_Have you been keeping up with all the latest racing news this offseason? Or, like a lot of busy fans, did you miss a late-night press release, an important sponsorship rumor, 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 as the 2013 season ramps up. 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!_
*Cup Series: Four Hall Of Fame Classes Showcase An Easy Trend – Winning Races Counts* The fourth Hall of Fame induction, held in Charlotte over the weekend was a smooth transition through every one of NASCAR’s eras, from its humble beginnings racing “stock cars” to the modern, corporate version of growth that led to this building’s construction. You had one of the sport’s earliest champions, Herb Thomas, who earned his spot by taking home the trophy in 1951 and ’53. Then, there was Buck Baker, the sport’s first back-to-back titlist in 1956-’57 who was competitive all the way into the early 1960s. That connected perfectly with Cotton Owens, second in the 1960 title race who gained greater fame as a car owner; the 1966 title, which included 15 wins from David Pearson cemented his name in racing lore. Enter the Wood Brothers, who averaged five wins from 1968-‘79, capturing checkered flags in their prime with such fellow Hall of Famers as Cale Yarborough and Pearson.
Then came the moment that changed it all: CBS’ Daytona 500 broadcast that was manned by none other than Ken Squier, one of the sport’s two play-by-play, Media Excellence honorees (along with radio racing master Barney Hall). As the 1980s beckoned, the peak of Squier’s career coincided with the rise of Rusty Wallace, whose 1989 title was followed up with back-to-back, close calls during the height of Dale Earnhardt’s dominance in 1993-94.
It’s hard to pick a class, especially with so many deserving names still on the outside looking in that’s so perfectly intertwined. It’s a great way for the sport to celebrate the growth of the Hall, finally coming close to breaking even financially after some tough years. So what’s next for this growing NASCAR sanctuary? At this point, it’s easier to predict than you think. The first 12 drivers in all-time wins, eligible for enshrinement have made it in at this point; that’s 60% of the total main inductees. The other eight have been the Frances (Sr. and Jr.), one modified driver (Richie Evans), the winningest crew chief in history (Dale Inman), then drivers-turned-successful car owners Bud Moore, Cotten Owens and the Wood Brothers. Based on that pattern, you’ve got to think Tim Flock, Bobby Isaac, and “Fireball” Roberts, the eligible drivers with the most wins not yet inducted will get the nod for 2014 (Roberts just missed last year). The car owner trend could also scoop up a big name, like Rick Hendrick or Richard Childress along with a classic one like Raymond Parks. Either way, the Hall has spoken, and after four years, despite all the hoopla the formula remains more predictable than you think… stick to the stats sheet and the driver’s seat. _Tom Bowles_
*Nationwide Series: Larson, Piquet Highlight Latest Diversity … Of Quality Teams* Can one man change the face of a sport? That’s what NASCAR is hoping with Kyle Larson, their Drive For Diversity graduate of Japanese-American descent who’s been signed to a full-time Nationwide schedule with Earnhardt Ganassi. Running the No. 32 Clorox Chevy in a partnership with Turner Scott Motorsports, the 20-year-old driver should quickly erase most casual fans’ strongest memory of him – dive-bombing into Turn 3 in the final laps of Homestead last November, a daring Truck Series maneuver turned accident that wiped out the championship hopes of Ty Dillon.
Instead, Mr. Larson, number 12 on “David Smith’s”:http://www.motorsportsanalytics.com/prospects.html list of top 25 prospects has a chance to climb the list rather quickly in 2013. Turner Scott is aligned with Hendrick, who is aligned with Ganassi and when those three organizations come together? LeBron James on steroids couldn’t hold a candle to them. Larson’s going to have a chance to win races, quickly and insiders say his true talent is probably much higher up the prospect list, putting him in position to give Jamie McMurray a run at the No. 1 Cup car by the end of November. Ganassi is no slouch when it comes to moving talent up quickly, slotting Reed Sorenson into the Target machine after one full season in Nationwide and Larson appears he’ll bring similar credentials to the table – along with the sport’s “pretty please, can someone make it” Diversity push.
The situation is clearly a win-win for NASCAR, who hopes Larson and Brazilian superstar son Nelson Piquet, Jr.’s move to Nationwide, with quality equipment provides a diversity boost that has a chance to bring in new fans in its march to the “majors.” But how about the quality competition you’ll see ahead, a no-brainer to bring fans in and primed to make this “AAA” racing season “must watch?” Despite the departure of big-name couple Stenhouse-Patrick, there’s no shortage of young, star power contending for the title. Think of the following drivers you could make a case for: Trevor Bayne, Austin Dillon, Regan Smith, Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers, Sam Hornish, Jr., Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman in addition to the two listed above. Add in a sprinkle of Cupwhackers, some intriguing names further down the list (Travis Pastrana) and suddenly, should the cars behave the formula for fantastic finishes in 2013 has been created. _Tom Bowles_
*IndyCar: 2013 Lineup Continues To Come Together* While the IZOD IndyCar Series is still in offseason mode, 23 team and driver combinations are confirmed so far. Check “last week’s Pace Laps for Part One”:https://frontstretch.com/tbowles/42264/ of this rundown; now, here is part two.
