Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Elliott’s Win, INDYCAR’s No-Win Situation and Upcoming Eldora

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!

Nationwide Series: Chase Elliott Turns It Around – What goes around will eventually come around in NASCAR, and Chase Elliott happily found that out in Chicagoland. After weeks of bad finishes and running themselves out of gas, the No. 9 JR Motorsports team played the pit strategy perfectly to make it work out in their favor.

Elliott’s third win of the season is the most of Nationwide Series regulars and puts him back in the point lead. Tracks that he’s never seen before, he’s accelerating at and in a big way. Chicago was just another prime example, and moving to this coming weekend it’ll be more of the same. Well, almost.

Elliott has seen Indianapolis Motor Speedway and he’s been in victory lane. Dad Bill won back in 2002 at the Brickyard and little Chase was right there, front and center. This Saturday, he makes no bones that a win at Indy for himself would mean the world. It would also further solidify what has been an amazing rookie season to date.

With Indy’s rich history and Elliott following in his family history, he’s ready to go for win number four at a place that ranks pretty close to being number one. Kelly Crandall

Austin Dillon took the victory in last season's inaugural Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway. Credit: Getty Images
Austin Dillon took the victory in last season’s inaugural Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway. Credit: Getty Images

Camping World Truck Series: Second Annual Mudsummer Classic This Week – It’s time once again for the Truck Series to head off to Eldora Speedway for what was arguably the most exciting race last season. Brimming with anticipation, fans packed every area of the dirt track, owned by Tony Stewart, to witness history, and the actual on-track action didn’t disappoint. Norm Benning stole the hearts of fans through his fight to get into the feature event in the last chance qualifier, and Austin Dillon ultimately took home the inaugural trophy. But what was more important was the buzz that surrounded the event both before and after.

This year should be much of the same, and many special entries have already been announced. While it’s certainly a wildcard for the championship contenders since most drivers simply slip and slide, hoping to hand on, barely on the edge of control, it’s the type of racing the sport so desperately needs right now. You’ve also got the bonus of 33 drivers currently on the entry list for a 30-truck field, so drama should unfold throughout the evening. Don’t forget to tune into FoxSports 1 beginning at 5:00 PM ET for qualifying, followed by five qualifying races and the last chance event before the feature takes the spotlight around 9:00 PM ET. Beth Lunkenheimer

NHRA: Todd Scores First Career Win – J.R. Todd wasn’t even in a Top Fuel car when the season opened, but when David Grubnic and Kalitta Motorsports parted ways, Todd answered the call to get in the seat at the third event of the season in Gainesville. Todd repaid the faith of team owner Connie Kalitta today by posting his first Top Fuel win of the season (and his first overall since 2008) at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Colorado.

Todd defeated Terry McMillan, Steve Torrence and Larry Dixon on his way to a matchup with Brittany Force in the final round. He beat Force with a run of 3.878 seconds at 317.87 mph.

“These things are hard to come by whether you are full time or part time,” said Todd. “I knew at the time I got the opportunity to drive for the Kalitta group it was probably the best opportunity I was ever going to have to win one of these things.”

Robert Hight posted his fifth win of the season in Funny Car by defeating team owner John Force with a pass of 4.166 seconds at 306.05 mph.. Allen Johnson also took on his teammate, Jeg Coughlin, in Pro Stock. Johnson got his fourth win of the year when Coughlin red lit the start (jumped the starting light). Johnson’s pass was 6.930 seconds at 198.61 mph.

Andrew Hines got his fourth win of the season in Pro Stock Motorcycle, defeating Michael Ray with a pass of 7.426 seconds at 184.35 mph.

In other news, Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens will not be running the next two events in Sonoma and Seattle. The team originally planned to run 15 events, but will instead compete at 22 by season’s end. Given the sizeable lead they hold in points (184 points over second place Allen Johnson and clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship), and the fact that the NHRA’s Western Swing means three weekends on the west coast, taking everyone out of the shop, the decision allows the team to instead return home to work on things like engine development. The focus is on the big picture of the championship in a season that will already be longer than first planned. Enders-Stevens says this is a positive for the team.

