Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: A Busch Darlington Brawl, Childress Cools & Indy Beckons

Did you see all of the race action this weekend? Or, like lots 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: Post-race Brawl at Darlington – Penalties to Follow? After a night where racing headlines included the 200th Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports and a points battle heating up between a pair of Roush Fenway teammates, the story to follow this week doesn’t have anything to do with either.

See also
Jimmie Johnson Gives Hendrick Milestone 200th Win at Darlington

Instead, eyes will be on NASCAR and possible penalties for an incident between the Nos. 51 and 39 teams after tensions from a late-race spin boiled over. With fewer than 10 laps remaining in the Southern 500, Kurt Busch had a tire go down and smacked the turn 2 wall before spinning across the track. Ryan Newman checked up to avoid hitting Busch, got hit from behind and also went for a wild ride. Both drivers were able to get to pit road afterwards.

And that’s when things went downhill. Busch, clearly angry over the accident, peeled out of his pit and directly through Newman’s, scattering crewmen and officials, though fortunately not hitting anyone. Then, after the race, Busch slammed into Newman’s car on pit road. Newman appeared to say something to Busch and then the No. 39 crew got involved.

Gasman Andy Rueger allegedly shoved a NASCAR official into the racecar. Busch had to be physically restrained as the crews faced off and both drivers were called into the NASCAR hauler after the race.

Any penalties should be announced Tuesday (May 15) and it’s likely that Busch will receive one for hitting Newman’s car on pit road (Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were fined $25,000 each and put on probation for an incident after this race last year, one when Harvick confronted Busch and Busch rammed Harvick’s car in the pits). Rueger will also likely be penalized for contact with an official.

Perhaps the bigger question, though is whether Busch will face any consequences with team owner James Finch, running an unsponsored vehicle to keep his star driver in Chase contention. It’s the third major, well-documented incident for Busch within nine months and remember, the second of those cost him a ride with Roger Penske. Is it three strikes and you’re out of a NASCAR Cup ride, this time for good? – Amy Henderson

Izod IndyCar Series: Engine Issues Resolved as Practice Picks Up. While Dragon Racing remains in limbo, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing found a solution to its lack of an engine supplier through a partnership, effective immediately with Panther Racing that could significantly improve the program.

DRR parted ways by mutual agreement with Lotus prior to the race in Sao Paulo; luckily for them, Panther campaigns Chevrolet engines and had a second engine lease available.

The arrangement is mutually beneficial as Panther was looking for a viable opportunity to expand to a two-car operation. DRR’s Oriol Servia will now run as a teammate to Panther’s JR Hildebrand for the renamed Panther/DRR team. The teams will combine their efforts under one roof at Panther’s headquarters in Indianapolis.

DRR is particularly enthusiastic about the partnership given Panther’s history at Indy, which was backed up by a strong showing by Hildebrand in opening practice, logging the second-fastest time behind rookie Josef Newgarden on opening day. Sebastian Saavedra, driving for Andretti Autosport, led the way on day two with former NASCAR Nationwide driver Bryan Clauson coming in second fastest.

In all, 33 drivers are on the Indianapolis 500 entry list, just meeting the minimum for a full field. There are eight rookies, including the oldest driver attempting to make the race, former Formula 1 driver Jean Alesi, who will be 47 years, 348 days old on race day. He would become the oldest rookie starter in Indy 500 history.

Alesi joins Rubens Barrichello as one of two former F1 drivers on the entry list. The drivers also include three women, while 13 countries* are represented (including nine Americans, the most of any country).

There are three former winners trying to make the field, including Helio Castroneves, who is looking to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners of the Indy 500. Pole day is next Saturday.

* The entry list shows drivers from the United Kingdom as either from England or Scotland.Toni Montgomery

NASCAR Nationwide Series: As the Season Heats Up, RCR Cooling Off. It’s May, meaning that temperatures are heating up and the grind of the season is truly beginning. For Elliott Sadler and the No. 2 team, the start of that grind means something more – that the first true adversity of the season has reared its ugly head.

