Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Rain, Rain, Please Stay?
The fact NASCAR wrested 204 laps out of Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway was a minor miracle. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event was faced with a 90 percent chance of precipitation during the day; the race itself went green nearly half an hour later than its moved-up 1 p.m. start time.
It led to a soggy, sluggish afternoon for fans sitting in the stands. The starts and stops made it difficult to hang in there.
But the racing? When it happened? Oh, was it wet ‘n’ wild.
You had Michael McDowell’s underdog Cinderella story snapped in the first five laps. His wreck snapped up contenders Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger and Ross Chastain. In mere moments, the stage was set for a Thunder Valley race from the 1990s. One false move, one bad corner and your car would be sitting sideways down the straightaway.
We saw that, time and again, in the midst of compelling side-by-side action. A higher level of aggression, weather threatening left drivers running 110 percent from lap one.
Twists and turns were everywhere you looked. There was Ryan Blaney, dominating up front only to get decimated by a wreck. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pirouetted in front of the whole field and somehow emerged without a scratch. The whole field battled a slick track where drizzle left NASCAR on the edge of throwing a caution flag pretty much all day long.
The race stopped with Denny Hamlin flying through the pack, chasing down leader Kyle Larson in what’s sure to be an epic showdown Monday. The energy was palpable from all drivers involved, racing to beat the rain.
In the end, their efforts failed but the racing we saw was a rousing success. It makes you wish Mother Nature could wreak havoc every week without the delays, right? – Tom Bowles
XFINITY Series: Ryan Preece Scores Big in Bristol
Ryan Preece did it again this weekend at Bristol. Earning the win for Joe Gibbs Racing, he’s now got two victories in just seven career races for the team. Last season, it took two starts to find Victory Lane.
This year? It took three. And in the end, Preece is $100,000 richer, cashing in on the sport’s lucrative Dash 4 Cash program.
The XFINITY Series part-timer led 39 laps Saturday afternoon (Apr. 14), holding off Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Elliott Sadler and Spencer Gallagher in crunch time. The victory is JGR’s first of the season, flexing its muscle with what once was the sport’s dominant NXS program.
In this Dash 4 Cash race, the series’ stars had their chance to shine without their Cup counterparts in the field. Two of the top three finishers were Dash 4 Cash eligible.
Preece may have found Victory Lane but it was JGR teammate Brandon Jones who was the most impressive, leading a career-high 106 laps. Over the past two races, he’s led 115 circuits, which is more than his first 76 XFINITY races combined.
Heading to Richmond Raceway, Preece would have qualified for the next Dash 4 Cash. However, his next race isn’t until Daytona during Fourth of July weekend. Instead it’s Allgaier, Hemric, Sadler and Gallagher who will duke it out for the bonus next weekend. – Dustin Albino
Sports Cars: To Crab or Not To Crab, or It’s Never Over Until the Checkered Flag Falls
The finish of Sunday’s Pirelli World Challenge race in the GTA class came down to the final few feet, but not how you would expect it to. Dream Racing Motorsport’s Yuki Harata led the entire race and was running a career-best fourth overall when he was spun out by Martin Fuentes while fighting for the class lead. Harata’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 backed into the tires but quickly recovered.
Just after Fuentes hit Harata, Fuentes was hit from behind by PFAFF Motorsports’ Scott Hargrove. The contact broke a rear suspension part on Fuentes’ Ferrari, resulting in the 488 GT3 taking an unusual stance. Given that there was half a lap to go, Fuentes drove as fast as he possibly could to keep the lead.
However, the Ferrari was visibly wounded and could not keep up. Exiting the hairpin, Harata was able to get a better run off and just pipped Fuentes at the line for his first career GTA victory. The run was still good enough for fifth overall. – Phil Allaway
IndyCar Series: Alexander Rossi Dominates Long Beach, Takes Championship Lead
Alexander Rossi continues to flourish with Andretti Autosport in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Rossi started from the pole, led 71 of 85 laps and won his third career IndyCar race in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He now owns the championship lead by 22 points.
Late in the running, it looked like Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais were Rossi’s greatest threats for the win. However, a caution came out when Zachary Claman DeMelo made contact with the wall and stopped on track. Both Dixon and Bourdais entered pit road just fractions of a second before it was deemed closed for the full course yellow.
The two former champions were penalized for their mistake as Dixon finished 11th and Bourdais 14th. Bourdais was also penalized earlier when he passed Dixon over the blue line where drivers are meant to reenter the race from pit road.
The series heads back east for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park next weekend. Josef Newgarden, who is second in the standings, is the defending race winner. – John Haverlin
Formula One: Is Red Bull Finally Challenging Ferrari and Mercedes?
Victory by Daniel Ricciardo this weekend in China has proved that the Australian has one of two things, or maybe both: pure Aussie grit and a Renault engine that’s beginning to work.
On the other side of the garage, Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate, Max Verstappen, is proving once again that his youth (20 years of age) comes paired with mistakes in the form of aggressive driving. Many figure it will take another few more seasons before his maturity will make him a champion. However, with Verstappen signed up until 2020, Ricciardo is another matter.
It is not only the fact that Ricciardo won with a series of brave moves in China. This victory is also showing the Australian has a bargaining chip to use when his contract runs out at the end of the season.
“I feel like a lot of the time you feel – not obliged to thank the team – but it’s the nice thing to do,” He told Sky Sports. “But I really, sincerely mean it 100 percent with all my heart today. Without them yesterday and without the strategy today we wouldn’t have made it.
“I’m sure the team feels as high as I do right now, and I’m super, super thankful they helped me pull this off today. Just give me the chance to be in a title hunt and I really believe I’ll be able to take it. I guess today was a good example of that.”
If that is believable, then there might be no chance of Ricciardo ever leaving as Red Bull is now trying to close in on both Mercedes and Ferrari. But it will take a little more luck to catch the two best teams.
The squad has been complaining about Renault engines for three seasons now. But with this win and possibly more this year, Red Bull might want to renegotiate with the French team. Honda suddenly seems like a consolation prize (their farm team, Toro Rosso, did not fare well in China). Or, if possible, they can try to dip their experiment even further and try Aston Martin, hoping to roll seven on the craps table.
The engine deal has only a few more weeks of negotiations but they’re coming at the perfect time. Red Bull is improving as Ricciardo will defend his title in two weeks in Azerbaijan.
Another win there and Ricciardo might find himself up for renewal at a high price. – Mark Gero
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