Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Fab Foursome Keep On Rising
Road courses are supposed to be different. These right-turn tracks bring out the best in drivers who don’t have a chance to win anywhere else. AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose and Jeremy Clements in NASCAR’s XFINITY Series are just a few of the recent success stories we’ve seen break through.
But not this year. In a run of dominance we haven’t seen in at least a decade Kevin Harvick, Sunday’s (June 24) winner Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Michigan winner Clint Bowyer are simply a level above. You could make it a figure eight track, add eight more stages and still you’d see this quartet pull away from the field. Road courses did nothing to bring others up to that level of competition.
In fact, if it wasn’t for pit strategy, catapulting Chase Elliott inside the top five this group would have run 1-2-3-4. At one point, with 20 laps remaining they had 15! seconds or more on the rest of the field.
Who has the edge among this group has bounced around for the past month or two. Right now, it’s Truex in control as a daring call by crew chief Cole Pearn to “fake out” Harvick led to successful Sonoma strategy. The No. 78 team has won two of the last three; the reigning champs are going to be hard to beat in crunch time.
But for fans, it doesn’t much matter. Those who love this quartet are enjoying the private battle they’re waging amongst each other every week. Everyone else? Well, there wasn’t much to offer, especially for a FOX TV broadcast that puts a heavy focus on following the leaders. Allmendinger could have maybe thrown a wrench into things but a missed shift led to a blown engine and… well, that was that.
When even Sonoma becomes a playground for this group you wonder if any race is safe. Will even Daytona be a place these four can somehow pull away? The restrictor plate is supposed to make it impossible but from what we’ve seen this year, you can’t put it past them. – Tom Bowles
World of Outlaws Sprint Cars: Tragedy Strikes Jason Johnson
During the A-Main at Beaver Dam Raceway in Wisconsin Saturday night, Jason Johnson’s Sprint Car catapulted over the outside wall entering turn 3 on the first lap. The car contacted a billboard outside the track before coming to rest outside of the facility and out of view of the main grandstand. Johnson was transported to a local hospital, where his family tweeted that he survived the flight and was still with us Saturday night.
Unfortunately, on Sunday morning, Johnson lost the battle for his life and was pronounced dead. It is a stark reminder that, even though safety has advanced by leaps and bounds since the loss of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, racing is still a dangerous and potentially deadly sport. The racing community has come together in sadness over the loss, including Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who once partnered with Johnson on a race team.
Won some races, and championships together. Jason was a great leader for his team and strong man for his family. He went about things his own way and was really fun to watch. Still praying for Bobbi Jaxx Phillip and the rest of the family. Racing is their life. RIP Jason!! pic.twitter.com/6tGfFKcDf1
— Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (@StenhouseJr) June 24, 2018
Frontstretch sends prayers to the family, race team, friends and fans of Johnson during their time of grief. Johnson was 41 and leaves behind his wife, Bobbi, son Jaxx, his parents and plenty of extended family. – Mike Neff
XFINITY Series: Gearing Up for Summer Stretch
Four months into the 2018 season, the summer solstice has come and gone. To date, the XFINITY Series has had five off weekends. However, teams are enjoying this one most of all because upon returning to the track this Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway, the series has 15 consecutive weeks of racing.
Maybe it’s not as brutal as last year when the series had 20 straight weeks of competition, but 15 weeks is longer than any stretch of racing the Cup Series has.
Looking at the season to date, Elliott Sadler is the championship leader. Until Michigan International Speedway, the No. 1 team had finished in the top 10 in the opening 12 races of the season. But with Sadler’s back-to-back finishes of 28th or worse, Cole Custer has trimmed the lead down to four markers, though Sadler still boasts the best average finish of 8.2.
Also, as the series heads to the Midwest, Kaz Grala‘s future is uncertain. After departing from JGL Racing in early May, he joined FURY Race Cars and used all the money NETTS provided for the season over the last four races. Currently, the rookie driver is tied for 14th on the playoff grid, 26 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the last playoff position. – Dustin Albino
Camping World Truck Series: Justin Haley Bests Johnny Sauter for 1st Career Win
Justin Haley led just seven laps Saturday night at Gateway Motorsports Park to score his first career victory. Haley was chasing down then-leader Noah Gragson when the caution flew inside 10 laps to go, setting up a restart with Haley and Gragson side by side. When the green flag flew, Gragson’s flat tire caused him to slide up the track and back to seventh, allowing Haley to pull ahead.