The first of two new team and driver pairings announced this week is Rahal Letterman Lanigan, which will expand to two cars full-time for the first time since 2007 with James Jakes joining the team as teammate to Graham Rahal. The second new combination announced this week involves defending champions Andretti Autosport, who will return with the same driver lineup of Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, and Marco Andretti while adding a fourth car for E.J. Viso for 2013. Both should have the equipment, technology and funding needed to be successful.
In another highly popular offseason move, but one that’s been public for quite sometime Simona De Silvestro moves to KV Racing Technology to be a teammate to popular veteran Tony Kanaan. De Silvestro, who was paired with the struggling Lotus package at the beginning of last season has a great opportunity to step up in performance.
Things remain unchanged with most of the smaller teams in 2013. J.R. Hildebrand returns with Panther Racing, who continue their alliance with Dreyer and Reinbold, meaning Oriol Servia will once again be his teammate. Sebastien Bourdais will remain with Dragon Racing and Josef Newgarden will return to Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing for his sophomore season.
The lone independent, Ed Carpenter, ended 2012 on a high note with his team’s first win and will race for his own Ed Carpenter Racing program again in 2013. Stay tuned for more possible team and driver combinations to be announced in the coming weeks as the season-opening race March 24th in St. Petersburg draws near. _Toni Montgomery_
*Truck Series: A History-Making Move For Joe Gibbs Racing?* With less than two weeks remaining, yet another full-time position has been filled in the Camping World Truck Series. Kyle Busch Motorsports, along with Joe Gibbs Racing announced over the weekend that NASCAR “Drive For Diversity” and JGR development driver Darrell Wallace, Jr. will pilot the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. Veteran crew chief Jerry Baxter, who worked with Cale Gale last season at Eddie Sharp Racing, will sit atop the pit box making the calls for the newcomer. Wallace, Jr. becomes the first African American to race full-time in the Truck Series since Bill Lester’s last season with Bill Davis Racing in 2006.
“When we started with [NFL Hall of Famer] Reggie [White], the idea was for him to be an owner and bring diversity to the sport, which is hard,” JGR President J.D. Gibbs said in announcing his investment in the latest African-American driver attempting to break through into Cup. “In football, you can be a good athlete. In basketball, you can shoot the ball. Over here, you have to have the financial resources to make it work.”
Having already impressed in both the K&N Pro Series East and a handful of Nationwide Series starts, it’ll be important to watch another new talent join the ranks, and because Wallace is a successful “Drive for Diversity” program participant, you can bet NASCAR will point right at him in showing their willingness to expand their horizons in the sport. Whether the media coverage will be the oversaturation that has followed Danica Patrick throughout her NASCAR career or just a passing fad that stands out in the beginning remains to be seen. But if three top 10s in four starts last year in the Nationwide Series is any indication, it’s likely Wallace will let his racing abilities do the talking. _Beth Lunkenheimer_
*Short Tracks: The Sunshine State A Center Of February Action* While the Cup Series is still two weeks from the first points race and the better part of a week from the first event of the season, short track season is already cranking up. Florida is the hotbed of this competition at the beginning of February every year and 2013 is no exception. This coming week, there will be racing action every night for at least one of the four most noted tracks in Central Florida. East Bay Raceway Park in Tampa will have racing every single night while Volusia County Raceway Park joins in on Tuesday. Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala picks their schedule back up on Thursday night with New Smyrna getting back into the mix on Friday.
Volusia is hosting the UNOH DIRTCar Nationals, with nightly doubleheaders from the 12th through the 23rd. Over the 12 days of action, there will be double feature races every night including UMP Modifieds, All-Star Sprint Cars, World of Outlaw Sprint Cars, UMP Late Models, World of Outlaw Late Models and SDS Big Block Modifieds. Bubba Raceway’s Winternationals is a four-week orgy of speed that includes NeSmith Late Models, UMP Modifieds, 360 and 410 Sprint Cars, World of Outlaw Late Models and Amsoil USAC Sprints. New Smyrna hosts the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car racing with features Pro Late Models, Super Late Models, IMCA Modifieds, Tour-type Modifieds and Pro Trucks. East Bay has their own version of the Winternationals, too. They include FASTRAK Late Models, World Street Stocks, Open Wheel Modifieds, Mod Lites, Lucas Oil Dirt Late Models, 360 Sprints and Florida Mini Sprints.
After the first few rounds of racing in Florida, one thing is for sure: Donny Schatz is going to be the man to beat again this year in Winged Sprint Cars. Schatz went to Bubba Raceway Park and broke out the broom on the competition in the All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car events, taking the checkered flag first in both of the feature races that were held. He’ll head off to Volusia to continue his tune-up for the 2013, 410 Winged Sprint season. _Mike Neff_
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