Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Second’s The First Loser, Defining Dominance And A Champion’s Challenge

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: Truex’s Tough Out Saturday’s Texas triumph, with Kyle Busch shooting towards the skies left Martin Truex, Jr. in the shadows, deep in thought over another lost trip to Victory Lane. This moment was supposed to be his; after 142 laps led, the Toyota driver seemed poised for an easy victory until a late caution opened the door for his competition. Onto pit road, the race cars went and when it was over? Truex was in second place.

He’d never recover. “Shoulda, woulda, coulda” was his line after the race, and the New Jersey native, now almost six years removed from that lone Cup victory on his resume is absolutely right. The statistics since that fateful day at Dover, in which Truex won on the same day Bill France, Jr. passed away are adding up to head-scratching levels. The driver has led 1,408 laps, collected six runner-up finishes and even earned a Chase appearance, last season all without tasting the thrill of victory once more. The excuses have run the gambit: poor pit stops, broken parts, and bad adjustments down the stretch which hurt the handling beyond repair.

Will the driver forever be a one-hit wonder? You talk to the guy, after that race and you get the sense that’s what he’s beginning to feel. And for MWR, along with sponsor NAPA those types of near-misses are getting old. The combo has never won, since Waltrip became an owner and last visited Victory Lane with DEI a decade ago. Truex may be comfy, signing a long-term extension last year but that also came with lofty expectations. Now is where we’ll see if that was a prudent decision; for while it’s a devastating weekend, all is not lost. Outside the top 10 in points, Truex has a difficult road to the Chase, sure, but all it takes is a win to change that. He’ll get another chance, next week at a track (Kansas) that produced one of those runner-up finishes last year. If the NAPA Toyota team summons all their strength, making sure they can carry their confidence over it’s expected they’ll be a threat once again. Busch shooting those rifles in Texas Victory Lane might as well been aimed straight at their hearts; we’ll see how good they can fight through adversity now. Tom Bowles

IndyCar Series: Briscoe’s Big-Time Opportunity Last year’s Indy 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe will have the opportunity to defend his top starting spot, and another chance at the Borg Warner trophy as well, with Chip Ganassi Racing this year. Briscoe will drive the No. 8 NTT DATA Honda for the team in a one-off role as a teammate to the team’s three regular drivers, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball.

“I’m thrilled to join the Ganassi team for the Indianapolis 500 this year,” said Briscoe. “I’m looking forward to bettering my best finish. I think we have all the tools to go out and have a chance at winning. That’s all I want and I know that’s why Chip has added me to the team this year because he wants the best shot at winning as well. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.”

Briscoe drove most recently for Team Penske starting in 2008 before being released this year but has prior experience with Ganassi as well. He started his career in IndyCar driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2005 but suffered a season ending injury at Chicagoland Speedway.

“We all know Ryan is a talented driver, having had him in our Indy car system previously,” said Ganassi, whose team has won the Indianapolis 500 five times. “He will get up to speed quickly because he understands the ins and outs of how we operate our race program. The opportunity to have him back in a fourth car with us alongside Dario, Scott and Charlie is big.” Toni Montgomery

Nationwide Series: Kyle’s Continued Dominance Maybe it’s because his rest was shorter, but the two-week Nationwide Series break didn’t slow down Kyle Busch one bit. The driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 scored his third straight win of the season and fourth overall, leading 91 laps in the process while beating out fellow Cup regular Brad Keselowski, who placed second, at the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Busch took the victory amid an impressive crop of Cup regulars coming down to run the race, which preceded his win the next evening in the NRA 500. It was his sixth first-place finish in the series at Texas, breaking a tie with Kevin Harvick for the most in series history.

Perhaps more interesting: series points leader Sam Hornish Jr. experienced woes this past weekend, making contact with Jeremy Clements that effectively ruined his day. Now, rather than holding a sizable points lead, Hornish and the rest of the top five are separated by a mere nine points.

Unfortunately, it’s back to inactivity this week, as the series takes another break while the Cup and Truck series travel to Kansas. Then it’s on to Richmond, where a fourth straight Busch victory could very well be in order; he has four wins and an average finish of 6.7 at the track in Nationwide competition. Kevin Rutherford

Camping World Truck Series: Buescher’s Bad Start Three races into the 2012 season, James Buescher had already posted two top 5s—a third at Martinsville and a second at Rockingham—and boasted an average finish of right around seventh, a number that had suffered significantly from a 17th-place showing at Daytona. But this season has been just a bit different for the defending champion. Here we are headed into Kansas next weekend for the fourth race of the year, and Buescher has yet to score a top-10 finish. Meanwhile, his fellow Turner Scott Motorsports teammates Jeb Burton and Miguel Paludo have a combined five top 10s, and Burton has a pair of top-5 results (fourth at Daytona and third at Martinsville). And that doesn’t even take into consideration Kyle Larson’s victory for the organization Sunday afternoon.

Looking ahead to Kansas next weekend, it’s imperative for Buescher to find his way to the front of the field once again if he has any hope of defending his championship. While I know there are still 19 races remaining and plenty can happen, especially with the wild cards of Talladega and Eldora still on the docket, time can and will quickly run out for the fifth-year driver, who currently sits eighth in points. While a 42-point deficit doesn’t sound all that insurmountable, the level of competition in the series makes it that much more important for Buescher to do his best to rein in another victory at Kansas. Beth Lunkenheimer

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