Race Weekend Central

_Charles Schultz,_ the creator of The Peanuts, crafted a line of books that followed the idea of: _Happiness is…_ Each page depicted different things from which a person should find - guess what? - happiness. The overall concept showed how the emotion comes in many forms, blah blah blah… this idea is not one that requires any kind of advanced degree. Well, Sunday's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway should, like Schultz's book serve to bring a little bit of happiness to everyone that follows NASCAR. Was the race outstanding? No, but it was not terrible either. For the first time, perhaps this season the racing the Gen-6 car provided gave fans at least a few solid nuggets of hope to hang their hats on. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, ones we've heard too often in recent weeks. First, by lap 35, the gap between first and tenth had already grown to ten seconds, which would hardly establish competitive racing. Even worse, by lap 60, half of the field had already fallen a lap behind. Maybe that is growing pains with the Gen-6 car, or maybe something was amiss, but any time half the Sprint Cup grid is already down a lap, a quarter into the race something is problematic. And then, almost by script, the mysterious debris caution arrived at lap 66. Any fan could have predicted this occurrence – they are as routine as Christmas, Easter, Independence Day, and taxes. Or the sun rising in the morning. To the surprise of no one, the magical debris failed to be shown. No need to mention the caution on lap 160 – just another reason to bunch the field, even though not only did Marcos Ambrose not spin, but blended back into traffic. Whatever. So where’s the good stuff, the happiness? Glad you asked. *Happiness is…* Darrell Waltrip. Thank you, Darrell Waltrip. You gave us another one. With “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity” as stale as a bag of marshmallows opened in 1998, you gave us another word to add to our lexicon. On lap 127, Waltrip referred to a gaggle of cars that impeded the leader Jimmie Johnson as a \"debalacle.\" The spelling may not be right, but any time viewers get treated to a mix of debacle, diabolical, and bottleneck all in one word, then everyone has gained something. What that something is – yet to be determined. Feel free to impress everyone by using debalacle in your conversations. Oh, right, there was racing. *Happiness is…* Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne battling to the end. Kahne looked like the proverbial \"class of the field\" all day, and when the green flag dropped on those last laps, Kenseth appeared to be nothing but a stepping stone on the way to Kahne’s victory. As Lee Corso would be happy to deliver – not so fast, my friend. Kahne could not muster the speed to pass Kenseth, even though the two of them ran within car lengths the final 20 laps. Was it good racing? The easy answer is yes. The more philosophical answer is: well, it wasn’t bad. *Happiness is…* The third and fourth place cars of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch battling for position. Fans have indicated that they want to see more racing on the track and with dual battles for the top 4 spots, there's reason to believe that some of what fans have been looking for might be showing up at the track, more consistently soon. Setting aside the fact that first and second had run away from the field, there's a sense of encouragement to be gleaned from a weekend in Sin City. The cars in the top 10 all raced with a certain amount of competitiveness; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin Truex, Jr. also were side-by-side at the end for seventh. One of the intentions of this car was to encourage this type of racing, on intermediates once again. It is possible, that even with a modicum of success they might have found something to work with down the road. *Happiness is…* Tires not being a factor. Kenseth drove to the victory on old tires and there was nary an issue throughout the race. After the problems that many faced at Phoenix, having their treads last so long allowed for crew chiefs and drivers to opt for varying strategies. Of course, the flip side of this notion is that Goodyear still has yet to make a tire that degrades in a way that provides tactical decision-making. But hey, it was better to watch drivers actually turn laps rather than waiting for one to pound it into the wall with another right-front blown like last week. *Happiness is…* Keeping your mouth shut. What’s that you say, Denny Hamlin? NASCAR showed its totalitarian rule by muzzling Hamlin and sending a message to all its drivers. With a программа, or program, straight out of the Cold War, the \"powers that be\" again showed a lack of vision. Isn’t the United States the country who established that whole freedom of speech idea? That may be the case, but it does not cover criticizing NASCAR. Tsk tsk, Denny, didn’t you know? *Happiness is…* Watching the cars a lap down have to race each other. Though FOX focused on the leaders, and for this race, with some good reason, many of the position battles in the back of the field were competitive. Overall, this notion indicates that while some teams may have nailed the Las Vegas set-up, that those still figuring it out are all in the same situation and will be fighting each other race by race. The monster organizations like Joe Gibbs, Hendrick, Roush, and even Childress are all going to sit in the front, as the past two races illustrate. The fluctuation, however, between those outside of the top 10 might be some of the more interesting competition as the season progresses. *Happiness is…* Looking forward to Bristol. Enjoy – or you don’t like warm puppies. *Connect with Huston!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/turtlewords\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Huston Ladner\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/40694/

