Race Weekend Central

Five Points to Ponder: Firsts, Families And Failing Pit Crews

ONE: A Win and the Points Lead for Regan Smith

Regan Smith celebrated not only a win at Talladega, but the push to the top of the points standings in the Nationwide Series.

What a weekend it was for Regan Smith who not only won the Aaron’s 312 at Talladega with a thrilling last ditch push, but also established a 27-point lead in the battle for the Nationwide Series crown; the first time in his career he has led the standings. Smith was in seventh place coming to the white flag before a push from Kasey Kahne made all the difference.

“Coming down the backstretch I thought, ‘Ah, we’re going to take fifth or sixth.’ I thought that’s the way it was going to go. I can’t even tell you the order of the guys who were leading,” said Smith. “I just saw cars at that point. They got all jammed up, we had a run and I made a move. I wasn’t really sure if I was clear, but I figured it was the only chance I had to win the race. I wanted to make that move to see if it was going to pay off for us, and it did.”

Smith has had an excellent start to the season in his JR Motorsports ride with finishes (in order) of 14th, 11th, 7th, 6th, 3rd, 7th, 5th and the win on Saturday.

Team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was quick to praise the contribution of Greg Ives, Jimmie Johnson’s former Cup Series engineer, in Smith’s success this year. “You can really see the effort between Greg and the whole group,” said Junior. “They are trying to gel as fast as they can because they know they’ve got a great opportunity this year.”

And that they do. Expect Smith to keep pushing all the way to Homestead, but for now they can enjoy their big win at the biggest baddest track of them all.

TWO: The Lady in Black

Few tracks, if any, quicken my blood quite like the venerable Darlington Raceway. And after the seven-hour weather afflicted madness of Talladega, I can’t wait to get back to a more regular approximation of the Sprint Cup racing we see for the majority of the schedule.

This Saturday night’s five hundred miles will be the 110th top echelon Cup race at “The Track Too Tough to Tame,” a streak that goes all the way back to 1950 – just NASCAR’s second ever season. That race, incidentally, was won by Johnny Mantz; his sole Cup win in 12 attempts across four years. The story goes that Mantz employed a novel tire strategy using truck tires on his 1950 Plymouth because they wore out less quickly than typical car tires.

Darlington Raceway was the vision of local business man Harold Brasington who first got the idea after visiting the 1933 Indy 500. Dismissed by many as crazy, Brasington persevered and in the fall of 1949 started construction on the track on land that previously produced cotton and peanuts: a project folks in the local community named “Harold’s Folly.” They couldn’t have been more wrong, could they?

“You never forget your first love,” said seven-time Cup Champ Dale Earnhardt. “Whether it’s a high school sweetheart, a faithful old hunting dog, or a fickle race track in South Carolina with a contrary disposition. And, if you happen to be a race car driver there’s no victory so sweet, so memorable, as whipping Darlington Raceway.”

As always, it should be fun to watch who gets to celebrate at the Lady in Black this Saturday night.

THREE: Home Base for Mother’s Day and the Rest of May

After the race at The Lady in Black this Saturday night the Sprint Cup circus gets a few weeks in the home base of Charlotte, NC, where the majority of teams are based. First comes the All-Star festivities and then the 600-mile Memorial Day Sunday race. It’s a rare opportunity for the Cup drivers and road crews to spend more time with their families and a welcome chance to recharge the batteries before the stretch run to the Chase and the heat of the summer truly gets under way. The brief spell at home also gives family and friends a chance to get to the track in person. That element – family – that is so much the fabric in NASCAR, is not to be underestimated.

The miles logged by the teams in practice and during the All-Star and 600 mile races at Charlotte will be crucial. With just a small sample size of ten races for the new Gen-6 cars and just two of those races (Kansas, Texas) held at the cookie-cutter tracks so prevalent in NASCAR, the volume of data the teams will be able to obtain in a short period of time will be priceless. The ability to bring folks from the shop to the track on a regular basis will just augment that.

FOUR: No Pit Crew Challenge Is a Shame

While I’m on the general subject of the importance of teamwork, I wanted to take a minute to talk about the unsung heroes of NASCAR — the pit crews – who will not get their chance this year to show who’s best in the Pit Crew Challenge. The event has its roots all the way back to 1967 – the Unocal 76 World Pit Crew Competition sponsored by Conoco Phillips (who produced Union 76 then the official gasoline of NASCAR.)

The event was held at Rockingham all the way through to 2003 before a hiatus in 2004. Come 2005 the event was moved to the Time Warner Cable Center in Charlotte and enhanced thanks to sponsorship from title sponsor Sprint and also Craftsman in the last couple of years.

“While we remain committed to the continuation of the unique competition that the pit crew challenge offers our teams and our fans, it will not be held this year,” said NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp in April this year and that’s the last we’ve heard.

Former Crew Chief Larry McReynolds was saddened by the news. “It’s not about the $70,000. Sure each of those guys getting $10,000 is huge, but you know what? It’s getting that [winner’s] ring, it’s getting that jacket, it’s walking into that race track the next week or the next day and people saying ‘congratulations.’ There are 36 races, but there is only one pit crew competition a year and it’s 100 percent non-driver related.”

FIVE: IndyCar Heads to Home Base for the 97th Indy 500

And finally this week, James Hinchcliffe picked up his second win of the year in a compelling fourth race of the IZOD IndyCar season on the tight, tricky street course of Sao Paulo, Brazil with an epic last corner pass on Takuma Sato. Hinchcliffe won the season opener at St Pete’s, was literally left stranded at Barber Motorsports Park for some 70 laps, wrecked early and finished second last at Long Beach, before the morale boosting victory in Brazil vaulted him back to fourth place in the standings, 24 markers off the pace.

While the nature of Hinch’s topsy-turvy season bears highlighting, the bigger story is that IndyCar has been fun to watch in 2013 headed into the crown jewel event that is the Indy 500. With the three double-header weekends ahead (racing full points paying races on both Saturday and Sunday) and a return to Pocono – a special track for Open Wheel aficionados – there’s a lot to be excited about in the remaining 15 races and that’s always a good thing.

Connect with Danny!

Contact Danny Peters

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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