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Pace Laps: Follow the Leader Daytona, NHRA Phoenix, Reddick Rises, and More

Cup: Where Was the Passing?  If there was one constant that emerged during speedweeks with regards to the Cup cars it was the preponderance for cars that took the lead to be able to hold steady in that position. Matt Kenseth’s win in the Sprint Unlimited offered the first glimpse at this notion, because once he took the lead he seemed to keep it with relative ease. But with a small field it was difficult to sense that this would be the case throughout. The Duels incurred a similar situation. Once again, 25-car fields are not the same as the big race but in both of the races the leader jumped out and, for a restrictor-plate race, wasn’t quite challenged as one would expect.

Neither Dale Earnhardt Jr nor Jimmie Johnson incurred the threat of the common freight train bearing down on him and held on for victory. The 500 would be different, right? Nope. The three races that precluded the 500 foreshadowed what was to come. Jeff Gordon, Johnson, Earnhardt, Joey Logano – they were all able to eke out in front and then pace the field by shifting between the lanes and keeping the other drivers behind. Consider that only 12 drivers led the race and that JJ Yeley, Casey Mears, Greg Biffle, Michael Annett, AJ Allmendinger, and Carl Edwards all led for just one lap. That would indicate that basically six drivers led the whole race – which is a bit perplexing, making for a different kind of Daytona 500.  Huston Ladner

NHRA: DSR Dominates Nitro, Brogdon Scores One for the Little Guy: One of Stuart Scott’s old Sportscenter catchphrases was “He must be butter because he’s on a roll.” This applies well to Funny Car driver Matt Hagan, who is now two for two on the 2015 season after winning the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals in Phoenix, and has actually won three in a row if you go back to last season when he clinched the NHRA Funny Car World Championship at the season finale in Pomona.

NHRA 2015 Phoenix winners
CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals winners Tony Schumacher, Matt Hagan, and Rodger Brogdon celebrate their wins. (Photo courtesy Geiger Media.)

Hagan also made his career best run and the second fastest ever in Funny Car history at 3.975 seconds, 324.83 mph to beat Del Worsham in the final round. He also defeated Jeff Diehl, Cruz Pedregon, and Alexis DeJoria on his way to the finals.

“That shows why we are champions,” said Hagan. “Dickie Venables has done a helluva of a job with this Rocky Boots/Mopar Funny Car and he just continues to prove why he is one of the baddest crew chiefs out there. The guy has a great hot rod underneath me and I’m just trying not to mess it up. We continue to turn win lights on. It’s two wins in a row this year but if you go back to Pomona it’s really three wins in a row. We are world champions because we have such a great team.”

It was a good day all around for Don Schumacher Racing as Hagan’s teammate Tony Schumacher scored the win in the Top Fuel category, defeating Doug Kalitta (coincidentally, Del Worsham’s teammate at Kalitta Motorsports) with a pass of 3.720 seconds (a career best for Schumacher) at 326.56 mph to Kalitta’s 3.758 at 325.14 mph. Schumacher raced his way by Jenna Haddock, Spencer Massey, and Antron Brown in the earlier rounds.

In Pro Stock, it was Rodger Brogdon scoring his third career victory by defeating defending Pro Stock World Champion Erica Enders-Stevens with a pass of 6.560 seconds at 211.49 mph to Enders-Stevens’ 6.640 seconds at 205.51 mph.

“That’s such a great group over there at Elite, and Erica is the champion and we’re all very proud of her. Beating that girl isn’t easy, I can promise you that. What’s crazy is we really didn’t decide to race until maybe two or three weeks before Pomona,” said Brogdon. “We decided to run the first eight to 10 races and see how we do. Certainly winning a race against the champ will help our sponsor hunt tremendously. It shows we have the ability to run with anyone and even contend for the championship.”

Rookie driver Drew Skillman, teammate to Enders-Stevens at Elite Motorsports, was once again impressive, falling in the semi-finals to Brogdon, who, like the Elite teammates, was also using an Elite Performance powerplant.

