Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: JRM Shines, RFR Fails to Impress and Hunter-Reay Silences Long Beach Critics

Did you see all of the race action this weekend? Or, like a lot of busy fans, did you miss a late-night adventure, a Friday controversy, 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 moving forward. 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 Series: Roush-Fenway Racing Does Little to Impress – Mediocre as they go. For a moment during the Richmond Cup race, it looked like Carl Edwards was driving forward and might, well, become relevant. So much for that. There are a number of stories that will ride with the haulers out of the flat oval, with Brad Keselowski – Matt Kenseth, Marcos Ambrose – Casey Mears, tires, and the strange Jimmie Johnson caution when he left no debris and made no contact. All of those headlines make it easy to ignore how uninspiring the cars from Roush were, returning to a track where Carl Edwards took charge of the race after the infamous Spingate incident last Fall.

Tires may have been an issue, but Roush-Fenway Racing was unspectacular anyway.
Tires may have been an issue, but Roush-Fenway Racing was unspectacular anyway.

What makes RFR’s situation worse was they weren’t terrible either, just kind of meh. With Edwards taking ninth and Greg Biffle earning 15th, the two Roush stalwarts received little in the way of airtime. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was somewhere on the track, really he was, but you wouldn’t know it, and even after he wrecked and finished 38th, little footage aired of the No. 17 car.

If the Roush Fords are going to be this boring on the short tracks this year, they better make sure their large ovals are going to be the place where, even though so far they haven’t shown anything impressive, the place where they make up ground. – Huston Ladner

NEFF: Breaking Down Saturday Night’s Richmond Race

Nationwide Series: JRM Shines Again – Kevin Harvick added another moment to his already memorable year on Friday night by capturing his first Nationwide Series win of the season. It was also his first with JR Motorsports, who now has four on the year, tying their season best from 2009.

The win further solidified both Harvick and JR Motorsports’ choice to make the moves they did entering 2014. For Harvick, now driving and winning for Stewart-Haas Racing in the Cup Series, while doing the same and having fun in the Nationwide Series, life couldn’t be better. The 38-year-old has made it known this season has been the most fun and enjoyable his racing and personal life have been.

As for JR Motorsports, they’re on top of the Nationwide Series world, now with four wins between three drivers, while earning their first 1-2 finish in company history as rock solid rookie Chase Elliott came home second. Elliott continues to amaze this year, taking on tracks he had never seen before and handling them with relative ease. He continues to lead the points over teammate Regan Smith heading into Talladega.

And yeah, JRM won there last year, too. So as the Nationwide Series year continues to roll on they, along with other regulars like Brian Scott who won the pole and thought he could avenge last fall’s Richmond race, continue to shine. At Talladega comes the return of Sam Hornish, Jr. and a fresh face in Darrell Wallace, Jr.

If things haven’t been exciting already, just wait until NASCAR hits Alabama. – Kelly Crandall

NEFF: Breaking Down Friday’s Nationwide Series Race

NHRA: Enders-Stevens Continues Her Strong Start and Some Guys Did Well, Too– NHRA creeps ever closer to the landmark 100th Pro win by a female driver, with Erica Enders-Stevens scoring number 99, and her second of the season, at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Houston, TX. She defeated Allen Johnson in the Pro Stock final with a hole-shot victory at 6.594 seconds (210.60 mph). Johnson’s 6.588 at 210.28 was faster, but Enders-Stevens’ 0.018 reaction time to Johnson’s 0.044 was enough to keep her in front.

This is Enders-Stevens’ eighth career win and she also leads the Pro Stock point standings, the first time ever that a female driver has led in that division.

“The ball’s in our court,” Enders-Stevens said. “We’ve got to carry the momentum. That’s important in this game, and I know I keep saying that, but it’s huge, and we’re going to keep carrying it as long as we can. Pro Stock really goes in cycles, so I’m really hoping this is our cycle, and we’re going to keep fighting for it.”

Enders-Stevens posted her first ever national series win at Royal Purple Raceway, the home track of the Houston native, ten years ago.

Elsewhere, Antron Brown posted back-to-back wins in the Top Fuel division. Brown defeated Khalid alBalooshi in the final round with a time of 3.793 seconds, 317.72 mph while alBalooshi smoked the tires. It’s Brown’s third win on the year so far, a victory that also earns him the Top Fuel points lead.

Robert Hight also scored back-to-back victories with his win in the Funny Car division. Hight defeated Jack Beckman with a 4.055 at 314.90 mph. Hight leads the Funny Car points standings, has three wins on the season so far, and marked his fifth straight appearance in the Funny Car final this year. – Toni Montgomery

IndyCar Series: Hunter-Reay Wins at Barber, Silences Long Beach Critics – What a difference a few weeks can make. In Long Beach just a few weeks ago, Ryan Hunter-Reay was the most hated man in IndyCar. Hunter-Reay’s ill-advised move towards the end of that race triggered a seven-car pileup that drew the ire of the IndyCar garage.

Yet here we are, just two weeks later, and Hunter-Reay stands tall as the most recent winner on the Verizon IndyCar circuit.

“(Long Beach) should have been a great result, but we got it today,” said Hunter-Reay after the race.

