_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 moving forward. Let our experts help you get up to speed for the coming week no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!_
*Sprint Cup: In Whirlwind Weekend Of News, Brawl Takes Center Stage* Kevin Harvick’s reported signing with Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season was supposed to be the top story of the weekend — until Jimmie Johnson, the point leader before the race at Phoenix, slammed into the wall coming off Turn 4 late in the race. That was destined to take over the top spot — until the fight broke out. That happened on pit road after a pair of incidents on-track between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon. Bowyer gave Gordon a tap, thinking he was being held up, and Gordon got into the wall. Gordon then waited for Bowyer on track and turned the No. 15 into the barrier himself, collecting Joey Logano in the process and causing extensive damage to all three cars.
As Gordon pulled onto pit road after the wreck, Bowyer’s crew was waiting for him and descended on the driver as he exited his car, pushing him to the ground before being separated by Gordon’s team and NASCAR officials. Bowyer also ran to confront Gordon and had to be restrained by his car owner, Michael Waltrip. Police officers surrounded the NASCAR hauler after Gordon was called inside.
A couple of things bear watching after the melee. One, will Bowyer, Gordon, or their crews draw penalties from NASCAR? In the recent past, under NASCAR’s “Boys, have at it” policy, on-track retaliations haven’t generally been punished if they take place under the green flag. However, Gordon impacted both the title race (Bowyer had a mathematical chance at championship before the crash) and the race of Joey Logano, who had nothing to do with the original incident, and that could sway NASCAR’s opinion. Penalties could also be levied against Bowyer’s crew for their ambush of Gordon on pit road and crew chief Brian Pattie’s on-air use of an obscenity -NASCAR has handed out punishment in the past for both fighting and the use of bad language on TV. NASCAR usually announces any penalties on Tuesdays.
Also, with one race remaining on the schedule and both drivers eliminated from title contention, will Bowyer offer up a bigger serving of payback to Gordon? Bowyer didn’t deny that he might in postrace interviews, meaning fans will want to keep an eye on both he and the No. 24 car throughout the racing at Homestead. _Amy Henderson_
*IndyCar: Top Gear Goes Open Wheel* Richard Hammond, a co-host on the popular BBC/BBC America program “Top Gear,” experienced life as a member of an IZOD IndyCar Series pit crew at the Go Pro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma for an episode of his BBC America program “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course” that will air tonight at 10:00 PM ET.
In each episode of the program, Hammond takes on a new and unfamiliar occupation and is given five days to master it. In previous episodes he’s worked as a logger, comedian, and New York City cab driver. Hammond spent a week as a member of the Dragon Racing pit crew for the car driven by Katherine Legge and was given the job of left-front tire changer on a stop during the race.
“It’s not as easy as it looks!” said Hammond. “I thought they’d let me do something like hold a fan in front of the driver’s face, but I’m changing a tire. This is a big deal. During the race, I’m sure I’ll be thinking of nothing but terror. I don’t want to be the weak link and hold everything up.”
Tune in tonight to see how Hammond does as an IZOD IndyCar Series pit crew member. _Toni Montgomery_
*Nationwide Series: Sadler’s Shocking Collapse A Permanent Problem?* Saturday’s late race wreck has deeper ramifications than the the 2012 championship for Elliott Sadler, who very well may have lost it after a devastating weekend in the desert. The question has to be asked…does he have the mettle to ever make it happen? This season it was the No. 2 team’s to lose, returning to victory lane only two races into the campaign and taking the lead after the defending champs suffered through a hideous late spring stretch that involved unassisted wrecks and mechanical failures. Now, 20 points down heading to Homestead, they may well have lost it.
