Cup: Sweet Relief for Kahne
By racing for the Cup juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports, there are high expectations for Kasey Kahne. That his brethren at the organization have all earned three wins apiece makes his season look all the worse. In fact, with only two top-5 finishes in 2014, Kahne was looking like a second-tier driver and one who had to be glancing over his shoulder at the upstart Nationwide and de facto Hendrick development driver, Chase Elliott.
Kahne, however, came through when he, and the team, needed it most – though it looked like it might not happen. While holding off Kevin Harvick during the final laps of the race, the caution flag waved because of shenanigans between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. Everyone headed to pit road and in the ensuring re-stack, Kahne emerged fourth.
Matt Kenseth, having taken two tires, led the field to green, but Kahne drove like he should for a man racing for a top organization and swooped by the leader, earning the much-needed victory that placed him into the postseason.
If this kind of drama is what NASCAR was looking for when it implemented the Chase, then they got it, which means there’s a sense that Richmond may again be a place for great theater. Rookie Kyle Larson, who won the pole there this Spring leads a number of drivers trying to make the Chase who could make things interesting; looking at you, Clint Bowyer (smirk). Huston Ladner
IndyCar: Fontana Concludes Sensational IndyCar Season
What a year it was. It seems sad that the 2014 IndyCar Series season is over, but fans can take solace in the fact that for the first time in a long time, their beloved sport is finally headed in the right direction. The 2014 season finale was proof of just that.
For the third year in a row, the race out in California was an absolute thriller, and once again showcased the finest racing that the series has to offer. Every single lane on the racetrack worked, tires wore out, and the DW12 was as competitive as ever. On top of that, fans witnessed a spirited drive from Will Power, a wheelman who raced so hard that you’d never know he was technically on the defensive from a points perspective. Power’s run to the championship was thrilling to watch instead of just a “safe” ride to his first ever trophy.
It all added up to 500 miles of bliss, the perfect microcosm of what IndyCar has become over the past few years: good, hard, pure racing.
Sure, IndyCar will now be on a nearly six-month hiatus, something nearly unheard of in today’s sports world, but the series is entering that with more momentum than it’s had in years. Ratings are finally on the rise, new world-class circuits are joining the series next year, and IndyCar finally appears to have achieved some semblance of financial stability.
Finally, all seems to be well in the world of IndyCar, and for the first time in decades, better days are ahead. Matt Stallknecht
Nationwide Pace Laps: Harvick’s Atlanta Dynasty
Kevin Harvick did it again. For the second straight year, Harvick dominated and won at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Harvick also took JR Motorsports to victory lane for the eighth time this season and for the first time at Atlanta since 2010 with Jamie McMurray. The addition of the 38-year-old has been nothing but beneficial to the company, which team owner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. reiterated late Saturday night by noting that, without Harvick in the fold to provide veteran support, their dominance this season would not have approached the levels it currently is.
But while Harvick celebrated, point leader and teammate Chase Elliott was beating himself up. Elliott slid through his pit stall on the final stop and wound up coming home fifth, a mistake that Elliott said just can’t happen as he looked to match his dominant teammate. Elliott still padded his point lead, up to 15 over Regan Smith but clearly wanted more at his hometown track.
Next weekend, the series heads back to Richmond where the story could very well match what it was there earlier this year and in Atlanta. Harvick dominated there too on his way to the win, and finishing second was none other than Chase Elliott. Kelly Crandall
NHRA Pace Laps: The 60th Annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals
It’s been an action-packed weekend already at the 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the biggest event of the year for the NHRA, and final eliminations don’t even run until Monday.
Taking care of some old business, the rain-delayed Funny Car final and Pro Stock semifinals and final from two weeks ago in Brainerd were contested during the qualifying rounds on Saturday and Sunday. There are five qualifying runs for each division at this event, one more than usual, and the designated runs counted as both one of the qualifying runs for this event and the elimination rounds from Brainerd. Ron Capps defeated John Force to take home the Funny Car trophy, while Jason Line scored the victory in Pro Stock over Jeg Coughlin, Jr.
