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Race Weekend Review – NASCAR at Martinsville & IndyCar at COTA – March 23-24, 2018

Race Weekend Review – NASCAR at Martinsville & IndyCar at COTA – March 23-24, 2018

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway
Keselowski overwhelms the opposition, leads the way to the win

Martinsville, VA, Mar 24/18 (GRW): Joey Logano may have won the pole for the race but his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski took command immediately and he went on to lead 446 of the race’s 500 laps to score a decisive win here on the Martinsville short track. Once Keselowski he gained the lead on lap 6, Chase Elliott was the only other driver to ever lead the race. Keselowski beat him out of the pits on the second last caution and after that he held him off for the remaining 127 laps of the race. Elliott never gave up the chase and he finished in second place right behind, a mere half-second adrift.

Despite the fact that Keselowski led nearly every lap, it was not cake walk to the win for him. In the first half of the race he was closely pursued by Elliott, his other Penske teammate Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin. Elliott was only half-a-second behind him when the flag flew to end the second Stage on lap 260. (By the way, Keselowski won both the preliminary Stages in addition to taking the overall race win.). During this yellow, Keselowski beat Elliott out of the pits while Blaney dropped back to sixth place. Hamlin’s crew had pulled a spring rubber during this pit stop sequence and they were penalized for not maintaining control of the loose tire – this sent him to the back of the field and seemingly out of contention.

Kyle Busch had been running outside the top ten when this yellow flew but he gained several places during the pit stops and he took the green in seventh place. Now he was in the hunt and, within a few laps, he was up to fifth – and then fourth place in the running order. Another yellow (on lap 313) and Busch came out from the pits in third place behind Elliott. With the kind of year he has been having so far, any time Kyle Busch is in third place he has to be considered a threat.

Once again, Blaney was in the mix with Keselowski, Elliott and Busch, getting past Busch for third place. Now Elliott closed up on Keselowski and, on lap 325, he dove under him and took the lead. Elliott led the next 49 laps (remember the laps count down fast on this short half-mile track) and he was still leading when the next caution came out.

This sixth yellow flew on lap 373 when Matt Tifft had a tire failure and he went up into the wall. Keselowski beat Elliott out of the pits with Busch and Blaney right behind. On the restart, Elliott and the other two were in close pursuit of the leader but Keselowski could still find enough speed to stay ahead of Elliott.

A seventh –and final – yellow flew on lap 447 when Ross Chastain stopped on the track and had to be towed off the course. Once again Keselowski beat everyone else out of the pits but now it was Busch in second place ahead of Elliott. Three laps later, Elliott got past Busch for second place to resume his quest of the win. He closed up to within half a second behind Keselowski but it was not enough and the Penske driver scored his second win of the young season.

Kyle Busch was third, Blaney fourth and Hamlin, having recovered from his mid-race penalty, was fifth. The Canadian driver D.J. Kennington, who had started in 35th place, finished in 32nd place, 11 laps down on the race winner.

MENCS Kesel clockBrad Keselowski poses with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the STP 500 at Martinsville. (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images/NASCAR)

“The car was really good – this Ford Mustang," said Keselowski.. "You know, Ford worked really hard in the offseason to build these cars and make them real strong and so far, so good.  It’s just a great day for our team, awesome execution on pit road and big credit to Doug Yates and all the engine guys.  Those guys work really hard and it’s just one of those days you dream of as a race car driver, where you’ve got a great car.  I don’t know if we were as good as the 9, Chase Elliott.  He was really strong, but he passed me there with about 200 to go and I watched him and studied him and kind of broke it down and knew what I had to do to hold him off with that fast of a car and we were able to pull it off that last run with the Reese/Draw Tite Ford.”

Click HERE for the full results of the MENCS race at Martinsville.

The next MENCS race will be held next Sunday, March 31 at Texas Motor Speedway

 NGOTS MVS KyBusch2 032319Kyle Busch led 62 laps to win Stage 1 of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series TruNorth Global 250 at Martinsville (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series TrüNorth Global 250 at Martinsville Speedway
Kyle Busch makes it three for three

Martinsville, VA, Mar 23/19 (GRW): This was the third truck race in a row that Kyle Busch had entered this year and, by winning here at Martinsville, he had a perfect record: three starts and three wins. The other competitors can take some solace in the fact that Busch is only allowed to enter five truck races all season, so they will soon be done with him. This win for Busch gave him 201 NASCAR wins – if he keeps on winning like this, we will soon get tired of compiling all his milestone wins.

The Canadian driver Stewart Friesen won the pole with Busch alongside but he only led the first eight laps of the 250-lap race before Busch got past him and into the lead. This race was so short that only one pit stop would be required to give each driver enough fuel to go the full race distance – so the pit stop strategy was predicated on this idea. When the second yellow flew on lap 119, mid-way though the second stage some drivers pitted immediately, including Busch and Ross Chastain, opting for track position after the Stage No. 2 restart rather than Stage points – knowing that they would not have to make another pit stop before the end of the race.

This let Friesen regain the lead and he continued to lead until Ross Chastain got past him on lap 131 and then Chastain continued to lead to the end of the Stage. Given that he and Busch had pitted earlier, they did not pit this time and when the field lined up for the restart Chastain was still in the lead and Busch was in third place. Those who had pitted during this caution were far back behind the ten trucks which had not pitted. Austin Hill, restarting in 11th place was the best placed of those who had pitted and Friesen was down in 14th place.

When the green flew, Chastain continued to lead for a few laps until he was overrun by the charging Busch, who took the lead for good on lap 185 and he drove on to the checker.

Chastain was passed by Ben Rhodes and Brett Moffitt in those final laps, and he had to settle for fourth place behind them. Friesen came home in fifth place – a disappointing result after starting from the pole.

