Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: All-Star Race Package Shows Promise
Typically, the All-Star Race held a week ahead of the longest event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, turns into a glorified test session for teams preparing for the Coca-Cola 600. The result is often lackluster action that ultimately fails to live up the hype and energy surrounding the exhibition event. But this year was different.
NASCAR hit teams with a high-downforce, lower-speed setup similar to the one the XFINITY Series used last season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that included restrictor plates, air ducts on the front end and larger spoilers. The result was pack racing, which ultimately tore up more cars than your typical mile-and-a-half track crash, but fans were also treated to side-by-side racing and an ability to race down the leader, who never really pulled out to a substantial margin as is normally seen on the intermediate trcks.
“Tonight’s racing was very aggressive,” winner Kevin Harvick said. “It’s the perfect spot to try stuff like this. The effort the teams put in to make this happen was pretty high. It was brave and bold, but I think when you look at NASCAR racing in five years it will look like this and it all started here.
“I’d really like to make sure we don’t just jump and say that this is the save-all, do-all package. I’d like to see it slowly transformed to point-paying races because I think the preparation level will be a little different for every team in the garage.”
While the package certainly wasn’t perfect, it showed signs of potential future relief for racing on intermediate tracks where aerodynamics normally plague drivers to the point that it’s difficult to catch a driver or make a pass under long green-flag runs. The hope going forward is that the sanctioning body takes what it saw Saturday night and uses it as a jumping off point for potential updates in the near future. The racing Saturday night was promising, but it’s up to NASCAR to determine the best way to make the All-Star Race experiment a reality in the long term. – Beth Lunkenheimer
XFINITY Series: Returning to Racing at Charlotte
After taking a couple weekends off, XFINITY Series drivers return to action this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The last time the series was on-track, Justin Allgaier took the victory in a thrilling win over JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler in the final Dash 4 Cash event.
Sadler still holds a 38-point lead over Tyler Reddick in the championship standings. Christopher Bell sits third, followed by Allgaier and Daniel Hemric, who are tied and round out the top five. Cole Custer is sixth, less than 20 markers ahead of Brandon Jones. Ryan Truex sits eighth in the standings, followed by the currently suspended Spencer Gallagher. Matt Tifft rounds out the top 10. – Beth Lunkenheimer
NHRA: Rain Forces Postponement of Heartland Nationals in Topeka
An eight-hour rain delay, coupled with cooling weather conditions in Topeka, Kansas forced NHRA officials to postpone the remainder of Sunday’s Heartland Nationals to Monday morning. Sportsman drivers will begin at 8 a.m., followed by Pros at 10 a.m. Fans with Sunday tickets may use them Monday, or new admissions may be purchased at the gate. – Beth Lunkenheimer
Camping World Truck Series: Johnny Sauter Continues 2018 Dominance
When the news came out during the 2015 Camping World Truck Series season that Johnny Sauter was on the way out at ThorSport Racing and headed to a largely unproven GMS Racing, many considered it a step back. Obviously, the championship in 2016 silenced those doubters, but fast-forward to this season, and it’s even better for the 40-year-old.
Just seven races into the year, the No. 21 team has already visited Victory Lane three times, and Sauter has a stronghold on the point lead. In fact, an average finish of 4.6 is only that low thanks to a 19th-place result at Martinsville Speedway. Through each of the other six races, Sauter has ended up no worse than fifth. At this rate, he’s on track to score around nine wins this season.
“For me obviously being with an organization for a third year, I’m just really comfortable with what we’ve got going on,” Sauter said about his success so far this season. “GMS is growing as an organization every year and we just keep getting better stuff out of our fab shop. This is a big deal for GMS Fabrication and all the guys. We do all of our own bodies, our own chassis, everything in house. This is a testament to over 100 peoples’ hard work all run by Mr. Beam. I’m just the lucky guy that gets to drive it.”
