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Race Weekend Review: August 11-12, 2018

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway
Harvick continues to dominate the season; scores his seventh win

Brooklyn, MI, Aug 12/18 (GRW): The local reporter sitting beside me in the press box asserted confidently before the race began that Denny Hamlin was going to win – for sure. While there may have been some logic to this – Hamlin was on the pole for the second week running, he had a Joe Gibbs Toyota the same as Kyle Busch and he had won lots of races before – I was not convinced.

I said that, for my money, the race winner would more likely be one of Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick both of whom had been dominant so far this season and who had qualified second and third quickest for this race. Not to forget the other one of the “Big Three”, Martin Truex, who had qualified in seventh place.

As it turned out, after running well in the early going, Hamlin faded back into an also-ran status near the front but out of contention, finishing eighth, while Harvick took the lead on lap 14 of the 200-lap race and never looked back, in the end taking the checker by a margin of over three seconds in front of Brad Keselowski. Kyle Busch finished third. Truex had a couple of unfortunate incidents in the race and ended up in 14th place.

Race fans who used to the short-track slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am style of stock car racing may find the racing here at MIS to be a bit different. This is a big high-speed two-mile oval that produces a different style of racing. This is “one of the fastest tracks in the world” with these NASCAR cars topping 200 mph on every lap - something that brings out trouble – many cars had problems with loose wheels or other tire problems. Pit strategy, rather than on-track duels, is the big factor – more like the traditional long-distance endurance races. The track has been recently repaved making it less grippy and more-or-less a one-groove track – so there’s little passing. From the grandstand you can see almost the entire two-mile oval making it hard to keep your eye on the race leader with the whole field there to distract you. But, for the race fan who pays attention and who follows the action as it unfolds over the 400-mile race distance, races here are some of the best there are.

By the end of the first Stage at lap 60 there had already been three cautions. Notably the second one came after William Byron tangled with Truex in Turn 2. Truex was able to continue but the pit stop to replace a damaged tire dropped him out of the front runners. There was a competition caution on lap 27 – presumably because there had been some rain overnight washing down the already-slick track. Coming off this caution, the stage was pretty well set – Harvick in the lead over Busch, Ryan Blaney and Hamlin with Truex back in seventh place.

This continued through the first 60-lap Stage. During the fifth caution on lap 76, Jimmie Johnson took on only two fresh tires while the leaders took four. This let him lead for a few laps giving succour to his faithful fans but he soon fell back out of contention after his two-tire strategy failed to maintain the speed needed to be competitive. There were two more cautions before the end of Stage 2.

The running order stayed essentially the same except for Truex who was the victim of a failed fuelling strategy. He had leapfrogged into the lead but at the expense of running tight on fuel. As soon as the pits were closed in anticipation of the end of the second Stage, he ran short and had to pit – incurring a penalty and being sent to the back of the field. Despite having another 80 or so laps left to make up this deficit, he only managed to work his way back up to 14th at the finish.

After the second Stage, there was only one more caution on lap 134. Hence, the final 80 laps saw two rounds of green-flag pit stops. Despite appearances, as some others led for a while during these pit stop cycles, Harvick was now in complete control. The last pit stop sequence did not finish until Jamie McMurray pitted out of the lead on lap 190. This restored the race order with Harvick in control and he breezed home for the win.

Austin Dillon had been running in second place but he was slowed by a tire problem and dropped to fourth behind Keselowski and Busch at the finish. Ryan Blaney topped a good run with a fifth-place finish, putting three Fords – Harvick, Keselowski and Blaney in the top five.

MENCS HARVICK MIS resize Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light/Mobil 1 Ford, takes the checkered flag (Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR)

This race win for Harvick gave him seven wins so far this, putting him ahead of Busch with six and Truex with three. This may be an interesting superlative but, under NASCAR’s process for determining the championship, once the playoffs begin it is a new ball game and, deliberately, the playoff results are an appertained for everyone who qualifies for them making these pre-playoff results are of comparatively little importance. That is, despite the current dominance of the ‘Big Three’, the rules are designed to make it possible for any one of the 16 drivers who qualify for the playoffs to have a genuine shot at winning the championship which is, in the end, determined by the results of just the final race at Homestead.

