Sunday , September 21 2014
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Pace Laps: Pocono Oddity, Iowa Adventures, Ohio Excellence, and More

Cup: Strange Results from Pocono

It’s not a surprise that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won at Pocono.  He raced with the leaders all race long and his crew chief, Steve Letarte, made a brilliant strategy call that put him in the best position to win.

But what about the rest of the field?

Kyle Busch completed just 23 laps before his engine lost its song and he parked his car. And in Jimmie Johnson‘s case, is Chad Knaus testing out some things for the team’s Chase run?  It’s a possibility as Johnson uncharacteristically held meetings with the wall that ended his day.

Then, of course, there was the massive wreck with 44 laps to go.

Coming on a restart, Clint Bowyer seemed to get Denny Hamlin loose, which caused Brian Vickers to make a precautionary move that ended badly, as Vickers slammed the wall and then collected a host of drivers.  While the crash had to be deflating for so many, it certainly fell hard on drivers like Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, who are used to winning and being in the Chase, and find themselves in unstable positions.

The final five spots in the Chase right now are set by points, and Kenseth is in good position there.  But wins trump points and the races leading up to the beginning of the playoffs could leave a name driver out of the postseason fun.  Having Stewart miss the Chase might not be all that surprising as he has recovered from his broken leg, but Kenseth, Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Brian Vickers all have to be sweating a bit.  Huston Ladner

Nationwide: McDowell Nearly Upsets Eventual Keselowski Victory

Brad Keselowski flew into Iowa for the Nationwide race with one purpose: win. And that is exactly what he did in dominating fashion on Saturday night.

Leading a race-high 146 of 250 laps, Keselowski picked up not only his third win of the 2014 season, but also his third at Iowa Speedway. For the driver, it helped accomplish the ultimate goal of closing in on the owner’s championship for Team Penske. The team now trails Joe Gibbs Racing by just one point.

Brad Keselowski leads a pack at Iowa Speedway in the US Cellular 250. (Credit: CIA)

Brad Keselowski leads a pack at Iowa Speedway in the US Cellular 250. (Credit: CIA)

The win, however, was nearly stolen at the last minute when Michael McDowell swung for the fences with two tires and briefly grabbed the lead. McDowell, driving for Joe Gibbs, has shined in each of his limited chances behind the wheel in the series and came two laps shy of providing the ultimate feel-good story.

Looking ahead, the series goes back to making left and right-handed turns, and the first time it did so this season it did result in that feel-good story when Brendan Gaughan returned to victory lane. He and the rest of Richard Childress Racing will be looking to rebound after a quiet and sullen night in Iowa.

And as for the championship picture, that got close too. Rookie Chase Elliott still leads teammate Regan Smith, but now only by two points. Behind them for third is a tie between Elliott Sadler and Ty Dillon. Each of the four drivers have won this season and with how tight the battle is shaping up, they know they need to grab some more because time is running out.  Kelly Crandall

IndyCar: Dixon’s Decisive Win Proves Ganassi Not Going Down Without Fight

It’s about time.

Just a year removed from a championship run that etched his place among the greats in the world of American championship open wheel racing, Scott Dixon and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Team has looked anything  but championship-worthy this season – until yesterday.

Dixon finally put a full race together yesterday and scored the win that has eluded the defending champion all season long. And boy, did he ever do it in impressive fashion.  Dixon started shotgun on the field in last, and it appeared that it was going to be yet another lost race for a No. 9 team that has struggled to put a solid car underneath their driver all year long. But once the race started, Dixon embarked on an incredible journey to the front of the field. Then, with a little help from some strategy, he managed to win the race. Quite a performance, indeed.

For a Ganassi team that has struggled all year long, yesterday’s race served as a blunt statement that the team is back to the form that helped it send Dixon on a championship run just one year ago. Not only did Dixon win yesterday, but his teammate, Tony Kanaan, has also been strong for weeks now, and is likely primed for a win himself.

Oh, and should I mention that Dixon is already up to sixth in the point standings courtesy of his win? Yes, he is over 108 points out of the lead and likely doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a championship, but you never know, right? Would that not be an incredible story if Dixon were able to somehow go on a tear these next few weeks and steal the championship for a second year in a row? He’s done it before.

Hyperbole aside, one thing was made abundantly clear Sunday afternoon: Team Ganassi and Scott Dixon are back in business, and they are not about to give up on chasing this year’s title. Matt Stallknecht

Short Track Pace Laps: Jimmy Owens Puts Another Jewel in His Career Crown

The USA Nationals is one of the biggest Dirt Super Late Model races of the season. It is a World of Outlaws event at Cedar Lake Speedway that takes place every summer. This season was the 27th annual running.

Over his long and illustrious career, Jimmy Owens has etched his name on most of the major trophies in the sport. However, the Nationals has escaped him for years, until Saturday night.

Owens started the event leading the early laps but jumped the cushion and lost the lead to Jimmy Mars on lap 17. Mars led the race for 20 laps while Owens and Bobby Pierce, a 17 year-old driver from Oakwood, Ill., pressured him high and low. On lap 38 Owens regained the point and led for the next 35 laps before a slow car caused him to check up and allowed Pierce to squirt by for the lead. Pierce maintained the point until lap 87, when Owens regrouped and swept by on the high side to wrest the lead away from the youngster.

Pierce did not give up and on lap 94 poked his nose ahead at the line to lead one final lap. Owens muscled his way back to the lead on lap 95 and held it for the final five circuits to pocket $50,050. Jimmy Mars finished third ahead of Steve Francis and Billy Moyer, Jr.

