Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: NASCAR’s Miracle Moment, Cautions Breed Controversy And “21”

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!

Before Sunday’s victory, Bob Jenkins’ tenure in the Cup Series was littered with misfortune and bad luck — costing him millions to keep a multi-car team afloat. All it took was one Talladega miracle to make it worthwhile.

Sprint Cup: The Underdogs Have Their Day 403 times, prior to Sunday Bob Jenkins had his name attached to a Sprint Cup car. 403 times, they came short of Victory Lane, almost always short of even a top-5 finish. Or top 10. Heck, even a top 20. Sponsorship, the money tree that makes cars win races has been difficult to come by for him, a “needs improvement” resume causing a personal investment about 200 times the size of what most parents give to their children for college. At times, that out-of-pocket funding, still a penny on the dollar of what fellow owners like Hendrick Motorsports put out must have felt like pushing money straight through a paper shredder. How bad did it get for Jenkins’ Front Row Motorsports? In one season (2007) they came to the track for all 36 races, sometimes with two cars, sometimes one. Those cars qualified for the Sprint Cup event that weekend only three times. That’s right; more than 30 DNQs in one year.

But on Sunday, this fledgling organization showed NASCAR Nation, along with potential new car owners that if you simply survive in this sport, long enough you’ll be given an opportunity to thrive. The last lap on Sunday, in which David Ragan and David Gilliland made a miraculous run from out of nowhere to the front will be marked down as one of the largest underdog victories of all time. The 1-2 finish, if you bet two dollars in Vegas could have netted you $1 million, according to several reports from different sports bookies. (If only Gilliland’s daughter, who wrote him a good luck note prior to Sunday’s race could have convinced her mom to call one into Sin City). There’s a reason the longshot label was given; the “I can’t believe it” facts, on paper could be turned into their own novella. On Sunday, the organization doubled the top-5 finishes they’ve collected in eight-plus seasons of racing at NASCAR’s highest level, going from two to four. David Ragan, in taking the checkered flag chalked up the 102nd lap FRM has ever led; that’s an average of 0.2 per start. The best result for any of their drivers, in 2013 prior to Talladega was a 20th, registered by Ragan at Richmond the week before in what he called “a solid day.”

RAGAN: Sponsorship Still Needed For 2013

Clearly, this organization had no business doing what it did on Sunday, with in-house chassis done their own way with a fraction of both the engineers and the cost. Even the “big boys” suggest a little bit of on-track foul play on top of it all. Brad Keselowski, in fact claims he should have been placed behind Ragan, in 10th on the final restart instead of ninth with a position change that could have changed the race’s outcome. See for yourself, based on the 2:42 mark of this clip (when the caution lights come out). Any of the race’s horrific wrecks could have stopped the roulette wheel at any moment; in fact, FRM’s three-car fleet was wiped out in February’s Daytona 500. Such is the fickle behavior of plate racing.

But Lady Luck, combined with officials siding a different way kept Front Row Motorsports on the right side of history. It’s what makes it so difficult to change badly written rules for this speedway in the midst of flips, failures to fix the draft and flimsy plates that manufacture excitement. For one Sunday, all 43 cars are indeed created equal, providing opportunity in a Sprint Cup land where it is too few and too far between for the less fortunate. Jenkins, Ragan, and Gilliland took advantage, giving a much-needed boost of momentum to show that underclass they can still establish themselves in this sport.

“My epitaph won’t be I won the most races or championships,” said Jenkins. “But I want to be known as a team that did the most with the least. Every year, we’ve gotten a little bit better, I felt the progress; I knew it was just a matter of time before we’d win one of these things. “

The question moving forward, for this week and beyond is whether one of the sport’s biggest 21st Century upsets will now inspire others to do the same. Tom Bowles

IndyCar: Indy 500 Rides Taking Shape Goodbye, Sao Paulo; hello, Indianapolis. That’s what the open-wheel faithful, from the drivers to the fans are thinking even in the midst of a thrilling last-lap pass for victory. James Hinchcliffe may have wowed ‘em in South America, surprising Takuma Sato with a brilliant move but it’s a race millions more set to watch Sunday’s Indy 500 will never see. That’s reality.

LADNER: Hinchcliffe Takes A Cliffhanger

It won’t take long for goof-off James Hinchcliffe, Sunday’s winner at Brazil to turn serious about the upcoming Indy 500.

