Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Junior Builds Momentum, All Eyes on Indy & a Kid Fights for His Life

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: Can Showdown Create Momentum for Earnhardt Jr. and Allendinger? Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. stole the headlines and the trophy in Saturday’s Sprint Showdown (May 19), AJ Allmendinger was busy stealing the show. After a flat left-front tire on the pace laps forced Allmendinger to pit road as the field was coming to green, the Penske driver was able to keep the car in one piece.

Following a quick stop by the crew, he was able to stay ahead of Earnhardt for the first 20-lap segment; then, when the caution came out, he was able to catch the field. That’s when Allmendinger really got started.

In the final 20 laps of the event, Allmendinger roared through, all the way to second while Earnhardt cruised to the victory. Although a few cars dropped out before the end of the race, Allmendinger’s charge from the back of the 22-car grid took place in just 40 laps – 20 if you consider that he couldn’t start moving until the second segment.

See also
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dominates 2012 Sprint Showdown at Charlotte

Although Earnhardt was able to win handily as Allmendinger mounted his memorable charge, both of these drivers have desperately needed a pick-me-up this year when it comes to victory lane; they both got one on Saturday night. Earnhardt went on to win the fourth segment of the All-Star event on Saturday night while Allmendinger mounted a charge during that race as well.

Yes, both got shuffled back in the final segment to finish fifth and 11th, respectively. But the final results are inconsequential in the long run; instead, the momentum and speed they gained in the process could have the potential to carry over.

Wins in the races that count coming up are crucial and not just for morale and to fill an empty trophy shelf. Earnhardt, consistent in the points standings, still needs to get over that hurdle before being a serious title contender. Allmendinger doesn’t have that luxury, nor long-term job security and needs to ride a couple of wins to make the Chase. – Amy Henderson

IZOD IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500 Lineup Set. Qualifying is all over at Indianapolis and IZOD Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe came up with the pole position at the end of the day, posting an average speed of 226.484 mph in the new IndyCar oval chassis.

He will be joined on the front row by Andretti Autosport teammates James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay, a far cry from their struggles last season in which former driver Danica Patrick struggled to even make the field. Marco Andretti, also driving for Andretti Autosport, will start fourth, while Briscoe’s teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves complete the second row.

Briscoe’s run gave Roger Penske a record-setting 17th pole position at Indy. The margin between first and second, was the smallest in qualifying history with the time differential of 0.0023 over Hinchcliffe equivalent to 9.168 inches over the four laps.

“Yeah, the smallest of margins; it’s heartbreaking in a sense,” said Hinchcliffe, who recorded the fastest lap of the session and had Briscoe beat until the final turns of his fourth lap. “I’m going to lose a little bit of sleep over how small that margin was to Ryan and knowing that we had it there for three laps, but, you know, that’s Indy.”

Josef Newgarden is the highest rookie qualifier in ninth and the only Honda driver to start in the top 10. Formula 1 standout and fellow Indy freshman Rubens Barrichello is off to a strong start, as well placing 10th on the starting grid with his Chevrolet.

Ed Carpenter, Bryan Clauson and Oriol Servia endured crashes on the first day of qualifying, but were unhurt and all made the field on the second day. The Lotus entries of Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi were the slowest qualifiers, posting times 12 and 16 mph off the average of the pole winner but slipping into the field with ease as no one ever showed up to challenge them.

At one time, a short field was even expected; however, after the Dragon entries of Katherine Legge and Sebastien Bourdais secured an engine deal with Chevrolet all 33 entrants were able to qualify.

What’s next? Friday is Carburetion Day, the teams’ final chance to practice for the 500. After that, the only question left will be which driver will have the Borg-Warner Trophy, the laurel wreath and the milk in victory lane on Sunday. – Toni Montgomery

Formula 1: Monaco On Tap. This coming weekend marks the self-proclaimed “jewel in the crown” of F1, with the arrival of the circus into the principality of Monaco. If you’re a first-time viewer of the sport, perhaps this event isn’t the best introduction, as the race tends to be lacking in overtaking (that’s F1-speak for passing) due to the close confines of the circuit.

As Nelson Piquet memorably said, “driving at Monaco is like riding a bicycle around a your living room.” For more seasoned observers, however, Monaco remains a “must watch” alongside the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600. Kicking off the day, Monaco contributes to perhaps the greatest showcase of motorsports during the whole year.

Things to look out for? Well if the inconsistency of this season continues, we (and the teams) have no idea who might come out on top. Two drivers to watch: Pastor Maldonado is something of an expert around the streets and Lewis Hamilton is no slouch here either.

But the thing many fans enjoy more than anything at this race isn’t the unpredictability; it’s the in-car footage. You can feel the concentration as the drivers tear around the circuit, never more than a few inches from the barriers as breathtaking video brings their “job” to life like no other course on the circuit.

It may not be the best spectacle for overtaking addicts, but as a test of driver skill, Monaco remains without parallel. So relax, crack open a beer and enjoy to kick off your motorsports Sunday. – Andy Hollis

NASCAR Nationwide Series: Stenhouse, Sadler Are the Class of the 2012 Field. The Nationwide Series finally had their first standalone race of the 2012 season, and one question was decisively answered: this title is a two-horse race, no matter how much Austin Dillon is improving as a racecar driver.

