Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Team Penske’s Poor Performance
Daytona’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 didn’t move the needle on restrictor plate racing. But for those who love it? The race got your heart pumping for the better part of four hours. There was a first-time winner, Erik Jones, who made a thrilling green-white-checkered pass on Martin Truex Jr. Three-wide, wild racing happened from the beginning of stage two right through to the end of the night. Cinderellas like Michael McDowell, DJ Kennington and Kasey Kahne brought fans to their feet.
For those who hate it? The wrecks made your heart stop – as in nearly have a heart attack. Hard hits for William Byron, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and so many others had you relieved everyone exited their cars OK. The parity of the plates had you screaming glorified entertainment, not incredible competition. And the length of the night, including multiple red flags, had you napping instead of celebrating a thriller that ended with NASCAR Overtime.
So for me, Daytona was simply about those whose seasons may have been altered beyond just those 400 miles. And for that answer, courtesy one ill-timed block by Byron we turn to the total demolition of Team Penske.
This three-car effort was the pre-race favorite, winning Talladega with Logano. It had six-time restrictor plate winner Brad Keselowski and a guy, Ryan Blaney, who led the most laps in February’s Daytona 500. This weekend was their chance to remind everyone Stewart-Haas Racing isn’t the only Ford team that can win.
Some thought there might be a 1-2-3 Team Penske finish. Instead? It was one, two, three times the damage with all cars getting sent to the scrap heap. Hundreds of thousands in bent sheet metal and half the field got wiped out the second Byron and Keselowski made lap 54 contact on the backstretch.
The end result left Keselowski mouthing off. A rookie’s block had him threatening the field in the NASCAR playoffs this fall as suddenly, an invisible man this season found his voice.
“I made the mistake of lifting instead of just driving through him and that’s my fault,” Keselowski said. “I know better than that. I’ve got to wreck more people and then they’ll stop blocking me late and behind like that. We’ll go to Talladega and we’ll wreck everybody that throws a bad block like that.”
It’s the story that’ll still make water cooler talk this week. So what gives? I think this tough talk isn’t all about Byron. Yes, Keselowski’s mad, and keep in mind Penske’s best chance to win this season has been on plate tracks.
But they’ve won just once this season, with Logano while Keselowski and Blaney have been shut out. In fact, Blaney has led the most laps (463) of any driver without a win this year.
And you know who’s winning? That other Ford team, you know, the one that took the “best in show” title from its pseudo-teammates in just 18 months. Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and SHR have been a level above, shutting out their Penske counterparts. Everyone at Ford is playing nice on camera but you can only go so long until the frustration boils over, right? Right now, Penske has turned into Ford’s B team. No one is talking about them making a splash this November at Homestead-Miami.
Did one angry rant just change the narrative and fire Penske up? Keselowski has an immediate chance at redemption: he’s won three of seven MENCS races held at Kentucky Speedway. A victory there reminds everyone he’s fifth in points and still has a chance at another championship. But for now, this Daytona weekend gets marked down as a missed Penske opportunity. We’ll see if that emotion can be channeled into more speed elsewhere. – Tom Bowles
XFINITY Series: Kyle Larson Bests Justin Haley’s Heartbreak
Whenever Kyle Larson has strapped inside a Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR XFINITY Series ride this season, he’s been the driver to beat. On Friday evening, he started from seventh but quickly raced to the front, winning the first two stages.
Stage three was much of the same, as Larson was tied with Ryan Blaney for the most laps led (39) on the evening. On a green-white-checkered restart, his closest competition was Elliott Sadler, with both restarting on the front row. However, it was an elevator move, top-to-bottom from Justin Haley that edged him out front at the finish line in his second career start.
There was just one problem: Haley dipped the left side tires under the double yellow in the tri-oval. NASCAR posted a penalty on the 19-year-old, awarding the win to Larson by .0005 seconds over Sadler. It was the second time at Daytona this season Sadler lost out on a photo finish.
