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Race Weekend Review: July 5-6-7, 2019

Race Weekend Review: July 5-6-7, 2019

NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway
• Haley ‘wins’ when lightning foreshortens the race unexpectedly

Daytona Beach, FL, July 7/19 (GRW): Justin Haley, an Xfinity driver who had never run near the front during this whole race, became the race winner in a bizarre set of circumstances that had to leave true fans of auto racing scratching their heads in bewilderment. If I had paid good money to sit and watch this race, I would have asked for my money back.

The strange conclusion to this race came when, on lap 119 of the scheduled 160-lap race, race leader Austin Dillon tangled with Clint Bowyer setting off a huge crash which involved nearly half of the entire 40-car field. Although the skies were darkening and threatening that rain soon to come, most of the field immediately pitted. Those who did not pit – presumably waiting to see if the race might be red-flagged to a conclusion due to the weather – cycled up to the front of the field. This left Kurt Busch, who had been eighth before the big wreck in the lead over part-time Cup drivers Landon Cassill and Justin Haley.

The cars circulated around behind the pace car for about six of laps under the threatening skies. Still no rain. Then, NASCAR told the pace car to turn off its lights – a signal that the racing would resume at the end of that lap. Kurt Busch and some others who had been waiting for the race to either be stopped short or go back to racing made the obvious move and pitted for fuel.

No sooner had they pulled down pit lane than NASCAR changed their mind and the pace car turned on the lights again and then it led the field into pit lane where they were parked under a red flag. On that last lap before going back to green a lightning strike was seen nearby and this forced NASCAR to stop the cars for 30 minutes. After an interval, the drivers were ordered back to their cars to get ready to resume racing – but then another lightning strike was seen and NASCAR decided it was enough and they declared the race completed after 127 laps.

All the teams were keeping an eye on the sky, and Haley’s veteran crew chief Peter Sospenzo conceded that the game plan was absolutely to keep Haley on track and not stopping in the pits.

“My thought process was even if we had four flat tires we weren’t going to pit,” Sospenzo said. “We were going to ride out the weather. It was our only option to steal a win, if you want to call it that. We were not going to come in, and I was actually a little surprised a couple guys in front of us did. We just wanted to have a decent finish, not get caught up in any wrecks, and it just worked out.”

PHOTO MENCS DIS2 HaleyLeads 070719Justin Haley talks with his crew during a weather delay for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR)

So Haley inherited the win in just his third start in the Cup series. His only lap as the leader was the final lap of the race. It was as if you went to see a coronation from a seat in the back row and suddenly they put the crown on your head. You can be happy for Haley who has a Daytona win in his resume now – but this was by no means the result of his racing prowess this day.

In the muddle that was produced, William Byron was second, Jimmie Johnson third, Ty Dillon fourth and Ryan Newman fifth. None of these, with the exception of Haley’s single-lap at the front of the field, had led a lap during this strange race.

The race was originally scheduled for Saturday evening but it was rained out and put over to Sunday afternoon. In my book it always rains here at this time of year and it has to be a good idea that this July fixture has been rescheduled to the end of August going into future years.

NASCAR keeps tinkering with its race car spec formula and it has now produced a car that runs best in long drafting packs and is almost incapable of making a pass. Not a good formula for competitive racing. Both Ford and Chevrolet had given orders to their affiliated teams to run as a pack on the track and, when they pitted, to make the pits stops in synchronisation so that they could return to the track in the identical one-make pack.

Of course, if such regimes are imposed to produce two one-make drafting packs it is hard to see this as racing – more a high-speed demonstration by each of the makes. This plan worked as intended through the first wave of green-flag pit stops which came on lap 36 of the first 50-lap Stage when the Ford contingent pulled down pit lane in unison. On the next lap, the Chevrolets came in and the Toyotas came in at the same time. This let the Ford pack, which was up to speed when the second wave exited the pits, sail past them and take over the front of the field.

The master plan started to collapse when, just before the end of the Stage, Joey Logano pulled out of the pack and shot up to the front, ignoring the scripted plan. After that, the order became a lot more shuffled and the monolithic Ford and Chevrolet packs were unable to re-form into anything like the order they had had during the first half of the first Stage.

After this, Austin Dillon was the race leader for much of the time, eventually leading for a total of 46 laps. But, in truth, after the end of the first orchestrated Stage, the race never had a consistent pattern, rather various drivers were running up front as the pack racing continued. This kind of racing may be a spectacle – especially with its big wrecks – but it is not much of a competition. And recounting the long list of lap leaders would not be very instructive.

