Verizon IndyCar Honda Indy in Toronto: Will Power and James Hinchcliffe luck out
There’s a popular saying, “Better to be lucky than good” but Will Power needed to be both good and lucky to win Sunday’s Indy car race at Toronto. And local “hero” James HInchcliffe was equally lucky to snag a third-place finish, his best this year.
Penske driver Power has been fighting to regain his chance to challenge for the series’ championship after health issues forced him to mis the first race of the season in Florida. He qualified fourth quickest and he was running a solid race, running in the top five most of the way.
But the race was dominated by another driver, the Ganassi driver Scott Dixon, who was in command right up until the final round of pit stops. Simon Pagenauld, who is leading in the championship points race was close behind Dixon coming into that last pit stop. Unfortunately for them, there is a basic strategy for this: pit under green just before the caution comes out and you will move up to the lead when the others pit under yellow. That’s easier said than done because, if you gamble on a caution coming out, it may never come and your opponents may continue to sail through in the lead, finishing the race on fresher tires.
As it happened this time, Hinchcliffe pitted a few laps before the final caution and, when Power was called in, the yellow flew just as he entered pit lane. Tony Kanaan tried another strategy, staying out without pitting. This put him in the lead for the restart ahead of Power and Hinchcliffe but, it was hard to see how this scenario was going to work for him even if another caution flew. Inevitably, he had to make his it stop for more fuel. He was lucky to get back out of the pits in fourth place but it wasn’t good enough for the win.
Helio Castroneves, who had qualified second fastest to Dixon, was running in a solid second place behind Dixon until he suffered a flat left front tire and had to struggle all the way around almost a full lap before he could get to his pit and replace the tire. Fortunately for him the next round of green-flag pit stops started soon after that and, given that he had already pitted, he made the best of his adversity and was running back up in seventh place when the pit stops were completed at about lap 32 of the 85 laps in the race.
The fourth caution ended at lap 63 with Kanaan in the lead over Power and Hinchcliffe. Castroneves was back in sixth place. But in the final 20 laps it all played out. Kanaan had to pit for gas – finishing in fourth. Power took over the lead and was never challenged for the lead, winning by a 1.5 second margin over Castroneves who had made an impressive charge back towards the front. Home town boy Hinchcliffe was third, his best finish of the season, coming off qualifying in the Fast Six after a couple of races where he qualified badly.
Pagenauld was a loser in that final round of pits stops, coming in in second place and coming out in 14th place. He was only able to get back up to ninth place at the finish but he hung onto his championship points lead with 432 points to Power in second place with 385 points. Both Power and Castroneves are Penske Racing drivers and this marked the 184th win for Penske in Indy car racing.
Racing on a temporary street circuit like the one here at the fair grounds in Toronto can often be challenging. This year construction of a new hotel on the grounds blocked off the traditional pit lane and it had to be repositioned to the other side of the track, winding its way past the final two turns of the circuit. For sure, It is unusual to have such a twisty pit lane and, in recognition of this they reduced to pit lane speed limit to 40 mph. In addition, the reconfigured pit lane resulted in a very tight racing lane through the final four corners. The track promoters responded to the complaints and reconfigured Turn 8 to make it wider but there was nothing they could do to fix the overly-narrow final Turn 11. It looked like the makings of a track blockage if a car were to crash here. Juan Montoya did crash here on his own in practice, but there were no crashes here during any of the races and the promoters dodged a bullet for this year.
There was another fairly serious problem with the track. A temporary asphalt curbing broke up during the race and created a big hole right on the normal racing line. This was probably the cause to Castroneves’ puncture and, for sure, it sent Josef Newgarten out of control and slamming into the wall opposite. Newgarten is driving injured after his big crash in Texas but he claimed that this latest crash did not aggravate his previous injuries. Despite a long caution while race authorities pondered what might be done to fix this problem, the best they could do at the time was recommend that the drivers take a different line to avoid the hole in the asphalt.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway: A second win for Kenseth after Kyle Busch fades
For most of the race here in Loudon, New Hampshire, it looked like the win was going to go to Kyle Busch in the Joe Gibbs Toyota or to Martin Truex Jr. in the JGR -affiliated Toyota. But in the end both those cars, despite their early dominance, faded – Busch to eighth and Truex to 16th at the finish. But it was another JGR driver, Matt Kenseth, who came through in the end, leading the final 31 laps on his way to victory over a resurgent Tony Stewart and Joey Logano.
