Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: First-Time Winners, Long-Time Winners and Ferrari’s Forgettable Race

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 Monday, 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, no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!

Add Aric Almirola's name to the list of Chasers come September following his first career win. Credit: CIA
Add Aric Almirola’s name to the list of Chasers come September following his first career win. Credit: CIA

Sprint Cup Series: Surprise Chase Entry – The Daytona race in July usually works as a form of celebration for the sport, as it accompanies Independence Day and the country’s pomp.  This year, however, the race was in many ways, the Daytona Debacle.  The rain delay, pushing the race to Sunday, was one aspect.  The wreck on lap 21, was another.  That wreck, which wiped out a number of upper-echelon drivers, did, however, allow for one of the common storylines that is associated with restrictor-plate racing: the chance for an underdog to win.

 Hello Aric Almirola.  The Richard Petty driver earned the race-shortened win, and likely put himself in the Chase.  Almirola brought a feel-good story to the race by winning on the anniversary of Petty’s 200th and final win, while also continuing the notion that lesser-funded teams can indeed compete against the wealthy ones.

Of course, the larger story surrounding the Firecracker 400 was the weather.  The governing body has faced a troubling season with regards to weather, and this event further showcased how problematic Mother Nature can be.  It’s a battle between the fans at the track versus the TV audience – but even the delay in ultimately calling the race seemed excessive, as most of the fans had already left and it felt like a fait accompli.  These decisions need to be made with more urgency.  Huston Ladner

IndyCar: Juan Pablo Montoya Wins at Pocono –  Prior to the Pocono 500, there was a bunch of questions about the prospects of the event in the future.  Brandon Igdalsky, the grandson of track founder of Joseph Mattioli, made overtures that disappointing ticket sales may curtail any possible events in the years to come.  The stands, however, looked to hold a decent amount of fans, for an IndyCar race anyway, and it might be enough to stave off the removal of the track from the schedule.

As for the race, the trio of drivers from Penske Racing seemed to put on a clinic for much of it.  The race stayed green for the first 158 laps, which ultimately led to it being the fastest 500 mile race for Indy, and with Penske holding three of the top four positions throughout.  The caution did little to change anything as Juan Pablo Montoya grabbed the lead late and never was threatened by Carlos Munoz or Helio Castroneves.  Will Power, who had been in third, suffered a black flag for blocking and dropped all the way to fifth.

Montoya’s win bumps him up in the standings again as Ryan Hunter-Reay was again felled by mechanical issues.  It is shaping up to be a championship between the Penske drivers.

Next weekend is another one for double points, though it requires driving two races to do so as it’s two races on the streets of Toronto. Huston Ladner

Formula One: Ferrari’s Forgettable Weekend – First, the Ferrari team botched their qualifying session by misjudging the track conditions and slotting their drivers in rare territory on the grid, well in the back.  From that relatively harmless infraction, things got worse when, on the opening lap Kimi Raikkonen, blistered off the track into a run-off area, slung back onto the track, lost control, and blasted into a wall, and spun into the middle of the surface, collecting Williams-Mercedes driver Felipe Massa along with him.  Raikkonen hobbled away after the vicious wreck and was diagnosed with a bruised ankle.  The wreck delayed the race with a red-flag period of roughly an hour as track officials mended a guardrail.  His teammate, Fernando Alonso, began the race in 16th, but was caught being across his starting line, and was forced to do a five second pit road penalty.  His finish of sixth was the team’s only highlight of the weekend.

Up front, the normal story took place – sort of.  Nico Rosberg paced the field early, and his Mercedes teammate, Lewis Hamilton, slotted himself into second with ease.  The finish looked like another 1-2 for  the team until Rosberg’s transmission caused his retirement.  From there, Hamilton cruised home to the victory, having put himself 40 seconds ahead of the field at some point.  His win leaves he and Rosberg sitting nearly level in the fight for the championship.

