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Race Weekend Preview – July 12-13-14-15, 2018

This weekend we are watching seven races:

Thursday, July 12
1. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Buckle Up in Your Truck 225, Kentucky Speedway

Friday, July 13
2. NASCAR Xfinity Alsco 300, Kentucky Speedway

Saturday, July 14
3. NASCAR MENCS Quaker State 400, Kentucky Speedway
4. NASCAR Pinty’s Series, Grand Prix Toronto, Exhibition Place, Toronto
5. Indy Lights Race #1, Exhibition Place, Toronto

Sunday, July 15
6. Verizon IndyCar Honda Indy Toronto, Exhibition Place, Toronto
7. Indy Lights Race #2, Exhibition Place, Toronto

IndyCar at Toronto

Verizon IndyCar: The Exhibition Place street circuit has been used every year but one since 1986. During the CART v. IRL wars, the event here continued to be sanctioned by CART but, strangely it was able to retain its ‘Indy’ name. When CART was absorbed into the IRL in 2008 (and the new racing organization renamed as IndyCar) Toronto lost out in the scramble to fit two race event schedules into one. The Toronto Indy race returned as an IRL/IndyCar event in 2009 and has been held each year since, making a total of 29 annual races to date, this year’s Honda Indy being the 30th ‘Indy’ race at Exhibition Place, better known as the CNE grounds.

The original track layout with its long straight down Lakeshore Road and with the pits across from the convention centre (Enercare Centre) remained essentially unchanged over the years. Now that a big new hotel has been built in the area behind the pits, the layout was revised last year. The pits are on the opposite side of the short start/finish straight and pit lane (as well as the racing surface) now have a fairly sharp left-hand bend in the middle. To look at this tight and twisty pit lane – and the corresponding tight turn on the track – one might think that would be almost impossible to race here without some kind of major incident but, last year, everyone seemed to manage this constriction without serious problems.

Interestingly, the fastest qualifying lap was set here in 1999 by Gil de Ferran on the old 2.824-km layout at 57.143 seconds/177.94 km/h, compared to the fastest lap on the new 2.87-km layout at 58.912 seconds/175.64 km/hr set by Simon Pagenaud last year. This despite the nearly 20 years of race car evolution in the meantime.

Last year’s Honda Indy was won by Josef Newgarden ahead of Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe. Last week at the Iowa Speedway, Oakville’s Hinchcliffe was the winner with Spencer Pigot second and Takuma Sato third. The race ended under yellow and the first three finishers did not pit for tires while Newgarden, who had been dominating the race, and Robert Wickens, who was running in third place behind his teammate Hinchcliffe, both pitted for fresh tires, losing out of their chances at a podium finish.

The Toronto Exhibition street circuit is completely different from the banked 7/8th-mile oval of Iowa, so you can’t predict the results here based on Iowa. Newgarden seems to be a good choice though, given his success here and at Iowa last week. The two Ontario natives, Hinchcliffe and Wickens, each look like having a shot at the win on their ‘home’ ground. Wickens’ experience is on road courses, but he has adapted well to the unfamiliar ovals this year. Surely this tricky Toronto street course will be up his alley. In the German DTM sedan series the circuit most like this would be the Norisring in Nuremberg – he has a couple of wins there.

The Indy Lights series will stage two races this weekend, one of Saturday and one on Sunday. Wickens aside (he came in from the German DTM series) Indy Lights it the stepping stone into IndyCar for most hopefuls – and, as such, it is a series to watch. The young Montrealer Zachary Claman deMelo was one of three drivers to graduate from this series to IndyCar after last year. This year, the field is pretty small but last week’s race at Iowa saw some aggressive racing at the front of the field. Points leader Colton Herta finished second behind Pato O’Ward who comes to Toronto trailing Herta by just 8 points (283 points to 275). Given the very different nature of the CNE track, all the drivers will be looking for an advantage here.

NASCAR at Kentucky

MENCS: The Kentucky Speedway is another of the many ‘cookie-cutter’ mile-and-a-half ovals NASCAR visits. Last year Martin Truex won here on his way to the 2017 championship. Kyle Larson was second and Chase Elliott was third. So far this year two drivers have dominated in MENCS wins – Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch each with five wins while Clint Boyer and Truex each have two wins. Last week Erik Jones beat out Truex in overtime. Perhaps it is time for either Larson or Elliott to win this year.

In the Xfinity race, Cup drivers Ty Dillon, Kyle Busch and Paul Menard are entered. Spencer Gallagher, who won at Talladega, is back on in the driver’s seat, displacing Justin Haley who almost won in the GMS car last week. Larson, who finished second was declared the winner after Haley was penalised post-race. Elliot Sadler was awarded second and Christopher Bell third. Last year, Tyler Reddick won this race ahead of Brennan Poole and Justin Allgaier.

In the Camping World Truck race, John Hunter Nemechek and Brandon Jones are interlopers from the Xfinity series this week. Last year Christopher Bell won but he has moved up to Xfinity this year, as has Jones who was second last year. Justin Haley was third and he has been giving some impressive performances in his GMS truck this year, winning at Gateway two races ago – and (as noted above) nearly winning the Xfinity race at Daytona last week. In the most recent NCWTS race, at Chicagoland, Brett Moffitt was the winner over Ben Rhodes and Johnny Sauter. So far this year, Sauter has won four times and he seems to have the hot hand going into the mid-season.

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