MENCS 5KahneWinsIndianapolis04

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Big Machine Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Kahne wins the Brickyard after a dominant Kyle Busch and Truex crash out

Sunday, July 23, 2017: The sun was setting when the final restart came in the rain-delayed Brickyard 400, six hours after the race began mid-afternoon – and a most unlikely winner, Kasey Kahne, took the checker in this crash-filled race that saw the most-likely-to-win candidates, Kyle Bush and Martin Truex, exit in a fiery two-car crash mid-race.

Had that final restart not been a go, NASCAR officials would have been faced with the very real prospect of having to call the race on account of darkness, the sun having set and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway not having lights. Had that happened, Brad Keselowski would have been declared the winner. As it turned out, another big crash erupted on that final restart before Kahne and Keselowski reached the ‘overtime line’ but NASCAR held off displaying the yellow for a few seconds until they got there and the race could be declared complete. Initially, NASCAR’s scoring showed Ryan Newman, who had apparently crossed the overtime line ahead of Keselowski as the second-place finisher but the official results – after a review of the video – awarded second place to Keselowski.

The other big story of the race was how Kyle Busch – who had won here the previous two years – had started from the pole and had dominated the running, winning both the first and second Stages. Truex in a near-clone of Busch’s Toyota, had emerged as the only one who seemed to have a hope of challenging Busch’s dominance. These two lined up one-two, side-by-side for the eighth restart which came on lap 111 of the 160-lap race.

Up to then, when these two semi-teammates had lined up like this on the front row for the restart, there had been an agreement to let Busch take the lead while Truex tucked in behind. But now, as the end of the race was getting closer, the gloves came off and both of them went for the lead – going side-by-side into the first turn. Truex was below Busch and as Busch squeezed down on him in the corner, Truex’ car made a wiggle and it collided with Busch’s. Both cars crashed out in big balls of fire and their race was over. And with that, the story line of the race seemed to have ended.

After that, the battle for the race win seemed to be between Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Trevor Bayne and Matt Kenseth but Kahne was a sleeper back in the pack. He had completed a green-flag pit stop for fresh tires on lap 150 and, when the tenth caution flew a lap later, he was able to stay out while the leaders pitted, cycling him around into the front of the field for the restart. After that, with only ten laps remaining of the scheduled 160 lap race, he was able to stay out and challenge for the lead for the remaining laps – including the seven overtime laps which saw him emerge as the race winner.

Kahne has been part of this year’s silly season given that he had not won a race since the Atlanta race in August of 2014. With William Byron’s amazingly strong entry in the Xfinity series this year after his dominant truck season last year, people had been touting him as the replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he retires at the end of this season – but when it was announced earlier in the week that the Earnhardt seat was going to Alex Bowman, speculation turned on Kahne, suggesting that Rick Hendrick might release Kahne to open up the No. 5 seat for Byron. This win by Kahne gives him a slot in the season-end playoffs and puts this speculation about his future on hold – at least for the moment.

This race had a total of 14 cautions including four red flag periods – two due to rain. The two rain stoppages added up to nearly two-and-half hours delaying the race end until almost nine o’clock. The sun was about to dip below the horizon cloaking the track in darkness when the final restart came nine hours after the race was flagged green. There were 14 caution periods, including the two for the Stage end turn-arounds.

Given the chaos that ensued during the race, the list of those who captured top finishing positions at the end of the 167 laps is like the results of a lottery. Joey Logano was scored fourth behind Newman, with Matt Kenseth fifth and Kevin Harvick sixth. Surprisingly all but nine of the 40 starters completed at least 148 laps.

Falling attendance at the Brickyard 400 has been an issue for some time and it seemed like this year was worse than ever before. My estimate, from looking carefully at the views of the grandstand seats shown during the broadcast, was that probably fewer than 20 percent of the seats were filled when the race was flagged green. Given that there are a bit fewer than 250 000 seats at IMS, this would translate into a crowd of about 50 000 race fans. At another race in another place, this might be seen as a good crowd, but given the vast expanses of empty seats here, it was nothing. There was a time when these seats were filled for the NASCAR Brickyard 500 but those days are long gone. No wonder NASCAR is trying every trick it can think of to try to jazz up its offering to attract fans back – but given the dismal crowd here on Sunday – and don’t even ask about the non-existent Saturday ‘crowd’ – their efforts are not working very well. All the brave talk about this race at Indianapolis being so significant and important seemed hollow in the face of all those empty seats.

The next MENCS race is at Pocono Raceway on July 30.

IMS NXS Byron Menard 072217

NASCAR XFINITY Series Race Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
For young Byron it was Veni, Vidi, Vici as he conquers Indianapolis on his first visit

Saturday, July 22, 2017: The 19-year-old William Byron had never been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway before but this week he came here, he saw the big storied oval and he conquered it, winning the Xfinity race by a mere tenth of a second over Paul Menard despite fears that a front tire was about to explode on him any moment during the closing laps.