Valteri Bottas took second place, with rookie Red Bull driver, Daniel Riccardo, rounding out the podium.  Jenson Button, who is enduring speculation about his future with McLaren, earned a solid fourth-place finish, with four-time champion Sebastian Vettel taking fifth.  Huston Ladner

John Force scored his 140th career victory over the weekend. Credit: Gary Nastase
John Force scored his 140th career victory over the weekend. Credit: Gary Nastase

NHRA: John Force Scores 140th Victory – John Force scored his 140th career victory with his Funny Car win at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, this weekend. Force defeated Tim Wilkerson, Chad Head, and Cruz Pedregon en route to a final round match up with Ron Capps.

Capps took the slight advantage off the starting line but Force pulled ahead for the win, posting a time of 4.113 seconds at 317.27 mph to 4.135 seconds, 305.56 mph for Capps. Force’s margin of victory, 0.0156 seconds, translates to about seven feet.

“It was special to me,” said Force. “I’ve come to this track for decades. I’ve won here at the Night of Fire races. Robert [Hight] and my daughter Ashley [Force Hood] have won here. I keep coming back here. I’ve been real lucky in my career and you want to win them all, but I really wanted this win. It’s a really great show, and I’m just excited to be a part of it. We raced some great kids: Capps, Cruz, Wilkerson, Chad Head. We gave them some good racing. Hey, we got the win. I’m just glad to get that one out of the way. Now I’ll try to get my second win here.”

Antron Brown scored his fifth victory of the year in Top Fuel by defeating Shawn Langdon. Langdon got the lead off the start but smoked the tires, while Brown made a clean pass to take the win with a time of 3.797 seconds, 318.84 mph.

Erica Enders-Stevens collected her fourth Wally of the year in Pro Stock, taking the win over her former crew chief, Dave Connolly. Enders-Stevens got the advantage off the start and held it to the finish, posting a 6.632 second run at 210.14 mph. She was the fastest qualifier and ran the quickest pass in every round of the weekend. With her tenth career pro win overall, Enders-Stevens joins Angelle Sampey and Shirley Muldowney as female competitors with double-digit win totals.

Andrew Hines was the winner in Pro Stock Motorcycle, posting a run of 6.901 seconds at 193.96 mph to defeat Hector Arana, Sr.

Short Tracks: Killing it in the Keystone State –  The Pennsylvania Posse is legendary in 410 Sprint Car circles. The drivers from PA are well known for giving the touring contenders on the World of Outlaw, ASCS and All Star Circuit of Champions tours all they can handle when they come to the Keystone State. From June 27th through July 6th, seven of the best race tracks in the state host Pennsylvania Sprint Speedweek. The best drivers in the state, along with some drivers from neighboring states, will get after it to crown the champion in one of the most prestigious race weeks in the country.

The schedule for the PA Sprint Speedweek takes the racers from Williams Grove Speedway to Lincoln Speedway and then on to Path Valley Speedway. After a day off they head to Grandview Speedway, Hagerstown Speedway, Port Royal Speedway, back to Williams Grove, right back to Port Royal and then wrap up at Selinsgrove Speedway. Unfortunately the first night at Port Royal succumbed to rain, but all of the other nights of racing were completed successfully.

On the opening night Danny Dietrich and Brian Monteith put on an insane display of power and slide jobs, with Dietrich grabbing the big check by the narrowest of margins on the last lap. The next night, at Lincoln Speedway, they held the Kevin Gobrecht Memorial. It is one of the biggest races on the schedule at Lincoln every year. Kyle Moody, who had never won a 410 race, took advantage of a competitor’s flat tire under a red flag to take over the lead on lap 18 and held onto it for the final 12 laps of the feature. When the tour headed to Path Valley it was Brady Bacon making the most of his opportunity. He came from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to take a shot at the PA Posse and he made the most of a bottom groove that worked for his car. He rooted past the leader on lap 23 and never looked back, even through some late race restarts.

