NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International
Hamlin squeaks out a win in an incident-filled race
Aug. 7, 2016: Denny Hamlin (pictured) arrived at the track Sunday morning with severe muscle spasms in his back – a condition he has had before. It seemed questionable if he would even be able to drive his car in the race. But drive it he did – and somehow he emerged in the lead in the closing laps and went on to win. This was the second win of the season for the Daytona 500 winner.
Joey Logano was another surprise, finishing in second after Martin Truex and Brad Keselowski tangled in the final turn coming to the checker. Keselowski finished in third place while Truex had a disappointing eighth. Kyle Larson looked set for a solid fourth-place finish but, coming into that final turn he changed lines to try to avoid the wreck ahead of him. AJ Allmendinger thought he saw an opportunity but instead he drilled Larson sending him spinning into the Armco just short of the finish line. This left Allmendinger finishing fourth and apologizing to Lawson who was credited with a 29th-place finish, one lap down. Truex was not happy and he slammed into Keselowski’s car several times on the “cooling down” lap. Keselowski for his part made a pro forma apology but that will do little to smooth things over between those two drivers.
Often the story line of a race is straightforward line from qualifying to the race from start to end with the few main contenders for the win coming to the fore early and battling it out to the finish. This race was quite the opposite. The race never really settled into a pattern until the last few laps and before that things were constantly changing. Hamlin did not look like being the winner until he grabbed the lead in a confused restart with just 10 laps to go in the 90-lap race.
Carl Edwards won the pole over Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch. Hamlin was in there in fifth but little noticed behind the other two Joe Gibbs drivers.
The first few laps played out as expected from the qualifying order – until the pit stops began. Two things made for a mixed-up order after that: Many drivers received penalties for speeding on pit road which put them at the back of the field, a position from which it was nearly impossible to recover. Pit stop/refuelling strategies are complicated on a road course and there were many different versions of this with different drivers pitting at much different times. Of the speeding penalties the most significant was to Logano who was penalized for speed on lap 34, just past one-third distance — and he was one who was able to overcome this setback by the end to take his second-place finish. Allmendinger was also penalized on lap 26 but he too was able to make it up by the end to score his ill-begotten fourth place finish.
It started to get wild after the second caution which ended on lap 52. On the very first green-flag lap, Ricky Stenhouse went wide off the Corner 5 loop and came back across the track collecting another three mid-field cars but the track was as good as blocked and they put out the red flag for 13 minutes to give the crews a chance to clean up the mess.
Back to green and another first lap crash, again in Corner 5. This one eliminated the polesitter Edwards’ hopes for a good finish.
By now Hamlin was creeping up towards the front. He got past Kevin Harvick for second on the next restart but coming of the next caution (#5) Kyle Busch got past him to take second behind Keselowski. Then another two cautions. On the restart from what looked like the final caution on lap 81, there was mass confusion in the first turn – the Ninety. Both Keselowski and Busch went way out wide on the paved run-off area and Hamlin came out of the next corner in the lead – ahead of Keselowski and Logano with Busch falling back to fifth. I can’t even figure out where Logano came from – he was off my abbreviated lap chart coming to the flag.
But two laps later, there was another big wreck, this time in the inner loop – bringing out a second red flag with just four laps left to go. After 17 minutes for clean up, the race resumed and ran to the finish with its spectacular last corner crashes and Hamlin emerging as the victor.
Last week I speculated that, given the crop of rising young stars that something had to give to make room for the rising tide of new young talented drivers – and that the most obvious move would be for Furniture Row – a Joe Gibbs-affiliated Toyota team – to add a second full time Cup car for Erik Jones. Well this announcement came faster than I expected it – it was formally confirmed on Sunday morning before the race. Team owner Barney Visser said, “We will get a Charter” for the new No. 77 team for next year.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International
Logano scores one for Penske Racing
Aug. 6, 2016: Penske Racing won the Xfinity car owner’s championship each of the last three years but, coming into Watkins, no Penske car had yet won a race this year. But that all changed at the Glen. The team cars qualified one-two – Joey Logano (pictured) ahead of Brad Keselowski – and they dominated the race until Keselowski had trouble late, leaving Logano to take the checker on his own.
Paul Menard, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez were second, third and fourth after chasing Logano and Keselowski for most of the race.
It was out of character for Kyle Busch when he qualified his Toyota only in fifth. Then, early in the race he went a lap down while repairs were made to his front splitter. But that all went for naught when he was caught up in the “big wreck” on lap 19 of the 82-lap race and was unable to continue.
A bunch of cars mid-field tangled in the esses wrecking eight cars including Busch. The wreckage pretty much blocked the track leading to a 14-minute red flag.
After that the two Penske drivers continued to run at the front along with the other three mentioned above.
Coming off the final caution on lap 56, the order looked set: Logano, Keselowski, Suarez, and Menard with Larson in sixth. Then something weird happened to Keselowski’s car. The rear axle was moving back and forth from side to side as if the track bar was broken. Somehow, he managed to hang on to his second-place position for a couple of laps before he gave in and came into the pits. Surprise – his track bar was broken and he retired.
By that point Larson had worked his way up to fourth behind Suarez and in the final few laps he got past the Mexican to clinch a third-place win behind Logano and Menard.
After their success this week, the Penske team has to be looking forward to the next Xfinity road course race which will be at Mid-Ohio next week on Aug. 13.
