Weekend of June 23-26
IndyCar: Will Power dominates at Elkhart Lake
Penske driver Will Power, who has been trailing in the championship points since missing the first round at St. Petersburg this year, started from the pole of the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America and dominated the entire race taking the win by a 0.7 second margin over Ganassi driver Tony Kanan. Graham Rahal drove a strong race, at times taking the lead during pit-stop sequences, and finished third.
This was Power's second win in a row, he had won the previous Indycar race, the second race in the Detroit double-header.
Simon Pagenauld, another Penske driver who had come into this race leading the championship by 80 points over Scott Dixon, ran a strong race, even leading for 22 laps. Meanwhile Dixon dropped out of the race early with a mechanical failure, scoring only eight points. Pagenauld took the final restart in fourth place and it looked like he would finish there and actually increase his championship points lead. Unfortunately, his car lost power in the closing laps and he only managed to finish in 13th place, good only for 18 points. With Dixon taking the hit, Helio Castroneves, who finished in fifth place became the nearest championship contender, some 74 points behind Pagenauld. Behind that, many drivers are very close to Castroneves in points leaving the championship battle wide open with seven more races to be run.
Oakville's James Hinchcliffe did not have a great day. He was penalized for blocking Alexander Rossi during qualifying and was relegated to the back of the starting grid. In the race, he spun early, and with the lack of cautions, he had little chance to catch up, finishing in 14th place.
Connor Daly brought out the race's only full-course caution on lap 40 of the 50-lap race when his left rear suspension failed and he spun off into the first turn barriers at high speed. This closed up the field and Kanan was able to challenge for the lead on the restart but Power, who had not needed to use his "push-to-pass" boost earlier was able to use this to good effect on the final lap and hold off a hard-charging Kanan.
NASCAR Sprint Cup: Tony Stewart lucks into a win at Sonoma
With 25 laps to go in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma, Tony Stewart was mired a long way down in the field and his tires had given up. With nothing to lose and hearing some reports of debris on the track, Stewart's crew chief Michael Bugarewicz called him in to the pits. No sooner had this pit stop been completed when the yellow did come out and the rest of the field came in for their final pit stops. Going back to green Stewart was in the lead and in command, and he hung on to take the win in dramatic fashion.
Given that this is Stewart's final year in Cup racing, this win may well be the high point of his season. It is hard for a veteran driver to score a win in his final year and it seemed like everyone in pit lane, regardless of team affiliation, recognized the significance of this win and ran out to the pit wall to congratulate him.
Mind you, this win pretty much assures Stewart a place in the season-ending chase for the championship – and who knows what might happen then. He does have to be in the top 30 in championship points to be edible for the chase but that's pretty much a given now.
Prior to that third critical caution, Denny Hamlin had emerged as the dominant runner ahead of Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. However, Stewart's fortunate pit stop timing saw this group fighting for position behind a resurgent Stewart, making his fastest laps of the race. Hamlin badgered him from behind for the remaining laps. As the laps wound down their cars' handling deteriorated and wheel hop became a factor. There are only two corners where a pass seems possible, Seven and Eleven. On the final lap Hamlin wheel-hopped up inside Stewart and took the lead in turn seven. As they charged down to the final turn, it looked like Hamlin had it, but wheel hop again played a role and Stewart was able to slide inside Hamlin and they bumped on the way out of the corner – Stewart in the lead after Hamlin was knocked over into the outside wall. And that's the way they took the checkered flag. Even Hamlin came over afterwards and stuck his head inside Stewart's car to congratulate him.
NASCAR Cup races in California seem to have trouble drawing crowds and many of the grandstands built here during the "glory days" a couple decades ago were only sparsely filled.
NASCAR Camping World Trucks: Christopher Bell wins at Gateway
The Gateway Motorsports Park, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, once the home to CART and NASCAR Xfinity races, hosted its third NASCAR truck race since being reopened. Christopher Bell, a 21-year-old Kyle Busch protege who won the Eldora truck race a year ago, won here in a dramatic finish on Saturday night. It was his first win of the 2016 season and guarantees him a spot in the chase for the truck series championship.
Ben Rhodes (Thorsport Toyota) finished second and Daniel Hemric (Brad Keselowski Ford) was third. Veteran Johnny Sauter was fourth. Erik Jones, last year's champion, was subbing for Cody Coughlin who had a date conflict with his full-time late model ride. He and Cameron Haley crashed early in the race. Haley went several laps down but, despite considerable damage to the left rear corner of his truck, Jones only lost one lap. By the end of the race he had made up most of the deficit and finished fifth. You have to wonder what would have happened is he had been able to run the race without incident. Jones is contesting the Xfinity series full time this year in a Joe Gibbs Toyota and he already has two wins there.
NASCAR Pinty's Series: Alex Labbé wins at Chaudiere
Alex Labbé ran side-by side with Cayden Lapcevich for the final ten laps on this quarter-mile oval south of Quebec City to win the Pinty's Series race by a 0.3 second margin. This is yet another race which highlights the rise of the young drivers these days. Labbé is a relatively old 23-year-old while Lapcevich is just 16. Alex Tagliani, who won the previous race at Barrie, finished in third.
Coming away from Chaudiere, Lapcevich leads in the points race with 126 points over Andrew Ranger (120), Labbé (118) and DJ Kennington (114). Ranger finished here in eighth place while Kennington was tenth.