What looked like clear sailing to the win ended when Ben Rhodes stalled on the access road and needed a push back to pit road. When the caution flew with just six laps remaining, Kevin Bellicourt, Haley’s crew chief visibly showed his frustration, pounding his fist on the pit box.
That yellow set up a two-lap dash to the finish that put Haley alongside teammate and veteran Johnny Sauter for the final restart. But the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet hit his marks and set sail to his first career win.
“I’ve been dreaming of this since I was a little kid,” an emotional Haley said. “Every time you start doubting yourself, you need a situation like this to come along. I’m about to cry; this is amazing. I raced my heart out. This is all I’ve worked for my whole life.”
First-time winners are always fun because you can see the pure emotion coming from their Victory Lane visits. Haley was wiping away tears and shaking as he gave his interview to FOX Sports 1. Now that he has that first win, it will be fun to watch what he can do without putting as much pressure on himself to get to Victory Lane. – Beth Lunkenheimer
Verizon IndyCar Series: Newgarden Dominates Kohler Grand Prix at Road America
Josef Newgarden started from the pole, led 53 of 55 laps and earned his third win of the IndyCar season on Sunday. The 2017 series champion has now visited the winner’s circle at Phoenix, Barber Motorsports Park and Road America. This victory marked the 10th of his career in the series.
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second after starting third, running near the front all day. Scott Dixon rounded out the podium after Alexander Rossi had an extended pit stop for a left front suspension issue. Rossi ended up 16th after appearing to be a surefire podium contender.
Indy 500 winner Will Power had issues right from the start. Before the green flag even waved, he was reporting trouble while warming up the brakes on the parade laps. When the green flew, he couldn’t get up to speed and 21 cars passed him as they went down the frontstretch and into turn 1.
Power finished 23rd and fell to fifth in the standings. Dixon now leads the championship by 45 points over Hunter-Reay and Rossi with seven events left on the schedule. – John Haverlin
NHRA: Top Fuel Crowns 105th Different Winner in Norwalk
NHRA’s Top Fuel class has now as 105 different drivers win in its history as Blake Alexander took home the Wally at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals from Norwalk, Ohio, this weekend.
Alexander faced off against Terry McMillen, himself a recent addition to that winner’s list, and put down a pass of 4.011 seconds at 297.81 mph to beat McMillen’s 4.155 second, 289.20 mph run, and earn his first Top Fuel victory. Alexander also defeated Antron Brown, Tony Schumacher and Leah Pritchett en route to the finals.
“It felt really good,” said Alexander. “I got a little emotional because I’ve tried to do this my whole life. I’ve come close but have lost sponsors, thought I was never going to drive the car again and basically we have gone through everything to climb back to the top.”
Team Owner Don Schumacher, who saw all of his Top Fuel entries fall to Alexander, was likely more pleased with the results of the Funny Car class. DSR driver Matt Hagan picked up the win, running 4.094 seconds at 288.21 mph to defeat Courtney Force, who ran 4.220 seconds at 227.54 mph to end up in the runner-up spot. Force still maintains the Funny Car points lead.
Hagan beat fellow DSR drivers Tommy Johnson Jr. and Jack Beckman as well as J.R. Todd in earlier rounds.
Pro Stock went to Tanner Gray, with a 6.615 second, 209.62 mph run beating Erica Enders, who posted a 6.608 seconds, 208.30 mph run. This is Gray’s third victory of 2018. Gray also got by Chris McGaha, Matt Hartford and Drew Skillman in earlier round competition.
Eddie Krawiec also earned his third win of the season in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. Krawiec recorded a 6.923 second, 195.05 mph run to defeat Jerry Savoie’s 7.071 seconds at 175.39 mph. He also defeated Cory Reed, Angelle Sampey, and LE Tonglet en route to the finals. – Toni Montgomery
Sports Cars: Pirelli World Challenge Officiating in Focus at Road America
Last weekend’s Pirelli World Challenge action at Road America was plagued by a number of questionable officiating calls that seemed to be unclear. In addition, the races saw a lot of contact.
Qualifying on Saturday morning saw two GTS drivers (James Sofronas and Mike Hedlund) lose their best lap due to track limit violations in turn 14. GTS teams were ultimately limited to one flying lap in qualifying due to a big crash for George Kurtz that brought out a red flag and ended the session early.