Problem is, Phoenix is the same track that Sadler’s title pursuit ended at last year. And this weekend was fouled from the start, with the driver wrecking the primary car in practice and forced to start at the rear of the field this Saturday. Coupled with a self-induced wreck that didn’t need to happen in the closing laps, Sadler faces a mountain to climb at Homestead instead of a roadblock. Time and time again down the stretch, the No. 2 team has proven unable to close the deal, riding both a 12-race losing streak after winning four of the first 20 and fading in late race runs on multiple occasions following adjustments that just didn’t work.
Should Sadler end up at JGR or another Nationwide powerhouse next season, the question has to be asked as to whether the former Cup regular will be able to get over the hump, as 2012 was as good a chance as any could ask for. _Bryan Keith_
*Camping World Truck Series: Larson Deserving Of Full-Time Ride* Kyle Larson is fresh off of his K&N Pro Series East championship. Well, he also almost grabbed a win the Truck Series in just his third career start as well. He made a bold three-wide pass on the restart following the seventh caution and never looked back, leading 43 laps until a caution tightened up the field again and robbed him of a victory chance.
But that’s not the only success Larson has found this year. The Chip Ganassi Racing development driver made his debut at Kentucky Speedway in June and impressed right away. He didn’t qualify all that well (25th) and was forced to start at the rear of the field following an engine change, but Larson didn’t let that misfortune hamper his first Truck Series race. After flirting around the top 10 for much of the night, he settled in for a solid tenth-place result. And much of the same can be said of his second race in Atlanta in late August. He started 17th and worked his way up inside the top 10 before bringing home a sixth-place finish.
The bottom line is that Larson is the kind of talent you want to see heading into the Truck Series with the ultimate goal of making it into the Sprint Cup Series one day. The 20-year-old has put up some impressive numbers in all kinds of racing this season and he’s definitely got a strong career ahead of him in NASCAR if someone would just give him a full-time seat in the Truck Series for 2013. Now we’ll just have to wait and see which team figures it out first. _Beth Lunkenehimer_
*Short Tracks: Local Stars Have Coming Out Party At Higher Levels* While Phoenix is going to be full of headlines about the total mayhem that happened at the end of the Cup race, it was also a national coming out party for two of Short Track racing’s up-and-coming, teenage stars. Last weekend, Kyle Larson secured the championship in the K&N East Series at Rockingham Speedway. The title was the first in the history of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity in a touring division. This weekend, Larson made his third start in the Camping World Truck Series as part of a hopeful, long-term plan to step up the ladder. And boy, did he make an impression. Were it not for a late-race caution, Larson would have won the race but was forced to settle for a second-place finish. After the Truck race, the K&N West Series ran their season finale live on SPEED. Dylan Kwasniewski came into the race with two points in hand over his teammate Greg Pursley. Kwasniewski drove a very smart race and, while he didn’t win it, he kept his teammate at bay and crossed the line in second place to secure the title.
Larson is a development driver for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates while Kwasniewski is still trying to put together something for next season at this point in time. Larson and Kwasniewski are both members of a group that NASCAR calls the “Next Nine.” It is a group of young drivers that have been tagged by NASCAR as future stars in the ranks of their series and drivers to watch in the coming years. Not only did Larson and Kwasniewski show well in Phoenix, Chase Elliott, another member of the Next Nine ran fourth in K&N just ahead of fellow Next Nine member Cameron Hayley. Ryan Blaney, another member of the Next Nine, joined Larson in the top 5 of the Camping World Truck Series race on Friday night, notable as his career has already moved up a notch.
The future of stock car racing is undoubtedly bright, at least from the perspective of the talent that is sitting behind the steering wheel. Kyle Larson has driven in over 120 races this season and has won races in seven different kinds of vehicles. Dylan Kwasniewski is a quintessential member of the “X-Games” generation with his flat-billed hat and spiked hair. Chase Elliott is following in his famous father Bill’s footsteps, winning races and championships. Corey LaJoie, who lost the K&N East title thanks to technical violations may have the most talent of any of them. It is a great time to be watching short track racing in the developmental series of NASCAR. _Mike Neff_
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