Sprint Cup: Joe Gibbs Racing Getting Outrun? Halfway through the Chase, Joe Gibbs Racing finds itself in a fantastic spot. Three of their four cars enter Talladega with a large points cushion while their fourth, Denny Hamlin, remains within striking distance. They’ve experienced success with satellite team Martin Truex, Jr., also in strong position to make the Round of 8 after winning two of the first three Chase races.
So why does it feel like JGR is a step behind the curve?
Kevin Harvick helped cement that feeling Sunday, blowing by JGR’s Carl Edwards on a late restart while securing his second win of the Chase. Harvick now joins Truex with two wins during the first five postseason races; Jimmie Johnson secured the other at Charlotte last week. Know how many JGR itself has? The team whose goal is to get their entire four-car program competing for the title at Homestead?
Zero. Zip. Nada.
The group that won 11 of the season’s first 26 races, leading the way among top Cup ownership has yet to break through. Edwards, dealing with the pain of a hometown loss made it worse Sunday by flaring up some old issues with Kyle Busch after the two fought hard on the racetrack in the closing laps. Matt Kenseth, for his part may have had the fastest car but blew it after hitting the wall on old tires. And then there’s Hamlin, snakebit by Lady Luck whose confidence appears at a season low after a long list of mechanical and self-inflicted problems.
There’s still time for the JGR crowd to get it together. All four could easily make the Round of 8. But the fact they’re looking so vulnerable, losing battles to title veterans Johnson and Harvick is becoming the surprise of the Chase so far. – Tom Bowles
XFINITY Series: First Round Chase Trends Continue at Kansas – A 300-mile showdown at Kansas Speedway shook up the XFINITY Series Chase standings again. It was surprising to see so many championship contenders run into trouble on Saturday. But after looking back on the opening round of Chase, maybe the surprise should not have been so big.
Several trends from the Round of 12 carried over to Kansas.
Erik Jones had another disappointing finish after running in the top five most of the day. Justin Allgaier got collected in another crash but somehow took a torn up race car to a respectable finish. Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez are still the masters of consistency in 2016. And do not forget about Blake Koch, who once again finds himself a handful of points above the cut line. Only Brendan Gaughan and the Roush Fenway Racing drivers are in unfamiliar territory. Gaughan, Ryan Reed and Darrell Wallace Jr. are all behind the Chase cutoff for the first time during the postseason.
Two weekends off will give the Chasers time to regroup. When the XFINITY Series returns to action at Texas Motor Speedway, Gaughan and Wallace Jr. will face big points deficits. Sadler and Suarez will have to keep their momentum up. Jones must find a way to finish up front. Finally, with all four spots in the final round still up for grabs, can anybody win their way into the championship race? – Bryan Gable
Sports Cars: Webber Calls It a Career – This past weekend, the FIA World Endurance Championship held the 6 Hours of Fuji at Fuji Speedway in Japan. The race, which took place in DVR Theater here in the United (10 p.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday), was a thrilling affair which saw Toyota break through for their first win since 2014 in a truly excellent race.
Prior to the race, the big news of the weekend was a big announcement. On Friday, Porsche Team’s Mark Webber announced his retirement at the end of the season. Webber has only competed in the WEC for two seasons, but that came after 12 years in Formula One. Webber has accepted a position as a consultant with Porsche. In that role, he will serve as a global ambassador for the Porsche brand and will contribute to the motorsports program. That includes helping out with driver searches and training for up-and-coming racers.
At present, Webber (along with co-drivers Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard) is fourth in points with three wins this season (Nürburgring, Mexico City and Austin). In his time with Porsche, Webber has seven overall (and LMP1 class) victories and shared the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship with Bernhard and Hartley.
Webber’s retirement opens up a seat with Porsche Team for 2017. Knowing Porsche, they have multiple drivers already under factory deals, including four that competed full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy in the No. 911; Earl Bamber and Frédéric Makowiecki in the No. 912) this season. Webber is going to have the rare opportunity to help pick his successor. Whoever that is will be getting into a great chassis in the Porsche 919 Hybrid.
In other news, the WEC announced that three young drivers will participate in a special Rookie Test at Bahrain International Circuit the day after the season finale in November. The three chaps will be Antonio Giovanazzi, a GP2 regular who made his WEC debut this weekend in Japan in the No. 30 JAGONYA ARAM/Tequila Patron ESM entry, and two full-time racers. They are American Gustavo Menezes, who drives the No. 44 ORECA 05-Nissan for Manor and Pipo Derani of Tequila Patron ESM, overall co-winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring. All three LMP1 manufacturers (Toyota, Audi and Porsche) will be on hand and the three drivers will get at least 30 laps in each car. – Phil Allaway