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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Stenhouse Jr. Cashes In, Aric Almirola Surprises And Thomas Curley Passes On

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Career Weekend for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

It’s been a long time coming. There was a time it didn’t even look possible. But Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finally crossed the finish line first Sunday, capturing his first Cup victory in 158 career starts at Talladega Superspeedway.

Stenhouse started the day out front, pacing the first 13 circuits, before leading the most important one at the end. His day wasn’t all that easy, especially in the latter part of the race. With 29 laps to go, the No. 17 car tapped Ryan Blaney, crashing the Cup Series sophomore out of the event. Front end damage made a run to the front look near impossible for Roush Fenway Racing’s best hope.

But after avoiding the 18-car pileup with 20 laps to go, Stenhouse worked his way up to second place for a green-white-checkered finish. That put him in position to win; from there, he passed Kyle Busch on the last lap in a thrilling move that shows how much the fifth-year driver’s confidence has grown.

“You know, I look at our first 150 [starts] or so, and I can only hope that the next 150 are going to be kind of like Joey Logano’s,” he said Sunday night. “He had 300 races, the first 150 weren’t great, the next 150 were.  Hopefully this is a start of that.”

Stenhouse, earning his first victory in his fifth full season of Cup competition has reason to be hopeful. Roush Fenway Racing as a whole has picked up its performance from previous seasons, using better engineering and financial decisions to push forward. Heading into Kansas Speedway, Stenhouse is all-but-guaranteed a spot in the playoffs; teammate Trevor Bayne sits on the bubble in 16th, one point ahead of Aric Almirola. For a while, it looked like the No. 6 car was going to be a factor in Sunday’s event, pacing the field for five laps before the “Big One” ended his day.

That’s a long way from past seasons at RFR; consider Stenhouse was rumored to be out of this ride little more than one year ago. Now, could the two-time XFINITY Series champ finally be back on the road to stardom? – Dustin Albino 

XFINITY Series: Eight is Great for Elliott Sadler

Despite its image, Talladega Superspeedway was not a streak-breaker for Elliott Sadler. Coming home in second place during Saturday’s Sparks Energy 300, the veteran racer grabbed his eighth consecutive top-10 finish in the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series season.

It’s that consistency putting the 42-year-old veteran into the championship lead for a seventh straight weekend heading into the summer stretch. The JR Motorsports driver has earned the most top-fives (four), most top 10s (eight) and by far the best average finish (8.0 to the next best driver’s 12.3). His point lead remains a healthy 29 over Justin Allgaier.

However, a trip to Victory Lane remains the missing link for the No. 1 Chevrolet. Saturday saw Sadler up front on the last lap, but he couldn’t get by Cup Series regular Aric Almirola to take the win. Almirola’s second restrictor plate triumph in the series left Sadler with another second-place result.

Only series regulars Justin Allgaier and Ryan Reed have scored wins this season, putting Sadler in solid shape for a playoff spot. But while the Victory Lane drought is certainly frustrating, Sadler has to be happy with overall performance. When a top-10 streak survives the unpredictability of a plate race you know you’ve got both speed and luck on your side. – Zach Catanzareti

Sports Cars: A Nasty First Lap

Saturday’s Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown at Circuit of the Americas was marred by a series of incidents on the first lap.  Risi Competizione’s Giancarlo Fisichella spun after contact from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dirk Müller.  Fisichella was then hit by the No. 67 Ford of Ryan Briscoe, breaking the right rear suspension.  Fisichella was then hit by the No. 4 Corvette of Tommy Milner, who was struck by the No. 912 Porsche of Wolf Henzler.

In addition, the No. 2 Nissan DPi of Scott Sharp was spun out a couple of corners later.  The full course yellow was displayed very quickly.

Fisichella was able to drive the No. 62 back to the pits, but could not continue afterwards.  The team has completed just one lap in the last two races. The No. 912 Porsche also retired early, a true disappointment for Henzler and Co.

The No. 4 Corvette and No. 67 Ford spent time behind the wall for repairs, but ultimately finished laps off the pace.  As for the No. 2 Nissan, it kept going after the spin but caught fire in the final minutes.

