Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Repaving Projects, Car Count Woes, Indy Prep Begins & Roaring Back to the Rock

Did you see all of the race action this weekend? Or, like a lot of busy fans, did you miss a late-night adventure, a Friday controversy or a juicy piece of news? If you did, you’ve come to the right place! Each week, Frontstretch will break down the racing, series by series, to bring you the biggest stories that you need to watch during the week ahead.

Let our experts help you get up to speed for the coming week no matter what series you might have missed, all in this week’s edition of Pace Laps!

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Repaving Will Change Racing at Several Venues. No fewer than five NASCAR Sprint Cup racetracks will undergo, or have already undergone, repaving projects in 2012. Two of those tracks will see a reconfiguration of the racing surface; the others will see an upgrade of the asphalt surface.

Resurfacing is complete at Daytona International Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and Pocono Raceway. Construction will begin soon at Kansas Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway; both of those tracks will also be reconfigured.

Daytona was only added to the repave list after a fire from a jet dryer explosion damaged the pavement in turn 3. Only that section of the track received new asphalt; no other changes were made to the track’s surface. Daytona was last repaved in 2009.

Both Michigan and Pocono recently received complete repaving. No changes were made to banking at either track. Goodyear tire testing has already taken place at Michigan and is scheduled for Pocono in two weeks.

Repaving has not yet begun at either Kansas or Bristol. But both tracks are expected to be finished in time for their second scheduled races in 2012, and both will feature significant changes to track configuration. Kansas will add variable banking and increase the angle of the top groove from 15 to 20 degrees in an attempt to give drivers more opportunities to pass under green-flag conditions.

See also
Dollars & Sense: NASCAR Needs to Make a Move With Bristol

Bristol, in response to fan reaction to a relatively tame race by Bristol standards last month, will remove variable banking while raising the banks back to a uniform 36 degrees in an attempt to create a single racing groove and to make passing more difficult.

While it’s unlikely that fans will see any change to the racing action at Daytona, the other four tracks bear watching as teams adapt to a new surface with the tires Goodyear provides for each race. Kansas and Bristol, in particular, stand to see the biggest changes to the racing itself, with Kansas having nowhere to go but up, and Bristol looking to have the most to lose.

Even by returning to the “old” configuration, the cars and tire compound are both different than they were the when they raced on the old surface – and more major changes to the racecar loom for 2013, meaning that the racing may not be exactly what many fans expect. – Amy Henderson

Izod IndyCar Series: Oval Testing Begins for DW12 Chassis. Nine IndyCar Series drivers tested at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday (April 4) to try out the reconfigured aerodynamic package that teams will use on the new DW12 chassis there and at Auto Club Speedway.

The package features new rear-wheel guards that are taller, lighter, and have a slightly different shape than the sets being used on the road/street circuits and the oval races at Texas Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and the Milwaukee Mile. The changes are in response to feedback from a test last autumn by drivers Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti.

“It was more balanced than it was last year,” Kanaan said. “We worked on it; we talked about it. Some people criticized [the car] at the end of last year, but it’s a new car and we have to figure it out. Dallara did a great job, along with [INDYCAR vice president of technology] Will Phillips and the people at INDYCAR. It’s going in the right direction.”

Kanaan was joined at this test by fellow Chevrolet drivers Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti, JR Hildebrand and Helio Castroneves. Three-time Indy 500 champion Castroneves welcomed the chance to get some notes on the new car.

“It’s different, no question about it, because we’re so used to the other car,” Castroneves said. “It’s extremely important because you find out what to do and what not to do.”

Honda drivers Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato, Mike Conway and Justin Wilson were there as well. Lotus did not have any teams at the test due to a shortage of available engines.

Rookie drivers Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden, along with two-time USAC national driver’s champion Bryan Clauson, completed IZOD IndyCar Series rookie testing the following day at Texas Motor Speedway. All three drivers are now cleared to compete in any oval-track event. Newgarden had oval experience from Firestone Indy Lights, while Pagenaud turned his first ever oval-track laps. – Toni Montgomery

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Just How Important is the Rockingham Race This Week? When NASCAR roars back into Rockingham, N.C. this weekend after an absence of nearly a decade, it represents a triumph for race fans. The Camping World Truck Series makes its debut at the 1-mile oval at the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 this coming Sunday; it will be the first time since 2004 that the track has held a NASCAR-sanctioned event.

Rockingham (then North Carolina Speedway) was purchased by Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. from International Speedway Corp. with the understanding that Smith would move the track’s one remaining Sprint Cup race to Texas and not hold NASCAR events at Rockingham.

SMI sold the track at auction in 2007, when current owner Andy Hillenburg purchased it for $4 million. Hillenburg immediately set about reestablishing racing at the venue, beginning with an ARCA event in 2008.

Hillenburg announced the return of NASCAR to the track last fall and spent the winter installing SAFER barriers and other upgrades in preparation for the event. Good turnout and strong TV ratings will be crucial to Hillenburg and the racetrack’s many fans; a possible Nationwide Series date for 2013 will almost certainly depend on the turnout for this race, as will any future CWTS races.

While any return of Sprint Cup racing is unlikely, Rockinham is a popular track with drivers and fans for the racing it produced. All eyes will be on the old track, made new again, as NASCAR returns. Its future is very much at stake, as is the future of other independent tracks in those two series. – Amy Henderson

Short Tracks: Entries Down the Trend in 2012 … Can Hot Attendance Last? As the short-track racing season really picks up pace across the country, the economy appears to be taking a toll on competitors. Lancaster Speedway had what was estimated as the largest crowd in the history of the speedway for the Carolina Crown make-up date April 7.

But the event, which paid $20,000 for first place, was only able to attract the attention of 23 super late model teams. Caraway Speedway had just seven late models show up for their companion event to the Whelen Southern Modified show and 311 Speedway saw seven open-wheel modifieds Saturday night.

While fans are showing up at local tracks more, rather than making long treks to national touring series races, the local drivers are having trouble scrounging together the funds to make it to the track.

The cost of going to the racetrack is becoming more and more prohibitive, and it could wind up having a negative impact on the crowds by summer’s end. Gasoline and diesel fuel are among the biggest expenditures for race teams, and the cost of both are continuing to rise rapidly. Diesel fuel is more than $4 a gallon and racing fuel is more than $9 at most tracks.

Traveling to and from the track often costs $100 or more; fueling the car for the race is another $150; tires are often another $600. The cost of a race weekend is seldom covered by the winnings at the track. Any kind of damage or parts replacement just adds on to the bill.

The stands are starting to fill up more and more at local race tracks because fans can’t afford to travel far. But the races are not going to be as full as they used to be because the expense of racing continues to rise and that could be a major turn-off for fans in the coming months.

If tracks can’t figure out a way to get more sponsorship money in the door to help cut down on the costs for tires and fuel, they’re going to end up in some dire straits by the end of 2012. – Mike Neff

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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