Sprint Cup Series: A Hodge-Podge for Chase Drivers – Let’s ignore the fact there were 15 cautions at Loudon, and that most of them happened in the second half of the race, leading to an event that felt like a stop-and-go commute downtown in a major city during rush hour. The result of all the cautions brought about a mix of strategies and helped even drivers with injured cars find a way to get to the front.
When Kyle Busch got punted by Kasey Kahne, it looked like the damage would be significant enough to leave him as an afterthought. His finishing position? Eighth. Next, Brad Keselowski spun and tapped the wall, putting him back in the field, yet he was able to overcome this issue to lead the race, until falling all the way back to… seventh.
OK, maybe everything wasn’t rosy, as Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth never quite recovered from their issues, taking 23rd and 21st, respectively. Then, there’s Jeff Gordon, who appeared to have tire strategy on his side, only to have his right front blow. The hard hit into the outside wall took him from fifth to a disappointing 26th.
From an overall perspective, Joe Gibbs Racing had to leave Loudon with the biggest lemon face. Denny Hamlin‘s day turned into a complete disaster, fuel issues and a damaging wreck slotting him 37th. Hamlin now sits just above the cut-off line to advance to round two in the newly formatted Chase, and Kenseth isn’t in that much better of a position. Busch, however, looks like he’s in good shape, which is kind of funny considering that he’s supposed to be the one with bigger postseason struggles. P. Huston Ladner
Nationwide Series: Justin Boston Shines in Kentucky Debut – Saturday’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway marked ARCA Racing Series driver Justin Boston’s Nationwide Series debut. Piloting the No. 20 ZLOOP Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, the 25-year-old rookie ran 15th in the first practice and 13th in the second.
“I was pretty happy with the car for my first time in it,” Boston said. “We kept getting better and better throughout the day and by the end, I was really comfortable. I was on the track behind the No. 9 car (NNS point leader Chase Elliott) and he wasn’t getting any smaller out in front of me.”
Boston backed up his strength in qualifying with a solid 12th-place starting position after barely edging full-time driver Dylan Kwasniewski by 0.083 seconds to make it into the final round of the session. The driver of the No. 20 stayed out of trouble throughout the race and brought home a solid ninth, just days after finishing in the same spot in the ARCA race at the track. He’ll be back behind the wheel of the No. 20 next weekend at Dover International Speedway. Beth Lunkenheimer
Camping World Truck Series: Cole Custer Makes History – Several races this season have gone the same way: one driver pulls well ahead of the field, leads a majority of the laps and winds up in Victory Lane. That was the case once again in the Truck Series’ return to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, only this time it wasn’t Kyle Busch out front. 16-year-old Cole Custer sat on the pole for the second time in his seventh career start and wasted little time showing all rivals that he was the driver to beat. Pulling out to as much as a four-second lead during a round of green flag pit stops, Custer made it through his own without issues and reassumed the lead that he had relinquished for just three laps.
But Custer’s real mettle was tested late in the going. A caution sent the field down pit road, sans Erik Jones, and when most drivers took two tires, crew chief Joe Shear, Jr. made the call to bolt on four for Custer, dropping him to seventh on the restart. It took some impressive driving, along with a few more yellows, but the teenager clawed back into contention, starting alongside Matt Crafton with just four laps remaining. Confidence in his truck and his abilities, combined with Crafton’s spinning tires and trouble shifting between third and fourth gears, allowed Custer the chance to snag the top spot and pull all the way to Victory Lane at a record-setting 16 years, seven months and 28 days old, breaking Erik Jones’ previous record of 17 years, five months and nine days. It’s clear that Custer is a very talented driver and could have a successful NASCAR career… once he’s actually old enough to race full-time. Beth Lunkenheimer
Formula One: Easy Going for Hamilton – In qualifying, Lewis Hamilton pipped his teammate, Nico Rosberg, for the pole position by 0.007 of a second. The results would seem to indicate that Hamilton’s biggest challenger would be that driver sitting second on the grid…. except Rosberg didn’t make it to the grid.
In a strange twist, electrical gremlins attacked Rosberg’s car before he even left the garage. The championship leader wound up starting the race from pit road, which for a Mercedes driver shouldn’t be too big a deal this year, as Hamilton drove from the back to the podium earlier this season. But for all the effort that the team put into Rosberg’s car, it never recovered as it skipped shifts on the track and ultimately shut down when the crew swapped steering wheels (the cpu of an F1 ride).
With his main competitor out of the way, Hamilton raced off to an early lead and, in seemingly easy fashion, cruised to the win. Sure, the team got off the prevailing tire strategy but it didn’t matter, as Hamilton was still able to gap the field and then pass Sebastian Vettel to regain the top spot. From there, no problems.