Less than 10 laps short of the finish at Darlington, Sadler was leading the race and poised to gain ground in the standings against Ricky Stenhouse Jr. All seemed well in a Nationwide program that has been Richard Childress Racing’s ol’ reliable in a difficult 2012.

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Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2012 VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington

But one ill-advised bump by Joey Logano changed all that. Instead, Sadler got hooked and spun into the frontstretch fence, and ended the night in the 24th position, leaving Darlington in a 23-point hole, any semblance of momentum after a strong overall performance at the Lady in Black all but gone.

This incident could not have come at a worse time. After storming to two wins in the season’s first four races, Sadler and team have struggled. And next up? Iowa and Charlotte. Roush Fenway Racing won all four 2011 races at those venues, with Stenhouse scoring both of the Iowa trophies.

The challenge for RCR is twofold. Sadler and team have to put a hugely disappointing weekend behind them and get back on track at two venues that their opponent has dominated. But Darlington was also demonstrative of just how important a role Sadler is playing for rookie Austin Dillon in learning these cars and tracks.

The more Sadler is challenged to get his team up to speed and stay in the hunt, the bigger the challenge for Dillon to keep tapping into the veteran’s experience as his first NNS campaign continues.

It’s no longer early in the season. The next two weeks will speak volumes as to how ready RCR is to handle the pressure. – Bryan Davis Keith

Grand-Am: Tires Spice Up GT; Tempers Flare In the Daytona Prototypes. Temperatures were cool at New Jersey Motorsports Park, but the competition was hot with a new tire compound in the GT class. With temperatures 35 degrees cooler than the same race last year, the track showed the difference. The GT cars were faster than they were in the last event and surprisingly the Camaros in the field performed well.

However, they were not able to stop the late-race charge of the No. 69 Ferarri driven by Jeff Segal, who ultimately secured their second consecutive victory. Still, the new GTR tire compound allowed GT drivers to push their cars harder than before and the results were obvious in the Camaros.

While the tires did seem to wear more than usual, it made for a more intense race and improved competition between the GT cars. How the tires will affect things going forward remains to be seen, but for now, it’s so far, so good.

On the Daytona Prototype side, the race was much less interesting until near the end when the top-four DP cars ran in a close pack. After two different incidents between the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Corvette and the No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing BMW, the loser was the No. 99, which sustained major damage.

The two finished last in their class and 25th and 26th, respectively. Whether anything more comes out of the contact between the two remains to be seen; however, they’ve got a couple weeks to cool off before their next on-track meeting. After the contact between the No. 01 and No. 99, it was a simple matter for the No. 10 SunTrust Racing Corvette to take the lead and hold off the No. 8 Starworks Motorsports Ford for a nearly five-second victory. – Rick Lunkenheimer

Short Tracks: As Points Battles Heat Up, Is a Champion Returning Soon? This week, the Whelen All-American Series national points were released for the first time in 2012. Anthony Anders currently leads the standings with 368. Unfortunately for Anders, he has already logged 15 races, which only leaves him three more chances before he is maxed out on points. Remember, drivers can only accumulate points for their best 15 races.

Nate Monteith is in second with 336 points, but he’s also already put in 11 races and only has two wins. CE Falk III, in fourth place, has the best average in the top 10. He’s only run eight races and scored five wins. Falk has accumulated 275 points, which gives him an average of 34 points per race.

Duane Howard, who is currently in 17th place, has turned in three wins in four races with four top-five finishes. His 169 points equates to a 42-point-per-race average. His only issue could be whether he is able to get to the 18-race maximum while maintaining that average.

Meanwhile, Lee Pulliam, who was last year’s third-place national finisher, has served his suspension for actions on the track last fall and has notched two wins in his first two races at South Boston.

While he’s at a deficit, a strong year in races with full car counts could still give him a shot at the national championship. As for Philip Morris, last year’s champion, he is still not racing this season but the rumor is he has something in the works to get back on the track soon. – 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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