Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Short-Track Racing, Indy Returns, NHRA 4-Wides & F1

NHRA: 4-Wide Nationals Produce Surprise Winners – It was a good day for Don Schumacher Racing, as they scored Funny Car win No. 100 with Fast Jack Beckman and then completed the Nitro sweep for the 47th time with a Top Fuel win by Antron Brown at the 4-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C. It had been 54 races since Beckman’s last victory in 2012, but the addition of new crew chief Jimmy Prock at the end of last season paid off in Charlotte.

Beckman outran Del Worsham, Chad Head and teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in the final to win with a pass of 3.983 seconds at 308.78 mph.

“Once you start racking up wins with some regularity and you expect to win, it’s not a big shock when you go out there and do this. I’ve had some great crew chiefs the last three years and we just haven’t got it done,” said Beckman. “You never know when your last win is your last win. You like to keep thinking this snowball’s going to roll on forever and then you go two and a half years and you start to wonder.

“It’s not that I doubt the resources at DSR, certainly not that I doubt Jimmy Prock and all the crew over there. I’m pretty sure I can still drive a Funny Car, but it just doesn’t happen and you start to wondering. I’m done wondering.”

Pro Stock also produced a surprise and very popular win with Larry Morgan, a longtime series veteran who began his career in the category in 1987. Morgan started the year with a new Chevrolet Camaro race car powered by Gray Motorsports engines, a move that paid off in Charlotte with Morgan’s first victory since the fall of 2009 in Las Vegas. He outran some stout competition in Greg Anderson, Vincent Nobile and Jonathan Gray to score the win with a pass at 6.464 seconds, 214.52 mph.

“I’m so happy that we won here for the Grays. Johnny and I had made a deal well before we had gotten the FireAde deal put together and I was going to do something, we just weren’t sure how it was going to pan out,” said Morgan. “I was lucky enough to secure FireAde and with the support of those guys and all the guys who work for me, I couldn’t be happier. A lot of good people helped me get where I’m at right now and I couldn’t have done it without any of them.”

Brown faced off against Steve Torrence, Richie Crampton and Clay Millican in the Top Fuel final to come up with the win, running 3.749 seconds at 319.90 mph.

Andrew Hines was the Pro Stock Motorcycle 4-Wide champion, running 6.805 seconds, 196.30 mph to beat teammate Eddie Krawiec, Scotty Pollacheck and fastest qualifier on the weekend Hector Arana Jr. in the final round. – Toni Montgomery

Camping World Truck Series: JR Motorsports Shines in Series Debut – The Kroger 250 marked the Camping World Truck Series debut for JRM, and what a debut it was. With Cole Custer behind the wheel, the No. 00 team started off the weekend with a bang, leading the lone practice session on Friday and following it up with a front row starting spot Saturday.

Once the race began, polesitter Joey Logano wasn’t really able to separate himself from Custer as the 17-year-old stalked him through much of the first portion of the event. The rookie was busted twice for speeding on pit road under caution and was forced to work his way through the field, but instead of letting that derail a solid finish, Custer kept his head and found himself right in the mix for a win with only a handful of laps remaining. But it wasn’t meant to be, as Custer succumbed to payback for drilling leaders Matt Crafton and Logano. Crafton touched the back bumper of the No. 00 truck, sending it spinning and leaving Custer to settle for a disappointing 16th-place finish.

“It was a great team effort by everyone on our Haas Automation team today. Not the finish we wanted, but it was quite an eventful race for us,” Custer said after the race. “Having to battle back from two pit-road penalties was a real challenge. It put us back there in the thick of things and it took a lot of patience to work back to the front with all our fenders.

“We worked our way up to third and once the [Nos.] 29 and 88 started racing really hard, I made up a lot of time on them. I didn’t mean to make contact with the [No.] 88 getting into the corner, but it happened,” he continued. “I expected that if he got back to me, he would probably try to move me, so I wasn’t very surprised when he did. It’s Martinsville and it’s hard racing. I learned a lot and it was fun out there today.”