While the playoff setup can be a wild card, Sauter has more than enough playoff points already, just seven races into the season, to carry him through nearly any hardship during the final eight races of the year. It’s not time to hand him the championship just yet, however, if the rest of the field wants a shot at the title come November, they’re going to have to go through Sauter and GMS Racing to get it. – Beth Lunkenheimer
ARCA Racing Series: Zane Smith Storms to Victory in Toledo
The fans in attendance for Sunday’s ARCA race at Toledo Speedway could be forgiven if they weren’t sure at any point what lap they were watching. And not just because of a blown transformer on Benore Road that left the track without a working scoreboard.
Rather, Zane Smith, who stormed to victory over teammate Chase Purdy inside of 10 laps to go with a three-wide pass of Purdy and a lapped car exiting Turn 2, made a habit of making last-lap moves all through Sunday’s 200 laps. On no less than three occasions did Smith make spectacular shows of passing lapped cars, be it an early move using asphalt from the quarter mile on the frontstretch to get under Brad Smith’s No. 48, or a move worthy of a race win on lap 142 that saw Smith’s No. 41 sideswipe underneath Mike Basham’s lapped No. 34, bounce off then-leader Chandler Smith’s No. 20 and sending the No. 41 to a lead that it seemed would be insurmountable.
That is, until arguably the wildest three laps of the ARCA season to date. In a span of three circuits leading up to the race’s final caution inside of 35 laps to go, the No. 55 of Eddie Fatscher cut a tire but avoided hitting the wall, the No. 18 of Riley Herbst came to a stop on pit road with his second dead battery of the afternoon, Sheldon Creed’s No. 28 cut a right front tire, Natalie Decker’s No. 25 cut a right front tire, and Chandler Smith, running third at the time, cut a tire after visibly hitting debris on the frontstretch.
The ensuing caution sent the leaders (all three of them) to the pits. Though Zane Smith’s No. 41 came out first, Purdy capitalized on a minor slip by the No. 41 on the lap 175 restart to take the point. Like he did all race long, Zane Smith, however, used lapped traffic to his advantage, and after seeing Purdy momentarily get out of the gas exiting turn 2 to avoid the lapped No. 11 of Rick Clifton, Smith went in the middle of three wide and rocketed to his third win of the ARCA Racing Series season. Purdy finished second, followed by Joe Graf Jr, Chandler Smith and Bret Holmes rounding out the top five.
Zane Smith leaves Toledo having taken the points lead from teammate Creed. Chandler Smith in winning the pole on Saturday became the first driver in ARCA Racing Series history to win the pole in each of their first three starts. – Bryan Davis Keith
Sports Cars: Ian James’ Promising Weekend Comes Up Short Due to Penalties
At Canadian Tire Motorsports Park this past weekend, Team Panoz Racing’s Ian James was one of the best GTS drivers all weekend, contending for podium finishes in both races. His chances for a podium Saturday ended when he was penalized for executing a bump n’ run on GMG Racing’s James Sofronas late in the race at Moss Corner.
Compared to what Austin Cindric did to Kaz Grala to win last year’s Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250k in the same turn, this was not that serious. However, the stewards still frowned upon it and forced James (running second at the time) to let Sofronas (running fifth) past. As a result, James pulled over on the final lap and dropped back to fifth. Obviously, such a situation can ruffle some feathers.
SportsCar365.com reports that team manager Tom Milner has been fined by Pirelli World Challenge and banned from interaction with officials for the rest of the season due to inappropriate language toward officials and bad sportsmanship after the penalty on Saturday.
On Sunday, James was every bit as good as Blackdog Speed Shop’s Lawson Aschenbach in the second race. He was able to get past Aschenbach’s Camaro on the start, but Aschenbach took the lead back and held on to win.
James originally finished a close second. Then, he was excluded from the race due to a technical infringement involving a catalytic converter. James was already the better part of a race and a half behind Aschenbach in the Sprint points prior to CTMP and getting nothing from the second race put him in that much more of a hole. – Phil Allaway