After a night off on June 30th the tour headed to Grandview. Greg Hodnett has been racing sprint cars for a while and has shown that he has the talent to compete with anyone. At Grandview he didn’t have the fastest car but he had position and took advantage of it. He grabbed the lead early and managed to take the line away whenever his pursuers got close to him. In the end, even after he clipped the inside guardrail and flattened his left front with five laps to go, he powered to the checkered flag and claimed the flag-to-flag win.

The next night the winged warriors moved to Hagerstown and it was a similar result, although the path was quite different. Hodnett has been struggling this year and, even though he went wire-to-wire at Grandview, he wasn’t happy with his car. He brought a new ride to Hagerstown and was much faster. He was beaten at the start but made a good restart on lap 21, snagged the lead and led the last 10 laps to claim the win. After the rainout at Port Royal the Speedweek action moved to Williams Grove on the 4th of July. Big money was on the line for the Mitch Smith Memorial, paying $10,000 for the win and Stevie Smith stepped up to the task. It took him until lap 27 to grab the lead from Monteith and held on to take his third win in the biggest race of the Speedweek. Saturday night the rain stayed away from Port Royal and it was Lucas Wolfe, who had been fast most every race during the Speedweek, who finally broke into Victory Lane. Wolfe had been the quick qualifier on five of the six nights of competition but had only managed two runner-up finishes. He grabbed the lead on lap 20 as Ohio Sprint Speedweek winner Dave Blaney had a flat tire and survived the remaining restarts to score his first ever win at Port Royal and his first ever win during PA Sprint Speedweek.

That win moved Wolfe into a tie for the point lead with Greg Hodnett as the action moved to Selinsgrove to crown the champion of the week. When the green flag flew on the final race of the week, it was Brent Marks who jumped out to the lead and never looked back. While Marks was leading flag-to-flag, the battle was on for the championship. Hodnett and Wolfe started one spot apart just outside of the Top 10. Hodnett began working his way forward and Wolfe followed. They clawed their way forward and Wolfe jumped around Hodnett as the crossed flags came out. Wolfe ended up two spots ahead of Hodnett when the checkered flag flew and he took the title by six points. Wolfe now has bragging rights as King of the Pennsylvania Posse for the next 365 days. Mike Neff

ARCA Racing Series: Ken Schrader Comes This Close – Winchester Speedway is a throwback race track. On Sunday it looked like a throwback racer was poised to score the win there. Ken Schrader was poised to take the win as the laps were winding down but a botched pit stop put him behind Mason Mitchell and Brandon Jones. The race came down to Jones body slamming Mitchell in turns three and four on the final lap and then winning the drag race to the finish line to score the win. Mitchell was displeased with the finish of the race, as was Schrader.

With 16 laps to go the caution flew and the competitors came down to change right side tires. Schrader pitted from the lead but his crew was slow on the tire change and he returned to the track in fourth position. On the restart Frank Kimmel was turned into the inside wall which brought out another caution and set up a five lap dash to the finish. Mitchell grabbed the lead and led the field to the white flag with Jones in second battling to keep Justin Boston and Ken Schrader behind him. Mitchell entered turn three a car length ahead of Jones who dive bombed to the bottom of the corner. He slid up and door slammed Mitchell. The drivers both kept their cars pointed in the right direction and Jones was able to beat Mitchell to the line to score the victory.

Mitchell’s run of missed opportunities continues with another second place finish. Mitchell has finished second four times this season and has six Top 5s in 10 races. Mitchell finished second in the final two races of 2013 to bring his career total of runner-up finishes to eight. He’s finished in the Top 10 in all ten races this season in the ARCA series.

Mitchell entered Sunday’s race at Winchester 35 points behind Grant Enfinger for the series lead at the midway point of the season. Neither driver scored qualifying bonus points but Mitchell did lead laps so he gained 20 points on Enfinger during the day and now should be 15 points behind heading into the second half of the year.  Mike Neff

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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