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Pace Laps: Dillon Wreck Safety Success Story Or Catalyst For Change?

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!

Sprint Cup Series: Safety Success Story or Catalyst for Change? Dale Earnhardt, Jr. winning Daytona Sunday night became irrelevant seconds after the start/finish line. The winner even said so himself moments after a horrifying crash involving Austin Dillon tore down the catchfence, crumpled the No. 3 car into pieces and left its driver lucky to be alive.

“That scared the hell out of me, I will be honest with you,” Earnhardt said. “I saw the whole thing happen. You are looking in the mirror the whole last lap. That was terrifying to watch.”

One fan was briefly hospitalized, in stable condition while Dillon himself received a bruised tailbone and forearm. A handful of other fans either received medical attention at the scene or refused it, walking away with cuts and bruises. It was a testament to the track’s new, improved safety measures put in place in the wake of Kyle Larson‘s wreck two years ago we’re not writing about a serious tragedy this morning.

But there also was a serious amount of luck. Dillon’s car was hit, upside down helpless after Brad Keselowski‘s car slid in oil. A few inches the wrong way and many lives would have been changed forever. A sport’s future talent, Ty Dillon could have lost a brother; an owner, Richard Childress could have lost a second driver in the No. 3 car.

The wreck left other drivers fearful, saying the right things on television while tearing apart this style of restrictor plate racing on their radios, away from the cameras. With a NASCAR Driver’s Council now in place, you have to wonder whether they’ll chalk it up to a “freak accident,” the type Denny Hamlin called it after the race or if they’re unified enough to demand serious change.

“It’s not really acceptable,” Dillon told ESPN’s Bob Pockrass on this style of competition. “We’ve got to figure out something. I think our speeds are too high.”

But Jimmie Johnson put it more succinctly, a raw emotion all drivers and many fans are feeling this Monday morning. “I’m shocked that Austin Dillon is even alive,” he said. “It was just a frightening moment.” Tom Bowles

BEARDEN: Thinkin’ Out Loud: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Wins, Austin Dillon Takes Flight

XFINITY Series: A Tale of Two Daytonas – How fickle can restrictor plate racing be? Just a night before his big wreck, Dillon came out on top in a wild XFINITY Series finish that left him brimming with confidence heading into the Cup race. Leading the final eight laps, he’s now won two of the last five races in that series even though his No. 33 car has changed crew chiefs during that stretch. (Dillon won with Danny Stockman, Jr. making his debut with the team.)

That race had its own share of multi-car wrecks, with the difference being their biggest happened well before the checkered flag. Two “big ones” in the final ten laps involved 24 cars in the field, reducing the cars on the lead lap to nine and leaving the series full of junkyard parts and pieces. It was a boon for drivers like Benny Gordon, who earned his best ever finish with a new, underdog program (fifth). But the busts will be costly, hundreds of thousands of second-tier equipment torn to shreds with a limited amount of financial support at the ready to replace it.  Tom Bowles

Camping World Truck Series: Back on Track in Kentucky – After a couple weekends off, the Truck Series returns to action this Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway. Following a string of bad luck that saw him miss out on multiple potential trips to Victory Lane, Erik Jones shook that monkey off his back when the series hit Iowa Speedway on June 19. Hoping to capitalize on that momentum, the driver of the No. 4 Toyota has his eyes on the big trophy and looks to continue eating through Matt Crafton‘s point lead.

Last year, Kyle Busch led a race-high 91 laps en route to his fifth of seven victories. As of press time, there are 34 drivers marked on the entry list, including Cody Coughlin, a rookie attempting his series debut. Coverage for the UNOH 225 begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on FoxSports 1. Beth Lunkenheimer

NHRA: One for the Ladies – For just the third time ever, an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event featured a final round face-off between a pair of female drivers as Karen Stoffer took on Angelle Sampey in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. Give it to Stoffer, who scored her second win of the season with a 6.984-second, 193.10 mph pass while Sampey redlighted.

“I certainly can’t imagine the way this season has gone,” said Stoffer, who sits second in points. “I’m still pinching myself, but we never planned how this season was going to go. I didn’t think I’d be here for a second. We just wanted to put our best foot forward, and to end up winning, that is icing on the cake.”

Stoffer also defeated Matt Smith, Eddie Krawiec, and LE Tonglet on her way to the final round matchup with Sampey.

In case you are curious, Stoffer and Sampey were also one of the other two final round female matchups, in 2002, and that time Sampey won. The other was Shirley Muldowney defeating Lucille Lee in Top Fuel in 1982.

