NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Stewart’s Comeback, Gaughan’s Milestone and Le Mans Fever

Sprint Cup: Tony Stewart’s Well-Needed Michigan boost – After a rough string of races entering Sunday’s FireKeepers 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Tony Stewart put one together.

Qualifying third, Stewart instituted a story for the afternoon: What can Smoke do from here? Would he fall outside the top 20 fast or burst into the race lead?

Well, once the green flag flew for 200 laps, Stewart broke middle ground, as he stayed consistently inside the top 5 throughout the event. Battling the likes of Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, Stewart simply had a strong day in the Irish Hills.

Once cautions picked up in the second half, Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet never faltered. While many snapped in the race’s slippery conditions, he kept forward inside the top 10.

Finishing seventh, the 45-year-old grabbed his best finish in more than a year, dating back to April 2015 at Bristol Motor Speedway. More importantly, however, he closed the gap to 30th place in points, which is currently occupied by Brian Scott, who sits 45 points ahead of Stewart.

With 11 races to go through the summer months on the schedule, Stewart could make the top 30 in points by that time. With a win also standing as a must, Sunday’s pace will come in handy. For the Stewart-Haas Racing team, Sonoma Raceway in two weeks could be the spot Stewart pounces with the well-needed momentum. – Zach Catanzareti

XFINITY Series: Brendan Gaughan Reaches Career Milestone – Brendan Gaughan did not have a memorable finish at Michigan on Saturday.  The No. 62 car was in and out of the top 10 all day before fading late, finishing 18th.  The Michigan result was the worst finish of Gaughan’s season, with his previous worst being a 16th-place result at Bristol.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
Brendan Gaughan sits seventh in the XFINITY Series standings following Michigan. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
Gaughan’s most noteworthy accomplishment of the day came at the completion of Lap 111, marking the moment when Gaughan had raced 100,000 miles in his NASCAR career.  That number includes miles raced in the Sprint Cup Series, XFINITY Series, Camping World Truck Series and the K&N Pro Series. He has totaled the most mileage in the Truck Series at 38,700, while his XFINITY Series total stands at 38,300.

The milestone is a testament to Gaughan’s staying power in NASCAR.  Though he will probably be best remembered for his Truck Series success when his career is over, he remains a veteran presence on Richard Childress Racing’s XFINITY squad.  Gaughan is still seeking his first win of 2016, but he remains well on track toward making the inaugural NXS Chase. – Bryan Gable

Camping World Truck Series: William Byron Making His Case as Championship Contender – About a month ago, rookie William Byron posted his first career victory after a wild race at Kansas Speedway, and on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, he asserted himself as a championship contender. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver posted his second career victory and had to chase down a dominant Matt Crafton to take the lead with just five laps remaining.

Granted, two wins doesn’t make a championship season, but you have to look at his finishes so far this year to put it into perspective. In seven races, the 18-year-old has finished outside the top 15 just once, a 32nd-place result in Atlanta due to engine troubles. There’s still plenty of the season left ahead of these drivers, but with his two wins, Byron is a virtual lock for the Chase. The question that remains is whether the rookie can keep himself focused when it’s crunch time later this year. Beth Lunkenheimer

NHRA: Angelle Sampey Wins For First Time Since Return – Ron Capps made it two wins in a row and took over the Funny Car points lead with a victory at the NHRA Summernationals from Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey this weekend. He was also joined on the winners’ stage by Top Fuel pilot Steve Torrence, Pro Stock competitor Greg Anderson, and Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey, who notched her first win since 2007.

Sampey said she returned to competition a couple of years ago for two reasons. She wanted to show her daughter that girls could do anything they wanted to do, and because she wanted to try to win enough races to become the winningest rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle, not just the winningest female rider. Sampey now has 42 wins, trailing class leader Dave Schultz who has 45, and second place Andrew Hines, who has 43.

“I know this is my 42nd win, but it feels like my first ever,” Sampey said. “I don’t feel like I had any wins before today. I’m starting all over again and I had something to prove and it took a while. I feel totally responsible to show my daughter what she can do with her life. Now I can show her that even if you aren’t winning every weekend, but if you just keep trying, you’re going to get it. Showing her and being her role model – I don’t have words for it.”

Sampey faced off against Jerry Savoie in the finals and earned the Wally with a 6.876-second, 194.41 mph pass to Savoie’s 6.928 seconds, 177.21 mph. She also defeated Michael Ray, Andrew Hines, and Eddie Krawiec en route to the finals.

Sampey is also the fifth different female driver to win this year in a Pro class, joining Top Fuel’s Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force, and Funny Car’s Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria.

In Top Fuel, Steve Torrence notched his second win of the season, running 4.037 seconds, 281.71 mph to take down Tony Schumacher who was making his first final round appearance of the season but smoked the tires. Torrence also got by Smax Smith, J.R. Todd, and Brittany Force in earlier rounds.