There was another Canadian driver in this race, the young Raphael Lessard from Quebec, who is signed up to run three truck races (and some races in others series like the K&N series) with Kyle Busch Motorsports this year. He qualified seventh fastest and he finished the race on the lead lap in 14th place.

“These guys worked really, really hard this weekend,” Busch said. “We unloaded, and I didn’t like where we were at. We made wholesale changes to this thing all weekend long and just tried to keep improving this Cessna Beechcraft Tundra and make it faster. All these guys kept trying to make it turn the center (of the corner) better. At Martinsville, you have to turn the center without getting too loose in or too loose off. … and we had enough tire at the end to hold them all off.”

Click HERE for the full results of this NGOTS race from Martinsville.

The next NGOTS race will be held next Friday, March 29 at Texas Motor Speedway.

 

Photo IndyCar podium COTAINDYCAR CLASSIC winners on the podium: Newgarden, Herta, Hunter-Reay (photo by Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR)

NTT IndyCar Series INDYCAR Classic at the Circuit of the Americas
Herta's win makes history in first NTT IndyCar Series race at Circuit of The Americas

AUSTIN, TX, Mar 24/19 (Mark Robinson/INDYCAR): History was made in more than one way at Circuit of The Americas this weekend. Not only was the INDYCAR Classic the first NTT IndyCar Series race conducted at the track, but Colton Herta became the youngest driver to win an Indy car event when he took the checkered flag on Sunday.

The beneficiary of an opportune full-course caution period, Herta led the final 15 laps and won by 2.7182 seconds over Josef Newgarden. At 18 years, 11 months, 25 days old, the second-generation driver became the youngest to ever win an Indy car race, breaking the mark previously held by Graham Rahal, who was 19 years, 3 months, 2 days when he won at St. Petersburg in 2008.

Sunday's race was just the third in the NTT IndyCar Series for Herta, who finished second in the 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship before moving up to Harding Steinbrenner Racing this year. Herta was humbled to join the list of Indy car race winners that includes his father, Bryan, who won four times in a 12-year Indy car career and is now co-owner and race strategist for the car driven by Marco Andretti.

"Just to be up with the names of people that have won (a) race, I'm going to live and die an Indy car winner, which is spectacular in itself," Herta said. "Yeah, it's a great record at a young age. To be standing up here kind of feels surreal.

"We were not expecting (to win). I think we were going to get a podium (top-three finish) - I think we had the pace for that - but holy crap, man! ... It's spectacular!"

Driving the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda, Colton Herta started the 60-lap race on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile permanent road course in fourth position. Pole sitter Will Power dominated the first three-quarters of the race, leading every lap under green-flag conditions until the only full-course yellow waved on Lap 44 after James Hinchcliffe and Felix Rosenqvist made contact, sending the latter's car careening into the barrier on the inside of Turn 19 at the entrance to pit lane.

Fortunately for Herta, he'd made his final scheduled pit stop a lap earlier under green. Race leader Power, second-place Alexander Rossi and third-place Scott Dixon were forced to make their final stops under yellow after the field packed up behind the pace car. Once that trio headed to the pits, Herta assumed the lead for the first time in his brief NTT IndyCar Series career.

Holding off Newgarden on the Lap 50 restart, Herta pulled away to the history-making victory.

"On the restart, we were quick," Herta said. "We kind of sprinted off. I know we got the quickest lap on that first lap, which was pretty crazy to have the tires up to temp and everything ready."

The win was also the first for the team co-owned by Mike Harding and George Michael Steinbrenner IV. After fielding a car for Herta in Indy Lights in 2017 and '18, Steinbrenner partnered this year with Harding to bring the driving phenom to the NTT IndyCar Series.

"He did a phenomenal job," the 22-year-old Steinbrenner said of Herta. "Colton hit all his marks, he did everything right, the crew did everything they needed to do to keep us out in front of (Newgarden's) car the whole time. Everything went pretty much perfectly.

"I really can't believe we're sitting here. I'm shaking and it's a dream come true."

Newgarden was satisfied with a second-place finish coming on the heels of his win in the March 10 season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The driver of the No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet holds an 18-point lead over Herta after two of 17 races.

"We had a little luck (with the late caution), and I thought that could play into our favour to race for another win," Newgarden said. "The PPG car looked good and felt good, it just wasn't enough there at the end.

"A second place is big for us. We talked about the fact that you need to have podium finishes if you aren't winning races, and this goes a long way to our championship run."

Power's misfortune of seeing the late caution period ruin his chance for a win was compounded during his pit stop. The drive shaft broke on his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet as he attempted to leave the pit stall, relegating the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner to finish last in the 24-car field.

"I just released the clutch snap and I could kind of hear it grinding together," Power said. "I'm massively disappointed, man. You lead so many laps and work so hard all weekend to put yourself in position (to win). If the yellow didn't get us, the drive shaft did."

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport. Graham Rahal wound up fourth in the No. 15 TOTAL Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, giving American drivers a sweep of the top four spots.

Other notable finishes came from: Sebastien Bourdais, who moved up 12 spots from his starting position in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan to place fifth; Marco Andretti, who advanced 14 positions to finish seventh in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco & Curb-Agajanian; and rookie Patricio O'Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion whose 2019 NTT IndyCar Series debut in the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet ended in eighth place.

Rossi, last year's NTT IndyCar Series runner-up, recovered from the pit stop under caution to finish 10th in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda for Andretti Autosport. Dixon, the reigning and five-time series champion, worked his way back to 13th place in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Click HERE for the full results of the COTA IndyCar race.

The next NTT IndyCar Series race will be held at the Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, April 7

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