Vettel held off his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, for second, with Fernando Alonso just missing out on a podium finish. Felipe Massa earned the fifth position. With his win, and Rosberg’s retirement, Hamilton has now moved to the top spot in the overall points with five races to go. The series resumes action October 5 in Japan. Huston Ladner
NHRA Pace Laps: Double Dip Weekend – NHRA had a double bill on tap this weekend, finishing the weather-delayed elimination rounds from last weekend’s Carolina Nationals on top of this week’s qualifying and racing from the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals from Texas Motorplex.
First things first. To wrap up the Carolina Nationals, the remaining three elimination rounds for Top Fuel and Funny Car, three and a half rounds for Pro Stock, and all four rounds for Pro Stock Motorcycle that were not completed at Charlotte were run during the qualifying Sessions in Texas. Wallys were handed out on Saturday to Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle, rookie driver Jonathan Gray, his first, in Pro Stock, Matt Hagan in Funny Car, and Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel.
“Textbook: one, two and three go out and you are sitting there in fourth, the best case scenario would be ‘wow those guys are out, we have to go close the deal,’” Schumacher said. “We have to make up those points as we can. So often you see the guys up front go out and you make a mistake; but if you want to win a championship, as good as the cars are, you better leave nothing on the table and absolutely dominate.”
Turns out that was exactly what Schumacher did in Texas, since he also took the win on Sunday for the Fall Nationals, beating J.R. Todd n the finals with a run of 3.891 seconds at 318.620 mph. The wins make Schumacher the new points leader in Top Fuel.
“It’s an unbelievable situation. My family drove up, I won a race, we went to bed, came back, and won another race in under 24 hours. So far, I’m undefeated in Texas since I moved to Austin three months ago,” said Schumacher. “I think we should run them all here.”
Elsewhere, Courtney Force scored her sixth career win, beating Del Worsham in the Funny Car final with a pass of 4.227 seconds at 301.070 mph.
Gray Motorsports continued their strong weekend, with teammates Shane Gray and Dave Connolly facing off against each other in the Pro Stock final. Give it to Connolly with a run of 6.616 seconds at 210.050 mph.
Vance & Hines Harley Davidson riders took both days, as Krawiec’s teammate Andrew Hines prevailed on Sunday. Hines ran his final as a solo when Steve Johnson missed the call for the Pro Stock Motorcycle final. Johnson suffered an engine failure in the semifinals and was unable to make repairs in time to make the call. To add insult to injury, perhaps Hines also had mechanical issues on the track.
“I pushed the button for 2nd gear and went to 5th,” he said. “If Steve would have been there, you’d be talking to him.” Toni Montgomery
Short Track Pace Laps – Not a Record but a Great Season – Lee Pulliam is the defending NASCAR Whelen All-American National Champion. He has actually won back-to-back titles and was attempting to be the first driver in history to win three consecutive trophies. Pulliam has put together an impressive resume for the year but is going to come up around 10 points short when the final tally is counted after Sunday’s final day of competition. Keepin’ it Short has already pointed out the bastardization of the process by Greenville-Pickens Speedway, a method that will be visited again this coming Friday. For now, the kudos belong to Pulliam and the other drivers who have garnered state and provincial titles.
Pulliam will be crowned state champion in North Carolina and Virginia thanks to his impressive seasons at tracks in both states. He is also the Motor Mile Speedway Champion and won a title known as the Dirty Dozen. Motor Mile Speedway and Southern National Motorsports Park run the Dirty Dozen championship, which highlights six race dates at each track. The facilities host twin events on each of those six nights, totaling a dozen races at each venue. The point structure for the championship takes each driver’s best six finishes from each speedway to achieve the total for the Dirty Dozen. Pulliam bested Tommy Lemons Jr., the track champion at Southern National to claim the trophy for the second year in a row.
It is hard to call a season with twenty-five victories and two state championships a disappointment but, for Pulliam it is. Pulliam came into the season intent on running for the K&N East championship with Hattori Racing Enterprises along with trying to win a third consecutive national title. But after a horrible crash at Bristol in the Spring, one that left the team with one primary car that was lacking in performance, the decision was made to part ways with Hattori and focus solely on the national title. Pulliam won races at a pace similar to the last two seasons but fell victim to a corruption of the process, one that has seen another driver accumulate more points to wrest the title away.
Pulliam has taken on the best Late Model drivers in the country on a weekly basis and come out on the victorious side more than anyone else. He will hold his head high with that knowledge and most likely come back next year to try and do it all again. In the meantime, hopefully the people in Daytona that administer that Whelen All-American National championship will try and put some checks and balances in place to ensure that a national champion competes against quality competition. Mike Neff
ARCA Pace Laps – What a Difference a Race Makes – Mason Mitchell came into Kentucky Speedway this weekend with a 50-point lead over Grant Enfinger. They were the only two drivers with a realistic shot at winning the ARCA title as the third-place driver in points, Tom Hessert III, was 315 points behind Enfinger. Mitchell qualified second, which gave him another 10 points before the green flag had even flown, while Enfinger timed in 12th. While Mitchell started the race strong and was battling for the lead, Enfinger began slipping even further back into the pack. Before 20 laps were in the books, Enfinger’s night ended as his engine expired and, for all intents and purposes, his title hopes went up in smoke.