Coming off the final restart on lap 65 of the 100-lap race it looked like Kyle Busch was all set to win yet another Xfinity race on his quest to win 100 of them. But, on lap 84, he pitted for fresh tires – as did Erik Jones who had been shadowing him. Busch’s crew chief said that he was concerned that the right front tire would not last the distance and, with Busch’s primary job here to be ready to race for the win in Sunday’s Cup race, he opted to call him in – better safe than sorry. This cautious approach saw the two Cup drivers, Busch and Jones, fall far back in the field with only 15 laps left to the end of the race. Neither driver was able to recover from this precautionary pit stop – Busch ended up in 11th place while Jones finished 23rd.

Before Busch and Jones pitted, Byron was leading a pack of five cars – Byron, Joey Logano, Elliott Sadler, Menard and Custer but they seemed unable to close on the two cars out front. When those two pitted, this second little pack became the lead pack and now Byron was in the lead hoping that he could hold off the rest and win the race.

But things looked bad. Byron was complaining of a tire vibration – and that it was getting worse every lap. His crew chief told him that it was up to him to decide whether to pit for tires or not. If he had pitted for tires, he would have had no chance to catch back up again and the race would have been lost. He did not have the option of easing off to nurse the tires home because Menard – who has won here before – was bearing down on him forcing him to drive flat out.

As the last few laps wound down, Menard was getting closer and closer but Byron hung on and – with the aid of a lot of blocking manoeuvres – held him off to take the win. Byron became the youngest driver to ever win a major race event on the oval here at Indianapolis. Byron had led for 26 laps while Busch led for 44 laps. Elliott Sadler had led for 22 laps and he finished in fourth place behind Logano, while Custer was fifth.

The second stage was due to end on lap 60 but a number of drivers, including Busch and Allgaier pitted a few laps beforehand in hopes of cycling back out into the lead when the other pitted during the stage turnaround. It worked for Busch and he came out of the Stage reset in the lead but it was disastrous for Allgaier who had been leading when he made his preemptive pit stop. He overshot his pit stall and the crew started working on the car before it was pushed back into place. Knowing that this early pit stop strategy would only pay off if he could get back out before the field came around and put him a lap down he was anxious to get going. In the confusion, he dropped the clutch and shot out of his pit stall – but the left rear tire had not been bolted onto the car yet – and he ran over the air hose, severing it. The wheel fell off the studs and he was left stranded at the end of the pit exit lane – his race, which had looked to be going so well, was now over.

The Xfinity cars had been significantly altered as of this Indianapolis race – a change which radically altered the way they raced. A number aero changes had been made, a return to the splitter, a pair of big air vents which caught a lot of air and expelled it out the side of the car ahead of the front tires (which was intended to make side-drafting useless) and there was a return to the bigger spoiler of previous years. This was combined with the addition of a restrictor plate on the engine which reduced the engine’s output by about 200 horsepower. All this had the effect of making cars more equal and preventing any one car from breaking away from the field and dominating the race.

It seemed to work because there were 16 lead changes during the race and no one seemed to be able to get a big lead at the front. Indeed when Busch took the lead on the first restart one wondered if this new parity was going to play out the way they hoped it would. But then the young Byron quickly closed up on his former mentor and passed him – something we seldom see when Busch runs in these Xfinity races. These changes to the cars seemed to have produced closer racing and reduced the ability of one car to dominate – and, as such, they were welcomed. These tweaks for Indianapolis will no doubt be considered for future Xfinity races and perhaps for the Cup cars as well – at least for the race here at Indianapolis next year.

The next Xfinity series race is on July 29 at the short 7/8th-mile oval at Iowa Speedway.

NCWTS Eldora 4Salute 07192017

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Eldora Dirt Derby 150 at Eldora Speedway
Crafton wins on the dirt

Wednesday, July 19, 2017: The annual truck series race at Eldora has become a fixture on the NASCAR Camping World schedule even if it is a bit of a novelty act. These trucks, even if they build up special version just for this race on the half-mile dirt oval, are not suited to this style of racing – and most of the drivers who are contenders in this series have little or no experience driving on dirt like this. But this race is a full-status round in the truck series and, as such, the regulars must take it seriously.

This year, the winner was Matt Crafton who is not known for his depth of experience on these short dirt bull rings – but he emerged as the leader late in the feature race and he held on to win it. How seriously do the drivers take this one-off event? Crafton had bought a dirt racer this year and he had entered it in a few races to build up his dirt track savvy – and it paid off for him.

This event does give a chance for drivers who are legitimate dirt-track experts to shine. This was the case with Stewart Friesen, a racer from Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario who has been very successful running in the dirt series in upstate New York. This year he has been trying to break in to the truck series running full time but he has not had a lot of success, In fact the team skipped two races while they prepared for Eldora and regrouped for the paved ovals. Friesen returned for the Kentucky race earlier this month where he finished 12th, his best result to then.

He knew that Eldora was his best chance. He was the fasted in the time trials and he won his qualifying race, putting himself on the pole for the main. In the 150-lap race he led for a total of 93 laps. He took the lead on lap 52 and he seemed to be in command. He was still in the lead on lap 90 at the end of the second stage but somehow Christopher Bell – who is an experienced dirt racer and who won here in 2015 – jumped into the lead on a restart and he led for the next 22 laps while Friesen clawed his way back up to the front to challenge Bell. He passed Bell for the lead on lap 114 and he looked set to go on and win the race.