Larson isn’t scheduled to compete in another XFINITY race for the rest of the season. That’s a shame for him considering the dominance when he’s been in the car. In just four starts, he took home three checkered flags and is currently ranked second in the series in laps led, only behind Justin Allgaier. In the other 12 races this season, John Hunter Nemechek has the team’s best finish of fourth at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Heading to Kentucky Speedway next weekend, Sadler recaptured the championship lead, 12 points ahead of Daniel Hemric. Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Allgaier round out the top five. But those XFINITY regulars are certainly relieved they won’t have Larson to contend with for the rest of 2018. – Dustin Albino
Camping World Truck Series: Returning to the Track at Kentucky Speedway
After taking the weekend off while NASCAR’s Cup and XFINITY series were at Daytona International Speedway, the Truck Series returns to the track this Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway. Despite 20 prior races held at the 1.5-mile oval, only one previous winner will be in the field this week. Matt Crafton scored a victory there during the 2015 season.
Johnny Sauter, who has four wins this season, currently holds a commanding 65-point lead over Noah Gragson, who scored his lone 2018 victory at Kansas Speedway in May. Three-time 2018 winner Brett Moffitt sits third, just 20 markers behind Gragson. Meanwhile, Stewart Friesen, who has appeared on the cusp of his first career victory for a good chunk of the season, holds a slim one-point advantage over Grant Enfinger, who rounds out the top five.
Justin Haley, who snagged his first career win at Gateway Motorsports Park sits sixth, followed by two-time series champion Crafton. His ThorSport Racing teammate Ben Rhodes currently holds the eighth and final playoff spot, while Myatt Snider and Cody Coughlin round out the top 10.
Truck Series drivers will have a pair of untelevised practice sessions Thursday morning from 9:05 – 9:55 a.m. ET and 11:05 – 11:55 a.m. ET. Qualifying will run at 5:10 p.m. ET with the race to follow at 7:30 p.m. ET. Both qualifying and the race will be televised on FOX Sports 1. – Beth Lunkenheimer
INDYCAR: James Hinchcliffe Claims Second Iowa Victory
Sunday afternoon, James Hinchcliffe charged from 11th starting spot to run down Josef Newgarden late in the going at Iowa Speedway. With 45 laps to go, Hinchcliffe passed Newgarden and proceeded to extend his advantage until Ed Carpenter spun with seven laps to go and clipped Takuma Sato to bring out a yellow. The race finished under caution, giving Hinchcliffe his first INDYCAR win of the year, second at Iowa and sixth of his career.
On this day, Hinchcliffe and Newgarden were the class of the field. Drivers such as Will Power, Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi simply were not competitive. Power finished a lap down in sixth, while Rossi was two down in ninth and Dixon four down in 12th.
A number of drivers made pit stops during the final yellow, which changed the result. It allowed Spencer Pigot to finish a career-best second, followed by Sato. Newgarden dropped from second to fourth by stopping. Robert Wickens was fifth.
Despite the torrid pace, a significant decrease in downforce as compared to last year made the race much more competitive. Side-by-side racing for position was far more common Sunday than in any previous INDYCAR race at Iowa. – Phil Allaway
NHRA: New England Crowds Enjoy Northeast Swing
NHRA’s annual outing in New England is in the books complete with sellout crowds on both Saturday and Sunday (July 8) for the NHRA New England Nationals from Epping, N.H. Matt Hagan made it two in a row, adding this year’s Wally to the one he won last year, while Steve Torrence won in Top Fuel and Chris McGaha got the victory in Pro Stock.
Hagan made a run of 4.156 seconds at 292.01 mph to best Tim Wilkerson, who ran 4.181 seconds at 287.35 mph. It was Hagan’s third win of the season. He also got by Terry Haddock, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps in earlier rounds.
“We’ve got a good racecar, we were the No. 1 qualifier and this car just continues to go down the track,” said Hagan. “This car is responding well to what (crew chief) Dickie Venables is asking it to do, and that makes my confidence continue to grow.”
Torrence continues to roll in the Top Fuel category, earning his fifth win of the year with a run of 3.909 seconds at 320.74 mph to best Antron Brown’s 3.948 seconds at 315.12 mph. Torrence is the current points leader in the class.
McGaha found himself facing Erica Enders in the Pro Stock final and put down a run of 6.570 seconds at 211.10 mph to defeat Enders, who redlit on the start.
“We knew we needed to be aggressive in the final round against Erica, and we were lucky enough to end up winning that one,” said McGaha. “It’s been a very competitive year in this class so we are happy with any wins we can get.”
In other news, Don Schumacher Racing has announced their long-running sponsorship from the U.S. Army will end after the 2018 season. The Army will be reallocating its marketing budget and will no longer be involved with the race team or the NHRA. DSR is currently pursuing other sponsorship opportunities.