Hunter-Reay’s story, when you think about, is truly fascinating. I would wager that there is perhaps not a single more underappreciated recent champion in motorsports right now than Mr. Hunter-Reay. He did, after all, win the 2012 IndyCar championship. Despite this, the American is routinely looked over as a favorite to win on a week-to-week basis in favor of more well-established names such as Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon.

It is for these same reasons that the criticism of Hunter-Reay at Long Beach was so puzzling. For a former champion to draw so much ire for a move that was made in the spirit of a chasing a victory is unusual, to say the least.

Regardless of this fact, Hunter-Reay appears to once again be ready to embark on another sterling season in IndyCar. The question, of course is will he get the credit and due that he oh-so deserves? Only time will tell. – Matt Stallknecht

Sports Cars: TUSC Makes Performance Adjustment to DPs Ahead of Laguna Seca– Over the first three races of the season, in sports cars there have been two major stories making headlines. One is the poor driving being displayed, especially in the Prototype Challenge class. The other major issue is the ongoing Balance of Performance between the Daytona Prototypes and the ACO P2 prototypes. At Daytona, the P2s were basically uncompetitive against the DPs, but the margin was a lot closer at Sebring. Long Beach saw the DPs sweep the podium.

The main issue has been that the power added to the DPs prior to the season has rendered the P2s unable to compete, despite additional downforce. The DPs were said to have 7 mph at the end of the straights on the P2s in Long Beach. As a result, it was legitimately impossible for them to pass in the passing zones.

On Friday, IMSA announced some changes that would alleviate that issue. The Chevrolet Corvette DPs will race with a 1 mm smaller air restrictor while the Ford EcoBoost-powered cars will have a 0.9 mm smaller restrictor. In addition, the Ford EcoBoost-powered cars will have their maximum boost cut by 54 millibars. No reductions were issued for the Honda engine that Starworks Motorsport is running part-time, or the Dinan engine (based on the S62 BMW engine that used to be in the M5) that Alegra Motorsport (“Highway to Help”) is using. The goal is for a power reduction of 10-14 horsepower for the DPs.

Having said that, IMSA’s VP of Competition and Technical Regulations, Scot Elkins, says that they’ve gotten the two kinds of cars pretty close.

In GT-Daytona, the Porsche 911 GT America and BMW Z4s have been given air restrictors, 74 mm for the Porsche and 65 for the BMW. Previously, the two cars ran unrestricted. The other cars in the class (Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3, Audi R8 LMS, Ferrari 458 Italia, SRT Viper GT3-R) already had restrictors. In addition, the Ferrari 458 Italia will have their redline reduced by 200 RPMs. Finally, the Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3’s for TRG-AMR have had their air restrictors cut by 2 mm.

The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship returns to action this Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in split races. The Prototype Challenge and GT-Daytona classes will race at 1:15 PM ET, while the Prototype and GT-Le Mans classes will run at 5:45 PM ET. Both races are two hours in length and will air live on FOX Sports 1. – Phil Allaway

ARCA: Enfinger Makes History – Ramo Stott started off the 1970 season with three consecutive ARCA victories. Prior to Sunday, no one else in the 62-year history of the series had won the first three races on the schedule.

Not anymore. Grant Enfinger had grabbed wins at Daytona and Mobile to go 2-for-2 to start off the season. After leading the first half of the race at Salem, Enfinger came back to regain the lead on a late restart when Ken Schrader cut down a right front tire from the point. From there to the finish, it was all Enfinger, completing the trifecta that has him in the record books for good. Rounding out the top 5 at Salem Speedway were Spencer Gallagher, Frank Kimmel, Austin Wayne Self and Tom Hessert.

The series now heads back to Talladega next weekend where the Alabama native, Enfinger, will try and become the only driver ever to win the first four races of anARCA season. – Mike Neff

Short Tracks: Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Showdown A Success In South Boston– There are drivers who pay lip service to their short track roots and there are those who actually put their money where their mouth is. Denny Hamlin hosts the Short Track Showdown to support his foundation every year. This season, it moved to South Boston Speedway and took place on Thursday night. Some of the best local short track drivers in the East strapped in against Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Timothy Peters, Jeb Burton and David Ragan all to raise money for charity, helping to fight cystic fibrosis. After qualifying and heat races, Matt Waltz and Matt Bowling started on the front row. There was a large pileup on lap nine that wiped out several contenders; then, the remainder of the event only saw one or two-car mishaps with some long green-flag runs. The caution flew on lap 150 of 200 to set up a 50-lap dash to the finish. Waltz led 195 laps but, with five laps to go, Bowling made a move and strode away to a comfortable win. Waltz and Bowling both walked away with very unique trophies created by Stock Car Steel and Aluminum. The big winners were Hamlin’s foundation, however, who takes home the gate from the event. The fans also got themselves a show, seeing a local driver win the event for just the second time in the seven-year history of the race.

During pre-race ceremonies, Hamlin announced that he would return to the track for the 2015 event. The stands on the front straight at South Boston Speedway hold 8,000, according to locals who cover the track. In addition to the stands, there is a grass berm all of the way around where people can sit in lawn chairs. The crowd was four deep all of the way around the track, thus bringing the estimate to 9,000. The racing was great even though passing is always at a premium at SoBo. So, make your plans now to travel to South Boston, Virginia the week leading up to the Spring Cup race to see the 8th Annual Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown. – Mike Neff

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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