After the next restart Bell seemed to have a tire problem and he had to pit for a replacement. This left him far back in the field with only about 25 laps remaining. Meanwhile John Hunter Nemechek and Crafton had come to the fore and we were starting to wonder if Nemechek might just win here – making it his third win in four races – but it was Crafton who was making the best progress and he passed Nemechek and Friesen to take the lead on lap 134.

Now, to my eye, these dirt track races seem like a confused melee with drivers taking high lines and low lines and slipping and sliding in the dirt with no sense of anyone having a semblance of control over their truck. But in the late running , when the track dries up and the surface becomes almost as hard as an asphalt one, the racing becomes more orderly – and now Crafton had the upper hand. Friesen tried every dirt track trick he knew but Crafton was able to hold him off until the checker flew.

Chase Briscoe was third and Grant Enfinger was fourth with Nemechek fifth. Bobby Pierce, who has a reputation as a masterful dirt track racer and who had a good finish here last year had been seen as a potential winner but he only managed to take sixth in the end while Bell came home in ninth.

Things will return to normal when the series shifts to the 2.5-mile paved triangle of the Pocono Raceway on July 29.

IMSA WeatherTech LimeRock Start

IMSA WeatherTech Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park
A one-two finish for the GTLM Porsche GT team on the little Lime Rock ‘roval’

Saturday, July 22, 2017: Given the tight confines of the 1.5-mile Lime Rock track the WeatherTech race here only included the two GT classes, making the GTLM class the featured class. In a race that went the full 160-minute length without a caution, the Porsche GT team finished one-two, the No 911 Porsche 911 RSR of Patrick Pilet/Dirk Werner taking the checker 15 seconds ahead of the No. 912 car of Laurens Vanthoor/Gianmaria Bruni. This was the first win anywhere for this new RSR version of the Porsche.

Martin Tomczyk in the No. 24 BMW M6 GTLM held off Antonio Garcia in the Corvette C7.R to take third place by a quarter-second margin over the Corvette. The No. 67 Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook Ford GT finished fifth. The Ford team had been hoping for a better result and, with less than ten minutes remaining, they No. 67 car was up in third place. They had been hoping for a well-placed caution to enable them to refuel and this never came – so, with about five minutes to go, they called the car in for fuel and gave up two places.

The GTD class was won by the No. 73 Porsche 911 GT3R of Patrick Lindsey/Joerg Bergmeister which completed 174 laps to the overall winner’s 181 laps.

The next IMSA WeatherTech race is at Road America on Sunday, August 6.

IMSA Continental LimeRock

IMSA Continental Tire Challenge Lime Rock Park 120
Two wins in a row for the Stevenson Camaro

Saturday, July 22, 2017: The No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro of Matt Bell/Robin Liddell won their class at CTMP two weeks before and they made it two in a row by winning outright at Lime Rock Park.

The No. 12 Porsche Cayman GT4 of Trent Hindman/Cameron Cassels was the fastest qualifier for the Continental Challenge race on Saturday morning and at first they led the first 45 minutes of the 2-hour race. But the No. 57 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro of Matt Bell/Robin Liddell had qualified alongside them on the front row and they had the Porsche in their sights from the start, staying within less than a second behind them until Bell got past to take the lead.

After that the No. 12 Porsche did regain the lead during the cycle of pit stops just past half-distance but the No 57 Camaro came out of the pit stop exchange back in the lead again. The No. 12 car dropped to third behind the No. 28 Porsche of Dillon Machavern/Dylan Murcott which finished second just three second behind the winning Camaro. The No. 12 Porsche fell back and finished in fifth place almost a lap down.

In the Street Tuner class, the Freedom Autosport No. 25 Mazda MX-5 of Chad McCumbee/Stevan McAleer came home the winner, 11th overall and four laps adrift of the GS class race winner. Their teammates Britt Casey Jr/Matt Fassnacht in the No. 27 Mazda MX-5 finished second in class six seconds behind.

The No. 59 Kohr Motorsports Mustang of Jack Roush Jr/Dean Martin, which is a Multimatic customer car, had another disappointing weekend. Roush qualified the car on the second row but, on the very first lap, he collided with another car and he had to pit to have an advertising panel removed from the front of the car, falling far behind. Later he pulled into the pits and parked the car. Some kind of failure – probably electrical – had knocked it out of the race.

The next IMSA Continental Challenge race is at Road America on Saturday, August 5.

Photo Credits

IMSA WeatherTech: Jake Galstad/LAT Images/IMSA
IMSA Continental: Richard Dole/LAT Images/IMSA
MENCS: Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing/© GM Company
NXS: Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR
NCWTS: Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR

Box Score Results

Results of IMSA WeatherTech at Lime Rock
Results of IMSA Continental at Lime Rock
Results of MENCS at IMS
Results of NXS at IMS
Results of NCWTS at Eldora