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: Joe Gibbs Racing vs. Petty Motorsports – What happened? The drivers of Joe Gibbs Racing looked like they would pace the field, especially after their qualifying effort that put Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin on the front row. Matt Kenseth, never known as a short-track specialist, earned a sixth-place starting spot. The team looked ready to take over a track that seems to be considered a Hendrick Motorsports sandbox – it’s their playground.
And then, the green flag dropped. The JGR cars frequently ran towards the front only to then fall off in dramatic fashion. Busch led a few laps and then was seemingly never heard from again, as he languished in the teens and then faded into the twenties. For much of the race, the broadcasters ignored him. Then, there was Denny Hamlin, who avowed that he would win the race after a testy Friday presser. Alas, a factor he was not, ignition troubles masking a setup the driver said was a “football field away” from being right. Kenseth, the driver whom no one would expect to excel, and at one point fell a lap down, was the stalwart, finishing sixth. Busch? 14th. Hamlin? 19th. Not quite the expected results…
On the flipside, Petty Motorsports had one of their best days in a while. Both Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola ran near the front all day and held their own. Petty doesn’t have the resources of JGR and sometimes, short tracks are considered an equalizing place due to lack of influence of aero push, but these results are significant. Marcos Ambrose earned fifth place and his teammate also wound up in the top 10, with Almirola taking eighth to show this crew is a factor on the short tracks once again. - Huston Ladner
IndyCar: Restart Controversy – Another race, another season, another officiating controversy – that’s what the story was as the drivers and teams departed from St. Petersburg, Florida in the wake of the opening round of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season. It is really quite unfortunate that this series finds itself in seemingly constant officiating snafus, yet here we are today, lamenting about how yet another controversial event played a far-too-critical part in an IndyCar race.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Let me fill you in. Yesterday’s race was a largely calm and uneventful affair for the duration of the event until Charlie Kimball slid off course to bring out a yellow flag. On the ensuing restart, Will Power brought the field to green at a snail’s pace due to what he described as a discrepancy between the time in which the green flag waved and the time the field reached the restart zone. The slow restart accordioned the field and led to an unnecessary accident that involved Jack Hawksworth and Marco Andretti. A number of drivers, including Power’s own teammate Helio Castroneves, disputed Power’s excuse in spite of INDYCAR’s declaration that it was a “legal restart”, underscoring the fact that drivers essentially have carte blanche to restart at whatever speed they wish.
This controversy is obviously a problem. It doesn’t matter who was “right” (Power or the other drivers) in this situation, either way, the fact that such a blatantly unsafe restart could be deemed “legal” is a rather obvious problem that needs to be addressed. If such an accordion effect were to happen on a high-speed oval track… let’s just say it could have led to a worse outcome.
Needless to say, INDYCAR once again needs to take a hard look at some of its rules and regulations to iron out loopholes in the officiating system that can lead to unsafe events on track. Frankly, restarts like the one in yesterday’s race should not in any way be tolerated. - Matt Stallknecht
Camping World Trucks: Red Alert For Red Horse Racing – The second race of the Truck Series season belongs to Matt Crafton, a strong statement as he starts a repeat title bid. But a stronger tidal wave was made by two teammates, battling after the checkered flag as German Quiroga, Jr. enters this week public Truck enemy number one.
The driver of the No. 77, which ran sixth, drew the ire of teammate Timothy Peters after a green-white-checkered finish. Peters, who was the main adversary for Matt Crafton all day, got tapped by Darrell Wallace, Jr., sending him back into a crowd of trucks. Quiroga followed suit, banging fenders on the last lap and knocking Peters to a disappointing seventh. Their last-lap battle, in the midst of a crowd of trucks also seemed to claim John Wes Townley, whose promising top-5 finish was ruined with a hard smash into the backstretch wall.
“First, the 54 up and moved us out of the way,” said Peters. “ But I wouldn’t expect my own teammate to do it – it’s Martinsville. Tempers are going to flare; apologize to my guys at the shop for two teammates getting into it, but German has a lot to learn. The fastest truck didn’t win again.”