It turns out Enfinger had a transmission issue that prevented him from getting the car into fourth gear, ultimately causing the engine to over-rev and damage some internal components. Once that happened, it was only a matter of time before the powerplant was unable to remain intact. The failure puts all but the final nail in the coffin of Enfinger’s season as Mitchell will most likely score enough points at Kansas, after the normal start-and-park cars pull off, to clinch the title no matter what Enfinger does.
It has been a storybook season for both drivers, with Enfinger winning the season-opening race at Daytona and following it up with two more wins before finally losing a race at Talladega. Enfinger eventually switched teams in the middle of the season to GMS Racing, feeling that they offered him the best opportunity to finish off the title. Meanwhile, Mason Mitchell finished second in six races, dating back to the end of the 2013 season before he was finally able to break through for his first win at Chicagoland in July. Mitchell only has that one win this season but, with another top 5 at Kentucky, he now has the same number of top 5s as Enfinger along with two more top 10s. That consistent finishing is what has propelled Mitchell to the precipice of his first ARCA title.
The final chapter of this story will be written at Kansas Speedway on October 3rd. Enfinger will certainly show up and make Mitchell earn it, but it will basically be a victory celebration all weekend long. The 20th race of the most diverse schedule in stock car racing will crown another new champion at Kansas and will, most likely, see him move on to get some opportunities in NASCAR. Mike Neff
Sports Cars: Foreign Threat to TUSC Car Count? – To say the least, the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship has been quite interesting. However, we would be wrong if we failed to point out the various issues that have plagued the season. Most notably, the Balance of Performance (BoP) issues in the Prototype class between the Daytona Prototypes and P2 prototypes have been an ongoing issue since last year. Also, the officiating has sadly been poor at times. The most notable example is IMSA penalizing the wrong car for avoidable contact during the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in March. The decision likely resulted in two different teams missing out on class victories.
However, a threat that IMSA likely did not expect prior to the season beginning was the idea of teams leaving the domestic series in favor of the FIA World Endurance Championship. That is on the table now.
Teams running Daytona Prototypes cannot make such a move without incurring significant financial expenses, in particular since DPs are not legal outside of TUSC. However, teams with P2 prototypes can make the switch if they want. This past weekend in Austin, Extreme Speed Motorsports chose not to enter their No. 1 HPD ARX-03b in the TUSC event in favor of competing in the WEC six-hour race. The trio of Ed Brown, Ryan Dalziel and team owner Scott Sharp finished third in class in the rain-plagued endurance race Saturday night.
The experience was enough for the team to decide that they want more. Extreme Speed Motorsports announced on Saturday that both of their entries will skip Petit Le Mans in two weeks in order to prepare their two cars to compete in the WEC Six Hours of Shanghai on November 2 at Shanghai Circuit.
Why make the move now? The team wants to go to Le Mans next year and intentionally chose the hardest possible race to compete in.
“This weekend was a good test for us with the FIA WEC,” Ed Brown said after the six hour race on Saturday night. “We’re committed to going to the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year. I feel it is important for us to pick the absolute hardest race that the team could do, and that means racing in China; there’s language, food and logistics issues, among other challenges. If we truly want to be competitive at Le Mans or any other WEC race, we need to get our hands around the series and regulations at one of the most demanding locations. The best thing we can do is throw a challenge at the team. We’re going to learn so much in the week in China; it will pay huge dividends.
“We’re excited but know there is a give and take. Racing is expensive and because of that, we’ll park the cars at Petit Le Mans and not run the final race of the TUDOR Championship series so we can set up the cars for Shanghai. By all means, we’re going to be racing in the United States next year, but we felt that this was important to set us up for the goals that we’ve set.”
TUSC will likely get automatic invites to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, but those invites will be few and far between, especially since Extreme Speed’s fastest pairing will skip the last two races. In order to race at Le Mans next year, Extreme Speed Motorsports may have to commit full-time to the WEC and score an entry that way (all full-time WEC teams are automatically in the field), or partner with another team to field their P2 entry.
In addition, other teams are said to be studying potential WEC entries. SportsCar365.com is reporting that Magnus Racing, which currently fields a Porsche 911 GT America for Andy Lally and John Potter in the GT-Daytona class, is considering a GTE-Am program for 2015. OAK Racing is not sure if they’ll be back next year. Granted, it’s due to a desire to not compete against the customer Ligier JS P2 chassis that their parent company, OnRoak Automotive, is constructing, but it’s still something worth watching. Phil Allaway