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Race Weekend Review – NASCAR AT Phoenix and IndyCar at St Petersburg – March 10, 2018

Race Weekend Review – NASCAR AT Phoenix and IndyCar at St Petersburg – March 10, 2018

Monster Energy Cup TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway
Kyle Busch makes it a two-race sweep at Phoenix

Phoenix, AZ, Mar 10/19 (GRW): Kyle Busch may have failed in his quest for a three-race sweep in Las Vegas the previous weekend but he made good here in Phoenix winning both the Xfinity race on Saturday and the MENCS race on Sunday. In the race Busch won the second Stage but he was not able to maintain the lead after that in the final Stage. As some of the lead cars went into fuel-saving mode, Busch passed a slowing Ryan Blaney for the lead on lap 296 of the 312-lap race. After that, both of them were saving fuel but Busch was able to maintain the lead to the checker and take the win while Blaney could not hold off Martin Truex and he had to settle for third.

This win was Busch’s 199th win in the three national NASCAR series combined – MENCS, Xfinity and trucks – bringing him close to Richard Petty’s magic number of 200 NASCAR wins. It is a different era and the racing is different but get ready for an explosion of commentary when Busch scores his 200th race win. It could happen as soon as next week at Fontana.

Busch won the second Stage and he continued to lead when the track went green again to start the third stage, leading 20 laps until the seventh caution flew when Alex Bowman spun on lap 195 – the second time he had brought out the caution. He continued to lead until Alex Bowman spun on lap 195 bringing out the sixth caution. Jimmie Johnson took the lead briefly but Busch was back in front when it went green and he led the next 20 laps until Chase Elliott spun, bringing out the seventh caution on lap 220. The order was shuffled during this sequence of pit stops and Aric Almirola emerged as the race leader for the restart on lap 226.

Almirola led the next 26 laps – through the final two caution periods – before Blaney drove him down and passed him for the lead. Busch was coming on strong and he fought with Almirola for a few laps until he got past him into second place. By now Blaney was having to go into serious fuel conservation mode and Busch closed in on him and took the lead on lap 296. As Blaney slowed to save fuel, Busch kept going and he held off Truex to take the checker by a 1.3-second margin. Almirola ended up fourth ahead of Denny Hamlin.

Click HERE to see the full results of the MENCS race at Phoenix.

The next MENCS race will be run next Sunday, March 17 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA.

 INDYCAR NEWGARDEN 16C3397 1Josef Newgarden leads Scott Dixon at St. Petersburg (Credit: Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

NTT INDYCAR Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg
Newgarden’s pit stop strategy gives him the win

St. Petersburg, FL, Mar 10/19 (GRW): When everyone was making their final pit stop under green, Josef Newgarden stayed out longer. This let him build a nine-second lead before he pitted and he regained the lead when he came back out. After that, he led the rest of the way to the checker, crossing the line three seconds ahead of Ganassi driver Scott Dixon with his Penske teammate Will Power, who had started on the pole, in third.

Power took the lead at the start and he led the first 12 laps of the 110-lap race until Felix Rosenqvist, a refugee from F1 who is driving for Ganassi this year, passed him for the lead when the first round of green flag pit stops began. Just before that, Sebastien Bourdais had stopped on course with a failed Honda engine but no yellow was required. The lead changed hands through this cycle of pit stops but Power regained the lead on lap 19 ahead of Rosenqvist and Newgarden. It looked like the race was going to be contested between these three drivers.

Soon after this Ryan Hunter-Reay also suffered a Honda engine failure but this time the car was stopped on course and the first of the day’s two cautions flew on lap 20. Rosenqvist took the lead ahead of Power and Newgarden on the restart. A lap later, Ed Jones clipped the wall in Turn 9 which made him go straight on and slam into the wall at the exit to the corner. Matheus Leist was following through behind and he hit the stopped car, knocking his rear wheel off. Jones suffered a broken finger bone in the accident.

After the restart following this second caution, Rosenqvist continued to lead until he pitted and Newgarden regained the lead. It was during this, the third round of pit stops, that Newgarden was able to gain an advantage by staying out longer than his challengers – a move which enabled him to build a solid lead which he regained immediately after he came back out. Had a caution come out before Newgarden pitted he would have been left trapped behind everyone else after made his stop – but there were no more cautions – so he was a winner. Rosenqvist, in his first race in the IndyCar series, hung on to finish fourth behind Dixon and Power.