The next MENCS race is at Bristol Motor speedway, next Saturday night, August 18.

Click HERE for the results of the MENCS race from Michigan

NXS CINDRIC MID OHIO resizeAustin Cindric, driver of the #22 PPG Ford, practices for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Rock N Roll Tequila 170 (Daniel Shirey/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Rock N Roll Tequila 170 at Mid-Ohio
Allgaier steals the win from a dominant Cindric

Lexington, OH, Aug. 11/18 (GRW): Austin Cindric won the pole in the No. 22 Penske Mustang and dominated the race, leading 59 of the race’s 75 laps. It looked like he was all set to take his first Xfinity win when Justin Allgaier seemed to appear from nowhere to challenge him for the lead. With four laps to go, Allgaier bumped his way past and Cindric was unable to respond – coming in second, two seconds adrift.

From the start of the race, Cindric has been in command, only giving up the lead when he pitted early before the end of the first Stage and on the lap 65 restart after the fifth caution, when Christopher Bell took the lead momentarily before Elliott Sadler spun Bell, giving the lead back to Cindric.

But there was trouble brewing for Cindric even though it was not apparent. Allgaier had been pushed off the course by Cole Custer bringing out the fifth caution. Allgaier pitted and took on fresh tires. Cindric was good to go to the end so he did not pit. There was another yellow at lap 68 when Katherine Legge’s engine blew up and she stopped on course. Allgaier, running on fresher tires, was up to fifth by now and this caution closed up the field.

On the restart, Allgaier had his chance and jumped up to second behind Cindric – and he forced his way past with four laps to go – and, after that, it was all over for Cindric. Allgaier now has three race wins, second only to Bell while Cindric is still winless. Given the number of Xfinity wins by Cup drivers in this series there are only three Xfinity drivers with race wins that count towards playoff eligibility, many of the drivers who lack wins will make it to the playoffs when they start at Richmond six races from now – Cindric for sure. And then it’s a reset and it is anyone’s guess who will survive the knock-outs in the playoffs to emerge at the 2018 champion.

The next Xfinity race will be at the Road America road course on Saturday, August 25.

Click HERE for the results of the Mid-Ohio Xfinity race.

 NCWTS MOFFITT MIS resizeBrett Moffitt, driver of the #16 Hino Toyota, poses with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Corrigan Oil 200 (Jerry Markland/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Speedway
Moffitt beats Sauter to the line; his fourth win this year

Brooklyn, MI, Aug. 11/18 (GRW): Brett Moffitt may have felt that he was handicapped by his OEM Toyota engine but, when it counted, it powered him under Johnny Sauter off the final turn and pushed him inches ahead at the finish line. His margin of victory was a mere 0.025 seconds. This win ties Moffitt with Sauter for wins at four each and makes him, along with Sauter, a favourite to win the championship.

It seems that the OEM Toyota engine is not a quick on the big speedways as the Ilmor NT1 ‘crate engine’. In qualifying Moffitt was only 21st quickest with his OEM engine. However, in the race he was able to work his way towards the front and when the final caution ended on lap 83 of the 100-lap race, he was in fourth place while Sauter was right behind him. Both of them worked their way towards the front and with ten laps to go, Sauter was in the lead with Moffitt close behind.

Moffitt chased Sauter for those final ten laps and caught right up to him on the final lap. Coming into the very last turn before the checker, Moffitt dove down below Sauter and pulled up alongside. The ran down the front stretch side-by-side, Moffitt taking the lowest and straightest line. They were still side-by-side at the line but Moffitt was the winner, crossing the line ahead of Sauter by the smallest of margins (0.025 seconds).

Afterwards Sauter was disappointed that he had taken the high line in that final corner because he felt that, otherwise, he might have been able to hold him off to the line. However, Sauter should have been happy with this second-place result. With his four wins he is solidly in the playoff group and this result marks an up-tick in performance compared to his races since his last win, at Texas Motor Speedway In early June. This may be a sign that his team is getting its act together ready for the soon-to-come playoffs when it is a new deal of the cards.