Despite what the record books will say, JRM made quite a splash in its debut, and the crew, which was arguably faster on pit road all day long, helped even more. I’m not sure if the team is set for long-term success in the series – or if that’s the intent, for that matter – but what I am sure of is that Custer has nine more races to make JRM shine in the Truck Series, and I would not be surprised to see him end up in victory lane in multiple events before season’s end. – Beth Lunkenheimer

IndyCar Begins 2015 With a Whimper, But Does It Really Matter Anymore? – IndyCar is back! Did you know that?

You’d be forgiven if you forgot, given the fact that the sport has one of the most perplexing and inefficient schedules in the world of sports. Some days, it’s hard to believe that the sport is hanging on. But despite numerous financial red flags, rumors of short fields and dwindling interest in motorsports overall, IndyCar lives on, almost in spite of itself.

As we look on in the wake of the official start of the 2015 IndyCar season, it is difficult to prognosticate how the sport will fare this year. The new aero kits are here, they are certainly cool, but will they be able to rope in the young fans the sport desperately wants? It’s impossible to say. Will a deep and talented field of drivers, perhaps the most talented in series history, pique the interest of other motorsports fans? Again, no one knows.

Doom and gloom has become a staple of IndyCar discussion over the past decade, and every year we ask the same questions. “Is this the year it all comes crashing down?” “Can the sport survive on such little interest?”

Yet IndyCar manages to emerge every single time.

Admit it, you probably thought this little Pace Laps blurb was going to be another “IndyCar is dying column” didn’t you? No more of that. This sport, like cockroaches after nuclear war, seems to have an uncanny knack of staying afloat against all odds, so why even worry about it anymore. We have aero kits, we have a great field of drivers, and a great racing product. Sunday’s race in St. Petersburg demonstrated all of that.

So, in 2015, perhaps it is time we all do ourselves a favor and drop the IndyCar is dying angle, and cherish the fun niche-y appeal the sport has cultivated in the DW-12 era. That’s my plan for this year, and I hope you all do the same. – Matt Stallknecht

Formula 1: Shot Across the Bow – In 2014, Mercedes rarely found a challenger, as between their two drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the team raked in 15 wins and the only battle for the championship was between themselves. With Hamilton’s dominating performance in the first race in Australia, 2015 looked like it might be a repeat.

Perhaps not. Sebastian Vettel, the four-time champion who moved from Red Bull to Ferrari, found enough pace at first to keep up with the Mercedes duo and then make the most of his tires to take the lead and maintain it to the checkered flag in Malaysia. The stunning victory signals that Mercedes may not be able to cruise to a second constructors’ or drivers’ title or that they may not have expected such a challenge. It also shows that Ferrari has made significant improvements in their car over the offseason.

One tenet of F1 has been that was is good for Ferrari is good for the sport, and in many ways seeing them succeed does help keep things interesting. That Ferrari had been so, well, pathetic the last few seasons makes this win all the more a positive – though teams like Williams, Red Bull, Sauber and McLaren may disagree. – Huston Ladner

Short Tracks – Season openers continued for several tracks and series across the country over the weekend. The highly anticipated debut of the rebranded CARS Racing Tour took place at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C., with the new super late model and late model stock car doubleheader format. It was a raving success, with over 30 cars in each field, including some heavy hitters such as Bubba Pollard, Steve Wallace, Deac McCaskill and Tommy Lemons. It was a couple lesser known names though that outran them in the end of the 150-lap features. Past Pro All Stars Series competitor Cole Timm claimed the win in a strong effort in the super late model race, while Todd Gilliland, son of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Gilliland, fought hard for the late model stock car victory after making a late-race pass.

Out west at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California the NASCAR K&N Pro West Series had its first race of the season with perhaps one of its strongest crop of drivers in series history. It was Dalton Sargeant, one month after finishing runner up in the Winter Showdown, that invaded to take the win in the first race for the new Jefferson Pitts Racing team that acquired the Gene Price Motorsports championship-winning equipment from a year ago.

At Central Texas Speedway’s 2015 opener, it was some North Carolina residents that put on a show. Part-time pro late model competitor Colt James traveled back to where he grew up to win a Pro Truck feature in a machine prepared by his father. In the pro late model division, teenager Bayley Currey took an impressive victory in the 50-lap race, but it was the Tar Heel state’s Jared Fryar, grandson of short-track racing legend Freddy Fryar, who steadily climbed from ninth to finish third.

