Did you miss an event during this busy week in racing? How about 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 going forward for 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 edition of Pace Laps!
Sprint Cup: The Latest On Hamlin’s Health The week off for NASCAR’s top series couldn’t have come at a better time for Denny Hamlin. Hospitalized after his last-lap wreck with Joey Logano, Hamlin will stay there through at least Monday morning as a precaution. While no specific injuries have been announced, his back – which he’s had problems with in the past – remains a primary concern after head-on contact with the inside wall off Turn 4.
It should be noted that area, before the start of pit road is not equipped with a SAFER Barrier. That left Hamlin susceptible at a track whose speeds reach upwards of 205 miles an hour on the straightaways — roughly 5-10 MPH faster than you’d see at Daytona and Talladega. NASCAR requires that every Sprint Cup oval has some degree of those barriers installed, on the outside walls but has no such requirements for other areas within the track.
Hamlin, who has qualified on the front row for four of the last six races at Fontana now has no finishes better than eighth to show for it. And while he may not feel like it, currently rival Joey Logano has the last laugh in the point standings: he’s ninth, one point ahead after hobbling to the finish line in third place. Now on the bubble for the Chase, while early in the season that leaves the Fed Ex Toyota driver holding a greater amount of pressure in his hands. Logano has no such concerns, in his first year in a new ride while Hamlin’s teammates, at JGR have run circles around the competition and both visiting Victory Lane at least once. Can he join them, righting the ship before the season threatens to spiral in the wrong direction? And how long would any injury handicap or sideline him? We’ve seen, in the past nagging problems like Jeff Gordon’s back injury effect a team over the course of a regular season. Certainly, the picture is not as rosy for Hamlin as it appeared entering Turn 3 of Fontana’s final lap. Tom Bowles
Nationwide: Kyle’s Scintillating Start If Kyle Busch was an afterthought, on the Cup side last season over in Nationwide he was borderline invisible. Going winless, for the first time since 2003 his self-owned, No. 54 car struggled in its debut season, failing to finish three times and victimized by mechanical woes in countless others. It was tough for owner Joe Gibbs, as well as some of Busch’s Cup Series sponsors to watch; so tough, in fact sources say putting the driver back on their Nationwide roster was “mandatory” to produce a long-term contract extension for both sides.
But now that it’s happened, leaving Parker Kligerman to hold up the banner for KBM the team’s owner is flourishing back in top-tier equipment. Already, in five starts Busch has led more laps (425) than he did during all of 2012, winning three times and posting four top-5 finishes. On pace to break his own win record, of 13 set in 2010 Busch’s Toyota appears to be in a separate time zone above even full-time teammates – and championship contenders – Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler.
Once again, a dominant Busch raises questions about whether he hurts the marketability of the series, along with the marketability of those drivers whose victories he steals. But one fact, at this point is undeniable: making the transition back to JGR was the best offseason confidence injection he could have gotten. Tom Bowles
IndyCar: Hinchcliffe Brightens Up Ailing Sport With Strong Start It is no secret that INDYCAR is in a bit of an identity crisis at the moment. The sport has come under fire over the past few years for lacking the kind of on-track personalities that can transcend into the world of mainstream sports. Well folks, that all may have changed after this past Sunday.
James Hinchcliffe has the potential to be the new face of INDYCAR, a face that the sport desperately needs. For years Hinchcliffe has become a fan favorite due to his humorously easy-going demeanor and incredible savvy with the media. He has an entire website dedicated to his personal brand and seems to be one of the only drivers in the sport who understands what the power of marketability can do for you. But alas, with his win on Sunday, Hinchcliffe is no longer just a marketable face, he is a bona fide star. INDYCAR would be wise to hitch its star to young Hinchcliffe, because for the first time in a very long time, they have a driver who can simultaneous deliver solid results on the track and connect with the oh-so-desire 18-34 demographic. Whether they will capitalize on the budding career of Hinchcliffe is anyone’s guess, but if they are looking for a face to represent their sport going forward, they have found one in Mr. Hinchcliffe.
There’s no telling what the future holds for Hinchcliffe going forward, but if the results continue to match the marketability, there is no telling what this young Canadian could do for the sport of open wheel racing. Matt Stallknecht
Short Tracks: Racing League Expands Broadcasting Rights One of the most interesting aspects of the All-American 400 at the Nashville Fairgrounds in 2012 was the “Twittergate”. PASS, the sanctioning body that put on the race, tried to limit the race update Twitter postings from media members at the track. The uproar trickled down, or up, to people covering the NASCAR races the same weekend and to most every other racing media member who utilizes Twitter to spread the information about short track racing around the world. PASS followed the weekend up with a release to clarify their position and to announce that they would shortly announce an alternative means for people to be informed about their races.
PASS announced their own broadcast channel to carry their races to their fans. With the advent of the 2013 season, PASS has decided to go a different route in bringing their races to their fans. The sanctioning body has hired the premier live coverage race provider for asphalt racing, race22.com, to provide live race coverage of PASS races starting this coming weekend with the Easter Bunny 150 at Hickory Motor Speedway. This marks an interesting change for Race22. The site has historically left Super Late Model race coverage to Speed51 while they have excelled at Late Model coverage. In recent years Speed51 has done some Late Model coverage so it appears the door has been opened for Race22 to dip their toe in the Super Late Model arena. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Super Late Model coverage now that Race22 is paired with the most well known sanctioning body in the straight rail community. Mike Neff
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