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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: RPM’s Banner Day and Minor League Playoff Battles

Sprint Cup: Banner day for Richard Petty Motorsports in Talladega – Talladega Superspeedway has always been open for opportunity for even the smallest of teams in the Sprint Cup Series.

With the weekend starting off with an eyebrow-raising qualifying effort by Premium Motorsports driver Reed Sorenson, it ended with a double-top-10 day for Richard Petty Motorsports, the Ford organization that has failed to reach the top 10 all season.

For rookie driver Brian Scott, the day almost ended in Victory Lane, as the No. 44 driver came home second behind race-winner Joey Logano. Entering Talladega from the 34th position in points, a runner-up result puts a hefty “bright spot” on his struggling 2016 season.

“I think this is by far the brightest spot we’ve had in a really challenging year for Richard Petty Motorsports,” he said. “I’m really proud to deliver a good, solid top 5.”

Additionally, veteran driver Aric Almirola grabbed his first top-10 finish since Phoenix in November 2015. The No. 43 driver exits ‘Dega 26th in driver points.

With their best day in a long time behind them, it’ll be a story worth following if RPM can continue the much-needed momentum into the final four races of 2016. – Zach Catanzareti

XFINITY Series: Points still important in the Round of 8 – Rule changes may be coming to the XFINITY Series in the near future.  NASCAR could be considering placing restrictions on when and how often Sprint Cup drivers compete in NXS races.  For the time being, XFINITY championship hopefuls will still have to contend with Sprint Cup drivers, especially in the next two races.

Trips to Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway will close out the XFINITY Chase Round of 8.  Both of those races are companion events with the Sprint Cup Series, and they will attract a lot of regulars from NASCAR’s top division.  That means that points will be more important than ever for the Chasers, even with the “win and advance” rule.

In fact, third-place Blake Koch is only seven points ahead of sixth place Ryan Reed.  Between those two, Justin Allgaier and Erik Jones are tied for the last transfer spot.  All four drivers will have to tread carefully for the rest of the season.  With so little room for error, even a minor mistake could dash a driver’s championship hopes. – Bryan Gable

Formula 1: Hamilton Awesome in Austin – Lewis Hamilton earned his fifth win in the U.S. Grand Prix and fourth at Circuit of the Americas. Starting from the pole, Hamilton overcame the one issue that has plagued him much of the year, the getaway, and raced away cleanly and never facing a challenge. Championship leader Nico Rosberg launched from the second position and crossed the line in that same position. Daniel Ricciardo had moved into the second position on the start but could not hold off Rosberg’s Mercedes and settled for third.

Ferrari had a disappointing day with Sebastian Vettel only able to take fourth, while a pit stop error with Kimi Raikkonen forced his retirement when he left the pits after the right rear lug nut failed to be secured properly. Fernando Alonso showed that he and his McLaren are not to be forgotten by driving a spirited race and making his way to fifth after an entertaining battle with Felipe Massa and then Carlos Sainz Jr.

In looking at the championship standings, Hamilton made headway in closing the gap to Rosberg, but even if he wins the remaining three races, he has to hope that Rosberg finishes in a position other than third. Basically, Rosberg did just what he needed to do to keep the driver’s championship in his grasp.

For American F1 fans, this race has to be considered a success at a track that had faced concern over whether it would remain on the schedule. Instead, the three day attendance was announced as 260,000, and the Taylor Swift concert held on the COTA grounds had 80,000. To add to the success, Romain Grosjean, driving for the American F1 team Haas-F1, managed a tenth-place finish earning a championship point. – Huston Ladner

Sports Cars: Jota Sport Claims Win, Championship in ELMS Finale – Sunday morning saw the European Le Mans Series hold their season finale, the 4 Hours of Estoril, at the Autodromo do Estoril near Lisbon, Portugal. Somewhat surprisingly, this race turned out to have far more wrecking than the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega. While it did start under something resembling damp conditions, the racing resembled rainy action at times as the event was marked by a series of spins and trips into the various gravel traps, including one incident when former IMSA competitor Mike Guasch clipped some wet grass and spun.

He just so happened to spin into the No. 66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia, which was having transmission problems. The No. 66 was out, but not because of the crash (although it didn’t exactly help things). That triggered the one and only Safety Car of the race. Surprisingly, it didn’t actually rain much until the cool down lap. Then, it poured.

Early on, the two teams to beat were DragonSpeed with their ORECA 05 shared by Nicolas Lapierre, Hedrik Hedman and Ben Hanley and Jota Sport (running with G-Drive backing) with Harry Tincknell, Giedo van der Garde and Simon Dolan sharing a Gibson 015S in its final start. Lapierre led early, then lost the advantage to van der Garde. On the first stop, DragonSpeed (with Hedman now driving after a change) got out first after deciding not to change tires. Hedman then drove off the road just three turns after leaving the pits. A couple of laps later, Jota Sport had already made up the 15 second deficit and took the overall lead.

Ultimately, the early pass held up as Jota Sport took the overall victory by 51.157 seconds over DragonSpeed’s No. 21. They had to charge back from a lap down (they lost approximately two minutes on track to Jota Sport during Hedman’s stint). SMP Racing’s No. 32 BR01-Nissan for Stefano Coletti, Vitaly Petrov and Andreas Wirth was third after Olivier Pla ran into the back of Coletti and spun out with six minutes to go. Electrical issues for the Thiriet by TDS No. 46 forced them into the garage for about a half-hour, resulting in a ninth-place finish in class. That allowed Jota Sport to claim the LMP2 championship.

New LMP2 regulations for 2017 necessitate all-new closed cockpit cars from four approved manufacturers (Onroak Automotive (the Ligier JS P217), ORECA, Dallara and Riley-Multimatic) with a spec Gibson engine that pumps out approximately 600 horsepower. Jota Sport’s Gibson 015S is an open-cockpit car. While certain current LMP2 chassis are legal to race (but won’t be competitive) next season, the Gibson is not one of them. As a result, Sunday was a farewell for the team’s Gibson 015S and it went out on top. – Phil Allaway

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