A shoutout to Jenna Haddock, running in her first ever Mello Yello Series event in Top Fuel. Haddock faced off against number one qualifier Tony Schumacher in the first round, and got the round win. Granted Schumacher spun the tires, but Haddock dropped a cylinder and soldiered to the finish line first for the win. Toni Montgomery

IndyCar: Saturday Controversy The Latest No-Win Situation for INDYCAR – Here’s a question for my faithful INDYCAR readers: does the headline, “Officiating controversy clouds on-track action” sound familiar to you? I’m willing to bet it does, and once again, such a headline would be more than applicable to this weekend’s offering of INDYCAR action.

Time and time again, INDYCAR finds itself in uncomfortable officiating-related situations to which a winning answer is virtually impossible to determine. Saturday afternoon was a prime example of such situation. Faced with a persistence rain that could potentially make the track surface dangerous for Race 1 of this past weekend’s Toronto event, INDYCAR was faced with the choice of “run the race and risk an accident” versus “postpone the race and risk fan-backlash from folks who believed the conditions were safe enough to race in.” No matter what INDYCAR did, they were going to face backlash. Ultimately, they tried to run the race anyway.

And, surprise, things didn’t go according to plan.

The pace car spun, Will Power wrecked, and the rain continued to fall harder and harder…all before a single lap was completed. Not only that, but with Power’s car junked due to forces outside of his control, INDYCAR found itself in yet another officiating conundrum based around whether or not they should let Power repair his car under the red flag.

I really, really am not sure which INDYCAR official pissed off the racing gods (my guess is that it was Tony George, but hey, that’s supposed to all be ancient history right?), but weekends like this past one generally lead one to believe this series is cursed. I am joking of course, but it certainly is a sad state of affairs that the sport is embroiled in right now: the racing is as good as it has ever been, but the sport can not gain any momentum due to the continued appearance of unforeseen controversies like the one the sport saw on Saturday.

Sometimes in life, you find yourself faced with no-win situations. INDYCAR apparently is no different in that regard. Matt Stallknecht

Formula One: Surprised and Not Surprised – The beginning to the F1 race at Hockenheim could best be described by Ron Burgundy: Well that escalated quickly.  Racing off into Turn One, Kevin Magnussen clipped (or punted, depending on your view) Felipe Massa, causing Massa to go airborne and then finish upside down.  No penalty administered by the stewards, Massa out of the race, and Magnussen drove his way into the points, finishing ninth.

While the opening may have been shocking, the overall results stayed consistent with how the season has progressed.  Nico Rosberg, sporting his ode to Germany’s World Cup triumph, with a helmet emblazoned with 4 stars, started on pole and never seemed to be challenged.  His teammate, Lewis Hamilton, started 16th after a crash in qualifying, but still drove his way to a podium finish, taking third.  Sandwiched between the two Mercedes drivers was Valtteri Bottas.   Taking fourth, with a solid but uninspiring run was Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, with Ferrari’s Ferando Alonso earning fifth.  Huston Ladner

ARCA Racing Series: Always a Bridesmaid is Finally a Bride – Mason Mitchell has taken the checkered flag second six times in his ARCA career. Until Saturday he had never taken it first. After a disappointing loss to Brandon Jones at Winchester, Mitchell rebounded to finally score his first career ARCA win at Chicagoland Speedway. As a result of the win Mitchell has taken over the lead of the series from Grant Enfinger. Mitchell has the most top 5s and top 10s in the series but is three wins short of Enfinger’s total. At the midway point of the ARCA season, Mitchell and Enfinger have distanced themselves from the rest of the pack and look to be ready to settle the title between themselves.

Will Kimmel started the race, leading the first two laps before surrendering the point to Spencer Gallagher. Gallagher dominated the majority of the event until the handle went away with 28 laps to go. Justin Boston pressured Gallagher and took over the top spot with 27 laps to go and set sail for the finish. Unfortunately for Boston, the caution flew with 20 laps to go. Gallagher hit the pits for adjustments, but his right front tire changer had issues getting the lug nuts off of the car and he returned deep in the pack. His handle never returned on the No. 23 and Gallagher ended up the race in sixth.