The 2012 season saw Sam Hornish Jr. solid but winless in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, despite ending 2011 on a high note with his first career win. Just three races into 2013, it's already another story entirely. Saturday, the driver of Penske Racing's No. 12 rolled into victory lane at Las Vegas for his second NASCAR win. His win didn't come easy. Though Hornish led four times for a total of 114 out of 200 laps, he was hotly pursued by Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers, the former attempting to score his second straight victory in the series after dominating at Phoenix. The threat of the hometown hero snagging a win coupled with the possibility of fuel mileage becoming a factor by race's end created a formidable match for the Defiance, Ohio, native, Hornish prevailed in the Sam's Town 300. Lady Luck didn't smile on a number of drivers during the race. Perhaps the most notable stroke of bad luck was the race's final caution, which saw rookie Kyle Larson total another car after getting caught up in a wreck with fellow youngster Joey Gase. Overall, the caution flag flew eight times for 37 laps, five of those for crash-related incidents. Winning pushed Hornish into the overall points lead after entering the race tied for first with Justin Allgaier. He now leads the standings by 19 over Allgaier, who could only manage a finish of 15th, one lap down. <div style=\"float:right; width:275px; margin: 20px; border: black solid 1px; padding: 3px;\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/15519.jpg\" width=\"275\" height=\"178\"/><p style=\"margin: 3px; text-align: left; font-weight:bold;\">Sam, Hornish, Jr. was the class of the field in the Sam's Town 300, leadin 114 laps en route to his second career victory.</p></div> Victory at his home track eluded Busch once again, but the driver of the No. 54 still finished a close second, followed by teammate Vickers in third. Trevor Bayne recovered from an early scuffle with Larson to finish fourth, while Elliott Sadler rounded out the top five. <b>Worth Noting</b> <b>The Good</b> <b>Sam Hornish Jr.</b> is rarely thought of as a major contender in the points race, but after a strong second half in 2012 and great start to 2013, it's time to change that. Many have said that in order for Hornish to win the championship, he simply had to win more. A win in the third race of the season isn't bad, is it? Plus, while it's early, a 19-point lead over second is sizable. Look out, Joe Gibbs Racing. Vegas saw <b>a lack of Cup regulars</b> in the field despite it being a companion event. Besides Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski were the only other major competitors, and Earnhardt wasn't even a factor at all, experiencing a flat tire late in the race to set him back, while Keselowski had a vibration mess up his day. Many cars sometimes housing Cup regulars either had younger guys (see: No. 33, Ty Dillon; No. 5, Brad Sweet) or didn't even travel to the track at all (see: No. 18). <b>The Bad</b> <b>Brad Keselowski</b> seemed to have something for his teammate, but after leading 18 laps, his No. 22 started a vibration that eventually ruined his day, relegating him to a disappointing 37th-place finish, 58 laps down. Luckily for Hornish, the same problems didn't affect his No. 12 to the same extent. <b>Eric McClure</b> kicked off 2013 with his first-ever top-10 Nationwide Series finish, a cool feat for a guy who's been running for quite a while. In the succeeding two races? 29th at Phoenix with an engine issue, and now a 40th in Vegas after an oil pump ended his race before it had even really began. It's a tough break for a veteran driver whose season started off on such a high note. <b>The Ugly</b> Three races, two wrecked cars. The year hasn't been kind to <b>Kyle Larson</b>, though his final result of 32nd was not his fault. While racing for the lead with Trevor Bayne, Bayne drifted up the track, clipping Larson's No. 32 and sending him into the wall. And later, Ryan Sieg ran into a slowing Joey Gase, knocking Gase into Larson's car and finishing it off entirely. Larson's bad luck puts him a mere 14th in points, which is a tough hole out of which to climb, despite it being only the year's third race. <b>Rain</b> canceled both Nationwide and Cup Series qualifying Friday, ending the weekend prematurely for Brendan Gaughan and Kevin Swindell, whose teams were showing up to the track for the first time in 2013. You have to feel for Gaughan especially; not only is Vegas his home track, but he also has a good history at the speedway, finishing fifth in a Richard Childress Racing car one year prior. And Swindell had been impressive in Biagi-DenBeste Racing's No. 98 during a limited trial in 2012; Vegas could have been more of the same for the part-time team. <b>Underdog Performer of the Race:</b> After becoming a casualty of the qualifying rain-out in Cup, <b>Mike Bliss</b> kept his No. 19 – a back-up car from teammate Eric McClure – out of trouble, coming home 17th overall. Considering McClure's misfortune, I think his fans, who dub themselves \"Blissfits,\" were mighty excited indeed. Alternate shoutout goes to Ryan Sieg, who finished 18th in only his second Nationwide start, subbing for Jeremy Clements. <b>Ill-Gotten Gains</b> Start-and-parkers occupied two of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $29,230 in purse money. Cup regulars scored one of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied four of the 40 starting positions, and took home $117,475 in purse money. <b>The Final Word</b> Kyle Busch didn't win. Is that good enough? Hint: It sure is. And Sam Hornish, who was on the cusp of breaking out in 2012 but never really got there completely, won a race and leads the points by a wide margin. Vegas didn't answer a lot of questions, nor did it pose many, but it has continued to establish Hornish as a guy to beat in 2013. Chances are he won't be throwing a Cup ride into the equation halfway through like he did last year, so the added focus might do well for him. If Saturday was any indication, he's a force to be reckoned with, especially if he can continue to drive past Busch as he did. *Connect with Kevin!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/surfwax83\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://facebook.com/surfwaxamerica\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Kevin Rutherford\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37802/

