Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: No April Foolin’ Here… Just The News

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

Joe Gibbs has tabbed Brian Vickers to sub for all but one race Denny Hamlin is out. However, the path they took to get there was anything but conventional — especially considering Vickers already drives for JGR full-time.

Sprint Cup: Clarifying The Hamlin Substitution Mess How crazy has it been to put a replacement driver in the Fex Ex Toyota? Full-time regular Denny Hamlin tweeted on Friday, “This just in.. I’ll give away the Driver’s Seat to the #11 car at ‘Dega to one of my followers.”

All joking aside, it has been difficult to follow, a story that’s been evolving since the first hint of a long-term injury last Monday morning. So for those who haven’t been on it, 24/7 here’s where the situation stands now for each driver involved.

Denny Hamlin: He’s the guy who’s hurt, remember? Diagnosed to be out six weeks, which includes the following five races: Martinsville, Texas, Kansas, Richmond, and Talladega. If the diagnosis holds, he would return for the Southern 500 on May 11th after recovering from an L1 Compression Fracture of his lower back.

Mark Martin: After being labeled Hamlin’s permanent sub, in a Joe Gibbs Racing press release it turns out Martin will do only one race after all in the No. 11: Martinsville. It’s possible, should the Hamlin injury require even more time off Martin could fill some of those additional conflicts… but for now, that’s it.

Brian Vickers: Here’s the man eventually selected to fill in for Hamlin. Vickers, who drives the No. 20 of Joe Gibbs Racing full-time in the Nationwide Series will slide behind the No. 11 at Texas, Kansas, Richmond, and Talladega. Vickers would also be potentially available for every points-paying event, with no conflicts through Dover the first weekend in June.

Elliott Sadler: Initially selected as the primary sub, sponsor conflicts are what we’re told kept Sadler from getting the seat. He’s scheduled to drive a fourth Joe Gibbs Racing car, at Kansas and Talladega with the No. 81 — although the deal has not yet been officially announced.

The No. 55 Car: After Martinsville, Mark Martin will return to that seat for Texas, Kansas, and Richmond as previously scheduled. Owner Michael Waltrip will take his turn behind the wheel at Talladega in May.

For now, that should wrap things up as all sides are proceeding forward from this confusion and focusing on the next race at Martinsville. But Mark Martin’s sarcastic joke, on twitter summed up the situation perfectly: “I haven’t been on Twitter for a couple days. Did I miss anything? News? Confusion?”

Um, yeah. To put it mildly… Tom Bowles

ALLAWAY: Vickers, Martin Officially Named Subs
BOWLES: The One Where Everybody Loses

Nationwide: The Difficulty Of Halting For Two Weeks… Not One Though it’s much more manageable compared to the three-week break the series encountered between the season’s third and fourth races, in 2009 and 2010, the two weeks off for the Nationwide Series is still a tough pill to swallow. After all, it comes after five weeks of solid racing and the emergence of early favorites for the season title. Sam Hornish, Jr. has proven himself as a legitimate contender in 2013, racking up a win, four top 5s and five top-10 results to start the season. Meanwhile, Regan Smith and Brian Scott remain hot on his heels, the latter with top-10 finishes in every race so far this year.

But halfway through the break, one major question lingers: who can keep up that momentum? Can Hornish, Smith and Scott maintain their hot starts, or will they fade into obscurity while new frontrunners emerge? Can drivers down on their luck to start the year, such as Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers, turn things around to become part of the title conversation in a few weeks’ time? In a season dominated mostly by Cup regulars, will more Nationwide full-timers find Victory Lane?

One thing’s for certain: keep an eye on NASCAR’s second-tier series once it arrives back at the track on April 12th in Texas. With its drivers rested and rejuvenated, the series is sure to put on a good show in the Lone Star State. Kevin Rutherford

IndyCar: TV Ratings Tell A Positive Story So Far NBC Sports Network got its television coverage off to a strong start with the season opening IZOD IndyCar Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last weekend. The race broadcast delivered a 0.38 coverage rating, along with a 0.26 household share according to the Nielsen Company. These totals might not sound impressive, but it is an increase of more than 50 percent over the network’s first race in 2012, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (ABC carried the season-opening race from St. Petersburg last year), which scored a 0.25 rating and 0.17 household share. This rating marks the best for an IZOD IndyCar Series season opener on NBC Sports Network since 2009.

Looking deeper, 388,000 viewers tuned in, an increase of 78 percent over NBC Sports Network’s first race of 2012 (Alabama) which drew 218,000. That marks the second-best viewership for an IZOD IndyCar Series season opener on NBC Sports Network, behind the 2010 race from Sao Paulo which drew 411,000 viewers. Bottom line? The numbers all tell the same story: things are looking up in American open-wheel. Toni Montgomery

Timothy Peters, after a rough start at Daytona will try and bring the smiley faces back into his season come Martinsville this Saturday.

Truck Series: Waking Back Up For Martinsville Yes, it seems like a whole other decade the last time we saw the Trucks back on track. But after a Daytona nail-biting finish, won by Johnny Sauter back in February this series is finally ready for race number two. Saturday, at Martinsville sets us back up for the next 21 races ahead, with Sauter holding a six-point lead over Justin Lofton and Ron Hornaday, Jr. in the standings. Where is defending champ James Buescher? Tied for 11th, 15 points back and trying to recover after a mediocre start. Others on the “struggle” list include Timothy Peters and Brendan Gaughan, both outside the top 25 in points after wrecking.

For Peters, Martinsville is the perfect place to cure what ails: it’s the site of his first career win. Considering Sauter’s strong runs here, too a repeat performance may be needed to keep from digging a very deep hole to dig out of just two races in. Tom Bowles

Short Tracks: Entry List Not Energized By The Easter Bunny Race car drivers are a different breed: trying to understand what they do and why they do it can be about as fruitful as herding cats. That is the only explanation that can come remotely close to rationalizing why, on an off weekend for the two biggest Super Late Model racing series in the country, only 21 drivers showed up to run the Carolina Crown at Lancaster Speedway this weekend. Not only was the race paying $30,000 to win, but it paid $1,200 to start. There are five or fewer races that take place all season that pay that kind of money and yet more big names stayed away than showed up. For the ones who didn’t bother, well, they missed another fantastic weekend of racing on a very competitive half-mile track in South Carolina.

When the checkered flag flew, it was Jonathan Davenport standing in Victory Lane with a crown on top of his head holding the big check. Steve Shaver chased Davenport to the line ahead of defending champion Scott Autry, Steve Francis and Tim Allen.

For the 29-year-old Davenport, who has been racing since he was 7 this trophy was one of the biggest he’ll ever put on his mantle, putting together a quality effort with a limited series of rivals around him. Sadly, with such a poor showing by the biggest names in Super Late Model dirt racing, this very well may have been the last edition of the Carolina Crown. It is sad when someone puts up a quality purse at a great track, filled with passionate fans and the drivers inexplicably stay away. Mike Neff

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