Boston led the race on the restart from that caution and looked poised to take the win but, as the laps got down to single digits left, Mitchell turned up the wick and tracked down Boston. With six laps to go in the race Mitchell powered by Boston on the high side of turn two and ran away over the final five laps of the race. Matt Tifft rounded out the podium while Kimmel and Cody Coughlin capped off the top 5.

There series gets ready to run three races in 15 days beginning with a Friday night affair at Lucas Oil Raceway outside of Indianapolis. They then head to Pocono and Berlin before their first of two dirt races at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on August 17th. Mike Neff

 Short Tracks: Surviving Hell – It started a month and a half ago. The DIRTCar Summer Nationals and the Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals run in conjunction throughout the Midwest and provide the ultimate test to man and machine. It is called the Hell Tour for a reason and the drivers and teams who contest it can count themselves among a very limited fraternity who answer the call to not only run the races but travel the over 5,000 miles necessary to reach all of the tracks involved. When the checkered flag flew at Oakshade Raceway in Wauseon, Ohio it was Shannon Babb on top of the Late Model standings and Mike Harrison on top of the Modified points.

The Modifieds started June 7th while the Late Models kicked off June 11th. The Modifieds ran 26 of 31 scheduled races with the other five falling to rain. The Late Models competed in 28 of a scheduled 33 races, also losing five to rain. The Late Models ran the final 18 races with four days off. The point race for the Late Models takes every race into account throughout the entire tour. The Modifieds only count the best eight point finishes for any competitor toward the tour champion.

While Babb scored four wins en route to his fourth career title he lost the career Hell Tour wins lead to Billy Moyer, who won six races to have the most wins in Summer Nationals history. Moyer holds the record for most series titles with six. Babb has now won the second most in history with four. He breaks a tie with Scott Bloomquist and Dennis Erb, Jr. who have three each.

In the Modifieds Jacob Poel had the most wins on the tour with seven, one more than Harrison landed. However, Harrison had four 80 point races while Poel only had two. The higher points for those two wins were enough to outscore Poel for the title. Harrison’s title was his second straight, having won the Nationals in 2013 as well. Harrison has won three of the four Nationals championships, only losing the top spot to Kenny Wallace in 2012.

No Modified competitors ran the entire tour in 2014. On the Late Model side there were four drivers who attempted every race that was contested. In addition to Babb, Ryan Unzicker, Brian Shirley the 2012 champion and Brandon Sheppard the 2013 titlist.  For the four competitors that contested the whole tour they drove 5,395 miles just to get to the race tracks. Obeying speed limits it should have taken them 90.5 hours over the 39 days of the tour.

For the truly heartiest of the competitors, the Shaeffer’s Oil Southern Nationals presented by Old Man’s Garage. From Monday July 21st through Saturday August 2nd there will be ten races throughout the Southeast. Mike Neff

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I watched the Busch series faithfully for year’s. Mark Martin annoyed me but not enough to stop watching. Now if I see five Cup drivers in the field I only turn it on long enough to see how bad attendance is compared to the week before. I still watch the standalone events. I enjoyed this week’s race, but not as much as I used to. I realized that because I watch so few NW races now I do not know the drivers anymore and don’t care about them like I used to. I enjoyed watching Jr, Kenseth, Biffle, and Kurt Busch develop into first class drivers. With the Cup dominance even the standalone events just do not interest me that much. I’m done with the Cup World Toyota Series and unless NASCAR fixes the NW series soon I suspect I’ll drift away from that as well. Did you notice that the crowd for this week’s event was literally in the hundreds?

Michael in SoCal

The crowd was that bad? I’m not surprised. A standalone race (not a big draw) just weeks from a Cup race at a boring Dull D race track? Who expected any sort of crowd? Since this is a standalone race, it needed to be on a local short track.

Tony Geinzer

I think with INDYCAR, I don’t think there are “Easy Answers” , let alone “Easy Wins”. I always chomp about IndyCar not having another Short Track besides Newton and I’d like to see Memphis in Labor Day for the Indianapolis Folk to go out of town. Sadly, I feel Fan Attendance is in Witness Protection State of Mind, sadly.

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