NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Runner-Up Blues, American Success Stories, and Weird Weather

_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: Which No. 2 Is The First Loser?* If he didn’t lead a lap, Brad Keselwoski needed to finish 15th to clinch his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Keselowski finished 15th—his worst since coming home 30th at Bristol in August—though in the end, he could have finished anywhere and taken it as Jimmie Johnson’s broken drive train ended the day for his only challenger. Keselowski takes home his first title in three full seasons on the Sprint Cup circuit and joins Bobby Labonte as the only two drivers to win titles in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series in the 30 years of the Nationwide Series’ modern incarnation. Keselowski tied for the most Cup wins in 2012 with Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, and is the first driver to win a title under the Chrysler banner since 1975–nine years before Keselowski was even born—as well as the last, since Dodge will no longer compete in NASCAR after this year.

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Jimmie Johnson’s broken drive train ruined his chances for a win this weekend.

Clint Bowyer was able to nip Jimmie Johnson for the second spot in the standings, which makes for an interesting question. Which driver is facing the dreaded runner-up jinx in 2013? If you believe in such things, you’ve noticed that the second place driver—the one who had his heart broken at Homestead—has often followed that performance with an abysmally bad year the following year. Most recently, it has happened to Denny Hamlin, the 2010 runner-up to Johnson, who limped home to a ninth-place finish in 2011, and 2011 reserve champion Carl Edwards, who never found victory lane this year and missed the Chase entirely, finishing 15th.

But, which driver is the one more likely to have such a fate befall him in 2013? Bowyer finished second in points, but it was much to his surprise after Johnson’s mishaps at Homestead. Johnson came into Homestead second and actually had the title in his grasp late in the race, only to see it all slip away as he fell to third. It was Johnson, not Bowyer, who really let it slip away, but Bowyer who was left in the position that many call a jinx. Whether you believe in a jinx or not these two might bear watching next year… will they rise from the ashes, or crash and burn? _Amy Henderson_

*Nationwide Series: Cup Drivers Seeking Second Chances Main Story Of 2013?* It wasn’t just a euphemism; Elliott Sadler’s wreck late in the going at Phoenix was the end of the 2012 title fight. Though Sadler challenged for the race lead during the first run of the event, Stenhouse ended up leading the pack of title hopefuls all afternoon long en route to a solid sixth-place finish and his second consecutive Nationwide Series championship. As was customary for the later half of the year, the No. 2 team faded late, finishing ahead of third place Austin Dillon by only one marker in his final race with Richard Childress Racing.

For Stenhouse, it was a fitting cap as he will be leaving the Nationwide ranks to take over Matt Kenseth’s soon-to-be vacant Cup seat in 2013. And although Stenhouse cruised to the title, Nationwide fans the last two weekends got a taste of next year’s title fight to be. Brian Vickers came within a few car lengths of winning his JGR debut in the desert last week. Regan Smith overpowered even Kyle Busch to win his JR Motorsports debut on Saturday. Rumors continue to swirl that Sadler will be joining Vickers in the JGR stable come Daytona.

This year, Sadler was the exception to the Nationwide Series story as a Cup driver trying to jump start his career. Next year it will be the norm. _Bryan Keith_

*Camping World Truck Series: NASCAR Lowers Minimum Age… With Restrictions*
During NASCAR’s annual “state of the sport” address over the weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the sanctioning body announced a change to the minimum age required to compete in the Truck Series. After raising the age limit to 18 back in 2002, drivers at least 16 years old will now be allowed to compete on ovals 1.1 miles or smaller and any road course in the series.

“One of the things I think that was evident to everybody was the influx of young talent that we’ve got coming up through the ranks,” O’Donnell said. “We announced previously an age limit change in the tours where we went to 15, and based on the opportunities for a lot of young drivers out there that are coming up through our system fast and faster, you’re seeing it in the tours, you’re seeing it in our Drive for Diversity program.”

Although there are limits regarding at which tracks drivers aged 16 to 18 years can compete, this move opens up the door for all sorts of talent coming up through the touring series or from local short tracks all over the country. You’re not likely to see many–if any–announcements throughout the offseason, but keep an eye out for younger competitors for a handful of races next season.

On another note, the 2013 schedule should be coming out within the next week or two. As it is, the series will head to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (better known as Mosport) in a Labor Day weekend visit. Plus, there have been rumblings that the half-mile Greenville-Pickens Speedway is moving forward with adding SAFER barriers in order to be included next year. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to that schedule coming out. _Beth Lunkenehimer_

*Formula 1: American Venue Here To Stay?* The great Mario Andretti said prior to today’s eventful inaugural U.S. Grand Prix in Texas that F1 had finally found it’s home in that country. As the drivers lined up on the podium in their stetsons, we here in the F1 community outside of the States have been quietly patting ourselves on the back for a “job well done.” What I can’t tell you though, and what I’m sure you can (and will) tell me, is how the whole adventure went down over your side of the pond. Is F1 there to stay (finally) in the United States, or did you think – no, not for me?

If you missed it, we had a cracking race, belying those naysayers who thought that overtaking would be tough on the spectacular new venue in Austin. The Grand Prix also attracted the largest crowd of the season so far, with over 125,000 rumored to have attended the event. With the three best drivers, Hamilton, Vettel, and Alonso, occupying the podium, it would be difficult to think of how F1 could have ingratiated itself any more to what has proved to be their toughest critics in the United States.

Dare I say it… did you even enjoy it better than Indy Car?

I’d love to hear your personal feedback and perception. My take? Well done, Circuit of the Americas. A job very well done. _Andy Hollis_

*Short Tracks: Weather Wreaks Havoc At “The Beach”* Weather is an unavoidable evil in the world of promoting races at local short tracks. It seems more and more promoters are pulling the plug early if the hint of bad weather is on the horizon for a big race. Most of the time when the rug is pulled out from under an event, the show is rescheduled as quickly as possible. That was not the case this weekend at Myrtle Beach Speedway. “The Beach” is one of the biggest races and parties of the year for Late Model racers in the Southeast. After teams spent several days in the area preparing for the race, qualifying and racing their way into the event, they woke up on Sunday morning to an offshore low that is funneling waves of rain into the area. Looking at the radar, there is no way the event was going to happen on Sunday so the promoters pulled the plug nice and early to allow teams to get home at a decent time. Although the early call to postpone the race was appreciated, the scheduling of the makeup is curious to say the least.

The folks who are running the race have announced that the race won’t take place next weekend, which is a good choice considering it is Thanksgiving. Interestingly it won’t take place the first weekend in December either. In fact it won’t take place in December at all. Nor will it take place in January or even February. No, the makeup for the Myrtle Beach 400 is going to be on March 23rd, 2013. That is four months in the future and in a different calendar year. The logistics of putting on a big race are daunting to say the least, but it would seem like there had to be a weekend somewhere between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Race teams are very unhappy about the fact that, not only is the race being moved four months into the future but they are not being offered a refund and they’re now going to have to either save their current car or put their car for next season in harm’s way right out of the gate in 2013. The Beach is a big deal that most Late Model teams in the Southeast circle on their calendar every season. This year is has turned into a big joke that isn’t going to have a lot of positive feelings when the rag finally does fall. _Mike Neff_

*Connect with Amy!*
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*Connect with Bryan!*
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*Connect with Andy!*
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*Connect with Beth!*
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