Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Johnson’s Major Win, NHRA Girl Power and Late Model Season Underway

Sprint Cup: Delightful Dale – You would think the most happy and ecstatic driver in the state of Georgia would be Atlanta winner Jimmie Johnson. No sir, as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was delighted after the 2016 debut of the low-downforce package – a race he finished second to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

“I loved it,” Earnhardt said. “I know fans probably thought it was a boring race but we were sliding around, driving the hell out of them cars. I had a blast. I had some good races there on the track with the [Nos.] 2, 18 and a bunch of guys. It was so much fun.

“I post pictures online all the time, these old pictures of the ’80s and ’90s and people go ‘Ah man, that’s when racing was racing. That’s when it was good.’ Well that’s what they saw today.”

With only three cautions in the scheduled 500-mile distance, Earnhardt was happy to see little restarts decide the winner in the end.

“I’m glad we didn’t have a ton of restarts today because sometimes those don’t really show the true ability of the car. You get lucky on some restarts and sometimes you don’t depending on the lane you’re in. A lot of times you can’t make heads or tails on what to do. –  Zach Catanzareti

Camping World Truck Series: Keep an Eye on Kyle Busch Motorsports – Despite leaving Atlanta with all three trucks retired before the checkered flag flew over Saturday afternoon’s race, Kyle Busch Motorsports showed the rest of its competitors that the organization will be a team to beat again this season. Though KBM sent all of its trucks home on wreckers, the trio of drivers showed speed that the team can be thankful for this early in the year.

William Byron was running second, and gaining on then-leader Matt Crafton, when his motor went up in smoke just 60 laps in. Later in the race, Daniel Suarez was battling side-by-side with Crafton for the lead when he was clipped by teammate Christopher Bell, setting off a crash that saw Crafton and Suarez both take hard hits to the SAFER barrier. Then, not long afterward, Bell had a second right front tire failure that sent him hard into the outside wall and out of the race. The trio all finished 26th or worse on Saturday.

“We had a fast truck — the JBL Tundra was great,” Bell’s crew chief Jerry Baxter said after the late-race crash. “We showed a lot of promise and I think when we get our hands around all of this we are going to win a lot of races. I’m pretty proud of the whole team — they put together a good piece. That’s good for KBM and Toyota.”

While there will be plenty of learning curves, as there always are, with the young talent KBM currently fields, showing the type of speed and diversity it did at Atlanta, in just the second race of the season, makes the trio of trucks worth watching each and every week. Beth Lunkenheimer

NHRA: Girl Power and First Time Winners – For the first time since 1982, two female drivers squared off for the Top Fuel final when Leah Pritchett faced off against Brittany Force. The match-up would also produce a first time winner, the 101st different winner in Top Fuel, and the first first-timer since Richie Crampton in 2014.

NHRA 2016 Phoenix Leah Pritchett win courtesy NHRA Media
Leah Pritchett celebrates with her first Top Fuel Wally. (Photo courtesy NHRA Media)

Leah Pritchett, in her second run with her new team, Bob Vandergriff Racing, prevailed, taking the win on a holeshot with a 3.775-second, 323.12 mph pass to Force’s faster but losing 3.774 seconds, 321.35 mph. Pritchett also raced her way past J.R. Todd, Antron Brown, and Clay Millican before meeting up with Force.

“I feel like I just won the Super Bowl,” Pritchett said. “Even though it’s only the second race and it’s not the U.S. Nationals, for me it’s an incredible personal and professional victory. I really could not have dreamed of a more epic final. I’m just incredibly thankful and proud and I want to do it again.”

John Force Racing had a stellar day as John Force also went to the finals in Funny Car, but didn’t seal the deal in either case as the elder Force also came up short, this time against Tim Wilkerson, who captured the Wally with a run of 3.937 seconds, 320.43 mph to Force’s 4.016 seconds, 275.34 mph.

Wilkerson found his way by Chad Head, Ron Capps, and Robert Hight in the earlier rounds.

Pro Stock teams are still working to figure out the new rules package and it’s still the KB Racing squad showing the way, as the three cars, led by Bo Butner, once again topped the qualifying sheets, and once again found their way into three of the four semi-final spots. This week it was Jason Line carrying the team banner into the finals where he beat Chris McGaha.

Line posted a run of 6.666 seconds, 205.16 mph to beat McGaha, who ran at 6.671 seconds, 208.75 mph. Line also beat Matt Hartford, Jeg Coughlin, Jr., and teammate Greg Anderson to earn his shot in the finals. – Toni Montgomery

IndyCar – Final “Prixview” at Phoenix International Raceway Shows Record Speed for Helio Castroneves

If this week’s testing is any indication, the Verizon IndyCar Series return to Phoenix is going to be a wild one.

Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves wasted no time getting to business in the Feb. 26 promoter test at the Arizona track, shooting to the top of the charts with a lap of 19.58 seconds (187.850 mph) in his No. 3 Chevrolet. That’s fast, but how fast, exactly?

Record fast, as it turns out.

Castroneves’ lap was just a shade quicker than the 19.608-second (183.599 mph) lap set by Arie Luyendyk in 1996. Even more impressive, the last was quicker despite the field having a longer distance to cover. PIR currently sits at 1.022-miles. When Luyendyk set his record time, the oval was an even mile in length.

It only made sense for Castroneves to top the session. The Columbian is one of a select few drivers that have competed at the track in IndyCar before, and a winner at the circuit in 2002. Ed Carpenter, another competitor that has competed at the oval in IndyCar, placed third on the charts. – Aaron Bearden

Short Tracks – Lemons Gets Redemption, Gallardo Breaks the Ice and KKR Sweeps through Texas

The Late Model stock car season in the Southeast kicked off with the Icebreaker 200 at Myrtle Beach Speedway on Saturday. Tommy Lemons, Jr. turned in a strong performance, leading the last 51 laps to take the win. It was a gratifying triumph for the two-time Martinsville Late Model winner after coming up one spot short in the Myrtle Beach 400 last fall.

Jake Gallardo has been searching for a win in the USMTS for some time. Saturday, he accomplished the feat by scoring the win at Ark-La-Tex Speedway. Gallardo led all 50 laps in the feature to grab his elusive first win.

Kasey Kahne Racing pulled off the weekend sweep in Texas in the World of Outlaw Sprint Series. Friday night, Brad Sweet pulled off a last lap pass on his teammate Daryn Pittman at Cotton Bowl Speedway. Saturday night at Royal Purple Speedway, Pittman redeemed himself with a wire-to-wire win to claim his first win of the year. – Mike Neff

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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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Joey D'Antoni

Castroneves is Brazilian, and if here were from Colombia, he would be Colombian.


Castoneves is from Brazil, not Columbia. Come on Frontstretch, I know its not CRAPCAR, but the guy is a 3 time Indy 500 winner, sheesh.

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