Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: NASCAR’s Regular Rewards, Old Dogs, New Tricks And Caution Crisis

_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, The 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!_

*Sprint Cup: Regular Season Champion… For What?* Jimmie Johnson was quite vocal in his media center appearance this Friday about the fact that the point leader after the first 26 races in the Sprint Cup Series gets little recognition when the points are reset for the Chase. This has been long debated—should the “regular season” points leader get a trophy? Bonus points? Something else? But this kind of talk has rarely come from the drivers themselves; now that it is, the ball has gotten rolling behind the scenes on whether NASCAR should, in fact, consider a change.

There are several ways that the regular season winner _could_ be rewarded. Of course, the obvious would be to award enough bonus points to guarantee that he still leads the points when the Chase begins a week later. This is probably the most sensible option. Every other major sport rewards the best regular season performances with a top seed in the playoffs. Sure, NASCAR wants to reward winning, but leading the points after 26 races, it could be argued, is a significant win in its own right. Other options include a trophy and bonus check to be awarded to the “Regular Season Champion” at the banquet, or, at the very least, create a decal for the team to display on the racecar. Every pole winner gets a decal. In any case, will the sanctioning body consider a change for next year? Stay tuned; with the lead being swapped almost weekly, it’s important for NASCAR to recognize the team that can come out on top after nearly eight long months of trying. _Amy Henderson_

*Nationwide Series: Throwing Caution To The Wind* Another road race, another case of yellow flags all but deciding the event. Yet, as evidenced by the fact that he had enough gas to both finish the race third and to block Justin Allgaier after the checkered flag flew, Jacques Villeneuve did not lose the race due to extended distance. His decision to race conservatively entering turn 6 was ultimately responsible. But having said that, NASCAR’s continual refusal to exercise a local yellow, their refusal to let a road race run for the 60+ seconds it takes to complete a lap to see if a car can restart itself, played a massive role in dictating yet another event. Billy Johnson’s expert performance… all for naught. Brian Scott’s recovery from a mid-race spin? Forget about it. And Justin Allgaier’s decision to bump Villeneuve to win in turn 6 came because he thought the No. 22 was running out of fuel. Had that not been the case, it’s awful likely the No. 31 would have instead tried to make the pass to win cleanly in a turn 10 drag race, which would have been even more dramatic coming to the checkers… and might have saved the mild-mannered Allgaier from dealing with an angry Canadian post-race.

Jacques Villeneuve’s decision to race conservatively entering turn 6 may have cost him a victory this weekend.

For as exciting an on-track product as NASCAR’s road racing has become… they can’t seem to officiate one right. It’s hard to believe, but thank God road races, perhaps the most exciting thing NASCAR has going for it, are not later in the season when the title is on the line… at least the ovals aren’t quite as vulnerable to officiating blunders. _Bryan Davis Keith_

*IndyCar Series: Old Dog, New Tricks* Officials at Sonoma worked with INDYCAR teams, drivers, and officials to make some changes to the layout of the track in advance of next week’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma to help improve competition for the 85 lap race. Teams were given an opportunity to test the new layout on August 17 to familiarize themselves with the changes and drivers gave generally positive reviews.

“I think the track is definitely going to promote more passing in Turn 7,” said IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Will Power. “The passing zone in (Turn) 7 is the best one, but if they changed Turn 11 to modify the exit curbs a bit it could be good, as well, but good changes, for sure.”

Changes were made to the configurations of turns 7, 9, and 11 to give drivers more places to race side-by-side and to overake.

“I think opening up the Turn 9 chicane is definitely a move in the right direction. A lot of the moves were done to help the passing, but until running side-by-side it’s hard to tell if it’s really going to be effective,” said Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand. “I give the track a lot credit for making the changes and trying to adjust. We’ll see as we continue to run how it all pans out.”

Charlie Kimball, who sat out the Mid-Ohio race due to a hand injury suffered in a testing incident July 26, was cleared by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Michael Olinger early in the week and was back behind the wheel of the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing car for the test. _Toni Montgomery_

*Camping World Truck Series: Can Kligerman Challenge for Championship with RHR?* Parker Kligerman made his first start with Red Horse Racing in the VFW 200 Saturday afternoon. And while it’s clear the decision for Brad Keselowski Racing to release the sophomore driver was likely impacted by Penske Racing, Kligerman couldn’t be in a much better spot at this point. After starting 11th, the driver of the No. 7 Toyota made multiple on track passes and looked substantially netter than his old No. 29 Dodge did with owner Brad Keselowski behind the wheel. In fact, not only did the 22-year-old score his third top-5 finish of the year, he beat Keselowski, who brought home a eighth-place finish after complaining about a lack of speed for much of the day.

“Fourth place is an awesome start for this No. 7 Red Horse Racing team,” Kligerman said after the race. “I can’t say thank you enough to Toyota, Toyota Racing Development, and everyone on this team that spent so many hours in the shop over the past week to get this Tundra to the track. I’m so thankful for this opportunity and I look at a run like we had today and I know that this is an organization that can go win the championship.”