"When we went out on brand new reds (alternate tires), we were able to open up a huge chunk," Newgarden said. "It was just really good timing and positioning, and once we established that gap, it was about managing it, really. We didn't have to blow it wide open and we didn't need to see it shrink too quickly, but we let it seesaw back and forth how it needed to."

Click HERE to see the full results of the St. Petersburg IndyCar race

The next IndyCar race will be held on March 24 at the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, TX.

NXS KyBuschSticker 030919Kyle Busch celebrates with his wife, Samantha, and son, Brexton, after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series iK9 Service Dog 200 at ISM Raceway. (Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images/NASCAR)

Xfinity Series iK9 Service Dog 200 at ISM Raceway
Kyle Busch wins again

Phoenix, AZ, Mar 9/19 (GRW): For a while it looked like the Joe Gibbs driver Christopher Bell was going to win this race. He led most of the laps through to the end of the second Stage holding off his teammate Kyle Busch most of the way. But Busch passed him for the lead on the restart after the second Stage and, after that, he was unchallenged; he romped home the winner by a three-second margin over Ryan Truex. Tyler Reddick was third, Cole Custer fourth and Austin Cindric fifth.

In qualifying, Bell won the pole over Reddick with Busch starting third alongside Custer. At the start Busch quickly passed Reddick to take over second place behind Bell – but Bell was able to hold him off for a long time.

The first caution flew on lap 33 when Bayley Currey spun and hit the wall. The first Stage was due to end at lap 45 but most of the front runners pitted during this caution. This allowed Austin Cindric, who had not pitted, to take over the lead until the flag flew to end the first Stage and thereby earn the valuable Stage winner points. But even thought they had pitted earlier and had lost track position, Bell and Busch took this flag in second and third behind Cindric.

After those who had not pitted during the first caution came in at the Stage turn-around, it was Bell leading Busch as they lined up for the restart. Busch challenged Bell at the green and he got past him and led for five laps before Bell outpaced him and eventually regained the lead. At this point it looked like Bell had the faster car and that he would be able to continue to hold off Busch who seemed to be struggling a bit.

Bell was the winner of the second Stage with Busch right behind him. When they pitted under the yellow, Bell beat Busch out of the pits but, on the restart, Busch overpowered Bell and he took the lead – and after that the outcome of the race was never in doubt – Busch was in command – his handling problems seemingly resolved.

Indeed, within a few laps, Justin Allgaier was able to get past Bell. Much as it seemed likely that Bell would prevail, he never did, and Allgaier continued to run in second place just ahead of Bell but gradually falling back from the leader, Busch.

Then a weird thing happened. Busch had just passed the lapped car of Stephen Leicht when that car seemed to blow up sending out a huge cloud of steam of smoke reducing the visibility behind to zero. Allgaier and Bell both spun and crashed into the wall. Bell’s car was too heavily damaged to continue but Allgaier’s crew were able to make repairs. He came back out but he was never able to contend again, counting himself lucky to eke out a 14th place finish.

This left Busch in the lead ahead of Reddick, Custer and Ryan Truex, none of whom had looked like serious threats before this incident. On the restart after this the fourth and final caution, Truex was able to jump up into second place ahead of Reddick and Cindric. Custer almost lost control on the restart and he fell back several places.

The rest of the race was a story of Busch’s domination with Truex valiantly trying to keep up but not quite making it. Custer recovered from his boo-boo to finish in fourth place behind Reddick and ahead of Cindric. Busch now has 94 wins in the series currently known as the Xfinity Series. Mark Martin, with 49 wins, has the second most wins in this series.

“We worked on this iK9 Toyota Supra all day,” Busch said. “A lot like last week, just trying to put it all together. We certainly were off a little bit early on in the beginning. Christopher (Bell) was superfast and really, really good. We kept making the adjustments to get it to where he was. We were doing a good job of that. I hate it that he got caught up in that mess behind us and we weren’t able to race it out there at the end. I figured we were going to and it was going to be a heck of a JGR showdown at the end.”

Click HERE for the full results of the Xfinity race at Phoenix.

The next Xfinity race will be held on Saturday, March 16 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

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