_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!_
*Sprint Cup: Will Judgment Call Cloud The Chase?* Brad Keselowski’s decisive win on Sunday was not without some controversy. On the final pit stop of the race, Keselowski’s crew reeled off a lightning fast pit stop and, as he was coming out of the pits, Keselowski gave it everything he had to get on the track close enough behind Jimmie Johnson to make a pass for the lead. In doing so, Keselowski blended into traffic under Johnson’s car, upsetting his line. Johnson was on the radio immediately, questioning Keselowski’s move. When exiting the pits under green, drivers must stay on the apron of the track until the exit of turn 2 before they blend into race traffic. (It’s a safety measure as much as anything.) Drivers are shown the so-called “blend line” in the weekly drivers’ meeting. Johnson wondered whether Keselowski had moved onto the track too soon.
Johnson’s spotter, who is afforded an overhead view of that area, confirmed that Keselowski had pulled up early, and video replay seemed to confirm this as well; Keselowski was clearly still turning when he moved up onto the track. But NASCAR officials felt otherwise and chose not to penalize Keselowski. While it’s unlikely that the outcome of the race would have been different had Keselowski waited a few more yards, the situation does raise a question: why is the blend line left to a judgment call? Other areas that can result in a violation if not respected are clearly marked, such as the restart zone and the pit road commitment line and speed lines. Why not paint a line on the apron at the exit of turn two that all four tires of a car must touch before he may blend into traffic? Train a camera on it similar to the one at pit road exit and you won’t have fans, media, and teams crying foul. NASCAR is so often criticized for inconsistent calls or favoritism… will they take a simple step to eliminate one question from the mix?
*IndyCar Series: Keep On Building… For 2013* With 2012 on the books, when and where can we expect to see the IZOD IndyCar Series next year? INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard says a full 2013 list of dates will be announced as early as next month.
“I want to have a complete schedule finished and out by October 1st,” he said at Fontana. “That’s a hard deadline and we are getting real close.”
Bernard also explained the full schedule for the year will be made available all at once. This year, they will also make sure that all track contracts are signed and in place before any races are announced — reducing the risk of an embarrassing cancellation.
One of the new ideas for next year that has been making the rounds is the concept of doubleheader race weekends. Bernard affirms that is something he definitely wants to see at a minimum of two races next season.
“I think it will give you double exposure for viewership in those markets if we pick the right markets,” adds Bernard. “We want to make sure that we can make very great races.” _Toni Montgomery_
*Nationwide Series: Mental Mistakes Making Mincemeat Out Of RCR* As Ricky Stenhouse and his No. 6 team showed this weekend at Chicagoland, even with tension over the radio a team can absolutely haul the mail. Stenhouse put his own team behind the 8-ball with a pit road stall on lap 126, then endured miscommunication with his team that led to a later-race adjustment going the opposite direction that the driver was seeking. It wound up working to perfection, however, with the crew chief atop the box maintaining composure and driver Stenhouse exploring every lane of the 1.5-mile oval and making his car work… even if it was, as he described it, very hard to drive.
That type of mental toughness apparently was lacking on the RCR side of the house this Saturday. It’s already been well discussed how a poor adjustment during the final cycle of pit stops cost the No. 2 team despite their stellar pit work, dropping Sadler from the lead on lap 171 to eighth by the event’s conclusion (Sadler was calling his car absolute junk only three laps into that final run). On the other side of the garage, Austin Dillon’s team has obviously thrown the teamwork book out the window, with the No. 3 crew chief bellowing over the radio that Austin was not helping the No. 2 out on this Saturday. That division showed itself later in the event, with Dillon employing a seemingly unnecessary slide job passing Sadler on the backstretch.
It’s counter-intuitive, but is it possible that having teammates may end up proving a hindrance to RCR’s pursuit of the trophy? Austin Dillon hasn’t been mathematically eliminated from this Chase, but all signs point to Sadler being the horse to bet on. However, it’s a case of a “lame duck” driver in Sadler going up against the team namesake in Dillon, with resources and staff support likely to at least be perceived as aligning with the No. 3. Left in the same shop to fight it out, both men also know they’re headed towards divorce in the long-term; can they find it in them to save the marriage now?
And it didn’t work out for either team Saturday. Dillon didn’t win in a must-win race, and Sadler faded when it counted. Stenhouse doesn’t have the same problem, and on Saturday he sent a warning; keep it up, and RCR will be left in the dust. _Bryan Davis Keith_
*Camping World Truck Series: A Championship Battle Still Wide Open* The American Ethanol 200 did little to separate the championship contenders from the rest of the pack. Ty Dillon came into the weekend third, with a nine-point deficit to Timothy Peters, but left as the leader, eight markers ahead of James Buescher. Peters, who had led the standings for seven races, found trouble early when he got loose and came across Matt Crafton’s nose, sending both drivers into the outside wall. But despite numerous pit stops for repairs, the driver of the No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota managed to remain on the lead lap until late-race battery and overheating problems put him two laps down, where he eventually finished 13th. Additionally, James Buescher, who was second in points coming in, also dropped a position after spinning to bring out the ninth and final caution. He finished 17th, one lap down after the incident.
From week to week, continually overcoming adversity those top 3 drivers continue to show why they’re the ones to beat. And then, there’s the “wild card” still within striking distance of this title mix. Although Parker Kligerman has had some success since joining RHR four races ago, he lost ten points to the leader after a late blown tire caused him to spin from fourth. Despite that crash, he remains only 31 markers out of the lead. It would be quite a story should he manage to challenge for the championship after driving for two different teams this season.
Is there a favorite at this point among these four? Not really. I’d love to be able to say who will come out on top after the remaining seven races run, but the up-and-down performance by each contender lately makes it a guess at best. One thing I am sure of is that it will be one heck of a show as the season quickly winds to a close. _Beth Lunkenheimer_
*ARCA: Kimmel Meeting His Match… On Dirt?* The problem facing Frank Kimmel’s pursuit of a 10th ARCA championship this year has not been results down the stretch… the No. 44 team is making it happen on the bullrings and dirt tracks that were long his home turf in winning eight consecutive titles in the first part of this century. The problem is this year’s competition has proven just as adept on those same circuits.
Chris Buescher’s dominance used to just be seen at Toledo, but it has expanded to those same short tracks (Buescher’s also got a dirt win on his resume). This weekend at Salem, Buescher came home runner-up in a race that saw Kimmel finish top-5… allowing him to actually expand his points lead with only two events remaining on the schedule. With 85 markers separating the two drivers, it’s all but a given that a wreck or mechanical failure of some kind is going to have to give for the points to swing in favor of the veteran over the young gun. _Bryan Davis Keith_
*Short Tracks: The Pay Window Opens* Short track season is beginning to wind down and the big money races are beginning to draw near. NASCAR Whelen All-American points are final after Monday while the ASA National Championship wraps up at the end of the month. Tracks across the country crowned champions this past week and most all of them will be done with their point battles by the end of the month.
With the end of regular racing seasons, the focus turns to the big money races. The Late Model race at Martinsville, the All-American 400, The Snowball Derby, the annual race at Myrtle Beach, The Chili Bowl, and the Dirt Track World Championships are just some of the high dollar races that will take place over the next three months.
There are many talented drivers across the country who don’t stray too far from their home track during the regular season because they are focused on the track championships. Now that the checkered flags are waving over track point races, look for the best of the best drivers to roam a little further from home to try and cash a big check. If the opportunity presents itself, attending one of the signature short track events on the calendar over the next few months would be well worth the effort. _Mike Neff_