“The U.S. Army has been an incredibly loyal and longtime supporter of NHRA Championship Drag Racing and we are sad to see them go,”said NHRA president Glen Cromwell. “Especially during a time in which NHRA is experiencing so much success.” – Toni Montgomery
ARCA Racing Series: Sheldon Creed Notches 3rd Win at Iowa Speedway
It took numerous aggressive restarts and a tense final 10 laps of mirror driving, but Sheldon Creed rebounded from an extremely tight first run to hold off Chandler Smith at Iowa Speedway Saturday night. Creed scored his third win of the 2018 ARCA Racing Series season and extended his points lead. Chandler Smith, Chase Purdy, Zane Smith and Joe Graf Jr. rounded out the top-five finishers.
Creed, who earlier in the afternoon won the pole (and ended Chandler Smith’s run of four poles in four career starts), struggled through a nearly 60-lap green flag run to open the race. He dropped down to seventh by the time the first caution flag flew for Gus Dean’s backstretch crash. Creed, however, capitalized on strong work by his pit crew and extreme aggression on the restart to retake the race lead around lap 76. A fixture at the front from that point on, Creed took the lead for good around lap 101 and never relinquished it again. Chandler Smith made up considerable ground in the closing laps but couldn’t completely catch up.
Creed extended his points lead over teammate Zane Smith and also put considerable distance on third-place Riley Herbst, who saw a strong practice and qualifying performance derailed on a wreck following a restart around lap 67. Creed leads by nearly a full race on Smith with eight races left on the 2018 calendar. – Bryan Davis Keith
Sports Cars: IMSA Goes Hollywood?
This past weekend, IMSA’s racing at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (CTMP) played host to a new movie that’s being filmed. Actor/producer/former racer Patrick Dempsey has acquired the filming rights to Garth Stein’s book, The Art of Racing in the Rain.
While the story is told from the point of view of a dog named Enzo, the main character is Enzo’s owner, Denny Swift, a race car driver. In the film, he will split time between the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. He’ll also work away from the track. Dempsey was on hand along with racing scene director Jeff Zwart, a director who is a racer in his own right with multiple class victories in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Turner Motorsport entered a BMW M4 GT4 that was run during CTSC practice sessions to gather footage. There was also an unofficial session Thursday that was run in the rain. In addition, Wright Motorsports’ No. 58 Porsche in the IWSC will serve as Swift’s mount in the film. Regular driver Patrick Long raced Sunday with Swift’s helmet design.
— IMSA (@IMSA) July 8, 2018
On the right in the above picture is Milo Ventimiglia, best known for the roles of Jess on Gilmore Girls and Peter on Heroes. Ventimiglia will star as Swift in the film and spent his time at CTMP filming scenes and learning. The movie currently does not have an official release date. – Phil Allaway
Touring Cars: Craig Lowndes to No Longer Race Full-Time Beyond 2018
On Friday morning (July 6), Virgin Australia Supercars Championship veteran Craig Lowndes announced he will retire from full-time racing at the end of the 2018 season. The 44-year-old is technically under contract with Triple Eight Racing through the end of 2019 but has chosen to step away earlier.
For the uninitiated, Lowndes is one of the most decorated racers in the history of Australian touring car racing. He is a three-time champion of what’s now the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, but the most recent of those titles came in 1999. He’s finished second on six other occasions, the most recent of which coming in 2015.
In 652 career starts over 25 seasons (22 full-time), Lowndes has 106 career race victories and 49 round wins, both second all-time to his teammate Jamie Whincup. He has six overall victories in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, tied for third all-time with Larry Perkins and Mark Skaife. Outside of V8 Supercars, Lowndes is a two-time winner of the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
Parker Kligerman probably described this announcement best on Twitter.
Just saw the news that @craiglowndes888 is retiring at the end of the year from @supercars . For all my @NASCAR friends he is Australia’s @JeffGordonWeb imo. It’s odd to see all my childhood heroes retiring around the world. Time is a funny thing, it never stops.
— Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) July 6, 2018
Lowndes was every bit of that, plus he left the series after his first title to race in International Formula 3000 (the predecessor of the current FIA Formula 2 Championship). After a year away, he came back and won another title.
By all indications, Lowndes’ driving career won’t end after the season-ending Coates Hire Newcastle 500 in November. He’ll still likely compete in the endurance events (including Bathurst) for the foreseeable future. – Phil Allaway