Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: A Returning Rookie, Action-Packed Bristol And Tragedy Out West

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 week, 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 for the coming week, no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!

Sprint Cup: Action-Packed Sunday Kasey Kahne ended the day in Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time in his Sprint Cup career. Kahne ran near the front for much of the event but benefited from an accident that took out Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth late in the race. Gordon blew a tire while trying to pass David Gilliland, slid to the top of the track where he contacted the wall and then was collected by Kenseth, ruining the day for both of them. Besides the fireworks in Victory Lane after the race, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin continued their growing spat after Hamlin spun Logano while running inside the top 5. The spin was a result of Logano putting a slide job on Hamlin, who felt that the move was unnecessary.

Kasey Kahne burned out his competition behind him with a late charge to win at Thunder Valley.

But perhaps the biggest piece of news surrounded who “wasn’t there.” The fans spoke loudly and clearly to Bruton Smith in 2012. He responded by grinding the top lane of the track to try and bring back single-file racing. The fans showed up in droves last Fall, producing a near sellout crowd. However, the racing did not resemble the pre-repaved Bristol and, as a result, the fans spoke loudly and clearly with their wallets again this weekend. There were at best an equal number of empty seats versus occupied seats in the stands, which translates to around 80,000 fans in the crowd to watch Sunday’s race. The racing was fantastic but the 10 caution flags that flew only included a couple of wrecks, which apparently is not what fans want to see. We’ll measure what the attendance looks like in August when the Night Race at Bristol takes place.

Meanwhile, Kasey Kahne and Bristol Motor Speedway are not exactly close friends. Kahne has run 19 races at the half-mile in Bristol and, prior to Saturday, he had only finished in the top five in three of them. His average finish at the high-banked short track is 18.2; that includes his win on Sunday. He’s failed to finish at Bristol three times; could this victory be a sign of things to come?

The same line could apply to Hamlin and Logano, who have been feuding already this year after Hamlin tweeted unflattering remarks about Logano’s driving skills following Daytona. According to sources, this less than ideal relationship has been brewing for more than a season, when both men were still a part of Joe Gibbs Racing. It could add some real spice to the 2013 season provided both drivers can stay in the top 10 or near each other in the standings. Mike Neff

Nationwide: And The Fab Freshman Is Here Finally, Kyle Larson showed up. That’s not to say the rookie phenom hasn’t been impressive, but Larson has been unable to capitalize on his standing as one of NASCAR’s most promising young guns, at least in the Nationwide Series — until Saturday, when he nearly bested Kyle Busch for a win at Bristol.

Though he wasn’t able to secure the victory, Larson showed that he’ll almost undoubtedly be in the Winner’s Circle before the end of the year, possibly more than once. Being able to challenge a tough competitor like Busch with little fear is certainly admirable, and the 20-year-old almost pulled it off, which would have been one of the first feel-good stories of 2013.

Finally, Larson showed why he’s one of the sport’s top prospects, starting to put the Daytona final-lap disaster behind him. As long as his early season bad luck stays out of the way, expect more of the same from here on out. Kevin Rutherford

Short Tracks: Tragedy Out West Saturday night reminded everyone in the racing world once again it’s one of the most dangerous sports on the planet. During hot laps at Marysville Raceway Park Saturday evening, Chase Johnson’s 360 Winged Sprint Car lost control and left the track, tearing down the pit lane, hitting two people and ending up on its side. While Johnson walked away uninjured, Dale Wondergem, Jr. and Marcus Johnson were both killed as a result of the accident.

Wondergem was a car owner of several sprint cars that were participating in the California Civil War season opener, a touring 360 Winged Sprint Car series that showcases the best drivers in California in Winged Sprint Cars. Marcus Johnson was Chase’s 14-year-old cousin. Wondergem was pronounced dead at the scene; Johnson was taken to Rideout Hospital in Marysville but was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival.

It’s an incomprehensible tragedy. Chase Johnson is the defending 360 Sprint champion at Petaluma Speedway and the fourth generation of champions from his family. Still a teenager, he is a senior at Petaluma High School north of San Francisco. After the accident, the night’s race at Marysville was canceled. The drivers in the event, according to Marysville track announcer Steve Blakesley, have donated their entry fees, roughly $10,000, to the families of the victims.

Mike Neff and Frontstretch send our thoughts and prayers to the Johnson and Wondergem families. Mike Neff

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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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