It was a good day for the ladies, apparently as Courtney Force also made it to the final in Funny Car where she faced off against rival Don Schumacher Racing and Jack Beckman. Give this round of the rivalry to Beckman, who posted a 4.211-second, 301.67 mph run to Force’s tire-smoking 4.609 seconds, 199.64 mph.

Beckman actually raced his way by the entire John Force Racing Funny Car stable to earn this one as he got to the finals by beating John Force, Robert Hight, and Tim Wilkerson (the only non-JFR entry he faced all day) en route to his meeting with Courtney.

NHRA 2015 Norwalk Ohio Doug Kalitta winner credit Gary Nastase
Top Fuel winner Doug Kalitta and team celebrate. (Photo: Gary Nastase)

Doug Kalitta had a good weekend all around as the No. 1 Top Fuel qualifier ended his weekend in the same spot, scoring the win over Antron Brown. Kalitta’s pass of 3.823 seconds, 322.34 mph was good enough to surpass Brown’s 3.918 seconds, 307.79 mph. Kalitta also beat Chris Karamesines, Steve Torrence, and Clay Millican to get to the finals.

“This is our hometown track and it was great having a lot of family and close friends here, so it doesn’t get much better than that,” said Kalitta. “Even my mom actually showed up. I think she’s only shown up one other time in my entire career. She watches it on TV quite a bit but doesn’t come too often. I’m going to have to tell her that she has to come out [again since] we won with her here.”

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson continues to tear up the track and regained the category points lead with a win in a very close final race over Drew Skillman. Anderson’s 6.592-second, 212.19 mph run was just good enough to beat Skillman’s 6.592 second, 212.19 mph. This win was Anderson’s fourth of the season.

Anderson raced his way by Allen Johnson, Jonathan Gray, and Chris McGaha en route to his matchup with Skillman. Toni Montgomery

Formula 1: Williams Lets One Slip Away – The drivers holding down the first two positions on the grid for Sunday’s race at Silverstone looked like the usual pairing, with Lewis Hamilton on pole and Nico Rosberg in second.  A slow getaway by both, however, marred the start, as the Williams pair of Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas jumped up to the lead.  Even after a stint by the safety car, Massa maintained first and a slip up by Hamilton allowed Bottas to stay steady in second.

Bottas looked to be the faster of the two but could never make a clean pass on Massa, one of the first strategy errors that likely cost them the race.  The next slip up by Williams was leaving their drivers on the track too long after Hamilton pitted.  With fresh tires, Hamilton sped to a two-second gap and essentially took over the race.

Williams next goofed in when to pit for intermediate tires when rain began overtaking the track.  Mercedes nailed it, calling Hamilton in just as needed and Rosberg the lap after – a move that gifted second place to Rosberg.  The decisions made by Williams caused them to fall off the podium as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, an afterthought for much of the race, pipped both drivers and earned third.  Massa took fourth with Bottas struggling home in fifth.

One quick note: Fernando Alonso took his first championship point of the season with McLaren as he came home tenth.  Even after a run-in with his teammate Jenson Button on the opening lap, he completed the race in what has been a terrible and frustrating year for the team.

The series next moves to Belgium in two weeks with Hamilton now having a 17-point edge over Rosberg.  Huston Ladner

IndyCar: Matthew Brabham Prepares for Indy 500 Run – Looking to make a start in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 next May, Matthew Brabham experienced his first miles in an IndyCar  July 1, testing a Honda for Andretti Autosport at Iowa Speedway.

Marco Andretti, who had finished third in the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California days earlier, set up the car for Brabham to complete laps on the .894-mile oval.

“I had an absolute blast. I have wanted to drive an Indy car for so long now and to finally get a chance was awesome,” said Brabham, the 2012 USF2000 and 2013 Pro Mazda champion, in a release. “Driving an Indy car in anger for the first time was definitely different to what I am used to; the speed, power and downforce were a big jump. But it did not take me too long and I was up to speed quickly and started to work through the program the team wanted to do.

“It was great working with Marco and drawing off his experience. A short oval is not the easiest place to drive for the first time in one of these cars. But with his and the teams’ help it all came together pretty quickly for me.”