John Hunter Nemechek started from the pole in the family-run entry and finished third ahead of Noah Gragson and Todd Gilliland.

Stewart Friesen, the Canadian driver, qualified eighth and he had a good run in the first 20-lap Stage, winning the Stage. On the restart he dropped back several places to seventh and was struggling to regain his lost ground. He was ninth at the end of the second 20-lap Stage – but there was going to be yet another round of green-flag pit stops during the final 60-lap Stage.

This cycle of green-flag pit stops began when Matt Crafton pitted. Friesen was in third place and he cycled up into the lead when Gragson and others came in. It seemed like Friesen was the last of the front runners to come down pit lane. Just as he came to his pit, the yellow flew. This was going to mean that, after his pit stop was completed, his main competition would be trapped one lap down while he was in the lead and he looked set to win the race.

Then a little mistake by a crew member dashed his hopes. The crew member who handles the fuel can is forbidden to provide any other help. The fueller set down the can and helped push the truck out of the pit stall. The resulting penalty sent Friesen to the back of the field for the restart – in 13th place. In the remaining 15 laps, Friesen drove through the field like a champion, finishing in eighth place. Despite the penalty, which was none of his making, Friesen drove an impressive race and still has to be seriously considered as a real possibility to win the championship.

The next NCWTS race will be at Bristol Motor Speedway, next Friday night, August 17.

Click HERE for the results of the truck race from MIS.

PINTYS TAGLIANI T R resizeThe podium at Trois Rivieres: L.P. Dumoulin, Alex Taglinai, Alex Labbe (photo: Tagliani)

NASCAR Pinty’s Series Le 50 Tours Can-Am at Trois-Rivières
Another Trois-Rivières win for Tagliani

Trois-Rivières, QC, Aug. 12/18 (NASCAR): All season long, Alex Tagliani has been close to winning. The last time the NASCAR Pinty’s Series visited a road course, in Toronto, Tagliani started from the pole, lead every regulation lap, but lost the race to Andrew Ranger in a heartbreaking overtime finish. Tagliani came into Sunday’s Circuit de Trois-Rivieres as the defending winner, this time he wasn’t going to be denied. The 44-year-old driver from Lachenaie, Quebec, battled hard and aggressively at the front of the field all race long. Trading paint with Kevin Lacroix, Andrew Ranger and teammate Marc-Antoine Camirand, when the dust finally settled it was Tagliani’s No. 18 Chevrolet scoring the victory in Le 50 Tours Can-Am. Tagliani took the lead off a hectic last corner pass of teammate Camirand on Lap 38 and never looked back. Tagliani’s win marks the sixth different winner in eight races this season and his second win here in two years.

In a race that saw a record eight caution flags, no car left Trois-Rivieres unscathed. Emotions were high and the racing was intense. Points leader and Trois-Rivieres native LP Dumoulin fought his way through the field and made a daring last-lap pass on Camirand to come home second for his fifth podium of the season and sixth at Circuit Trois-Rivieres.

Alex Labbe started at the rear and fought all the way up to a third-place finish. Labbe, the 2017 series champion, was making his return to the series and was coming fresh off his best career NASCAR Xfinity Series finish of ninth Saturday at Mid-Ohio. Sunday’s run was Labbe’s first podium and his best career finish at the historic 1.530-mile street course.

Fellow Trois-Rivieres native J.F. Dumoulin came home fourth. Pole-sitter Camirand, who led the first 37 laps, finished fifth. D.J. Kennington and Donald Theetge finished sixth and seventh, respectively. French driver Frederic Gabillon recovered after a mid-race spin to finish eighth in his series debut. Gabillon was running at GP3R as part of a unique exchange program with J.F. Dumoulin, with Gabillon earning the race as the regular-season champion of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. Luc Lesage and Mark Dilley completed the top 10.

Following Le 50 Tours Can-Am, Dumoulin has extended his points lead over Camirand to 10 points. Tagliani is only a point behind Camirand and is two in front of Cole Powell.