So with the most notable race of the IndyCar schedule up next, a number of drivers have found or are working on scoring rides for the Indy 500. A.J. Allmendinger already found a home with Penske for the event, continuing the limited schedule he’s committed to for that team. Pippa Mann has announced she’ll make her return to the track, driving for Dale Coyne Racing, and NBC Sports Network commentator Townsend Bell has landed a ride with Panther. Two other drivers of note are looking good on competing in the race. Buddy Rice, while not confirmed yet looks to be signing on with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports while Buddy Lazier is building a car and racing it from the Lazier Racing stable. Bryan Clauson is also a good bet, rumored to be driving a KV Technology car and there is a chance that Jay Howard is working on something, too.

That should make for a healthy field, with well more than the minimum 33 entrants we’ve seen in some recent years. So don’t forget about the series after this upcoming week off; Pole Day, for Indy is May 18th while that the enormously entertaining Bump Day is on the 19th. The race, coming up on its 102nd birthday will then be broadcast on ABC May 26th. P. Huston Ladner

Nationwide Series: A Cautionary Tale NASCAR started off the weekend with a rain-delayed, darkness-shortened Nationwide race that ended much like the Cup one did — that is, late and with an impeding lack of light. The Aaron’s 312 ended with a bang after a wreck in the tri-oval left a score of cars trashed near the finish line, while Regan Smith, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne held a drag race to the finish, all crossing the line within split seconds of each other.

RUTHERFORD: Smith Takes Control Atop Standings After ‘Dega

But the race was actually already over. The caution flag had flown prior to the first cars crossing the line, meaning that while it appeared Kahne had eked out the victory (something repeated in the ESPN broadcast booth) it was Smith, Kahne’s JR Motorsports teammate, that had been in the lead the moment the yellow lights went on. When NASCAR reverted back to the last scoring loop, according to the rules it was Smith in front and that’s what secured the JR Motorsports driver the victory.

Was it the right call? Kahne certainly had his frustrations. “I was really surprised they threw that caution. So many times they wouldn’t in that situation,” he said post-race. “NASCAR always switches it up. But I saw the caution before I got to the end.”

When didn’t they? The 2007 Daytona 500 comes to mind, along with the 2012 Nationwide race at Daytona where, by the time the yellow was thrown James Buescher was well on his way to a shocking upset. On the other hand, it was already fairly hard to see outside, and with drivers wrecking ahead, NASCAR made the right choice of throwing the flag. Why? With limited visibility, there was too much added risk of a car at the back running into one of the wrecked cars even with spotters yelling on the radio. Otherwise? They probably wouldn’t have thrown it, and Kahne would be standing in Victory Lane.

Saturday’s photo finish became a moot point when NASCAR threw the caution flag seconds from the end of their Nationwide Series event.

Officials this week aren’t expected to alter the final results; they’re confident in the call that was made, although Kahne (and other driver’s) desire to run full speed ahead to the checkers was a sign of how inconsistency can hinder their goal. For after all, it’s safety first, and in that moment, throwing the caution was the best move in terms of safety NASCAR could make. Kevin Rutherford

Camping World Truck Series: OFF

LUNKENHEIMER: Matt Crafton Stops By To Talk Thorsport’s Early Season Success

Short Tracks: 21 Months And Every Trophy… Until Now On August 20, 2011, Shelby Stroebel won the Modified Feature at Meridian Speedway. Every Modified race that was held there since that day was won by Stroebel until Saturday night. That’s right; it took 18 races and a full ASA National Championship before Stroebel finally did not take the checkered flag first. Saturday night, just two laps into his 35-lap feature, Stroebel’s unbeaten racecar started belching smoke from the rear end. He didn’t give up, returning to the track multiple times while trying to figure out what the problem was; but in the end he lost the race for the first time in 21 months.

Jentry Pisca was the driver who removed Stroebel from Victory Lane. It was a shocking upset that had fans on their feet, the perfect opening act for an inaugural visit by the Intermountain Outlaw Modified Series to Meridian Speedway. However, even though Pisca had dethroned the champ, he did not sound very pleased about the circumstances.

“That’s certainly not the way we wanted to take the win away from Stroebel,” the Nampa, Idaho driver said. “That was bad luck. What a great racer.”

While Stroebel won’t go undefeated for the 2013 season, he most certainly will be taking a shot at defending his ASA title with another strong run at the Meridian Speedway Track Championship. And, for the rest of his career, the number “21” will always mean something special in his personal record book. Mike Neff

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About the author

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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