The Northeast has been gradually thawing out from the winter and after several postponements and cancellations a few dirt tracks in the region were able to get their first shows of the season in. At Williams Grove Speedway the 410 Sprint Car headliner was won by Danny Dietrich on Friday night while at Big Diamond Speedway it was Erick Rudolph, a force in all types of cars and tracks, that took the Sunday afternoon victory and a $3,500 top prize in his dirt modified. – Aaron Creed

Sports Cars: Tragedy at the Flugplatz – On the infamous Nordschliefe at the Nürburgring in Germany, there are roughly three places during the lap where an all-out sports car could conceivably get airborne. Two of them are the infamous Pflanzgartens in the second half of the lap. One is a depression in which you get airtime while on the brakes. The other is on the steepest downhill on the course. The other is the the Flugplatz, where you plunge down a hill, then climb another one, potentially get air, then turn into a four or fifth gear right turn. It translates to English as “airfield.” On Saturday, the Flugplatz lived up to its name with deadly consequences.

Saturday afternoon was the first race of the year for the VLN, a series that holds 10 races a year on the Nordschliefe. The races are open for everything from GT3 cars down to lightly modified production cars. Two hours into Saturday’s race, a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 driven by Nissan GT Academy graduate Jann Mardenborough took flight at the Flugplatz, popping a wheelie and balancing on its rear end. The car went off the road, hit the tire barrier with the underside of the rear end, then went up and over the catchfence and into a spectator area, where it came to rest upside-down. There is video of the crash on YouTube from two different angles, but due to the situation, we will not be linking to said videos. While Mardenborough was uninjured in the crash, the spectators were not so fortunate. One fan suffered fatal injuries as a result, while several others were injured as well. The race was officially abandoned in the aftermath of the crash.

The investigation into the crash is ongoing. In the wake of the crash, the Deutsche Motorsports Bund (DMSB) that oversees German motorsport has partially suspended the circuit license for the Nordschliefe. As a result, cars that are considered part of classes SP7, SP8, SP8T, SP9, SP10, SP and SP-Pro X are banned from racing at the Nordschliefe until the investigation is complete and changes are made that will prevent a similar situation from reoccurring. To put that in slightly simplier terms, all GT3 cars are banned from racing on the Nordschliefe for the time being, in addition to GT4 cars (Ex: Vehicles similar to the Aston Martins that race here in the U.S. in Pirelli World Challenge’s GTS class and the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge’s GS class). The crash has effectively banned the seven fastest classes of cars from competing in the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring, scheduled for May 16.

Afterwards, the DMSB made it clear that they’re not taking the situation sitting down.

“We can not and will not be business as usual after an accident of this kind” said Christian Schacht, the DMSB’s General Secretary. “We are all still deeply shocked and our thoughts are with the family of the victim. The security of the participants and especially the spectators must be a top priority. Therefore, we need to analyze the details of what happened, discuss and then implement the necessary consequences. Only after that vehicles can get back on the Nordschleife for use with similar specs as the car accident.”

Mardenborough’s No. 23 Nissan GT-R has been impounded by German authorities as part of the investigation. We will update you here at Frontstretch once the investigation is complete. Until then, we sent our condolences to the family of the decreased (the name of the deceased has not been publicly released at this time). – Phil Allaway

Xfinity Series: It’s All About Chasing Chase – The much-needed first of multiple off-weekends has provided a chance for every team to regroup after a wild few weeks to start the season. It also let Chase Elliott make his highly anticipated Cup Series debut at Martinsville, which should give him confidence moving forward, even though he was involved in an on-track incident early in the going.

Custer could potentially be moving to the Xfinity Series, replacing Elliott in 2016, according to JRM co-owner Kelley Earnhardt Miller. Custer has been impressive in his limited time in the Truck Series, and could be a title contender for the Chevrolet organization if it finds funding to run the teenager, who has been backed by Gene Haas.
The next race for the Xfinity Series will be at Texas, where Elliott won his first career race. – Joseph Wolkin

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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