_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 for the coming week, no matter what series you might have missed, all in this edition of Pace Laps!_ *Sprint Cup: Kenseth Clawing Forward In No Time* Just three races removed from Roush Fenway Racing, after choosing a fresh start Matt Kenseth is making his presence felt with new owner Joe Gibbs. The driver winning on his birthday, just the third driver in Cup Series history to do so was special enough. But to cash in at Vegas, a place his former employer has dominated - Roush had captured seven of 15 Cup races here entering Sunday - made him that much more emotional. Everything, from screaming at his spotter during the final laps to thanking the Lord post-race felt out of character for the usually even-keeled, deadpan humor type from Wisconsin we've come to know. But it's clear that, whether it's disrespect he felt at RFR or simply nervousness about such a major career decision Kenseth has felt the need for instant success. \"I felt a lot of pressure that I put on myself to come in here and perform,\" he said. \"My goal was to win and to win early. You don't want to disappoint people.\" Clearly, Kenseth has done anything _but_ that, tied for seventh in the standings despite a DNF in this year's Daytona 500. In that one, he had the fastest car, putting forth a dominant performance before being sidelined by engine woes. Leading the circuit with 128 laps led, Kenseth has proven already the versatility required to be a champion. Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, above him have better consistency; but overall, through the first three races it appears JGR, through Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin have better overall speed. Will the two titans at the top have to make room for Kenseth and his crew? Early accounts point to a resounding \"yes.\" Kenseth has gotten off to this type of start before, winning the first two races of the season back in '09 but what we saw Sunday was a type of resolve that won't lend itself to a summer slowdown. Ladies and gentlemen, get used to the No. 20 running up front, consistently once again throughout 2013. _Tom Bowles_ *Nationwide: Vegas Is Sam's Town, Indeed…* A 36-race losing streak might pale in comparison to, say, Carl Edwards's 70-race run snapped at Phoenix, but for Sam Hornish Jr., a win in the NASCAR Nationwide Series couldn't come soon enough. Despite top equipment and a fourth-place finish in 2012 points, Hornish went without a win after his victory at Phoenix in late 2011, but the dry spell was snapped at Las Vegas in the Sam's Town 300. Hornish still may not be a favorite for the series title over the formidable lineup at Joe Gibbs Racing, but he takes a 19-point advantage into Bristol this weekend. Sure, that track can be unpredictable and the Penske driver could lose all of his lead and then some to pursuers Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler, but that big a lead is still that big a lead, and provides the Ohioan with a nice cushion. Last year he was a dark horse. This year, consider him a front runner. _Kevin Rutherford_ *ARCA: Enfinger Gets His Chance To Shine* Sometimes, good guys do finish first. Grant Enfinger has been a mainstay on the ARCA circuit for several years, trying in vain since '09 to win a series event. In the meantime, he's won in just about every other car he's ever driven but bad luck has caused potential ARCA victories to elude him… until this weekend. Mobile International Speedway is Enfinger's home track, for all intents and purposes and the perfect place for the veteran to \"cash in.