Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Team Orders Lead To Tame Talladega
The final restrictor plate race in NASCAR history at Talladega also proved to be its most, well, restrictive.
There were just 15 lead changes in Sunday’s (Oct. 14) 1000Bulbs.com 500, the fewest in a 500-mile race here since the spring of 1973. A race known for daring passes, three-wide action and death-defying wrecks was a single-file snoozefest for most of its 193-lap distance.
This track, known for first-time and underdog winners still was able to produce one: Aric Almirola earned his first victory since 2014 and just the second of his MENCS career. But the full race itself was one of the worst in the era of plates, a “temporary” experiment to reduce speeds and increase parity that lasted for 30+ years.
How did this once dynamic race become such a disaster? Simple; after years of the Big One, team orders among NASCAR’s top title contenders took center stage. Stewart-Haas Racing produced a masterful (albeit boring) performance, running 1-2-3-4 for much of the race in what became an orchestrated ballet. Each restart, the Fords worked perfectly to slot right behind each other, quickly transforming into a four-car freight train impossible to drive past. The only saving grace was a late wreck and weirdly long caution that caused some drivers to run out of gas (perhaps unfairly). Without it, Kurt Busch would have cruised to victory and their quartet would have finished with a little over two seconds on fifth place.
At Talladega? That’s equivalent to lapping the field.
“I learned,” joked Chase Elliott of SHR’s teamwork, “That we are probably going to race in the Talladega Roval if it continues.”
But to be fair, SHR weren’t the only ones lining up like ducks in a row. Team Penske had their three-car draft on display for much of the afternoon; at one point, the SHR-Penske draft swept all of the top seven spots. Chevy was never truly competitive, leading just eight laps all day while struggling with the handling of their Camaros.
“These things just don’t drive very well anymore,” claimed Austin Dillon. “I feel like everybody is out of control. That’s why you see so much single-file racing. The cars are just all over the place.”
That may be true. But even bad-handling cars drive just a bit better when they go bumper-to-bumper with their teammates in a conga line. It’s exactly what SHR pledged to do, from beginning to end, and it may pay off with all four of their drivers in strong position to make the Round of 8.
“We stayed so committed to each other,” winner Almirola said. “We worked every restart out to where we stayed committed to each other, got in line. It was us against the field.”
It’s that us in an individual sport where it gets tricky. Racing team orders do permeate Formula 1, the type fans there grudgingly accept but drive NASCAR nation absolutely crazy. You can’t blame SHR – they played by the rules – but let’s all be thankful the rules are changing.
That type of competition will empty out the Talladega infield real quick. – Tom Bowles
XFINITY Series: Teams Get Much Needed Weekend Off
Since mid-June, one thing has been constant in NASCAR — the XFINITY Series racing every weekend — 15 consecutive weeks to be exact. While the Cup and Truck series were racing in Talladega, XFINITY had a rare bye week.
For the past three seasons, the series has had a stretch of racing during the season that’s spanned between 15 and 20 weeks of consecutive racing. The longest streak of racing the Cup Series has this year is 12, which it ends with. The Truck Series, while only having 23 races on the schedule, has a season-long stretch of four consecutive races beginning at Martinsville to end the season.
The XFINITY Series drivers, crews and families have faced a grueling schedule in the past few years, though it lightens up with two off-weekends over the final month-and-a-half of the season. With only four races remaining, the series is gearing up toward the sprint to the championship.
Christopher Bell enters the Round of 8 next weekend at Kansas Speedway as the hottest driver in the series, winning two of the last three races. The No. 20 team has 44 playoff points. Meanwhile, Justin Allgaier is just behind with 39 playoff points before there’s a drastic drop-off.
Third through eighth in points is separated by 12 points. Daniel Hemric is seeded third, while Cole Custer and Elliott Sadler enter the round tied for the coveted fourth position. Tyler Reddick enters the round one point behind the cut-line, as Matt Tifft is eight back, Austin Cindric 10.
When action picks up next weekend (Oct. 20) at Kansas, Bell heads in as the odds-on favorite to win the race. Last year, he drove a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to Victory Lane — his first series in victory in then a part-time schedule. – Dustin Albino
Camping World Truck Series: Round of 6 Set in Wild Talladega Race
Sports Cars: Acura Unveils NSX GT3 Evo
Last weekend at Road Atlanta was very busy with announcements. Meyer Shank Racing announced their new, all-female race team for 2019. Road Atlanta announced their new branding deal with Michelin and the replacement of their tower.
Acura got in on the announcement spree as well by unveiling the new Acura NSX GT3 Evo. The NSX GT3 Evo is not necessarily a new car (although it can be sold as such), but really more of a series of revisions to the current car that will allow the car to race more competitively in GT3 classes around the world.
The changes include slightly revised bodywork for better aerodynamics, a new front splitter and rear diffuser. The existing twin turbochargers will be replaced by newer models designed to improve fuel economy and allow the drivers to accelerate more easily.
The goal of all of these revisions (and additional ones revolving around data acquisition and computer software) is to make the car more powerful and quicker. In addition, the developments have also been designed to cut the costs of racing the NSX, making it more attractive to potential buyers. – Phil Allaway
NHRA: Crunch Time Arrives
With the NHRA Carolina Nationals in the books, it’s officially crunch time as just two races remain in the season and in the championship Countdown. Some drivers solidified their leads, while others remain very much in contention.
Steve Torrence once again saw his lead grow over second place Clay Millican, as Millican fell in the second round while Torrence went on to face off against Brittany Force in the finals. Torrence just keeps growing his margin, running 3.703 seconds at 329.67 mph to beat Force’s 3.708 seconds, 329.26 mph. He now leads Millican by 169 points. This is his fourth consecutive victory in four Countdown races and his ninth win on the season.
Funny Car remains a battle. Robert Hight had managed to make a heroic comeback in Texas that saw him pull out to 50 points over J.R. Todd but an early departure for Hight in round two meant that Todd had a chance to catch up. Todd made it to the final round where he faced off against Ron Capps. Capps rode off to the win with a 3.890 second, 331.20 mph run to best Todd’s tire smoking 4.311 seconds at 214.96 mph.
Capps also defeated Dale Creasy Jr., Hight, and Tim Wilkerson to earn his way to the final matchup. He now finds himself third in points, and while Todd was not able to get back to the lead, he did close the margin to just 11 points behind leader Hight.
Tanner Gray just continues to seemingly roll along in Pro Stock, looking unstoppable. Gray rolled right through to the finals where he faced off against Jason Line, the man who finally stopped his romp in the class. Give the win to Line, his career NHRA 50th win, with a 6.531-second, 211.89 mph run to best Gray’s 6.534 seconds, 211.43 mph.
The battle of the bikes this week came down to Matt Smith, who led the points earlier this season, versus Chip Ellis, riding in an R&D role for the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teams. For Smith, it was a golden opportunity to capitalize as championship contenders LE Tonglet and Eddie Krawiec went out in the first and second rounds respectively.
Ellis redlit on the start, giving the very important win to Smith with a 6.830 second, 196.64 mph run. The win also puts Smith back on top of the points with just two events remaining.
“It’s pretty big if you look at the points,” Smith said. “I went up and raced scared in Dallas and didn’t do my job, so I figured I would come here and do my job. All in all, the bike worked great and I just had to do my job. I said it to begin with that if we can win three races in the Countdown I think we can win this championship. We just can’t have another first-round loss and we have to keep going rounds. We’re going to do everything we can to make this dream come true again.”