Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Ford Fights To The Front
Daytona 500 qualifying saw both Chevy and Toyota take center stage. Owner Rick Hendrick won his fourth straight pole position for the Great American Race, this time with Alex Bowman and the No. 88 while four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas qualified inside the top seven.
Fords, who conducted a 2017 sweep of the plate races seemed an ever-so-slight step behind. But after Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash, the second half of which was a 1-2-3 Team Penske parade they returned with a vengeance. Brad Keselowski was masterful out front, using his younger teammates as blockers and was never seriously challenged down the stretch. He rose up the list of favorites for a Daytona 500 trophy he’s yet to win.
In the end, the Penske cars ran 1-2-4 while leading 44 of 75 laps. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., their Ford partner at Roush Fenway Racing could have joined them inside the top five if not for a controversial yellow line penalty. With handling at a premium, the manufacturer banded together not unlike how Joe Gibbs Racing dominated the Daytona 500 in 2016. That strategy paid off and don’t be surprised if it pops up again during Thursday’s 150-mile qualifying races.
Meanwhile, early leader Chase Elliott, as we’ve seen all too often early in his Daytona career saw a promising start fizzle down the stretch for Chevrolet. The Toyotas couldn’t seem to pack a punch despite showing great practice speed in the draft. No, it was the Fords who had their act together, and after going four-for-four on plate tracks in 2017 (plus a Clash victory then, too) they’re the ones to beat until someone topples them off the mountain. Tom Bowles
Camping World Truck Series: Back in Action at Daytona
This Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series roars back to action with its season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway. Defending champion Christopher Bell moved up to race full-time in the XFINITY Series, and in his place, Todd Gilliland will pilot the No. 4 Toyota full-time once he turns 18 in May. Meanwhile, former champions and veterans Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter remain with ThorSport and GMS Racing, respectively, while leading their own sets of younger drivers.
As of a press time, only 24 teams appear to have made full-time commitments, but the Truck Series is notorious for part-time efforts and last-minute announcements. Despite the seemingly small amount of entries at this time, it’s likely that by the time Friday rolls around there will be plenty of trucks to make up a full field. Whatever the count, you can bet their 250-mile season debut will be a race worth waiting for. Beth Lunkenheimer
NHRA: 2018 Season Officially Underway
Everyone wants to get a new race season off to a good start and for the teams and drivers of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, that opportunity came this weekend at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, the traditional season-opening race. That good start goes to Top Fuel pilot Doug Kalitta, Funny Car racer Matt Hagan, and Pro Stock’s defending series champion Bo Butner.
Kalitta faced off against his longtime rival Tony Schumacher and took the win with a 3.779-second, 324.28 mph effort while Schumacher had an engine let go at half-track. Kalitta also defeated Richie Crampton, Scott Palmer, and Clay Millican in earlier rounds of competition.
In Funny Car, Matt Hagan, the defending event winner, took on defending series champion Robert Hight and bested Hight with a 3.823-second, 335.90 mph run to Hight’s 3.866-second, 336.99 mph effort. It was the quickest side-by-side Funny Car race ever.
Pro Stock champion Bo Butner, meanwhile, got his first Winternational victory and seemingly picked up where he left off after last season. Butner faced teammate Jason Line in the finals and put down a run of 6.549 seconds, 209.62 mph to beat Line’s 6.568 seconds, 209.59 mph. Butner raced his way past Tanner Gray, Greg Anderson, and Erica Enders in earlier round competition.
Defending Top Fuel champion Brittany Force bowed out in the first round after a nasty crash. Her dragster lost traction and veered across the track to the left, making hard contact with the left side retaining wall before crossing back to the right side and flipping briefly on its side. Force was conscious and alert but was transported to the hospital. She didn’t suffer any major injuries but does have some bruising of the lungs and will remain overnight at the hospital for observation.
“The car giving way when it hit the wall head-on allowed it to take the impact and fold up (as it was designed to do),” John Force said. “I want to thank Schumacher Racing for creating the canopy (over the driver’s seat). When the car was upside down, you know that protects the driver’s head. I want to personally thank Don Schumacher for his investment (in the canopy program). Very important. Thanks, Don. Safety Safari was right on top of it, as always, that’s why they’re the best in the business.” Toni Montgomery
Sports Cars: The Fernando Alonso Effect
Getting Fernando Alonso to race for Toyota GAZOO Racing was considered to be a big get for the FIA World Endurance Championship. However, it appears that Alonso’s sheer presence can bend the will of the sanctioning body.
The 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship originally had the 6 Hours of Fuji scheduled for Oct. 14. However, that created a conflict with the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Since many WEC drivers also compete in IMSA, the Fuji round was pushed back a week.
Next, Toyota GAZOO Racing signed Alonso to drive its No. 8 Toyota TS050-Hybrid while continuing full-time in Formula 1 for McLaren. The new date for Fuji directly conflicted with the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. While Toyota would have had Anthony Davidson on standby to drive in Alonso’s place, Fuji is far too important of a race for the Japanese manufacturer.
Friday also saw the WEC launch the 2018-19 Super Series by unveiling a revised schedule that moved Fuji back to Oct. 14. The move appears to have been made solely to benefit Alonso and Toyota. Meanwhile, a number of other drivers are now forced to choose between Fuji and Road Atlanta. It is a dangerous slope for the Automobile Club d’Ouest (ACO) to go down going forward. – Phil Allaway