That left Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. of Jordan and Ricky Taylor up front and with limited competition. They led flag-to-flag to take their fourth straight victory in the series.  Meanwhile, the No. 3 Corvette of Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen won GT Le Mans despite a fire on Thursday afternoon.  – Phil Allaway

NHRA: Doubling Up

The results from the Lucas Oil NHRA Southern Nationals are nearly a mirror of those from the Four-Wide Nationals a week earlier. Steve Torrence in Top Fuel, Ron Capps in Funny Car, and LE Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle once again stood upon the winner’s stage at the end of the day. Only Bo Butner in Pro Stock changed things up a bit.

Torrence took on Tony Schumacher in the Top Fuel finals. Schumacher, the winningest driver in the series, has never done so at Atlanta and he’ll have to wait another year to try again. Torrence’s 3.745 seconds at 320.81 mph was enough to score first place after Schumacher lost traction and posted a 4.061-second, 243.28 mph losing effort.

NHRA 2017 Charlotte Ron Capps Funny Car Winner credit Toni Montgomery
Ron Capps just keeps earning more trophies this season in NHRA. (Photo: Toni Montgomery)

“The racecar I have right now is the best racecar that I’ve ever had in my life,” Torrence said. “My driving is showing that I’m confident in it. The continuity of my team has what it takes to win championships. We’ve got a chip on our shoulder and a point to prove.”

Torrence also got by Smax Smith, Shawn Langdon, and Leah Pritchett en route to the finals.

Capps is on a serious hot streak, with the win at Atlanta actually making it three in a row going back to Houston. He faced off against Tim Wilkerson and took the win on a holeshot with a 3.991-second, 317.79 mph effort to Wilkerson’s faster but losing 3.978-second, 316.60 mph pass. The difference came in Capps’ .040 reaction time versus Wilkerson’s .110.

“It’s a pinch me moment,” Capps said. “The car speaks for itself lately. This was probably one of the more difficult race tracks to navigate. You really had to be ready for two or three different sets of bumps. It makes for an exciting run but you’re just hoping, at the same time, that your car stays in the groove. Funny Car is just getting tougher and tougher.”

Capps beat J.R. Todd, John Force, and Robert Hight to make his way to the finals.

LE Tonglet in Pro Stock Motorcycle completes the roster of repeat winners from last week. This time, Tonglet took on teammate Jerry Savoie. Savoie had mechanical issues just off the starting line, while Tonglet rode off to record a 6.843-second, 194.35-mph run for the win.

Tonglet had to race his way past Cory Reed, Andrew Hines, and Scotty Pollacheck in earlier rounds.

Switching things up was the Pro Stock division. Butner also broke the streak of different winners in the class this season at six as he became the first repeat winner. He faced off against Erica Enders and put down a run at 6.569 seconds, 211.26 mph to best her effort of 6.593 seconds at 210.97 mph.

Butner defeated Wally Stroupe, Vincent Nobile, and Jeg Coughlin in earlier rounds, meaning he had to run through three members of the Elite Performance camp (including Enders) in order to notch the win. – Toni Montgomery

Short Tracks: Miller and Burton Win K&N East Races, Curley Passes Away

The twin bill at South Boston Speedway on Saturday night saw another new race winner in the K&N Pro Series East and a second win on the year for the point leader.

Race 1 at the historic speedway saw Travis Miller etch his name in the history books with his first ever K&N win. Miller won the race, leading the final 41 laps of the event. He beat Chase Purdy, Todd Gilliland, Dillon Bassett and Harrison Burton to the line for victory.

In the second race, it was a very emotional victory for Burton. At a track where there are grandstands named for his father and uncle, Burton grabbed the trophy and cemented his position atop the point standings after five races. It was Burton’s second triumph of the season. He bested Gilliland, Vinnie Miller, Chase Cabre and Ruben Garcia Jr. Burton leads Gilliland by 18 points in the standings.

On a tragic note, Thomas Curley has passed away, succumbing to complications from COPD. The former head of the NASCAR Northern Tour, which is now K&N Pro Series East, founded the American Canadian Tour. He built it into one of the most successful series in North America. Curley, 73, was also a co-owner of Thunder Road Speedbowl, the home of the Milk Bowl, with Ken Squier. Frontstretch sends condolences to his family, friends and all of short track racing. The racing world has lost a true icon of the sport. – Mike Neff

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