IMSA WeatherTech Championship at Road America
Corvettes DPs sweep Prototype class while C7.R wins GTLM
Aug. 7, 2016: The No. 55 Mazda Prototype was the fastest in qualifying and it led for much of the 160-minute race but in the end it was a trio of three Corvette DP prototypes that came home one-two-three to sweep the podium.
The No. 31 Action Express Chevrolet DP driven by Eric Curran and Dane Cameron (pictured) took the honours ahead of their erstwhile teammates Joāo Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 car while the Taylor brothers – Ricky and Jordan – were third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing car.
The other Mazda prototype, the No. 70 Tom Long/Joel Miller car qualified fourth fastest but it retired after only six laps. The No. 55 looked like being the class of the field, consistently lapping faster than the Chevrolet opposition. However, the team passed on a chance to refuel under yellow during the mid-race caution. When they finally had to pit for fuel it handed the advantage to the Chevrolets.
A final caution with only minutes to go set up a race to the finish between the three Corvette DPs, with the No. 31 car holding off the other two.
In GTLM, the No. 67 (Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook) Ford GT held the lead for much of the race but in that final sprint to the checker, Westbrook was run down and passed by Tommy Milner in the Corvette Racing C7.R for the win.
Earlier in the race the No. 67 Ford withstood challenges from the No. 911 Patrick Pilet/Nick Tandy Porsche 911 RSR and the Risi Ferrari 488 GTE (Giancarlo Fisichella/Tony Vilander) but they lost out to the Corvette in the end.
The other Ganassi Ford GT (Joey Hand/Dirk Müller) finished six laps adrift of the class leaders.
The next round of the WeatherTech Championship will be at Virginia International Raceway on Aug. 28.
IMSA Continental Tire Challenge at Road America
The Multimatic Mustang boys win another unexpected victory
Aug 6, 2016: When I talked to Multimatic driver Scott Maxwell before the race at Watkins Glen a month ago, he was pessimistic about the team’s chances to beat the much lighter Porsche Cayman GT4s. And he was right that time – their Mustang came home in fourth behind three Porsches.
At CTMP a week later, he was still pessimistic about the team’s chances going forward but, somehow, they won there. Two weeks later they were at the tiny, tight Lime Rock circuit. Again pessimism. Again a win for the big, heavy Mustang (pictured, leading).
On to Road America. It would seem that this four-mile layout with some really long straights would be the ticket for the powerful Mustangs. But, even the preview blurb on the IMSA website was pessimistic about the Mustang’s chances. Maxwell explained to me that these long straights were followed by tight corners which killed their brakes by mid-race.
Perhaps, not unexpectedly Maxwell was able to put the Mustang on the pole ahead of their points rival the Porsche of Daniel Burkett and Marc Miller by half a second.
Then, as the race played out Billy Johnson, Maxwell’s co-driver was able to chase down the No. 12 Cameron Cassels/Trent Hindman Porsche and regain the lead they had lost earlier in the race. Guy Cosmo, who has not been seen in this series for several years put the No. 64 Porsche into the lead for several laps in the second half of the race, but that was the result of a different pit stop strategy and eventually he had to pit, handing the lead back to Johnson. When Johnson made the third and final pit stop for the Mustang, the No. 99 Charlie Putnam/Charles Espenlaub Aston Martin who were trying to win on fuel mileage went into the lead but, in the end the Aston team had to pit on the white-flag lap letting Johnson sail through for the win by a 13-second margin over the Peter Ludwig/Jeroen Bleekemolen Porsche.
The No. 33 Burkett/Miller Porsche finished sixth letting Maxwell and Johnson extend their points lead in the championship race.
The race had a somewhat spectacular wreck on the first lap. The No. 12 Porsche was overtaking Paul Holton in the No. 76 Mustang when he clipped him on the front corner. This sent the Mustang into the side of the No. 35 Porsche sending them both into the inside wall. The Mustang ended up on its side while the Porsche was completely inverted. Both drivers emerged unscathed but neither car was able to continue.
The next Continental Tire Challenge race will be in three weeks time at Virginia International Raceway on Aug. 27.
Bryan Clauson dies of injuries from a midget racer crash
Aug 8, 2016: Bryan Clauson (pictured), 27, died Sunday of injuries sustained in a crash the evening before. He was racing in the Belleville (KS) Nationals midget ace on the half-mile oval.
He was considered the nation's top short-track dirt-car driver with four U.S. Auto Club national championships - two in sprint cars and two in midgets - as well as wins in prestigious events the likes of the Chili Bowl, Turkey Night Grand Prix and Belleville Nationals.
This year, in the Indianapolis 500, he led for three laps before finishing 23rd.
The native Californian earned a USAC-INDYCAR scholarship for winning the 2010 USAC national driver's title. The scholarship earned Clauson six Indy Lights starts in 2011 in a car shared with current Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Conor Daly at Sam Schmidt Motorsports while Clauson continued to race in USAC's national series. His best finish in eight career Indy Lights was third at Iowa Speedway in 2011.
Clauson won the scholarship award again in 2012, allowing him to make his Indianapolis 500 debut in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, qualifying 31st and finishing 30th. Clauson returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2015, finishing 31st in the Indy 500 for KVSH/Jonathan Byrd's Racing.
Clauson also served as a development driver for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2007-08, winning an ARCA race in 2007. He made 21 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts in 2008, finishing second in rookie points where he teamed occasionally with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti.
Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Richard Prince for Chevy Racing
Jake Galstad LAT Photo USA (IMSA)
Bryan Clauson photo courtesy of INDYCAR