_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!_
*Sprint Cup: Sandbag Central At The Beach?* No, I’m not talking about the soft stuff your NASCAR favorites will be tanning on the next two days, enjoying a well-deserved break at Daytona before practice starts up midweek. I’m looking at strategy, in particular during Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited that could cause a different look to Sunday’s Daytona 500.
During this weekend’s race, while Kevin Harvick led the most laps it was clear Matt Kenseth had the fastest car. For most of the first segment, his No. 20 Toyota remained in command up front, blocking any challenges while the field struggled to simply stay attached. But as rivals realized Kenseth was a favorite, they also recognized he suffered from a paralyzing disadvantage: both his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates were sitting in the garage, out of the race and unable to help. That left Harvick and company choosing to railroad past during the third and final segment, booting Kenseth from first place on Lap 62 to the outskirts of the top 10.
It was an issue that wouldn’t be a problem in past years. Some unsuspecting underdog, like Aric Almirola perhaps would have hooked onto Kenseth’s orange rear bumper, turning that downward spiral back into a tornado up front. But those tandems are gone; that is, of course unless you want to cause a multi-car wreck. So what Kenseth realized was, all by himself or with limited help (eventually, former JGR employer Joey Logano latched on) his superior speed got shoved to the side by others drafting in a different line. In actuality, with the new Gen-6 look about ten laps or so just wasn’t enough time to get ’em all back.
“I just needed to get a couple more guys on my bumper,” he said on the fifth-place finish, claiming in the new draft everyone committed to one line made it impossible to move up without four or five cars supporting you. “One time, we had a good enough line to do it and they got three-wide behind me and stalled the line out and we just couldn’t go anywhere after that. We had to try.”
“I feel like things are a lot slower coming at you,” added leader Kevin Harvick, who blocked successfully at the finish, “Than what we had with the tandem stuff in the previous years.”
So what does Kenseth’s missed opportunity mean? It’s bad to prove yourself as the favorite out front. There was a clear hesitance by frontrunners to pass down the stretch in the Unlimited, after that for fears they would be railroaded just like Kenseth and stuck in the back. So what we could see, late in the 500 is a repeat, guys who have been proven leaders getting “dispatched” so they won’t be a nuisance (I.E. – easily block all advances for the win). How do you prevent it? Simple: just don’t establish yourself as a dominant force until late in the race. But that concept is easier said than done. With this new package, you can’t be too far back… so the trick is how much do you “sandbag” before you surprise? And for how long? I think we’ll see a lot of this experimentation play out in Thursday’s Duels.
There’s also the issue about sandbagging of a different sort, complaints from many that Hendrick Motorsports cars intentionally let off the gas in order to ensure Danica Patrick won the pole. I don’t think you can go there without concrete evidence; after all, it’s not like she won going away. Four HMS engines landed inside the top six, including three-time 500 winner Jeff Gordon and three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart. To be the best, you must first beat the best; in this case, you’ve got a better argument over whether the HMS group intentionally handed Patrick the best _car,_ which is what makes the difference in 500 qualifying anyway. _Tom Bowles_
*Nationwide: Drivers, Teams Finalize Daytona Plans* A week before the commencement of the Nationwide Series season, a few teams are finally getting their 2013 plans squared away — or, at least for Daytona. Most notable is Daytona 500 pole sitter Danica Patrick’s ride for the Saturday Nationwide race, driving the No. 34 GoDaddy-sponsored Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports. That’ll be the fourth car fielded for TSM next weekend, typical for that organization in recent years. It’s a move that also makes sense for both; though Patrick now has two poles in NASCAR restrictor plate competition, she only has a single top-10 finish, coming at Daytona in 2011. She may be a great qualifier at the track, but her results leave more to be desired.
Rick Ware Racing, mainstays in the Nationwide Series for years now, return at Daytona with two drivers familiar to the organization. On Saturday, the team announced that Juan Carlos Blum will drive its No. 15 Chevrolet, becoming the first Mexican to compete full-time in the series — if he can last the whole year, of course. Donnie Neuenberger, always a fairly sure bet to be entered in some series at Daytona, will pilot Rick Ware Racing’s No. 41 Chevy, sponsored by Eagle Convenience Stores.
