Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Bristol Is Back…. And Broke the Back of NASCAR’s Big 3
So much column space has been spent on Bristol Motor Speedway’s reconfiguration. There’s been the old bump ‘n’ run Bristol, the new track with progressive banking and this current edition we have that attempts to be a combination of both.
But no matter which Bristol you like, it was hard to ignore the palpable energy being felt from the crowd Saturday night (Aug. 18). For the past few years, what was a can’t-miss night race has been rebuilding momentum and Kurt Busch’s win served as the latest chapter.
Overall, there were 19 lead changes, easily the most at a short track this season. Most of them occurred under green-flag conditions as a wide variety of drivers spent time at the front. But you know who was missing from that list of nine men? (Mostly) NASCAR’s dominant trio of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.
Those three spent time shooting themselves in the foot or simply creating their own drama with one another. What’s funny is that the three of them, combined may have had the three fastest cars. But Kyle Busch caused a 15-car crash on Lap 2, spent all night battling back only to make contact with Truex and wreck again. A third spin late in the race gave him the 20th-place finish even he said the team likely deserved with all the chaos. (What’s that about Bristol not having any more contact?)
Truex, seeking a first short track win, had his night ruined by his Toyota teammate and pseudo-championship contender. And Harvick, whose car quietly had winning speed suffered through an unscheduled green-flag pit stop. A lost battle with Busch during his comeback then left the No. 4 car a lap down until it was far too late. (By the way, did you see Harvick nearly unlap himself under green despite starting behind all those lead-lap cars on a restart? He was right behind Busch when contact with the No. 78 ended that miraculous effort.)
All those errors left the door wide open and Kurt Busch was more than happy to take it. An exciting series of late restarts saw him prevail over Clint Bowyer in a hard-fought ending. Heck, just one look at Busch’s hair after the race showed us how much these guys were on edge during this 500 lapper.
I don’t think, long-term, that Busch’s win makes him a title contender. 2019 plans (and his lack of them at Stewart-Haas Racing right now) will serve as too much of a distraction. But it’s nice to know that the Big 3, every once in awhile, can be beatable under the right circumstances. They’ve lost two of the last three races, giving hope to others heading into the final MENCS off week. –Tom Bowles
XFINITY Series: Kyle Larson Wins Short Track Thriller
Kyle Larson had a dominating performance Friday night at Bristol, but he worked for it.
Kyle Busch jumped out to a huge lead in the opening stage, lapping up to 11th position. However, on lap 65, the No. 18 car smacked the wall in Turns 1 and 2. Less than five laps later, he was back in the wall, though this time a part broke in the right front tire, ending Busch’s shot at a victory.
Larson took charge, though he engaged in a frantic battle with Christopher Bell through lapped traffic. The pair of dirt drivers explained after the race that it was the first time in NASCAR they got to battle for a win.
Following a late-race caution, Larson had to hold off Bell on a restart for his fourth win in six XFINITY starts this season. Despite only running in six races this year, the Bristol winner leads the series with 525 laps led after adding 202 to his total in the Food City 300.
With four races remaining until the regular season ends, Bell holds a 13-point lead over Justin Allgaier for an additional 15 playoff points. Elliott Sadler is 17 markers behind Bell, while Cole Custer (19 back) and Daniel Hemric (42 back) all have a shot at the regular season title. – Dustin Albino
Camping World Truck Series: John Hunter Nemechek Snake-bitten Again
John Hunter Nemechek clearly had the truck to beat at Bristol Motor Speedway Thursday night (Aug. 16), leading 104 of 200 laps. With just a handful of laps remaining, that potential race-winning run ended when his truck slowed with some sort of a motor problem. Though he managed to keep running and walked away with a third-place finish, it wasn’t the result the No. 8 team had been looking for.
At a loss for words. We put on a clinic tonight, led a ton of laps! Had motor issues at the end of the race while leading and came home 3rd. Another one that slipped away! Learn from it and get better! Looking forward to the future. #nemechek42
— John Hunter Nemechek (@JHNemechek) August 17, 2018
I’m running out of things to say about @JHNemechek “luck”. Kid has driven within laps of more wins than I can remember now this year.
— Josh Wise (@Josh_Wise) August 17, 2018
It’s not the first time Nemechek has been plagued by bad luck this season either.
At Iowa Speedway, he was an innocent victim when Matt Crafton cut a tire after contact with Stewart Friesen. He was out on the spot and left with a disappointing 27th-place finish. In the following race at Gateway Motorsports Park, a sudden oil leak ended Nemechek’s run and took out Justin Fontaine and Tate Fogleman in the process. The culprit? Debris.
— John Hunter Nemechek (@JHNemechek) June 24, 2018
Fast forward to Chicagoland Speedway when Nemechek once again had the field covered, leading a race-high 64 laps, including 61 of the final 77. But when he and eventual winner Brett Moffitt took the white flag, Nemechek slowed dramatically and told his team the motor was blowing up. As it turned out, the fueler didn’t get enough gas in the truck and he simply ran out, leaving Nemechek with a seventh-place finish.
