, right where he waltzed to a first victory in four years this June. Can Earnhardt pull off the season sweep? That’s a stretch; what’s needed is a top-5 result to get this organization back on track. Unlike say, Tony Stewart in 2011 this driver is not the type who can rebound from bad results and be a whole different beast once the playoffs begin. A crisis of confidence is always a few bad breaks away, making Sunday crew chief Steve Letarte’s biggest test of the season. Three strikes and you’re out in baseball; here, a third straight disaster could take Earnhardt mentally out of championship contention before it starts. _Tom Bowles_
*NASCAR Nationwide Series: Did Double-Dipping Turn Watkins Glen Into A Downer?*
Go figure that as soon as Carl Edwards came back to Nationwide Series racing, the events took on a level of Cup dominance that hasn’t been seen as frequently in the 2012 season. Between Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, only Sam Hornish Jr. proved capable of keeping up with the big guns in their 200-mile tuneup for Sunday.
It was a far cry from the Nationwide Series’ first road course event earlier this season at Road America, where Truck regular Nelson Piquet Jr. manhandled the field en route to victory, and the road course ringers put on a big-time show throughout the top 10. And it raises an excellent question…would the Nationwide ranks be better off skipping Watkins Glen?
Road racing has been an excellent addition to the Nationwide Series, and the decision to feature three races on the schedule to justify the expense of road racing cars and equipment is completely justifiable. But having said that, unlike with ovals, there are tons of road course facilities out there not currently hosting NASCAR races that can pull it off. And having the Nationwide Series head there instead of the Glen rids both the incentive for double dipping…and the strength that Cup regulars show doing it.
Races over the past few seasons, from Allgaier’s near-miss at Road America last year to Boris Said and Max Papis’s epic battle at Montreal, have demonstrated that the Nationwide Series does not need an influx of stock car star power to put on a good road race. Mid-Ohio, Road Atlanta, the possibilities are endless. _–Bryan Davis Keith_
*ARCA: Can Kimmel Get It Done?* Though this weekend’s event was a radical departure from a typical ARCA short-track race (over 150 green flag laps to open an event that lasted only 69 minutes and change), the results were to be expected; young gun Chris Buescher proved victorious, while Frank Kimmel was right behind, stalking in the top 5. The lengthy green flag run gleaned something else in ARCA’s dirt/bullring summer stretch; off the truck, the Nos. 17 and 44 and seem to have a leg up on fellow contenders Brennan Poole and Alex Bowman.
Buescher has long been a short-track force on the ARCA circuit, including near-perfect dominance of the Toledo Speedway. Meanwhile, after snapping a three-plus year winless streak at Indianapolis two weeks ago, Frank Kimmel is making his strongest push for a 10th ARCA title since leaving Tri-State Motorsports after the 2007 season. Both had the field covered on Saturday night, keeping Bowman’s powerful Cunningham Motorsports machine five laps off the pace while Poole’s No. 25 car was mid-pack among the Venturini entries (both Erik Jones and Clint King outran him).
Now, heading the season’s first dirt race as the only two full-timers on tour that have scored dirt wins (the only previous winner entered for this Sunday’s race other than those two is Steve Arpin), look for Saturday’s battle at Berlin to pick up right where it left off. _Bryan Davis Keith_
*Grand-Am: Championship Battle Heats Up with Dalziel DP Win*
This weekends “Continental Tire 200” brings the Grand-Am series one step closer to the season ender. With only three races to go in the season the points championship in the Daytona Prototype class is still up for grabs with a slim 35-point margin separating the top 7 in the standings. Ryan Dalziel grabbed his first win of the year at Watkins Glen, leading the final 30 laps of competition.
“It was an unbelievable job,” Dalziel said. “We definitely felt in Indy that we could have had a 1-2 (finish) after a couple of seasons of knocking on the door of a double podium; this is excellent. I think it was a pretty dominating performance.”
While co-drivers Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett maintained their lead, tied for first, Dalziel’s first-place finish moved him to within six points of the pair. With 35 points awarded to the race winner, the championship battle is still wide open. Darren Law and Alex Popow sit just six and seven points behind Dalziel, respectively.
Meanwhile, in the GT series the top 5 find themselves separated by 40 points and still have a shot at taking home the trophy at the end of the season. Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato lead the pack by 16 points over Paul Dalla Lana, who snagged his second victory of the season with teammate Bill Auberlen. Sylvain Tremblay and Jonathan Bomarito find themselves tied for third with Robin Lidell just one marker behind. Leh Keen and Andrew Davis round out the top 5. _Rick Lunkenheimer_
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