In the end, Dillon took the restart to begin the final Stage in fourth place but he soon pushed his way to the front and he led for four laps before, in the jostling at the front, others led briefly – Logano. Paul Menard, Denny Hamlin, and Dillon again. Dillon now only led one lap before he cut off Bowyer and went spinning which created the huge wreck which, ultimately, set the stage for Haley’s unexpected win.

Haley is running full time in the Xfinity series and, as such, is ineligible to contest the championship in the MENCS series, so his win is of no significance for MENCS payoff eligibility.

Click HERE for the results of the MENCS race at Daytona.

The next MENCS race will be run next Saturday, July 13 at Kentucky Speedway.

PHOTO NXS DIS2 NXS ChastainLeadsPack 070619Ross Chastain, driver of the #16 Ellsworth Advisors Chevrolet, AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #10 Cornerstone Produce Group Chevrolet, and Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Ruud-Ferguson Toyota (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Race Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway
• Chastain wins an Xfinity race.

Daytona Beach, FL, July 5/19 (GRW): Ross Chastain may have opted to switch to contesting the championship in the truck series this year instead of here in the Xfinity series but that did not stop him from taking a win here on the Independence Day weekend. He started from the second row on the final restart with just laps to go to the checker and he shot ahead into the lead for the final eight laps, finishing a mere tenth of a second ahead of Justin Haley who had been leading when the final caution flew with 12 laps to go. Christopher Bell finished third, Austin Cindric fourth and Stephen Leicht (who?) was fifth – just to show how unpredictable the outcome of these Daytona pack racing events can be. This was Leicht’s 115th Xfinity start but he had not finished an Xfinity race in the top ten since 2009.

Actually, A.J. Almendinger had crossed the line in third place in the No. 10 car but, in post-race inspection the car was found to have an air leak in the induction manifold – which could have been an attempt to bypass the ‘restrictor plate’ and produce more power – and the car was disqualified. This Kaulig Racing entry was a teammate to the winning Chastain car.

This was a rainy weekend and this Friday night race was postponed by a couple of hours due to rain, making for a post-midnight finish for the race.

The racing on this superspeedway tends to produce multi-car crashes and the first came on lap nine when eight cars got tangled up. There was another multi-car pile-up before the first Stage ended on lap 30. After Stage 1 was completed, things settled down and we only saw one multi-car crash in Stage 2 at lap 60 of the 100-lap race.

The final Stage saw two multi-car wrecks, the first coming on lap 73 when 11 cars were involved on the backstretch and the final one coming on lap 88 and it collected 15 cars. Through it all, Chastain was able to either lead the race – he led of 49 of the race’s 100 laps – or stay close to the front. He was leading the race when that final caution flew and he remained in command to the finish.

“Oh, my god, we did it — Daytona!” exulted Chastain, a watermelon farmer from Florida who continued his roller-coaster ride in NASCAR racing with his first Xfinity Series victory of the season and the second of his career. “I watched these races in July as a kid, and I never could come (to the track) because we were growing watermelons. The guys right here (from Kaulig Racing) gave me a car that could win at Daytona!”

Remember that NASCAR has mandated that a driver can only contend for the championship in one of the three national series (MENCS, NXS, NGOTS) and that Chastain opted after the start of the season to contend for the truck championship rather than the Xfinity title – so this win has no bearing on the Xfinity championship prospects. Can NASCAR make its formula for winning a series title even more complicated and arcane? But one has to acknowledge that this young driver seems to be having an amazing run this year – and the way things are going, maybe we will even see him as a MENCS race winner like Haley.

Speaking of Haley, he crossed the line first in this race a year ago but the win was taken away because he had dropped below the yellow line. He would have like to have finished first this year to make up for that loss – but in the end he had to settle for the MENCS win later the same weekend.

Click HERE for the results of the NXS race at Daytona.

The next Xfinity race will be run next Friday, July 12, at Kentucky Speedway – a double-header with the MENCS race the next day.

PHOTO IMSA WT CTMP galstad CTMP 0619 40418#77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda DPi, DPi: Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez, Race Winner, John Doonan (Jake Galstad/LAT/IMSA)

IMSA WeatherTech Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
• A second one-two finish for Mazda in eight days

Bowmanville, ON, July 6/19 (GRW): Just a week after their breakthrough one-two finish at Watkins Glen, the Mazda DPi team scored yet another one-two win at CTMP. This time the No. 77 car of Oliver Jarvis/Tristan Nunez was the winner over last week’s winner the No. 55 Mazda of Jonathan Bomarito/Harry Tincknell. The No. 6 Acura of Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron was third.

The No. 7 Acura of Helio Castroneves/Ricky Taylor started from the pole but finished in fifth place. The winning No. 55 car had started second while the teammate No. 77 stated in fourth behind the No. 6 Acura.