At 42 years-old, Owens is closer to the end of his career than the beginning and the opportunities to win the major events are running out. He can now check off the USA Nationals from that bucket list. Mike Neff

NHRA: Battle at the Top

It came down to a battle between the number one and number two spots in Top Fuel as points leader Doug Kalitta took on runner up Antron Brown in the finals at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Seattle.

Brown had more event wins coming in to the matchup with five, but Kalitta had the edge on consistency, earning points by going rounds, making it to the finals seven times, posting one win and six runner up finishes. (NHRA awards 20 points to first-round losers, 40 to second-round losers, 60 for third-round losers, 80 for runner up, and 100 points to the winner at each event.) Give this one to Kalitta, his second win of the season, with a winning pass of 3.844 seconds at 318.84 mph.

“I’m real proud of [crew chief] Jim [Oberhofer] and my crew; they’ve given me a consistent car and I just try to do the best I can do,” said Kalitta. “We’ve been banging on the door trying to get another win. Beating Antron for this one was big for us. We’ve just been trying to win rounds but Antron’s been winning a lot, too. He’s got five wins this year, so I’m glad we were able to get another one here today. We’ve got some momentum going into the next few races.”

John Force notched career event win number 141 and, along with his Funny Car teammates, daughter Courtney and Robert Hight, completed a sweep of the three race Western Swing for John Force Racing. Force faced off against Gary Densham in the finals and won with a pass of 4.173 seconds at 302.48 mph.

ProStock came down to a battle of teammates as Jason Line and Greg Anderson went head to head for KB Racing. Give this one to Line, making it two in a row for him, scoring a holeshot win over Anderson with a run of 6.611 at 210.67 mph to Anderson’s 6.608 at 210.54 mph.

Although he left without the trophy, it was still a big weekend for Anderson, who moved up into the tenth spot in points, giving him, for the moment, a berth in the Countdown, NHRA’s version of the Chase. Anderson missed the first five races of the season after open heart surgery and has been playing catchup since his return. Toni Montgomery

ARCA: New Power in 2015

At Pocono on Friday ARCA management announced the introduction of the new engine package option for the 2015 racing season. The word has been circulating for some time that this was coming and it was just a matter of finding the right partner. ARCA has tabbed Ilmor Engineering to develop the ARCA Ilmor 396 engine. The purpose is to help reduce the cost of going racing in the ARCA series.

The new Ilmor 396 will generate 700 horsepower and 500 foot pounds of torque at the rear wheels. The engine is designed to run at every venue that ARCA visits, from the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega to the bullrings of Madison and Winchester. From road courses to dirt tracks, the engine will meet all of the needs for the race teams at a reasonable cost. In addition, the engine is designed to run 1,500 miles between rebuilds.

The engine will be fuel injected with Holley EFI technology regulating the ECU in the engine. The engine will be available for teams to purchase in early December in advance of Daytona testing. The engine can be raced starting at Daytona in February of 2015. Teams will still have the option to run the current open engine package next season if they would like to. The cost of the new engine is reported to be $35,000.

As for the race on Friday. Justin Allison, the grandson of Donnie Allison, put the legendary Allison name back in victory lane in the ARCA series for the first time since 1993. Allison pitted for fuel with 36 laps to go and stretched his fuel to the finish as the majority of the rest of the field raced to the 10-to-go mark. ARCA rules dictate that teams have to pit at least once by the 10 to go mark provided the race isn’t shortened by rain prior to that point. With weather in the area, most teams pushed their fuel until the last minute. As a result, Allison’s early pit strategy allowed him to take advantage of fresh tires to put a gap on the field. He held off Will Kimmel, who was on a similar strategy, to take the win. Tom Hessert, Brennan Poole and Justin Boston rounded out the top 5. Mike Neff

About Huston Ladner

Huston Ladner
Promoted to editor this season, Huston works through some of the site’s biggest columns while writing one of his own: Happiness Is… (Fridays). “Stranded” on the islands of Hawaii, the aspiring college professor also helps anchor our IndyCar and Formula One racing coverage while coordinating Pace Laps, our multi-series news update (Mondays) each week.

3 comments

  1. JohnQ
    JohnQ,
    I too am fed up with these greedy cup superstars stroking their egos in the lower series. And that goes for any of the cup superstars. I know all the kyle lovers always say “you just don’t want to see kyle winning all the time”, no morons that is not the case. I am disgusted when any of the established cup stars stinking it up. And we’re supposed to believe it’s all in the name of winning the completely irrelevent owner’s championship? I have never met anybody who gives a rat’s ass about who wins the owner’s points. Oh well, na$car has said time and again they won’t do a damn thing about the cup guys winning everything in sight in far superior equipment, so we will continue to see the series decline.

  2. Wow, a Cup driver dominated the NW race! Who saw that coming? I mean who would want to see an actual race with actual competition. Really, who doesn’t read the last ten pages of a book first, or want the end of a movie shown during the opening credits. NASCAR understands! Knowing who wins before the event (it isn’t really a race) begins is sure to pack in the fans. Or maybe not.

  3. Other than yesterday’s race stunk to the high heavens, I’m glad at least one columnist hasn’t been sucked in by the B.S. of Jimmie and Chad being in a “slump”. Thank you Huston!

    As for Pocono itself, maybe it is time to take away at least one date from the track. I wouldn’t even shed a tear if this track was taken off the schedule all together. Like the Brickyard, or should I say, The Brickyawn, Pocono really isn’t suited for stock cars. But, with Felon Motorsports dominating this place in recent years, Brian will make sure Pocono remains on the schedule.