Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Ford Takes Charge in Atlanta
For Ford, Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway was a throwback to happier times for the manufacturer: Atlanta 2017.
It was in that race, one year ago where Kevin Harvick dominated, leading 292 of 325 laps. But a late caution flag shuffled the field, costing Harvick a shot at the win.
Fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski picked up the slack instead. He scored a Ford win that day in Atlanta; it was one of just two intermediate track victories for the manufacturer last year.
This time, in 2018 Ford kept a nearly untouchable level of pace through 500 miles of Atlanta competition. It led 272 of 325 laps across four drivers, rarely challenged at the front of the field. Ahead of the pack was, once again, Harvick; he led 181 of the laps toward the race victory. The 2017 winner of Keselowski was the only one within striking distance, finishing second, while Clint Bowyer ran a surprising third.
Beating out 2017’s dominator in Toyota is big news. Fighting past the Camry and a new Chevy Camaro body style, Ford has started off 2018 with two straight wins.
“It means a lot, I’m really excited for everyone involved,” Bowyer said. “It’s really cool to have all four Stewart-Haas Fords running good. It feels good to have a podium finish. A step in the right direction and a good start to the season.”
Now, the key is whether these drivers can keep up this early-season momentum. After going two-for-two to start 2017, Ford struggled the rest of the way and didn’t win another 1.5-mile race until Texas in November.
Will Ford be able to ride the performance jump to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this time? Next weekend is a crucial indicator of the manufacturer’s long-term success. – Zach Catanzareti
XFINITY Series: Kevin Harvick Show in Atlanta
It doesn’t matter what the NASCAR series is. When Kevin Harvick is on the entry list in a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he’s the favorite. The 2014 Cup Series champion puts on a clinic, using a distinct line around the bottom of the racetrack to stymie the competition.
Saturday’s XFINITY Series race was the same old story. Harvick started third in Saturday’s Rannai 250 but emerged to the lead just after lap 10. The No. 98 car went on to lead 141 out of the next 151 laps, easing to a four-second win. He cruised to his fifth victory at the track, accomplished with four different teams.
Joey Logano was next in class. Logano ran runner-up at Atlanta for the third consecutive time at AMS, dating back to 2014. Prior to that year, Logano has three consecutive sixth-place efforts at the track.
The XFINITY Series regulars found themselves a level below. That said, Christopher Bell stood out, running inside the top five all afternoon. John Hunter Nemechek also did well, running fourth in his series debut after an impressive comeback. Nemechek cut down a right front tire and went a lap down toward the end of the first stage. However, he fought back and had the speed in the No. 42 Chevrolet to fight through traffic.
The only problem is Harvick made the race a yawner. Can the XFINITY regulars fight back in the coming weeks? Next, the series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first of three straight races on the west coast. But Cup regular Logano is the defending race winner, leading 106 laps en route to the victory last year. – Dustin Albino
NHRA: Underdogs Put On a Show
There was a very good chance of a new first time winner in Top Fuel at the NHRA Arizona Nationals as the semifinal rounds came down to Greg Carillo, who scored his first ever Top Fuel round wins, Scott Palmer, Steve Torrence, and Torrence’s father, Billy, a part-time competitor who runs just a handful of races per year.
It came down to Palmer vs. Steve Torrence in the finals in Phoenix. Give it to Torrence, an eight-time event winner last season who is looking to pick up where he left off. Torrence put down a run of 3.729 seconds at 330.72 mph to best Palmer who had trouble in the final round. Torrence also got by Steve Chrisman, Blake Alexander, and his father, Billy, en route to the finals.
In Funny Car, it came down to a battle of two of the big teams as Courtney Force took on Don Schumacher Racing’s Tommy Johnson, Jr. Force would come away with the win with a 3.834 second, 337.16 mph pass while Johnson lost traction. Force defeated Del Worsham and Matt Hagan in earlier rounds and had a competition solo in the semifinals to make her way to the final round matchup.
In spite of Courtney’s win, John Force Racing also saw a string of unfortunate racing luck continue. Brittany Force was the victim of it in Pomona and in Phoenix, family patriarch John Force found himself making a trip to the hospital after a scary explosion and wreck in the second round. Force suffered an engine explosion that sent his car across the track into the path of competitor Jonnie Lindberg.
The two cars got hooked together by the parachutes and continued into the wall and then back across the track to impact the opposite wall before coming to a stop. Force was transported to the hospital but was released in time to make it back to the track to celebrate the win with daughter Courtney, who would have faced her father in the semifinals.
“This was a great day for John Force Racing,” said John Force. “Brittany came back from a crash at Pomona and won first round and Courtney won Funny Car for Advance Auto Parts. My struggles continue, but I’m a big boy, I’ll fix it.
Pro Stock came down to a battle between Chris McGaha and Jason Line in the finals. Give this one to the always sharp McGaha who edged out Line with a 6.529 second, 211.59 mph pass to Line’s 6.538 seconds at 210.14 mph.
McGaha also raced his way by Tanner Gray, Erica Enders and Alex Laughlin to earn the right to face off with Line. – Toni Montgomery
Camping World Truck Series: Brett Moffitt’s Career Resurrection
Less than three weeks ago, the next chapter in Brett Moffitt’s career began when he signed with Hattori Racing Enterprises to pilot the No. 16 Toyota. This time, though it’s likely he’ll get to finish what’s planned as a full season schedule. Last season, Moffitt made five starts with Red Horse Racing before the organization shut its doors unexpectedly.
Fast forward two races into the 2018 season and he’s got his second career win – the first for HRE. Using a thrilling three-wide pass for the lead, Moffitt led just the final two circuits in an overtime finish Saturday afternoon en route to the win.
Though it’s no surprise to see HRE in Victory Lane, it’s a little shocking it came so soon in 2018. After all, the organization had to scramble to get its equipment ready for this driver change that came so late in the game. With that said, this victory presents an opportunity for Moffitt to take advantage of a chance he’s never had thus far is his career: a shot at winning a NASCAR championship.
Obviously, two races aren’t nearly enough time to call someone a title contender. But the trip to Victory Lane should net Moffitt a spot in the playoffs as long as he can remain consistent throughout the remainder of the regular season schedule. And of course, the addition of another new winning organization can only be good news for the long-term health of the series. – Beth Lunkenheimer
Sports Cars: Pirelli World Challenge Introduces the Bronze* Rating
In sports car racing, a constant point of contention in recent years has been driver rankings. Every year, the FIA releases a list of driver ratings that are used in a number of different series all around the world. IMSA uses them in most of its divisions, but it is only mandatory in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
In Pirelli World Challenge, the series only really buckled down on the ratings when it introduced SprintX in 2016. Prior to that, it only had an amateur sub-class in GT.
On Thursday, WC Vision announced it will exercise a driver re-classification option in 2018. What that means is that it will allow FIA silver-rated wheelmen who are approved as self-funded amateurs to compete in the GTA and GTSA subclasses. These drivers will be referred to officially as bronze*-rated drivers.
In SprintX, these bronze*-rated amateurs will be allowed to drive solo in the races, a change from prior rules that required driver changes for every car in the race. In the GTS SprintX events, these solo drivers would have to attach ballast to their cars equal to 2.5 percent of their car’s weight. – Phil Allaway