Longtime Camping World Truck Series competitor Jason White also has a ride in the DRIVE4COPD 300, this time for SR2 Motorsports. Though he hasn’t competed in the series since 2007, White tends to show some muscle at the restrictor plate races when he’s driving a truck, so as long as the jump isn’t too tough for him, a good finish could be within his sight. He’ll be competing with SR2 in multiple other events in 2013. _Kevin Rutherford_
*Camping World Trucks: Last Year’s Big Daytona Winner Back On Track* When the checkered flag flew over last year’s season opener, the majority of the NASCAR world — both fans and media alike — found themselves saying “who’s John King?” Just four races later, they were ready to drop him from their short-term memory. The surprise winner at the series’ biggest race, the rookie was quickly left sidelined with no financial backing to continue out the season.
But for 2013, this one-hit wonder is back for a second crack at it – at least for Daytona. He’ll pilot the No. 33 Eddie Sharp Racing Chevrolet left vacant by Cale Gale’s departure to Turner Scott Motorsports.
“I’m very excited to join Eddie Sharp Racing. They have great equipment and more importantly a great team, which I believe are the keys to success in this sport,” King said. “We really wanted to defend my Daytona win from last year, so I am very excited to have the opportunity to drive such a great truck. I can’t wait to get to Daytona.”
At this point, the deal is for just the season opener with the possibility of more events should sponsorship be found. In a situation like this one, with a driver hoping to find more backing, the sparsity of races in the beginning of the year could be a huge benefit as it will give the organization plenty of time to find companies needed to continue racing. (Of course, a solid run at Daytona itself wouldn’t hurt). Only time will tell whether they’ll manage to run the rest of the year; however, King mentioned he was hopeful that he’d be able to compete in a full, 22-race schedule and run for the championship. _Beth Lunkenheimer_
*Grand Am: BMW Develops Its Future* There may be a full year left until the merger between the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the American LeMans Series, but BMW is taking a step toward that future already. Last week, the automaker showcased its brand new BMW Z4 GTE that has been designed to replace the BMW M3 GT that has run successfully for four years. The car will actually debut in the ALMS’s GTE category beginning with next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring.
“It certainly heralds a new phase of BMW’s involvement in motorsport in North America. A lot is going on there — you need only think of the merging of ALMS and Grand-Am in 2014,” BMW Motorsport Director Jens Marquardt said. “It was important for us to set ourselves up for 2013 in such a way that we were well positioned moving into the future. We have achieved that with the development of the BMW Z4 GTE. We are setting out on a development year but are very confident we have once again developed a car that has the potential to win races and titles.”
Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan will debut the car in its development season over in the ALMS in preparation for next year. With two former ALMS GT champions (Dirk Muller and Joey Hand), a two-time Grand-Am Rolex Series GT champion (Bill Auberlen) and a slew of other drivers, Team RLL plans to collect as much data and hopes to replicate the success they found in 2009 when the BMW M3 GT debuted. _Rick Lunkenheimer_
*ARCA: Townley Taking His Talent Up A Notch?* John Wes Townley finally took a checkered flag first in the ARCA Lucas Oil 200 presented by MAVTV American Real on Saturday. Townley has been trying hard to keep his career relevant over the years and giving Venturini Motorsports their first win on a restrictor plate track will go a good way toward keeping his name front and center as the season unfolds. Frontstretch is also hearing that Townley will be making five starts for Venturini in the Nationwide Series this season. Depending on their on-track success, there may be more dates added. _Mike Neff_
*Short Tracks: Get Ready For Daytona’s Newest Attraction* The Battle at the Beach will showcase some of the most talented local track racers in the country on Monday and Tuesday as they take to the backstretch at Daytona and the airwaves of SPEED. The Late Model field has at least 28 cars entered while the Modifieds and K&N divisions will see at least 35 cars try and make the show. While they compete at the big track, the UNOH DIRTCar Nationals and the UMP Gator Nationals will be going on at Volusia County Speedway. Nick Hoffman, a promising talent has won the features for the Modifieds on Friday and Saturday and hopes to repeat his Gator win from 2012. _Mike Neff_