Don Schumacher Racing came up short in Top Fuel, but had the finals to themselves in Funny Car, with Ron Capps taking on teammate Jack Beckman. Beckman is still looking for his first win of the season, but he’ll have to wait at least another week as his “Prock Rocket” went up in smoke, while Capps notched his third win of the year, and second in a row with a 3.954 second, 316.90 mph run.

Capps also got by John Hale, John Force, and Del Worsham to reach the finals.

Pro Stock car continues to be the KB Racing show, with teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line facing off in the finals once again. This round went to Greg Anderson who ran 6.610 seconds, 210.93 mph in a wining effort after Line redlighted. The two drivers now have a five and five split on the wins through the first ten races of 2016.

Anderson also beat Charlie Westcott, Jr., Drew Skillman, and Kenny Delco to earn the right to face off with Line. – Toni Montgomery

IndyCar Series: Firestone 600 Postponed to August – After persistent weepers forced IndyCar to move Saturday night’s Firestone 600 to Sunday afternoon, the field made just 71 laps before strong thunderstorms descended on Texas Motor Speedway, forcing a second postponement of the race. The remainder of the race will be run Saturday, Aug. 27 at 8 p.m. ET.

“We felt that was the best way to serve all the fans,” Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said of the rescheduled date. “We maybe could have hung around and tried to get it dry tonight and run until halfway but that’s not right. We wanted to give the fans a race today.”

James Hinchcliffe was leading at the time the red flag flew. Drivers will participate in a practice session and an autograph session prior to the field taking the green once again.

The last time an IndyCar race was postponed to a later date was a Texas event scheduled for Sept. 15, just days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Beth Lunkenheimer

Formula 1: Ferrari Strategy Goes Awry – Sebastian Vettel took the lead of the Canadian Grand Prix on the start and looked poised to drive Ferrari to its first win of the year.  The team, however, thought it best to run Vettel on a three-stop strategy.  This decision meant that Lewis Hamilton could attempt to stretch the runs on his tyres and hope to maintain an advantage – and it worked.

Hamilton, now nine points back of championship leader Nico Rosberg, drove a smart and smooth race, making no mistakes and keeping his tyres in great condition over their long runs.  Though he may have pushed his Mercedes teammate Rosberg off the track heading into the second turn on the first lap, it surely made no difference as Hamilton celebrated his fifth win at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Sebastian Vettel took the second spot on the podium, having never been able to close the gap while having tyres 12 laps fresher than Hamilton’s.  The surprising finisher came across the line in third as Valterri Bottas continued to show his prowess with the underfunded Williams team.

Max Verstappen of Red Bull outdrove his teammate Daniel Ricciardo for the whole of the race and claimed fourth after an entertaining battle with Rosberg, who finished fifth.

No off weekend as the series returns to action at the European Grand Prix at Baku, Azerbaijan next weekend.  Huston Ladner

Sports Cars: Le Mans Scrutineering Gets Underway – IMSA regular (and 2011 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year) Andy Lally described the run-up to the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring back in 2012 to us as “… a bit of a cluster from the racer’s point to view, to be honest.” He was speaking from Sebring on the Tuesday prior to the race back then. Le Mans is a little more in-depth than that.

Sunday marked the beginning of scrutineering ahead of next weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, split into a “Pro” day and an “Amateur” day. The scrutineering is held at the Place de la République right in the middle of Le Mans, and is open to the public. In addition, there are official team photos taken as well. All of the drivers are required to be on hand when their car is inspected, unless they have a racing-related excuse (meaning, they’re racing in another event).

The weather issues in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex has definitely caused some problems. All four factory Ford G`1T’s went through scrutineering on Sunday without drivers Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais, who were still in Texas. Townsend Bell actually had to leave the NBCSN booth right as the Firestone 600 was red-flagged on Sunday so that he could race to the airport to get to Le Mans (he’s racing for Scuderia Corsa in the GTE-Am class). It seems that calling a live race on TV would not be a good enough excuse to satisfy the organizers. Mikhail Aleshin is also due to be in Le Mans Monday morning for scrutineering.

This is just one of the reasons why the IndyCar Series chose to reschedule the conclusion of the Firestone 600 for Aug. 27 instead of just doing it on Monday. Monday morning will see the remaining 38 entries (the P2 and GTE-Am classes, plus the Invitational “Garage 56”) entry go through the motions (Note: The Garage 56 entry is a P2-class Morgan-Nissan from SRT41 by OAK Racing that has Frédéric Sausset as part of the trio of drivers. Sausset is a quadruple amputee that will race with a specially-designed system that allows him to hook his right limb to the steering column and use his thighs to accelerate and brake. His teammates, Christophe Tinseau and Jean-Bernard Bouvet, can and will drive the car in a normal fashion.)

Practice will officially get underway Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. local time (10 a.m. EDT). Qualifying will be held over three rounds, the first of which is Wednesday night at 10 p.m. (4 p.m. EDT). Additional sessions will be Thursday at 7 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT) and 10 p.m. (4 p.m. EDT). – Phil Allaway

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