Elliott Sadler won the pole, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the race and combined, the two led 211 of the 250 circuits run on Sunday afternoon. The story of the 2011 season is back for another telling and with Cup influence all but out of the picture, the two contenders were the class of the field.

See also
Nationwide Series Breakdown: 2012 Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 at Iowa

Which begs the question: how to handicap such an even title race? Perhaps more importantly than what was learned on track about the Nos. 2 and 6 teams was that both have intangibles that aren’t going to show up on the stat sheets.

Stenhouse, despite having won the last two races at Iowa before this Sunday, hit the wall during practice and did enough damage that his team had to essentially rebuild the right side of his Ford. That Stenhouse fought back to dominate the race speaks volumes as to how those repairs went.

Meanwhile, for Sadler’s team this weekend has to be considered a win, even if they lost a small amount of ground in the points. Rebounding from a supremely disappointing result at Darlington only a week ago, the team responded by running fast in practice, fast in qualifying and fast in race trim, putting a second-place finish on the board. It was a well-deserved 1-2 finish and expect a lot more of those as this championship battle heats up going forward. – Bryan Davis Keith

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Hornaday Showing He’s As Good As Ever. Ever since Kevin Harvick Inc. announced they were closing their doors last fall, all eyes were on Ron Hornaday Jr. and whether he’d even have a ride for the 2012 season. Obviously, he does after landing with Joe Denette Motorsports, but the question remained whether he’d be able to run competitively in lesser equipment.

After failing to challenge for the lead and finishing outside the top 10 in the first three races this year, the JDM equipment did appear to be significantly inferior to that of KHI.

However, Kansas began the turnaround for the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet, who has gone unsponsored in two different races this season. Hornaday scored his first top-10 finish of the year, a sixth, at Kansas while managing to lead four laps, and the forward momentum continued at Charlotte.

Having started 15th, the 53-year-old methodically worked his way through the field and found himself restarting on the second row late in the running. He ultimately went on to finish fifth, JDM’s first top-five finish of the year, and jumped to sixth in the standings, just 31 points out of the lead.

The question remains whether the No. 9 team can mount any kind of a championship run. If they can, Hornaday would be the driver to do it with, as the four-time champion holds nearly every record kept in the Truck Series. One thing is certain: if Hornaday makes it to victory lane soon, the rest of the field better keep an eye on him. – Beth Lunkenheimer

ARCA: Is Buescher Preparing for a Title Run? The entire field of 35 cars that qualified for Sunday’s ARCA event at Toledo posted time-trial results within a second of each other. And as close as qualifying was, the same can be said for the points race, even after 200 laps on the tight confines of ARCA’s home track. The gap from leader Tom Hessert III to eighth-place Alex Bowman is only 110 points.

As for Sunday’s race, Chris Buescher enacted sovereign rule over the Toledo Speedway, passing nine-time champion Frank Kimmel late and scoring his fourth win in the last five races at Toledo (the only non-win in that stretch was a fifth-place run last spring).

The win also moved Buescher, cousin of NASCAR Truck Series regular James Buescher, to within 15 points of the series lead. Buescher’s win capped a banner day for Ford’s short-track program, as Buescher joined Stenhouse’s Nationwide run in the exclusive club of 100-plus laps led for the day (106).

It’s tempting, and there is some reason, to write off Buescher’s win as being the latest in an impressive stretch at Toledo. But more significantly, Hessert is at the top of the points standings solely on the back of consistency (getting through Daytona without a DNF goes a long way early in the ARCA season), so the the championship lead is ripe for the taking – at the strongest stretch of the schedule for Buescher.

One year ago, Buescher followed up his top five at Toledo with a red-hot summer stretch that saw top fives at Pocono, Michigan and Winchester in consecutive weeks. The only track standing between Buescher and that slate of success is the Elko Speedway short track in Minnesota … and the No. 17 team seems to have that short-tracking thing down pat.

The ARCA Racing Series has spent three months looking for a frontrunner. After this Sunday, one may well have emerged. – Bryan Davis Keith

Short Tracks: Young Racer Critically Injured. Tyler Morr, a 12 year-old-boy from Arcadia, Fla., was critically injured in an accident during a Kids’ Club heat race at Auburndale Speedway Saturday night. Morr went into the first turn on the outside of another racer’s car, turned down into the inside car, lost control and made hard contact with the outside retaining wall.

Safety workers were immediately on scene and Morr was initially flown to Lakeland Regional Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. Once his condition was stabilized he was flown to All Children’s Hospital, which is located in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Kids’ Club division is designed to help younger drivers learn how to race and give them experience with other drivers of a similar experience level. There are beginning racing divisions at many race tracks across the country which help young, aspiring racers get their feet wet in the sport without having to compete against more experienced veterans in the higher levels at their home tracks.

Unfortunately, during this event there was a tragic turn that reemphasizes the importance of remaining vigilant on safety, at all levels of motorsports and at all racetracks.

Frontstretch‘s prayers go out to Tyler and his family. We hope that this promising preteen will be back on the track developing his talent very 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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