Racing Roundup: Weekend of August 17-21

Written by George Webster on .

Power Indycar Pocono 16C 8042-1

Verizon IndyCar Series ABC Supply at Pocono Raceway
Power wins rain-delayed race; Points leader Pagenauld crashes

August 22, 2016: Persistent rain on Sunday led IndyCar officials to abandon plans to run the race that day and try again on Monday. The weather was fine on Monday and a small crowd saw an action-filled race. For much of the race it looked like Mikhail Aleshin or Ryan Hunter-Reay were the favourites to win but, in the end it was Will Power who took the checker after 200 laps.

Simon Pagenauld came into this race leading Power in championship points standings by a margin of 59 points. Here at Pocono, Pagenauld lacked the pace of Power but it looked like he was set to finish in the top ten or better so his points lead was not going to shrink by all that much. Unfortunately, soon after he pitted under green on lap 156 his car bottomed out as he entered the first turn. He lost control and crashed into the wall, ending his day. This left him scored in 18th place earning just 13 points to Power’s 51 and his points lead over Power reduced to just 20 points as they go into the final four races (including the interrupted Texas race) of the 2016 season.

Power won the race by a margin of just over a second over Aleshin. Ryan Hunter-Reay had been a strong challenger for the win but on lap 164 his car cut out on him and he coasted into the pit lane where he re-booted the computer and the car refired as good as ever – but by now he had gone a lap down on Power and his chances of a good finish looked to be ruined. The lead lap cars needed to make another round of pit stops for fuel but Hunter-Reay stayed out and that put him back on the lead lap and he caught up to the field during the final caution which came on lap 179 – with just 21 laps remaining.

Surely RHR was going to have to pit sometime for a splash of fuel before the end? But he kept going and he kept passing car after car until he was past them all but the leading two – and he finished the race there in third.

Josef Newgarten had a good run, finishing in fourth ahead of Sebastien Bourdais who finished in fifth place.

There was a scary accident on the pit lane during the second round of pit stops. Alexander Rossi finished refuelling and pulled out of his pit stall just as Charlie Kimball was turning into his pit stall. The two collided just as Helio Castroneves was pulling out of his place, and they all crashed together. Rossi’s car leaped up over the cockpit area of Castroneves’ car but, fortunately, Castroneves was unhurt – as were the other two drivers. The Rossi and the Castroneves cars were retired at this point.

The Monday race was run under good weather conditions but, of course, given that this was a week day now, the crowd was pretty sparse. On Saturday it was announced that agreement had been reached for IndyCar to keep Pocono on its schedule for an additional two years. Hopefully, the weather gods will smile on the promoters here the next two years.

The next race will be the completion of the 600-mile Texas Motor Speedway race which was halted after 71 laps due to rain on June 11th. The remainder of the race’s 248 laps will be run starting at 9:00 pm (ET) on Saturday, Aug. 27.

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway
Harvick wins the rain delayed race

Aug 21, 2016: The called it a “Night Race” and it was scheduled to run on Saturday night but persistent rain stopped the race almost before it had begun and forced postponement until high noon (Central time) on Sunday. Unfortunately, come race time Sunday, it was raining again. NASCAR waited it out and the race finally resumed about 3:30. After that, save for a short stoppage for weather near the end of the race, the race ran the full distance, finishing nearly 24 hours after it had been scheduled to end.

In the end, Kevin Harvick was the race winner but Kyle Busch, who had started in third place behind Joe Gibbs teammates Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin, was the dominant force for most of the race, leading 256 laps of the 500-lap race. But when he seemed to have solid control of the lead in the race nearing the end, he started complaining about strange handling as if a suspension component was failing. Sure enough on lap 348 he lost the lead to Kevin Harvick and ten laps later his car slewed around out of control. Unfortunately, his car was struck by Justin Allgaier and badly damaged, ruining his hopes of the win – or even a good finish.

Joey Logano took over the lead ahead of Kurt Busch coming off this round of pit stops but, almost immediately after the restart, the elder Busch’s car skidded out of control and nine or ten cars were caught up in this melee, significantly reducing the number of drivers in contention. On the restart, Logano held onto the lead ahead of Harvick but 15 laps later, Harvick who had shown better speed than Logano all day, passed him for the lead.

After the next caution, which came on lap 417 after Clint Boyer hit the wall, Hamlin won the race off of pit road and took over the lead. Meanwhile, under yellow, Logano made a second pit stop to attend to a problem and this stop dropped him out of contention.

Hamlin held the lead on the restart but Harvick was past him six laps later. No sooner had he got the lead back than more rain fell and they red-flagged the race. Fortunately, this was only a brief shower and they were soon back under green.

Harvick continued to dominate, leading the rest of the way to the checker. Roush Ford driver Ricky Stenhouse, who had driven well all day, passed Hamlin for second with about 40 laps to go and he held on to finish second ahead of Hamlin and Austin Dillon.