“It was hard waiting all this time,” Capps said of the delay from Brainerd. “It was cool knowing you were going to race Force, knowing you’re going to do it at Indy of all places on a Saturday night under the lights. We knew that was going to happen regardless.”
“It feels a little strange to win Brainerd at the U.S. Nationals, but nonetheless, it’s the first good thing I’ve ever done at Indy, so it feels pretty good. The celebration wasn’t quite what I had envisioned,” said Minnesota native Line, “but I got the Brainerd trophy, so it’s all good. I know my family and friends were watching at home, and I’m sure they enjoyed it as well.”
The Traxxas Nitro Shootout, an all star event for the Top Fuel and Funny Car divisions, was also part of Saturday and Sunday festivities. Tony Schumacher, a nine-time winner of the U.S. Nationals, most of any Top Fuel driver, took home the $100,000 prize in Top Fuel on Saturday, defeating Richie Crampton in the special event final.
“These are the eight best cars as a whole,” Schumacher said of the competition in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout. “They’re cars that have gone out and won races and continuously find themselves in final rounds. It’s very satisfying (to win).”
John Force took the honors in the Funny Car division on Sunday, beating fellow JFR driver Robert Hight in the final.
“It was a win-win situation,” Force said of running against his teammate in the final. “We couldn’t lose. All of the sponsors were on all of the cars. We just couldn’t lose it.”
Qualifying wrapped up Sunday, with Tony Schumacher, Matt Hagan, Jason Line, and Eddie Krawiec atop the speed charts. Eliminations for the U.S. Nationals will take place on Monday afternoon. Check back in our daily Frontstretch newsletter on Tuesday for all the final results. Toni Montgomery
Short Tracks: Swindell Announces Retirement
The old school NASCAR fans bemoan the fact that they have lost their connection to the past. The drivers from the early years of the sport are all but gone, the throwback drivers who raced for their passion for racing and would throw down if they felt like it was necessary to get their point across. However, the World of Outlaws have only been around since the late 1970s, so the drivers who laid the foundation are still around.
Until now. At the beginning of the year, it was announced that the most famous of them all, Steve Kinser, was competing in his final season on the circuit. This past Monday, a second huge name in the World of Outlaw ranks announced he was calling it a career. Sammy Swindell decided to call it quits immediately in a release that shocked the winged sprint car world.
Unlike Kinser, Swindell didn’t set out on a farewell tour. After a two-week hiatus from racing, when Swindell spent two weekends at the track with his son Kevin racing in the Nationwide Series, he decided he wanted to spend more time watching his son’s career blossom. Swindell says he still wants to compete at the Chili Bowl in his midget, but that will be the majority of his racing activity. The remainder of his time is going to be focused on his son’s efforts to establish himself as a NASCAR racer.
Swindell hangs up his WoO helmet with the second most wins in the history of the sanctioning body. Kinser may be the face of the WoO, but Swindell is the hammer right foot. Sammy takes no prisoners and will give no quarter, as he is out to win and anything less is unacceptable. If you are between him and victory, you best beat him there or get out of the way before he makes you. That “take no prisoners attitude,” which he shared with Kinser is what made the two men the heart and soul of the sport.
Along with Doug Wolfgang, the two drivers formed the three-legged foundation that built the WoO from the ground up in 1978. Between the three drivers, they have nearly 1,000 wins. Kinser has more than half while Swindell has half as many as Kinser. The two most successful drivers in the history of the sport, responsible for keeping the series alive and well are both going to be gone at the end of the 2014 season.
While the sport is in great shape with several very popular drivers carrying the banner, they all owe their stature to Swindell, Kinser and Wolfgang. The sport will continue to prosper and ply the most difficult schedule in racing, but it will be missing a big piece of its soul as Kinser and Swindell walk away.
Thanks for the memories Sammy. Mike Neff
NHRA: Big Winners At NHRA’s U.S. Nationals