John Hunter Nemechek and the No. 8 team simply ran out of gas. pic.twitter.com/WAILQHRWN0
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 30, 2018
That’s not to say he would have won each of those races where he was hit with some sort of bad luck, but Nemechek has shown some tremendous speed, despite being a low-budget team and could easily have at least three victories this season. Instead, he has the lone win in the snow-delayed race at Martinsville in March.
The team hasn’t revealed just which races he’ll run in for the remainder of the season, but if Nemechek can shake this bad luck he’s faced recently, you can bet he’ll be a threat to win at least once more before the year is over. – Beth Lunkenheimer
NHRA: If You’re Going to Have Fast in Your Name…
IndyCar Series: Pocono Offers A Day For the Memory Bank
The ABC Supply 500 was a tough race to predict for the Verizon IndyCar Series. From one of the wildest accidents in recent memory to a 189-lap caution-free remainder, it was a day of unknowns for drivers, teams and fans.
It kicked off with Spencer Pigot spinning before the drop of the green flag back in the field. The incident not only delayed Pigot’s day but damaged Graham Rahal‘s front wing but also caused a bit of a controversy between Scott Dixon and pole-sitter Will Power, who Dixon believed jumped the restart, in turn, causing the accident.
However, speed telemetry courtesy of Team Penske proved Power kept a consistent pace until the green flag waved. You can’t fake that proof.
You also couldn’t fake the speed of another guy: Alexander Rossi. The sophomore American stormed to the lead off the start and nearly led the rest of the day for Andretti Autosport. In fact, he led 450 of 500 miles (180 of 200 laps) toward the most dominating run of his career. He gained 17 valuable points on point leader Dixon with three rounds remaining in 2018.
Though it was quite a day for Rossi’s memory bank, the minds of most in Pocono stayed on Robert Wickens, who suffered an almighty accident in Turn 2 on Lap 7. His No. 6 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports No. 6 made contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay and was launched into the catch fence, spinning his chassis like a top.
Even when the race resumed after nearly two hours of clean-up, the mood of the day had changed for the good. But thankfully, it ended with the news of Wickens’ condition: Awake and alert at the infield medical center before being admitted to local hospital for orthopedic injuries. – Zach Catanzareti
ARCA Series: Eckes Triumph on Dirt
Just like at Salem, Christian Eckes was a contender, but not the dominant car for much of the day. Just like Salem, Eckes got better and better on restarts as the race went on. And just like Salem, Eckes was able to hold off the dominant car from the final restart on, this time keeping Sheldon Creed (and teammate Logan Seavey) at bay long enough to win in overtime at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, scoring his second win of the ARCA season. Creed, Seavey, Travis Braden and local favorite Ryan Unzicker rounded out the top 5.
While Eckes deservedly took the trophy Sunday afternoon in chamber of commerce weather conditions, it was points leader Creed who may remember this day longer. Creed won practice and led large portions of Sunday’s race after driving 11 hours in a rental car from Dallas to be in Springfield after weather conditions canceled his flight on Saturday. More importantly, Creed’s result also came as teammate Zane Smith saw a strong run go up in smoke when his engine overheated around Lap 44. Though the No. 41 team made multiple stops and even got a free pass in dealing with the overheated engine, Smith parked for good around lap 60, finishing 17th and watching any title hopes he had disappear in a cloud of dust.
Creed leaves Springfield with a seemingly insurmountable points lead heading (back) to the Berlin Raceway for a rescheduled event. Last year’s winning crew chief Kelly Kovski returned to ARCA competition for the first time since 2016 and finished eighth, with 2008 ARCA champion Justin Allgaier supporting him from the track. – Bryan Davis Keith
Sports Cars: FIA World Endurance Championship Announces Provisional 2019-2020 Schedule
On Friday afternoon, officials from the ACO (Automobile Club d’Ouest) announced the provisional schedule for the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship. This will be the first regular length winter-based schedule for the series.
There will be eight races on the schedule, starting on Labor Day weekend at Silverstone in the United Kingdom. There will be a six-week break before a Far East swing at Fuji in Japan, then Shanghai in China. Bahrain returns to the schedule in December, followed by a return visit to Interlagos in Brazil in February.
The WEC will also race at Sebring International Raceway in March of 2020, but the exact date is currently undecided. That’s mostly due to the fact that it will be nearly a full year before the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be released. The season will finish out with Spa and Le Mans. Le Mans will once again be worth double points.
In addition to the returning venues, the main difference on the schedule is changeable race lengths. The only current season races that aren’t six hours are Sebring (1000 miles) and Le Mans (24 hours). In the 2019-2020 season, there will be two four-hour races (Silverstone and Shanghai) and a second eight hour race (Bahrain). – Phil Allaway