In the race, the Mazdas quickly asserted their dominance, the No. 55 taking the lead on lap eight with the No. 77 getting past the No. 6 Acura on lap 61 of the race that ran 125 laps in the 160 minute race duration. After that, the two Mazdas maintained their one-two dominance of the race to the finish. On their second round of pit stops the No. 55 car was delayed in the pits by a troubled tire change and the No 77 car came out of the pits ahead – taking the race lead which held to the end of the race.

“This is an amazing track — I love it — and not easy with the traffic,” Jarvis said. “I had a few contacts with the traffic but I got lucky. I feel sorry for the No. 55 — they had a perfect weekend before a problem on the pit stop — but that’s the way it goes. We had the pace last weekend [at Watkins Glen], but it went their way. This weekend, it went our way.”“This is an amazing track — I love it — and not easy with the traffic,” Jarvis said. “I had a few contacts with the traffic but I got lucky. I feel sorry for the No. 55 — they had a perfect weekend before a problem on the pit stop — but that’s the way it goes. We had the pace last weekend [at Watkins Glen], but it went their way. This weekend, it went our way.”

Although the pair of AER-powered Mazda RT24-Ps only qualified third and fifth they dominated the race. But as at Watkins Glen last week, late race events tightened up the field and added drama to the last few minutes of the 2:40 long race. After one hour and 52 minutes of green flag racing a pair of late cautions set up a sprint to the finish.

Following the second incident – which resulted in a brief red flag following a big wreck, the race went back to green with 15 minutes remaining, the Mazdas running 1-2 followed by the two Team Penske Acuras, the pair of Action Express Cadillacs and the CORE Autosport Nissan.

While Jarvis was able to pull away in the lead and the win, while Tincknell held off a challenge from Dane Cameron in the #6 Acura, comfortably securing second place.

The Mazda team uses a series-approved chassis built by Multimatic, a Toronto-based speciality firm, and the team paid tribute to the support they have received from Multimatic in their recent successes. Multimatic’s Larry Holt was not present even though this was in effect a home race; He was at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England where their development driver, Scott Maxwell was making high-speed runs up the estate’s driveway.

Near the end of the race there was a frightening crash when the Victor Franzoni went straight off at Turn 2 and buried the car in the tire wall. The cars ran under yellow for several laps while the track officials worked to extricate the car and the driver. Despite the fact that this looked like a serious accident and there were concerns for the driver’s condition, he emerged from the car seemingly in very good form. Despite this, he was taken to a local hospital for assessment and later released.

In GTLM, the No. 912 Porsche of Earl Bamber/Laurens Vanthoor won the class by a 1.2-second margin over the second-place finisher, the No. 24 BMW M8 of Jesse Krohn/John Edwards.

In GTD, the class winner was the No. 96 BMW M6 of Bill Auberlen/Robby Foley.

Click HERE for the results of the IMSA WeatherTech race at CTMP.

The next IMSA WeatherTech race will be run in two weeks time at the Lime Rock circuit on Saturday, July 20. This race will not include the prototype competitors (DPi and LMP2), being restricted to only the GTLM and GTD cars in this series.

IMSA MPC galstad CTMP 0619 2464371 Rebel Rock Racing Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, GS: Frank DePew, Robin Liddell (Jake Galstad/LAT/IMSA)

IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge Canadian Tire Motorsport Park 150
• A Camaro holds off a charging Mustang for the race win

Bowmanville, ON, July 6/19 (GRW): In a series that seems to have been dominated by the Mercedes, Audis and McLarens this year, we saw a battle for the win between a Camaro and Mustang. A late caution bunched the field with the No. 71 Camaro of Robin Liddell/Frank DePew in the lead ahead of the No.60 Mustang of Nate Stacy/Kyle Marcelli. When the track went green there were eight laps to be run to the end of the 120-minute race length. Marcelli gave it his best shot but, while he could close up on the Camaro. He was never able to make the pass and he had to settle for second place, a mere 0.6-seconds behind the Camaro.

The No 69 McLaren of Jesse Lazare/Corey Fergus was third, another three seconds back while the No. 39 Audi R8 of Tyler McQuarrie/Jeff Westphal was fourth, another second adrift.

In the hotly contested TCR class, the class winner was the No. 17 Audi RS3 of Mikey Taylor/Britt Casey Jr which finished 17th overall, 36 seconds back of the GS class race winner but still on the lead lap.

Click HERE for the results of the IMSA Michelin Pilot race at CTMP.

The next IMSA Michelin Pilot race will be held at Lime Rock on Saturday, July 20.



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