\" When he rolled into Victory Lane, it was one of the biggest cheers heard in a long time at an ARCA race. The only louder cheer on Saturday was when Enfinger donned an Alabama Crimson Tide baseball cap during the victory celebration. 15-year-old Kyle Benjamin gave Enfinger a run for his money in his first ever ARCA start. Leading 26 laps, Benjamin was at the point when Enfinger grabbed the lead for the final time on a restart. Benjamin was making a move to reassume first place, putting himself in position when a final caution flew. Enfinger held the teenager off on a final restart to score his first win for himself and BCR racing. In addition to Benjamin, Anderson Bowen, another 15-year-old, crossed the finish line in third as the \"young guns\" took center stage. The two youngsters are 63 years younger than James Hylton, the 77-year-old driver who is the oldest competitor in the ARCA series. _Mike Neff_ *Short Tracks: Big Names Off To Big Starts* Lee Pulliam had a storybook 2012 that culminated with his claiming the National Championship in the Whelen All-American Series. The third-place finisher in the points last season was C.E. Falk. The two of them split the twin features at South Boston Speedway to kick off the season for the storied race track. Pulliam followed that win with a victory at Caraway Speedway, on Sunday as the Asheboro track started off their season as well. If this weekend is any indication, Pulliam and Falk might be preparing to have a season long duel for the National title. There are thousands of drivers across the United States that will have something to say about who takes the crown, but these two are certainly setting up to duke it out for supremacy in the state of Virginia if not the nation. Ronnie Bassett Jr. had some success during 2012 but he also had some difficulties. Bassett was disqualified from two different UARA races and was suspended indefinitely from NASCAR after a dispute about caution flag positioning during the Virginia is for Racing Lovers' 300. As the UARA kicked off their 2013 season, Bassett was back in Victory Lane, taking the win at Southern National Motorsports Park. Bassett finished off 2012 with four wins at the track so he obviously knows his way around. It will be interesting to see, should he be reinstated by NASCAR, will he run for the UARA title or begin chasing a NASCAR championship of some sort? _Mike Neff_ *Connect with Tom!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/NASCARBowles\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Tom Bowles\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14345/ *Connect with Kevin!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/surfwax83\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://facebook.com/surfwaxamerica\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Kevin Rutherford\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/37802/ *Connect with Beth!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/Beth_Frntstrtch\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://www.facebook.com/writerbeth\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Beth Lunkenheimer\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14353/ *Connect with Rick!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/FrntstretchRick\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><a href=\"http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003916630748\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6501.jpg\"></a> \"Contact Rick Lunkenheimer\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/38029/ *Connect with Mike!* <a href=\"http://www.twitter.com/mneffshorttrack\"><img src=\"http://www.frontstretch.com/images/6502.jpg\"></a><br> \"Contact Mike Neff\":http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14354/