Chris Buescher, who was the surprise winner a Pocono when the race was halted due to fog a few weeks ago, finished a remarkable fifth after driving a solid race all day. To qualify for a spot in the Chase, he need to combine his Pocono win with a 30th place or better in the points standings. With this excellent result, he looks to have the points to clinch a secure place in the season-end Chase. Buescher is a Roush-affiliated driver, driving this year for Front Row Racing. None of the three regular Roush Cup drivers look to have much of a chance to qualify for the Chase this year.

As had been the case for the other races run here earlier this weekend, the track operators had applied a coating of a resin to the track surface, something like the “VHT” often used at drag strips to make them stickier. This resin was applied to the lower groove of the race track in an effort to produce at least two racing grooves – a high groove and a low groove, which would make passing and side-by-side racing more possible. While it does seem like a band-aid solution to the one-groove problem, it did seem to help, allowing cars to make passing manoeuvrers high and low on the track.

The next Sprint Cup race will be held next Sunday, Aug. 28 at Michigan International Speedway.

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NASCAR Xfinity Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway
Austin Dillon steals the win after the favourites falter

Aug. 18, 2016: For much of the race it looked like a conventional fight for the win among Erik Jones and Kyle Larson with Kyle Busch coming up from the back of the field to challenge them – but that all changed in the latter stages of the race and we saw Austin Dillon emerge as the winner over Justin Allgaier. Austin is the older Dillon brother who runs full-time in the Cup series and part-time on the Xfinity Series. Larson, who had looked like the favourite to win as the race ran into the final laps, took the final green – under overtime – alongside Dillon on the front row but he seemed to struggle for grip as he was overwhelmed by Allgaier and Elliott Sadler and he only managed to salvage a third place finish ahead of Sadler.

In recent years the track owners at Bristol have tried to find a track configuration which produced popular side-by-side racing. Recently the favoured racing style was for everyone to crowd up into the top groove which made passing difficult. This time, however, they tried adding some kind of “rosin” to the bottom groove in hopes that this would produce a two-groove track. It worked for a while but by mid-distance the top groove was the favourite. Larson, who makes driving up against the wall his speciality took full advantage fo this and he led for 200 of the race’s 300 laps. However, off that final restart, it looked he was struggling with grip evrywhere as he was unable to challenge Dillon for the lead and was stormed by Allgaier and Sadler.

Jones had won the pole for the race ahead of his team owner Kyle Busch and teammate Daniel Suarez while Larson qualified in seventh place. Busch had to start from the back of the 40-car field after his crew made repairs to his car while it was impounded after qualifying.

It only took Larson 35 laps before he had the lead over Jones. Meanwhile Busch was charging forward and by then he was already up into the top 15. It looked like this race was going to be won by either Larson or Jones as they continued to fight back and forth for the lead. By lap 104, Busch had joined them in third place ahead of Austin Dillon and his brother Ty Dillon.

This battle continued right through to the fifth caution on lap 234 when Darrell Wallace hit the wall for a second time. During pit stops, Jones stalled his car in the pit lane a lost a few positions. Of equal significance, five cars which had pitted earlier did not pit this time and took over the five top spots ahead of Larson, Suarez, Busch and Jones. Brad Keselowski took the restart in first place alongside Ty Dillon but Larson was able to shoot up into second place on the first green-flag lap with Busch close behind. The three – Keselowski, Larson and Busch – were soon running in single file up top unable to make much of a passing manoeuver below as they were passing many lapped cars on the half-mile track.

Larson dove down to try to take the lead but that failed and Busch was able to get past him into second before the next caution flew. When racing resumed, Busch was ready to challenge Keselowski for the lead and he got past with 12 laps to go but as they battled Ty Dillon (No. 3) got past them both into the lead – then he scraped the wall and dropped back to third behind them.

With four laps to go Busch shot under Keselowski and tried to come up into the top groove in front of him. Unfortunately, Keselowski was still there and they collided. Keselowski shot out ahead while Busch slowed suddenly and collected Ty Dillon who was charging up behind in third – knocking both of them out of the race.

Now, as the laps went into overtime, it looked like Keselowski had the race in the bag. All he had to do was take the restart and hold off Austin Dillon and Larson those final two laps. But then, under yellow, he pulled down into pit road for fuel. Apparently some kind of malfunction in the fuel system meant he was unable to suck up the last bit of fuel in the tank when lapping slowing around the high banking under caution.

Now the race was down to Austin Dillon and Larson but Larson failed to show his earlier prowess and had to settle for third behind Dillon and Allgaier. Given that this Dillon is a Cup regular, he is ineligible for the end-of-season Chase in this season despite his win here.

The next race will be run at the four-mile long Road America road course at Elkhart Lake, WI, next Saturday, Aug. 27.

Kennedy NCWTS Bristol BMS 081716 12

NASCAR Camping World UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway
Kennedy wins his first NASCAR race

Aug. 17, 2016: Ben Kennedy, the grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France, won the truck race here at Bristol on a Wednesday evening. It was the first NASCAR touring series win for the France family scion. Given that the ‘Chase” format, which places a premium on race wins, has come to the truck series this year, this win has transformed him from an also-ran to a contender for the series championship.