Quiroga also endured a post-race tongue-lashing, courtesy Ron Hornaday when the two made contact with both running solidly inside the top 10. The resulting spinout left Hornaday midpack, scrambling to climb back to ninth when he had a truck capable of third or better.
The irony here is Quiroga, left unscathed by these wrecks, is off to a solid start, sixth in points with two straight top-10 finishes to his credit. But with three DNFs, for wrecks in a 30-race Truck career he’s also not holding a clean reputation. The Mexican driver has potential, driving top-tier equipment, but that aggression could come back to bite him if he’s not careful. It’s already bit Mr. Peters, a teammate wondering if those points lost Sunday will keep the title contender from holding the Trucks’ biggest trophy come Homestead. - Tom Bowles
Sports Car: Another One Bites The Dust? – Once again, we’ve had some bad news to report out of TUSC. On Tuesday, Muscle Milk Pickett Racing announced that they would be skipping the upcoming Tudor United SportsCar Championship rounds at Long Beach and Laguna Seca before returning at Belle Isle Park on May 31st. The team’s primary reasons for the move? Reliability and performance testing for the ORECA 03-Nissan.
The defending American Le Mans Series P1 champions were forced to make a change since the series decided not to support the upper-most prototype class. Back in December, barely a month before the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the team took delivery of an ORECA 03-Nissan, a package that is very popular in the P2 class in Europe. So far, the team has done quite well with the car. At Daytona, the No. 6 finished fifth overall, three laps behind the winners. Sebring saw the car run well before a power steering issue put them out.
Team owner Greg Pickett doesn’t really want to miss Long Beach, but believes that the course of action is best so that the team can improve.
“It’s never an easy decision to make when deciding to miss a race, let alone two,” Pickett said. “We had an issue at Sebring with the power steering that could have been a safety concern. Fortunately, it didn’t get to that but we want to make sure that we don’t have such problems again.”
However, that explanation detoured into references about the dreaded Balance of Performance between the P2 and Daytona Prototypes that has been an ongoing concern ever since the ALMS/Grand-Am merger was announced in 2012.
“Additionally, while we did lead some laps at Sebring, the speed differential between the DP cars and the P2s is still quite big and I want to see what the series does with that over the course of the next couple of races, as these will take place at tracks that should favor the P2 cars,” Pickett said. “We came here to be competitive and we know that we have the drivers and the car to do so, but a big part of that competitiveness comes from the balance of performance and you can’t be fighting for wins if you’re not on a level playing field.”
Regardless of the reasons, what was supposed to be a fairly crowded race for the Prototype and GT-Le Mans teams on the Streets of Long Beach will instead be a race with only 21 confirmed entries at the moment, less than the Verizon IndyCar Series race. The DeltaWing and Krohn Racing’s No. 57 are not making the trip in addition to Muscle Milk Pickett Racing. All of these teams were confirmed full season entries. -Phil Allaway
NHRA Pace Laps: The Ladies of Racing – It was a good weekend for the ladies at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas. Erica Enders-Stevens scored a $50,000 win in the K&N Horsepower Challenge (think All-Star Race) for Pro Stock cars on Saturday, becoming the first female winner of the event. Enders-Stevens beat Dave Connolly, her former crew chief who was behind the wheel of the car she piloted last season. But it didn’t end there. For an encore, she took home the Wally for the weekend, beating Jason Line in the final round with a pass at 6.612 seconds, 208.78 mph to Line’s 6.633 seconds, 208.23 mph. She also defeated Larry Morgan, Steve Kent, and Chris McGaha en route to the finals. Enders-Stevens now leads the Pro Stock point standings as well.
Alexis DeJoria scored the win in Funny Car, her second in four races so far this season. DeJoria defeated Matt Hagan, Tony Pedregon and Cruz Pedregon on her way to the finals where she faced off against Robert Hight, the same driver she defeated for her first victory in Phoenix last month.
Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher was left as the sole representative for the men in the win column of the top divisions this weekend, scoring the victory in Top Fuel over Doug Kalitta. - Toni Montgomery
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