Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Silly Season Shakeups Imminent
It’s been a relatively quiet final off week in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Front Row Motorsports purchased BK Racing in a long-awaited bankruptcy auction. A few more Darlington throwback schemes got revealed; my current favorite is this one for David Ragan honoring Dale Jarrett.
But now, business picks up as the sport looks toward the NASCAR playoffs and, in less than six months, the 2019 Daytona 500. We’ll start to get answers as to who will be whereas Silly Season hits high gear. What was expected to be a slow-paced, scaled-down game of musical chairs has stepped up in recent weeks. Kasey Kahne is retiring, Kurt Busch appears to be leaving the No. 41 and Jamie McMurray’s future remains in doubt.
None of those questions got answered during the off week. But expect some major 2019 decisions to start coming as soon as this weekend’s Southern 500. – Tom Bowles
XFINITY Series: Regular Season Championship Battle Heating Up
The best regular season battle this season has belonged to the XFINITY Series, as five drivers could potentially earn an additional 15 playoff points with three races to go.
With his fourth win on Saturday (Aug. 25) at Road America, Justin Allgaier took over the points lead for the first time this season. Currently, the No. 7 team has 19 playoff points, as the five from his win at Dover in May were stripped because of post-race infractions. But the month of August has been the month of Allgaier with two victories and two third-place finishes.
Christopher Bell, another four-time winner this season, sits second in points, five markers behind Allgaier. Had he not spun with less than 10 laps remaining, the No. 20 team would still be the championship leader. However, Bell had to salvage for a 23rd-place effort, though he earned 16 stage points.
After getting off to a hot start to the 2018 season, Elliott Sadler began to fade during the summer stretch. Meanwhile, a top-five effort at Road America closed the No. 1 team within 12 points of his JR Motorsports teammate for the championship lead. Cole Custer is one-point behind Sadler, making the top four separated by 13 points.
Finally, there’s Daniel Hemric, who has had four finishes outside the top 10 in the past six races, though earning a stage win on Saturday. The No. 21 team chipped nine points off the championship lead, sitting 33 points behind with three races remaining in the regular season.
The final three races of the regular season come at a variety of racetracks on the circuit. First, Darlington Raceway, a place that is so easy to get into the wall. Then there’s the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Cup Series drivers have dominated since the series first race at the track in 2012. The regular season takes the checkered flag at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which is a fast 1.5-mile oval, where anything could possibly happen.
Camping World Truck Series: Justin Haley Strikes First in the Playoffs
Entering this year’s version of the Truck Series playoffs, if you had asked anyone other than the No. 24 team, it’s likely Justin Haley’s name would not have led the list of those who would be the first to strike in the championship battle. But when Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Todd Gilliland and Noah Gragson spun coming out of the final turn at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park Sunday, that’s exactly what happened. Haley emerged through the smoke and powered to his second win of the year.
“We were just in the right place at the right time. I can’t thank everyone at GMS Racing enough; it was a truly blessed day,” Haley said. “This is what we came to do. This is road course racing and now we are really looking forward to Vegas. Mission accomplished.”
Haley is now locked into the Round of 6 and can breathe a bit of a sigh of relief as the series approaches the next two races in this first round at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Matt Crafton and Stewart Friesen find themselves tied for the final two positions above the cutoff line, though they only hold a one-point advantage over Ben Rhodes. Grant Enfinger is the eighth and final playoff driver, who currently sits at 12 markers below the cutoff line for the next round. – Beth Lunkenheimer
Verizon IndyCar Series: Will Powers to Victory at Gateway
Will Power won for the third time this season at Gateway Motorsports Park on Saturday night. It was his first win since the Indianapolis 500.
Power started fourth and led 93 of 248 laps. He passed Alexander Rossi in the closing laps. Rossi, trying to win on a three-stop strategy, came home second. Points leader and pole sitter Scott Dixon finished third.
Rossi failed to make it three consecutive wins, but he managed to cut into Dixon’s title lead once again. He’s now 26 points behind the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. The top four men in the standings each have three wins this year.
Power, Dixon, Rossi, and Josef Newgarden are the series’ “Big Four.” Ryan Hunter-Reay, who entered the night fifth in the standings, suffered a fuel pressure failure and was relegated to a 20th-place finish.
There were only two cautions. One was for Hunter-Reay on lap 172, and the other for Sebastian Bourdais, who crashed on the first lap of the race.
Saturday night’s race was the final oval event of 2018. The remainder of the schedule includes visits to the West Coast. IndyCar will race at Portland International Raceway, which hasn’t hosted an open-wheel event since 2007. The season will conclude at Sonoma Raceway with a double-points finale. -John Haverlin
Formula 1: Halo and Ferrari in the Headlines Leaving Spa
If you ever had a question as to why F1 decided to go with the Halo on the cars for 2018, get a plane ticket, fly to Belgium, jump a couple of fences and look at Charles Leclerc‘s car. Fernando Alonso was sent flying over Leclerc’s cockpit on that scary lap one wreck. Leclerc walked away without a scratch, but his Halo was severely damaged. Who knows what could have happened if this crash occurred last season, especially to one of the most promising F1 drivers Leclerc. While it may not be pretty, it’s the first generation of it and it may get a cosmetic revamp, but from a safety concern, F1 needed driver cockpit safety and the incident showed how necessary the Halo is to Formula One.
Sports Cars: GruppeM Racing Dominates Suzuka 10 Hours
Overnight Saturday night into Sunday morning, the Intercontinental GT Challenge held their third of four races. The race was a mostly clean affair marked by a TV rights dispute that nearly kept North American audiences from watching the event at all until four hours before the start.
HubAuto Corsa’s Nick Foster won the pole in his No. 28 Ferrari 488 GT3 and dominated the first segment of the race. Then, the team was given a drive-through penalty for stalling on the grid prior to the formation lap. That ended the team’s chances at contending.
Beyond the first hour, the race belonged to GruppeM Racing. The trio of Maro Engel, Raffaele Marciello and Tristan Vautier dominated the proceedings in their Mercedes-AMG GT3, only giving up the lead during rounds of pit stops.
Engel, Marciello and Vautier claimed the overall victory by 31.635 seconds over a similar Mercedes for Strakka Racing’s Maximilian Götz, Àlvaro Parente and Lewis Williamson. Two factory supported Audis, one from Absolute Racing and one from Team WRT were third and fourth. These were the only teams on the lead lap at the finish. The Goodsmile Racing Mercedes, notable for running a paint scheme featuring the vocaloid character Hatsune Miku, finished fifth overall, best of the SuperGT teams. The best American team in the race was SunEnergy1 Racing, which finished 10th overall and won the Pro-Am class. – Phil Allaway