“Everyone else in this class better watch out because Elite-powered cars are dominating right now and we’re going to win a bunch more races,” said Brogdon. The NHRA Mello Yello Series takes a couple of weeks off before returning to action for the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals March 12th through 15th. Pro Stock Motorcycle will also return to action at this event for their 2015 season debut. Toni Montgomery

Xfinity: A magical weekend turned awry – It was a wild weekend for the Xfinity Series. Ryan Reed finally won a race. Considering he had limited success leading up to the season-opener at Daytona, the win was stunning for the only driver with Type 1 diabetes in the sport. For a driver that had been told he would never race again, a victory at NASCAR’s biggest track showed that perseverance could go a long way. Having a Xfinity Series-only driver score the first win of the season should also give momentum to Roush Fenway Racing after their mediocre 2014 season.

Unfortunately, Reed’s victory was put in the back closet due to the horrific events that occurred past the halfway point of the race. Kyle Busch slammed into the wall, which was not protected by the SAFER Barrier. Sustaining injuries to both of his legs, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver will now miss multiple months as he recovers. Though the race went on, it showed how even the new safety requirements in the sport can’t prevent the craziest of incidents from occurring.

Besides Busch’s accident, the on-track action proved to be an improvement from 2014. As predicted, the deeper field strengthened the competition with more passing and closer racing. A mere nine cars finished on the lead lap, but drivers racing for small teams such as David Starr and Ross Chastain were able to battle for the victory, which could lead to momentum carrying over for a few weeks.

Prior to the race, the horrendous revised qualifying format once again showed its flaws. After a multi-car pileup caused by rookie Daniel Suarez, a handful of lower funded teams were scrambling to get their backup cars ready for the race. A few drivers that could have potentially made the race ended up with DNQs. But what made the format so horrific was the lack of communication between the drivers in each group, especially after the first round. Hopefully, NASCAR will learn from this mistake and create a format for plate racing that won’t have the heavy possibility of tearing up equipment.  Joseph Wolkin

Camping World Truck Series: Tyler Takes A Step Forward – The first half of last season, Tyler Reddick couldn’t get out of his own way. A series of inconsistent performances for the rookie had some questioning whether he was the right pick for Brad Keselowski Racing. Other, more impatient owners might have let him go. But not Brad Keselowski. The owner/driver saw something and recognized that, prior to the 2014 season, Reddick had just seven races on pavement. It was going to take time for him to adjust to the Truck Series.

In the second half of last season, it all clicked and Reddick had seven top-10 results in the final eight races. Coming to Daytona in his second year, he was brimming with confidence and showed it navigating a difficult, one-groove Daytona draft Friday night. He certainly owes one to his teammate, Austin Thierault for helping block potential challengers down the stretch. But staying in the lead at Daytona can be challenging in itself and Reddick, one year after making his Daytona debut, never flinched. It was a result, as Keselowski explained, that was only a matter of time. —  Tom Bowles

F1: Barcelona Testing Concludes  The big story coming from Barcelona, Spain from the final day of testing was Fernando Alonso’s crash. The Spaniard cracked up his ride after about 20 laps on track. After visiting the on-site care facility he was then airlifted to a local hospital where he was to remain overnight. The reports all indicate that he was fine, having undergone both an MRI and a CT scan, and that the stay was solely precautionary. Best wishes to Alonso – however his McLaren team still seems to be trying to sort out the bugs in its 2015 program.

As they struggle, other teams have moved up the time sheets with Lotus and Red Bull showing gains in Barcelona after testing poorly at Jerez last month. The time sheets don’t really tell the story. Some of the teams are spending more time shaking down their cars for reliability rather than putting all of their emphasis on speed. While Ferrari paced the field at Jerez, they didn’t put out the same showing at Barcelona. Jenson Button has noted that the testing sessions have done little to predict what the actual pecking order for the track will be. With that being noted, the overall consensus is that Mercedes still reigns as the team to beat. The season kicks off on March 8 in Australia. Look for more coverage coming your way. Huston Ladner

Sports Cars: The Allure of Pirelli World Challenge Convinces RSR Racing to Jump Ship? Yes, it appears that it could happen again.  SportsCar365.com reported on Tuesday that RSR Racing (formerly Rocketsports) is planning to cease participation in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship following next month’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in order to switch to the GT-class of Pirelli World Challenge, the sprint race series that focuses on 50 minute races.