The Next Pinty’s Series race is at Riverside International Speedway in Nova Scotia, on Saturday, August 18.

Click HERE for the results of the Pinty’s race at Trois-Rivières

 CTCC T R START resizeThe start of the CTCC race at Trois Rivieres (Phillip Sutherland/CTCC)

Canadian Touring Car Championship Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières
Borgeat wins both rounds

Trois-Rivières, QC, Aug 12/18 (CTCC): For more than a decade, the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières (GP3R) has been a featured event on the CTCC presented by Pirelli calendar. On August 10 and 11, Canada’s premiere touring car competitors took to the 11-turn, 2.433-km street course for a pair of 40-minute races, headlined by the spectacular Friday night contest.

The narrow, concrete-lined track, coupled with a large, 29-car field, combined to produce the inevitable incidents of contact, some resulting in several full course cautions. But as usual, the on-track action overpowered any yellow flag distractions, with door-to-door racing raging throughout the multi-class pack.
For Etienne Borgeat, it proved to be a dream weekend. The Montreal-based driver set the fastest overall time in practice, captured the GT Cup pole position and then proceeded to work traffic to perfection as he guided his No. 2 GT Racing Porsche GT-3 Cup car to back-to-back overall (and GT Cup class) race victories.

The dominance of Borgeat’s performance was well illustrated by the fact that he lapped the 2.433-km Trois-Rivières circuit a full 2.354 seconds faster than GT Cup rival Mario Guérin in qualifying, and won the race over his Quebec City rival by 46.151 seconds in the opening round, and by 33.598 seconds in the finale. In Friday’s race, only Guérin was able to see the checkered flag on the same lap as the race winner.

Matching that example of success, was series newcomer Malcolm Strachan. Making his CTCC debut aboard the SpeedStar Motorsport No. 8 Audi R8 GT4 LMS, the Toronto resident topped the GT Sport scoring charts in each of his on-track appearances, although neither of his twin wins came without challenges. In the Friday night weekend opener, Strachan was forced to defend the top spot in GT Sport rankings against the M&S Racing duo of Gary and Tom Kwok. Saturday afternoon’s CTCC finale also featured Strachan at the front of the 12 car GT Sport pack from the drop of the green flag. With Gary Kwok’s No. 66 Honda Civic Type R, Marco Cirone (No. 18 Mark Motors Audi RS3 LMS) & 2016 champion Chris Sahakian’s No. 99 UAR Mustang Boss 302 filling his mirrors, Strachan maintained a safe race pace, accepting the checkered flag for his second consecutive victory, crossing the stripe in third place overall and the final car finishing on the lead lap.

Offering an example of the talent in the GT Sport class, Tom Kwok, who was involved in an opening lap three-car incident in Saturday afternoon’s contest, rebounded over the following 29 laps to notch a sixth place GT Sport result, crossing the line in eighth place overall.

Marc Raymond (No. 27 Policaro Motorsports Porsche Cayman) continued his domination in the sadly un-represented Super Touring class, again sweeping to victories in the GP3R doubleheader.

The 2018 Grand Prix of Trois-Rivières marked the return of the Québec-based Team Octane racing team. Previously exploring competition in other racing disciplines south of the border, Team Octane brought forth a five-car effort, with Team Principal Alain Lauzière entering his No. 49 MINI Cooper JCW in Super Touring class, the four remaining cars and drivers all vying for success in the Touring Class.

Not surprisingly, it was former multi-time champion Michel Sallenbach who led the Touring class parade, setting the fast time in qualifying aboard his familiar orange No. 46 MINI Coupe, and then translating that accomplishment into a victory sweep in each of the weekend’s 40-minute races.

The CTCC presented by Pirelli teams will have just two weeks off in order to prepare for the penultimate event on the 2018 schedule, with CTCC Rounds Nine and Ten slated for August 24-25 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park as part of the Chevrolet Silverado NASCAR race weekend.

Click HERE for the CTCC results at Trois-Rivières

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