Kenseth was running well in the first part of the race – he was up to third place when the second caution came on lap 101 (of the 301-lap race) but he get blocked in his pit stall during the pit stops and fell to tenth place for the restart. But in the next green-flag run, he was able to work his way back up to third and stay in contention. He had just passed Truex for the lead when the fourth caution flew on lap 265. Unfortunately for Truex his shift lever had already broken off and he was forced to stay in high gear, even when he started back out from his pit stall. Not surprisingly this resulted in a burnt clutch and he was never able to contend again, forced to settle for a 16th-place finish.
This time Kenseth was the first out of the pits but his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin had not pitted and he took the lead for the restart. It wasn’t long before Kenseth was past him to take over the lead and he led the rest of the laps. In the closing laps, Stewart came charging forward to come home second, while Logano, barely held off a hard-charging Kevin Harvick to finish third.
This was a second win for Kenseth this year, his first having come at Dover in May. All four JGR drivers, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards have won at least one race this season and look set to be contenders in the season-end Chase for the championship.
NASCAR Xfinity Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway: A dominant Kyle Busch beats out Erik Jones
If you are a protege of Kyle Busch it must be tough when the “boss” races against you. Young Erik Jones won the championship in the truck series last year driving for Kyle Busch Racing. This year, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, he looks like a favourite to win the Xfinity championship.
And he probably would have won here at Loudon had not circumstances intervened. Matt Tifft had been scheduled to drive the No. 18 Toyota team car but he is recovering from recent brain surgery so Kyle Busch stepped in as substitute driver.
And what a substitute driver. He started on the pole alongside Jones and proceeded to lead 190 of the race’s 200 laps. Jones did take the lead for a couple of laps mid-race but then the caution came out and Busch soon regained the lead – and he held off Jones to the checker.
Busch’s win came despite Jones having an apparent tire advantage. Busch took on four tires on his first pit stop and changed right side tires only after than. Jones took on four tires on his final pit stop but it was not enough to give him the advantage over Busch, coming home 1.5 seconds behind him. Brad Keselowski, in the Penske Ford, was third ahead of Daniel Suarez in a third Joe Gibbs entry. Given their status as full-time Sprint Cup drivers, neither Busch nor Keselowski are eligible for the Xfinity driver’s championship.
This year the Xfinity championship is based on a season-ending “Chase” similar to the one now familiar in Sprint Cup. Both Suarez and the rookie Jones have won Xfinity races this season, so they are locked into this series’ Chase. And as JGR drivers, their chances at winning the championship look good.
NASCAR Pinty’s Series at Toronto: Tagliani wins over Ranger
In the interview room after the race some were a bit surprised when the top three finishers who were sitting the front waiting for the session to start were chatting in French. But, indeed, the race in Toronto ended up being dominated by a trio or Quebeckers – the veterans Alex Tagliani and Andrew Ranger over the relative newcomer Kevin Lacroix – and French is one of our official languages in Canada.
On the final lap of the race, Ranger mounted a charge on Tagliani lap but Tagliani was just able to hold him off for the win.
In qualifying, these three won spots on the first two rows, but a newcomer to the series – and this style of racing – was third on the grid. Daniel Morad, a Toronto-based driver whose forte is road racing in the Canadian Porsche GT3 series, had decided to try NASCAR-style road racing. He is expected to contest the Trois Rivieres round of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in August or perhaps the one at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on Labour Day weekend.
For sure, Morad showed us that he had good speed in the big – compared to his Porsche – Dodge stock car, but he still needs some seasoning. Let’s not forget that the three Quebeckers – Tagliani, Ranger and Lacroix all had solid road-racing credentials before coming to the NASCAR style of racing, so Morad, if he is serious about NASCAR racing may develop into a strong competitor before long.
On the start Morad charged into the first corner almost causing a big pile-up but the front row duo went wide letting Lacroix come through into the lead – ahead of Ranger, Morad and Tagliani.
As the race went on, Lacroix faded back to fourth behind Ranger and the other two. But Morad was not to be denied and he came charging forward to take the lead on lap 20 of the 37-lap race. Tagliani, who had been saving his car, now started to move up, first past Lacroix and then past Morad for the lead on lap 25. On the restart after the second and final caution of the race, Morad seemed to lose traction – perhaps in his inexperience he had over-abused his tires – and he fell back several positions, finishing the race in seventh place.
Meanwhile the Quebec continent carried on to finish one-two-three Tagliani, Ranger, Lacroix. Another Quebecker, J.P. Dumoulin, was fourth while Kerry Micks was fifth.
Ranger now leads in the championship points standings with 211 points over the young Cayden Lapcevich with 198 points.
- IndyCar, Shawn Gritzmacher and Joe Skibinski
- 2016 NASCAR
- NASCAR Pinty’s Series