Hedlund’s issue was that during the drivers’ meeting (which, unlike in NASCAR, is not open to the public), these shots were shown on the PowerPoint presentation to indicate what was allowable.
This is LITERALLY what we were shown in the drivers meeting. On the painted curb surface is ok, over the painted curb surface is violation of track limits. Multiple cars had their laps taken away for being on the painted curb (with photo evidence) in the last corner. #PWC #SRO pic.twitter.com/MFiZwKm0YF
— Mike Hedlund (@mike_hedlund) June 23, 2018
Saturday’s race saw a number of blocking maneuvers and on-track incidents. As a result, Pirelli World Challenge officials took the unusual step of having a second drivers’ meeting last weekend to reiterate rules and indicate that they were going to crack down on some of the more blatant maneuvers. The reasoning given was if they did so, it would ultimately make the series cheaper to race in since teams wouldn’t be repairing wrecked race cars quite as much.
Sunday’s race was cleaner but still saw a couple of incidents. Daniel Mancinelli was given a stern warning, described on the stream of the race as his “one and only warning” for blocking when he ran Scott Hargrove off the road on the first lap, but no in-race penalties were assessed.
Is that progress? It’s hard to tell. The next PWC race is in three weeks at Portland International Raceway and we’ll have to wait and see what the officiating is like there. – Phil Allaway
FORMULA 1: DID SEBASTIAN VETTEL’S ERROR PUT LEWIS HAMILTON ON CRUISE CONTROL?
For Lewis Hamilton, his victory at this weekend’s French Grand Prix might have been the easiest of his career. Looking for his fifth world title, Hamilton was boosted when Sebastian Vettel produced a crucial lap one error. The German struck Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, on the opening lap, spinning the Finn around which also damaged Vettel’s front wing.
Vettel, like Bottas, who had to pit when he punctured his left rear tire in the incident, had to return to the pits to repair his damage. The F1 veteran knew that he had to face an uphill battle by passing most of the grid before taking on the front-runners.
Vettel made a great attempt in doing so, but in the process could only get as close as fifth, when his tires, which had worn out by this time, could no longer challenge the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo or Hamilton. Even teammate Kimi Raikkonen had the faster car, passing Vettel and moving up to take a consolation prize of third place.
Hamilton was never challenged all day and pitted just once for tires. Raikkonen briefly held the top spot before giving it up when the Finn, as well, had to pit for a tire change.
Kevin Magnussen continued to improve, holding off a challenge by Bottas and finishing sixth. The home crowd, which included a good section of fans dressed in yellow bearing the Renault Sport team, were not disappointed, seeing both Carlos Sainz Jr. and Nico Hulkenberg run inside the top 10. Even the Sauber team left pleased with its performance; Charles LeClerc came home in the last point position (10th).
With Hamilton now leading in the championship by 14 points, can Vettel recover? The German is known to have trouble in the middle of the season, while Hamilton gains strength. But there are a lot of races coming up. Austria is next week and, right after that, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Vettel must realize making any more mistakes might lose him the title that he really wants. – Mark Gero
ARCA: CREED CAPTURES GATEWAY VICTORY
A return to the superspeedways marked a return to dominance for Sheldon Creed, who picked up right from where he left off in Michigan two weeks ago by winning the pole, leading more than two thirds of the race and driving away from the field on lap 81 to score his second win of the 2018 ARCA season in the PapaNicholas Coffee 150. Creed’s run capped another stranglehold run for the powerhouse MDM Motorsports team, with Creed, Chase Purdy and Harrison Burton sweeping the podium positions. Christian Eckes and Riley Herbst rounded out the top-five finishers.
ARCA’s first race at Gateway Motorsports Park since 2007 found it hard to pass for much of the evening, as a recent repave narrowed the already narrow groove on the track’s low-banked corners. However, as the race went along, several drivers at the top of the field found grip on the higher side of the track, with Gus Dean holding off faster cars for much of the final 40-lap run. Dean, along with Burton and Eckes, staged a terrific three-wide battle inside of 30 to go that was the highlight of the evening.
Friday night also marked the return of Ken Schrader to ARCA competition for the first time since 2016; he finished in 11th, the last car on the lead lap. – Bryan Keith