Coming off the second-to-last caution on lap 177 Daniel Suarez held the lead over Kyle Bush Motorsports teammate William Byron and Brett Moffitt, driving for Red Horse Racing – but on the restart Byron shot past Suarez to take the lead only to have Moffitt leapfrog past them both into the lead. But Kennedy who had been running in third prior to this caution passed them all to take the lead on lap 181.

The final caution flew on lap 188 of the 200-lap race when Suarez crashed out of the race. On the restart Kennedy retained the lead over Moffitt and Daniel Hemric. Byron was complaining about a handling problem and he dropped back, finishing in fourth place behind Hemric.

Earlier in the race it had been a battle between Suarez and Christopher Bell, both KBM drivers. Bel led the most laps of the race, 101, while Suarez led for 77 laps. But that earlier performance did little for them in the end. Suarez retired after his accident on lap 188 and finished in 29th place while Bell had to settle for a seventh-place finish after he spun out of third place on the fifth restart on lap 142.

Calgarian Cameron Hayley was looking good for much of the race, running in the top five, but a tire problem – probably caused by contact with another truck – saw him wrecking on lap 135. He was able to return to the race but he finished in 24th place, three laps down.

The next race in the truck series will be run this coming weekend on Saturday, Aug. 27 at Michigan International Speedway.

Byron NCWTS Kentucky KYS 070716 15

Rising star William Byron signs multi-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports

In a surprise announcement reminiscent of the way he poached Jeff Gordon away from Ford when he signed him in 1992, Rick Hendrick announced that he has signed 18-year-old William Byron to a multi-year contact with his organization starting as of the 2017 season. This year Byron is driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports and looks like having a lock on the truck series championship having already won five times in that series. Next year he will be driving full-time in the Xfinity series in a JR Motorsports car. JR Motorsports, of course, is closely associated with Hendrick Motorsports.

Hendrick currently runs four entries in the Sprint Cup Series for Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kasey Kayne and Chase Elliott. Elliott is having a good run this, his rookie year in the series, but the other three are approaching the end of their driving days with Hendrick. Of course, Earnhardt’s struggles with “concussion-like” symptoms fuels speculation that he may soon retire completely from driving. On current form, the young Byron looks like a good choice to bring on stream to replace one of those older drivers when the time comes.

When Hendrick hired Gordon, there was considerable discontent on the part of the Ford camp – especially when it turned out that Gordon was going to be the star driver of the nineties, rivalling Earnhardt Sr in his latter days. Hendrick now claims that he discussed this Byron hire with Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs and they were agreeable to this move. As I have said before, the Toyota camp has an embarrassment of riches with more top-quality rising stars than they have slots for them. The recent announcement that Furniture Row was going to create an additional Sprint Cup team for Erik Jones, still left little room for the others in the Toyota pipeline – so Byron if fortunate to have found an alternate path.

One pundit pointed out that Byron’s style is in the mould of a Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson and the Hendrick organization – and as such he should fit in well there. By contrast he is currently driving for Kyle Busch who has a very different approach to racing and who, it might be said, had to leave the Hendrick organization because his more blunt, aggressive style did not fit in so well there.

All in all, it looks like this new deal for Byron is a good deal for him and for the future of the sport.

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NASCAR Pinty’s Series Bumper to Bumper 300 at Riverside International Speedway
Lapcevich scores his second win of the season to take championship lead

Aug. 20, 2016: Cayden Lapcevich, the 16-year-old from Grimsby, ON, is another one of the crop of very young, very good drivers coming up in NASCAR. He won the Pinty’s Series race here in Antigonish, NS, his second win of the season, to take the championship lead by 12 points over Series veteran Andrew Ranger.

With just three races left in the 2016 schedule, his chances for the title look good if he and his family can continue to find the resources to finance this under-funded team.

Lapcevich qualified in ninth place and he did not take the lead until he caught Jason Hathaway on lap 290 of the 300-lap race on the one-third mile paved oval. In the closing laps JP Dumoulin also passed Hathaway to finish second. Donald Chisholm, who had won the pole in qualifying for the race, was fourth while Dwayne Baker was fifth.

Then points leader Ranger had started from 14th on the grid but he was able to work his way up to the front. Unfortunately, while going three abreast with Hathaway and Dumoulin he had a tire go flat. This was just the start of his difficulties which saw him finishing 61 laps behind the race winner. Alex Tagliani also saw his hopes dashed when he was hit by a spinning car on lap 230. He ended up in ninth place five laps down. Tagliani continues to sit in third place in the championship points standings, now 32 points adrift of the points leader Lapcevich.

Sixteen cars made the trek down to Nova Scotia for this race. A strong entry can be expected for the next race on the schedule which will be run on Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Photo Credits:

William Byron - Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images
Wickens - Hoch Zwei/Daimler AG
Harvick NSC - Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Kennedy NCWTS - Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
A Dillon NSX Bristol - Jeff Curry/NASCAR via Getty Images
Pinty's - Colin Livingston/Tagliani Autosport
IndyCar - IMS/Chris Owens 2016

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