NextEra Energy Resources 250 Recap

Johnny Sauter’s used to being the wreck at Daytona as his history here, in the Truck Series looks like a Demolition Derby. Entering Friday night, his four starts were DNF, wreck; DNF, wreck; 17th after a late spin; DNF, wreck. It’s the type of disastrous start that’ll kill your confidence. Until, of course, you put …

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The Critic’s Annex 107- UNOH Battle at the Beach

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to the Critic’s Annex, where we take an additional look at motorsports-related programming that we just plain cannot fit in the regular critiques. A welcomed addition to Speedweeks for 2013 was the UNOH Battle at the Beach, a trio of 150 lap races (plus heats and practice sessions) for the …

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Power Rankings: Preseason

For the first time in seven years, we have a Sprint Cup Champion not named Stewart or Johnson. History was made during 2013 Daytona 500 qualifying, Stanica was born, Kevin Harvick isn’t acting like a lame duck and the Gen-6 car has finally brought back brand identity to NASCAR. All this news and the season hasn’t even started yet! The past three months have brought more excitement to the 2013 season than Junior jumping ship to Hendrick Motorsports…

Beyond The Cockpit: Gaughan Full Circle At Last

November 14, 2003. There are fewer than 40 laps to go in the then-Craftsman Truck Series season, and, as often seems to be the case in that series, several drivers are still in contention for the season title. But it’s sophomore driver Brendan Gaughan in control of the points as the laps wind down, leaving Travis Kvapil, Ted Musgrave, and Jack Sprague to try to be in position to capitalize on any mistake Gaughan might make, or to fight it out for second place. Gaughan, the 2002 Rookie of the Year, is already doing something the naysayers said was impossible — competing for the title with a family-owned, West Coast-based team. There are less than 40 laps left before he proves them wrong.

Short-Term Memory Loss: Earnhardt’s Concussion Issue Fading Into Background

If an NFL linebacker or an NHL enforcer came forward and admitted to having a handful of concussions, including two last year, and sought advice from you, what would you say to him?

Would you tell him that maybe it is time to hang up the helmet — call it a career? Would you tell him that as much as you love to watch him compete, there is more to life than sports? If you did want him to continue to compete, would you hold it against him if he suddenly retired?

Lucas Oil 200 presented by MAVTV American Real

John Wes Townley has been the brunt of many a joke in racing during his career. However, the joke on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway was on the rest of the competitors in the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona presented by MavTV American Real. Townley sat on the pole, had a good pit stop when …

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Beyond the Cockpit: Dion von Moltke on Audi, Team Dedication and Fitness

_For 22-year old Dion von Moltke, 2013 is a crossroads year. He spent last season developing the new Audi R8 Grand-Am with APR Motorsport. The car was a work in progress for much of the season before coming into its own late in the year. Now, the Audi is ready for primetime, but von Möltke is without a full-time ride._

_For the Rolex 24 at Daytona, von Möltke signed on as the fourth driver for Alex Job Racing’s Audi R8 Grand-Am, joining DTM racers Filipe Albuquerque and Edoardo Mortara, along with Oliver Jarvis. After final practice, von Möltke took some time out of his day to sit down with our own Phil Allaway._

Phil Allaway, Frontstretch.com: *This is the first time that Alex Job Racing has raced an Audi. Is this an absolutely new chassis, or a leased car?*

Dion von Moltke: Yes, it’s a brand new car. It was really kind of a last-minute effort. It’s been an amazing job by Audi Sport Customer Racing as well as WeatherTech Racing and Alex Job just to get everything organized in time.

Tweet N Greet

@jamiemcmurray: Our 2nd child was born earlier today. Both mom and Hazel are going great. We feel so blessed to have 2 healthy kids. @mattkenseth: I can’t wait to get back to racing in the nationwide series, Thanks @gamestopracing and @resers! @BubbaWallace (Darrell Wallace, Jr.): Kyle to us(drivers): “I didn’t bring home any hardware last …

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Fool’s Gold? Foolish Decision? Gambles Of NASCAR Superstar 2nd Chances

In the 1996 NBA draft, the Portland Trail Blazers took a chance on a 6-foot-11 center straight out of high school named Jermaine O’Neal. Although young and raw, O’Neal showed enormous potential, enough so that Portland rewarded the bench player with an absurd four-year, $24 million contract.

It was the finest money ever thrown towards a trash can, O’Neal acting like a first-class bust from the start instead of a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Heavily criticized for gameplay that at times wouldn’t hold up in your gym, once the contract expired, the Trail Blazers gladly waved the white flag. Determined to cut their losses, they landed a deal with Indiana for former All-Star (and aging) center Dale Davis.