Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Milestones Marked While Youth Rises

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!

Sprint Cup: Johnson Reaches Martinsville Milestone Jimmie Johnson’s dominance at Martinsville continued Sunday, and this win was a particularly memorable one for the 37-year-old Californian as he broke a tie with Jeff Gordon to become the winningest active driver at the Cup Series’ shortest track. Johnson’s win was his eighth, which also puts him third all-time at the track, behind Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty. Gordon and Rusty Wallace are next on that list with seven apiece.

The win was Johnson’s second of the year, and he is the only driver with multiple wins so far in 2013. It was his 62nd victory overall, a total second to Gordon among active drivers and eighth all time. Johnson passed another milestone on Sunday as well, when he led the 14,000th lap of his career. After leading 346 of 500 laps on Sunday, his career laps led total stands at 14,286.

Johnson said after the race that it was calmest race his No. 48 team has ever run. “Yeah, we had a great weekend, and the stats,” Johnson said. “But probably the most calm, relaxed, thought-out weekend that we’ve had with the 48, and (the most) mature weekend we’ve ever had. We really fell back on our experience and stayed committed to that…Chad and Dave and everybody gave me just a way fast race car.”

So, if after his considerable accomplishments, Johnson and his team are simply using that experience as a means to get better, what does that mean going forward? Johnson would need three more series titles to become its most decorated driver, and that seems within the realm of possibility. Passing Gordon in career wins could be a stretch, because Johnson came into the series nearly five years older than Gordon was when he began his career. Can Johnson reach either milestone? That’s still a question that he intends to answer. Amy Henderson

Nationwide Series: Off Week Updates Though the Sprint Cup and Truck series returned to competition this past weekend, the Nationwide Series remained in its two-week stretch of inactivity. Some full-time competitors chose to enjoy the off-week at home, while Turner Motorsports rookies Nelson Piquet Jr. and Kyle Larson raced to fill the void, Piquet in the Truck Series race at Martinsville (finishing 19th) and Larson at a score of short tracks across the country, garnering an assortment of victories and high finishes.

The series was fairly quiet in the first half of the off-week, but week two brought a few news bits, including the upcoming JR Motorsports debut of Jeffrey Earnhardt, son of Kerry and grandson of Dale Earnhardt. He’ll drive the No. 5 normally piloted by a combo of Kasey Kahne and Brad Sweet at Richmond. Landon Cassill is the man going forward for Johnny Davis Motorsports in the team’s No. 4, replacing Danny Efland, who parted ways with the team last week.

On deck this week is Texas, and if the past is any indication, it could be Kyle Busch’s race — again. From 2008-2010, Busch had a five-race winning streak at the track, though he hasn’t tasted victory there in three years now in the series. Given his impressive start to the 2013 Nationwide season, counting him out isn’t an option. He’ll be chased by Trevor Bayne, the only series regular to win at the track in the last decade. Kevin Rutherford

Camping World Truck Series: Youth Movement One thing that NASCAR and its fans have to be excited about is the amount of young talent across its three national touring series. Nowhere was that youth movement more prominent than this weeks Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway, where there were over ten rookie drivers in the race, including several making their series debuts.
Rookie and second generation NASCAR driver Jeb Burton was the class of the field in the Kroger 200, leading four times for 154 of 250 laps, 120 more than the next driver on the laps led list. Burton, son of 2002 Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton, sat on the pole and finished third.

However, Burton wasn’t the only rookie driver with a top finish; fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Darrell Wallace, Jr. finished fifth, and two teenaged drivers making their series debuts, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones, also came home with top-10 finishes on Saturday (sixth and ninth, respectively). Elliott is also a second-generation star on the rise; he’s the son of 1988 Cup champ Bill Elliott.

How far will these youngsters rise in NASCAR? That remains to be seen; the Sprint Cup field as a whole is relatively young, and there may not be enough rides available for all of the young guns running Nationwide and Trucks in the next couple of years. But, while the wait might be difficult for the drivers, the glut of talent is great news for NASCAR as the Nationwide and Truck Series both work toward strong identities of their own, and having some exciting new stars will only strengthen those series. Amy Henderson

Short Tracks: Hickory, Dickory… It’s About Time For One Victory To Come Jay Hedgecock has been building race car chassis for 30 years. Cars running his chassis have won the National Championship in the Whelen All-American Series in four of the last five seasons. Hedgecock chassis have had success at racetracks all over the Southeast in Late Model and Limited Late Model Stock Car divisions. That success is why it is hard to believe that a Hedgecock chassis had not been to Victory Lane at Hickory Motor Speedway in 15 years.

David Garbo Jr. scored the win in the ZLOOP 100 at Hickory on Saturday night. CJ Hulsey battled hard wit Garbo as the laps wound down but it was Garbo who triumphed to give the win to Fat Head Racing and Hedgecock Racing Chassis. Garbo will be in action again Saturday at Rochingham speedway. The support race for the North Carolina Education 200 could be another big race for a Hedgecock chassis.
Mike Neff

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