Despite having yet to visit victory lane, a run at the championship is just what Kligerman ought to have his eye on. His fourth-place finish combined with a tough day for Matt Crafton moved the driver of the No. 7 Toyota into the top 5 and within 25 markers of points leaders Timothy Peters and Ty Dillon. Of course, Kligerman will have to go through some pretty tough competition to make it to the big trophy, but that just means it should be an exciting ten races to close out the 2012 season. _Beth Lunkenheimer_

*Grand-Am Rolex Series: Poor Officiating Decisions and Points Heating Up* If you watched this weekend’s Montreal 200 Grand-Am series race you may have been left scratching your head, wondering why the race was started when officials knew there was left over oil on the track from the race that ran prior to Grand-Am. I was amazed the race was started once I saw all the spins that happened due to what seemed like track oil. In fact, it’s reminiscent of what so many people complained about following the Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen just a week earlier. Granted there were contact spins, but many more were due to the oil. With such a close points battle in both series the track should have been cleaned before the race to make sure the drivers all had a chance at a good run, on a dried track. With only two events left in the 2012 championship this should have been a given.

In the DP class the No. 01 team of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the race, bringing home the 150th win for Chip Ganassi Racing. It was no surprise to see the No. 01 win; at times his lead over second place was a 13-second gap. The last time the team won at this track they won the Championship, so the victory may be a sign of things to come as they sit atop the points standings. However with only 46 points separating the top 8, it could still be anyone’s championship to win or lose.

ìI couldn’t be happier for the whole Ganassi, Telemax, BMW team,” Pruett said after the victory. “Everybody’s just done a terrific job. You know this is a big, big win for us. This truly was incredible.”

Over in GT, the No. 57 of Robin Liddell for Stevenson racing was the class of the field. Leading nearly every lap of the race, his only threat came on the last two laps when the No. 69 Ferrarri driven by Jeff Segal made a late race rally to come within feet of stealing the win, but Liddell stayed strong and won the race. Despite failing to win the race, the No. 69 team expanded their lead from 16 points pre-race to 29 markers over second following the runner-up finish. With only 62 points separating the top 7, the last two races should get exciting. _Rick Lunkenheimer_

*ARCA: Heeeeere’s Frankie!* Venturini Motorsports and Chris Buescher have stolen the show all season as the young guns challenging for the ARCA championship, but a return to the tradition-laden dirt track in Springfield was all it took to make Frank Kimmel the hard-charging favorite. Leading 51 of the 100 laps run, Kimmel showed strength the likes of which hasn’t been seen from the nine-time champion in nearly four years. Now, heading into three consecutive weekends of short-tracks and another dirt race at DuQuoin, Kimmel and the No. 44 team are now riding a streak of five consecutive top 5 finishes, including two wins. It’s taken three quarters of the season, but the ThorSport operation that has proven a consistent contender in the Truck ranks have figured out these ARCA cars.

The only question mark that remains is whether or not they can figure out the 1.5 mile ovals as well. If Kimmel keeps this up at Madison, DuQuoin, and Salem. Kansas will be the only thing standing between the veteran and championship No. 10–no matter what Brennan Poole and Chris Buescher do. _Bryan Keith_

*Short Tracks:* The 2012 Whelen All-American National Championship is all but over, but the rivalry that blew up at the end of last season and cost Lee Pulliam the first few months of this season is about to heat back up. South Boston Speedway saw Pulliam add two more full field victories to his total for the year, bringing his win total to 20. Following Pulliam to the checkered flag in both races was Philip Morris, the 2011 and four-time National Champion, who was the recipient of Pulliam’s aggression that led to his suspension at the beginning of the 2012 season. Morris has not raced this season thanks to financial concerns with his Jim Dean Racing ride that ended in him surrendering the seat to Darrell Gilchrist. After six months out of the seat, Morris returned to the track in his own car with the famous Clarence’s Steakhouse livery and gave Pulliam a run for his money at the track where the Victory Lane is named after Morris.

Although Morris didn’t visit that Victory Lane, he gave Pulliam a run for his money in the second feature race as the rivals traded paint while the current national point leader was headed to the front. Morris isn’t going to be running for any championship this season but you can bet there is a target on the horizon that he is focusing his attention on as the season heads to Fall. Pulliam won the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 last year but everyone in attendance knows that Morris’ car was far and away the class of the field. Had Morris’ No. 26 not had a fuel pickup problem he’d have made a mockery of the biggest Late Model race of the season. And although Morris isn’t driving for the same team that he ran for last year, he most certainly knows what was under the orange and white skin of his famous ride. If he can get his car close to where he had his ride last year, he’s going to be a huge force at Martinsville in late October.

Pulliam is in the homestretch of a remarkable championship run that is writing a storybook finish to a rough period in his racing career. He’ll most certainly be headed into Martinsville in two months with a confidence about defending his win in the marquee race. Now that Morris is back on the track and showed that he’s most certainly going to be as competitive as everyone knew he would be, the race in October is going to set up as one for the ages. Morris and Pulliam are going to be prominent blips on the radar, but don’t forget about Matt McCall. The driver that Pulliam moved in turn three on the final lap has been making race starts at Southern National, tweaking on the car that was poised to take the win last year before that late race bump and run. All three drivers are going to make Martinsville a race that no one should miss. _Mike Neff_

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