Team owner Paul Gentilozzi refused comment on the story when reached by SportsCar365.com’s John Dagys, but the story is simply a new twist on an ongoing trend.  Since last season, a number of teams that raced in TUSC’s GT-Daytona class have switched to Pirelli World Challenge, citing lower costs to race (for multiple reasons).  A large number of the cars in TUSC’s GT-Daytona class are actually GT3 cars that are modified to meet IMSA’s regulations.  Those regulations notably ban traction control and require a spec rear wing, among other changes.  Pirelli World Challenge’s GT class allows full GT3-spec cars as they come from the factory.  As a result, it’s cheaper to run Pirelli World Challenge because the cost of modifying a GT3 car to meet IMSA rules can run up $70,000 per car or more.  Also, 2015 is considered to be a transition year.  For 2016, the GT-Daytona class will be a full GT3-spec class.  We could see the opposite flood occur for the endurance races at minimum.

RSR Racing’s move would be a first because this is a team racing in Prototype Challenge that is openly ditching the series and acquiring GT3-spec machinery to compete in Pirelli World Challenge.  RSR Racing’s withdrawl from TUSC will make the PC class look that much leaner than it already is with only seven entries and the fact that it’s unclear whether all seven of those cars will be around for the whole year.  Also, GT3 cars aren’t exactly cheap.  A cursory look at prices for new cars indicates a price of somewhere between $350,000 to $500,000 per car.  RSR Racing will be looking at a relatively high start up cost while trying to offload their ORECA FLM09-Chevrolet’s.

While count is down on 2014 in TUSC, Pirelli World Challenge has a lot to look forward to.  Between the series’ six classes, there are 110 entries for the season opener at Circuit of the Americas in two weeks.  That is not a misprint.  And no, they won’t put them all on track at once because that would be overkill.

Finally, a new TV deal was announced Friday that will see Pirelli World Challenge move to CBS Sports Network in 2015 as part of “Torque TV,” a new branding for motorsports coverage on the cable network.  They will join with the Blancpain Sprint and Blancpain Endurance Series and the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) that return from 2014, and the British Touring Car Championship, which joins as well.  Previously, the GT/GTS class races aired on NBC Sports Network, while the TC/TCA/TCB races aired on MavTV.  Round 11 for the GT/GTA classes will be aired live May 31 from Belle Isle Park in Detroit (the race will be run as support to day No. 2 of the Chevrolet Duals at Detroit for the Verizon IndyCar Series), while the rest of the races will be aired on tape delay by roughly a week. Phil Allaway

Short Tracks: The 49th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing concluded on Saturday night with a morale boost for Kyle Busch, who was injured in a NASCAR Xfinity Series wreck earlier in the day.  Kyle Busch Motorsports development driver Christopher Bell put on an intense show with two-time winner during the week Harrison Burton to win the Second Annual Bruce Gowland Memorial 100 Super Late Model race.  Zane Smith, a 15-year-old unheard of by many heading into the nine day journey at New Smyrna Speedway (FL), used a mid-week win and consistency to break through for the championship to join names such as Steve Wallace, Kyle Benjamin, Mark Martin, and Dick Trickle on that list.

The previous night, Ryan Preece continued his domination in the Tour Type Modified division to win the 30th Annual Richie Evans Memorial 100.  He did so using a little bit of a different strategy though, after using up his equipment two nights before in the John Blewett III Memorial 76 lap race.  This time he conservatively ran back in ninth halfway through the feature, a half lap behind the leader.  A caution would bunch up the field and Preece began to power through the field, taking the lead for good on lap 72.  It was his fourth win of the week which also earned him the championship, in the process telling the world that the new combination between he and the TS Haulers team could be a force to reckon with wherever they go in 2015.  Aaron Creed

 

 

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A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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