Brabham, 21, will look to make his first Indy 500 start on the 55th anniversary of his grandfather Sir Jack Brabham’s first trip to Indianapolis. Jack and son Geoff Brabham made a combined 14 starts in the Indianapolis 500, with Geoff scoring the best finish of the two with a fourth-place run in 1983. Aaron Bearden

Short Tracks:  The 25th Annual Pennsylvania Sprint Car Speedweek, which features a grueling nine scheduled races in 10 days, took place throughout Independence Day week.  Veteran campaigner Stevie Smith took the winner’s share of some top purses early in the week at the Williams Grove Speedway, Path Valley Speedway, and Hagerstown Speedway (MD) dirt facilities.  The wins earned him two $5,000 checks, another for $7,000, and gave him a comfortable lead for the $10,000-to-win points fund heading into the Sunday finale at Selinsgrove Speedway.  Additional winners were local driver Danny Dietrich in the preliminary race at Lincoln Speedway, Doug Esh in the $10,000-to-win Williams Grove show, and Steve Buckwalter at the Port Royal Speedway Fourth of July special.  The Tuesday event at Grandview Speedway was rained out.

On asphalt in the Keystone State, Jennerstown Speedway was able to get their first full night of racing of the season in on Saturday.  Longtime track veterans Barry Awtey and Garry Wiltrout split the Twin 31-lap Late Model races, outrunning North Carolina invader Colt James and a host of others. Aaron Creed

K&N Pro Series East: Small But Mighty – HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks driver Rico Abreu may only stand at 4’4” and weigh 95 pounds, but his heart and willpower are among the biggest in NASCAR.

Abreu set a new track record (84.697 mph) and led 86 laps from the pole to claim Saturday’s NAPA 150 at Columbus Motor Speedway, his first-career NKNPSE victory.

Abreu, 23, fought of 16-year-old Grant Quinlan in an epic duel to take the victory. The two drivers combined to lead 149 of the race’s 150 laps, with Scott Heckert ahead for the only other circuit.

“It’s a pretty special night,” said Abreu, who was born with achondroplasia, the most common cause of dwarfism. “Everyone here at HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks gave me a great race car tonight. To get the pole and the track record is pretty phenomenal.”

While Abreu claimed his first victory, the championship points battle saw a significant shakeup. Point leaders William Byron, Kyle Benjamin and Scott Heckert all finished outside of the top 10, allowing Austin Hill, who finished seventh, to move up to second in points, 20 behind Byron.

Abreu, who has also claimed wins in USAC and World of Outlaws sprint car competition, as well as the prestigious Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma will try to claim his second victory when the field heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Granite State 70 on July 17. Aaron Bearden

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6 comments

  1. Avatar

    A catalyst for change? No unfortunately I don’t think so. NASCAR in its deepest darkest way loves this stuff. If they didn’t we wouldn’t see the wrecks replayed over and over as ads for future races.

    Austin is lucky to be alive and I’m glad that his grandfather isn’t mourning the loss of another person as of last night.

    I agree with kb, the whole schedule for this race weekend was screwy. I have never liked basing starting position on the first qualifying session. I’d rather they had left it based on points.

    • Avatar

      I’m sure Brian will make a change as a result of this… another round in the chase for just the Talladega race… he’ll call it “the death round”.

  2. Avatar

    I am not a fan of RP racing, to me that isn’t racing. To add insult to injury with the way NASCAR scheduled the whole weekend cancelling qualifying was not the smartest…look who ended up in front, and 3 laps in carnage ensued. Fans waited too long to see their favorite driver get taken out by stupidity..and then it went downhill from there. How frustrating and stupid from anybody involved in this debacle of a weekend. It seems the majority of fans are not in favor of this style of racing, but NASCAR still digs their heels in and will not make any attempt to change it, regardless of potential dire consequences that sadly seem inevitable to happen.

  3. Avatar

    Shame that Williams let the British GP slip away yesterday. Given the speed of the two Mercedes you knew that it would take a perfect race to beat them. And of course Williams ran far from a perfect race, a shame for the team as well as the sport.

    Unless something drastic is done, and I certainly dont know what it will take, its only a matter of time before somebody is either maimed or killed in the stands of one of these plate races.

    • Avatar

      I hate to be so cynical but the drivers seem to be nothing more than commodities to NASCAR. Without the big wrecks a plate race is about as exciting as sitting along the freeway? It is but a matter of time before someone dies in a plate race. Just like safer barriers, do not expect NASCAR to address the situation until we lose a driver that they believe could hurt future box office. Is it an exaggeration to call it criminal?

      • Avatar

        At least the drivers should know the risks, although today maybe only as a concept. Fans, despite what may be written on the ticket, shouldn’t be exposed to injury.