Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Hendrick Horsepower, RHR’s Rebound and a Surprise Nationwide Winner

Sprint Cup Series: Power and Tires – Enzo Ferrari once stated that aerodynamics are for people who don’t know how to build engines.  That may be a paraphrasing of the Italian icon’s words, but you get the idea.  This concept could not be found in better evidence than after the Sprint Cup race at Michigan.  How’s that?  Because Hendrick engines powered nine of the top 13 cars.  That’s nearly 70% of the top of the order.  Throw in Danica Patrick’s 17th-place finish, and that’s 10 of 17.

Tony Stewart has a reason to smile, Hendrick engines are strong
Tony Stewart has a reason to smile, Hendrick engines are strong

For a track where horsepower of the utmost importance, the Hendrick Motorsports engine department showed that they’ve got it figured out.  Sure, handling is always an aspect for performance, but when the disparity in power is that significant, it doesn’t quite matter.

While Hendrick motors are one storyline, the one that deserves further scrutiny is the tires used at the track.  Kyle Petty and Wally Dallenbach, during the later stages of the race, noted that a couple drivers had left side tires that were nearly 100 laps old.  Something is not working if that’s the case.  The dreaded concept of aero-push is usually looked at as a reason for lackluster racing, but tires are equally important.  Time for a change.  Huston Ladner

Camping World Truck Series: Red Horse Racing Recovers After Texas – Red Horse Racing teammates German Quiroga and Timothy Peters headed into Gateway International Speedway looking to just make it to the finish after failed to do so at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend. Quiroga’s No. 77 Toyota suffered an engine failure that ended his night, and Peters ended up hitting the oil left on the track by his teammate, wrecking the No. 17 Toyota beyond repair.

Well recover from Texas is exactly what the duo managed to do. While neither one led for more than a handful of laps, Quiroga and Peters were both in the hunt for victory lane as the laps dwindled on Saturday night. Though the pair didn’t win the race, Quiroga and Peters finished second and third, respectively, turning what has been an up and down season back to the positive once again. The way things change in the Truck Series, there’s just as much of a shot that both could suffer tough runs at Kentucky Speedway in a couple of weeks, but neither one will go down without a fight or some sort of parts failure. And since Kyle Busch Motorsports has been so dominant in the series this year, Peters and Quiroga would likely love nothing more than to make the Sprint Cup driver’s team take a look at their back bumpers. Beth Lunkenheimer

Nationwide Series: Surprise Cup Driver in Victory Lane – It was another Sprint Cup driver in victory lane on Saturday afternoon at Michigan, but not the one you would have expected. Paul Menard benefitted from Joey Logano’s late race tire misfortune to pick up his second career Nationwide Series win eight years after grabbing the first.

Menard was one of the few who avoided what seemed like the evil that was lurking around every corner. Contenders fell by the wayside, like Trevor Bayne who was collected in the rookie mistake of Dylan Kwasniewski, who continues to hunt for any form of stability he can this year. The growing pains have become more evident as the season goes on.

Could Menard's Nationwide win bring him more success in Cup?
Could Menard’s Nationwide win bring him more success in Cup?

Elliott Sadler also wasn’t immune to problems. As Regan Smith continues to pull away in the points, and with rookie sensation Chase Elliott closing from behind, Sadler finished 17th after he was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop late because of trash on the grille that sent water spewing from his No. 11 machine.

The top 5 in points have already strung out to a 50-marker separation. The slightest of mistakes each week continue to doom some more than others, but the heat isn’t going to get turned down this week as the first road course of the season is upon us. And that means now is the time when tempers are bound to flare and the big picture can take a dramatic turn.  Kelly Crandall

NHRA:  A Long Time Coming – Tommy Johnson, Jr. was at the top of his game when he last won at Englishtown in 2007 driving a Funny Car for Don Prudhomme.  In 2008, he drove for another drag racing legend, Kenny Bernstein, thinking, likely, that more wins were coming. Instead 2008 turned out to be his last full-time season, as sponsorship dried up and things just didn’t come together until 2014, when Don Schumacher Racing finally returned Johnson to full-time competition in the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger Funny Car. Johnson, who kept his skills sharp by working as a test driver for DSR during his time off the circuit, took full advantage of the chance he’d been waiting five years for, taking home the win this week at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.

“I’m thrilled that we were able to get it done and all that work paid off,” Johnson Jr. said. “The guys did a great job today. We’ve qualified great we just couldn’t get it to go our way on race day. We’ve been competitive and we just couldn’t close the deal. It’s tough out here. I wanted to prove that we’re not in a slump and we needed to step it up a little bit and we did.”

Johnson scored the win over Tim Wilkerson with a 4.156, 302.14 mph to Wilkerson’s 4.424, 227.34 mph. It was going to be a different sort of winner either way as Wilkerson hasn’t scored a victory since Seattle in 2011, a span of 64 races. Johnson also beat Cruz Pedregon, Robert Hight, and teammate Matt Hagan on his way to the finals.

Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens thwarted the efforts of rookie driver Jonathan Gray, making his first career appearance in a final round, to take home his first Wally when she instead took home her third of the season, with a run of 6.698, 207.15 mph to Gray’s 13.480, 64.40 mph. Gray had to run through his own brother, Shane, and veteran Jason Line, en route to facing Enders-Stevens.

In Top Fuel, Shawn Langdon finally shook off some of the cobwebs that seemed to be affecting his championship defending team this year, making it to the final where he defeated Doug Kalitta, who was making his seventh final round appearance of the year. Kalitta remains atop the Top Fuel standings.  Toni Montgomery

ARCA: Making a Debut with a Bang – Austin Theriault started his first ARCA race this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. He went into the event looking to log laps and learn as much as he could. He restarted the race with 17 laps to go alongside of Mason Mitchell, who had the dominant car for most of the race. As the two drivers went down the back straight their cars made contact. The resulting damage on Mitchell’s car, according to the driver, killed his chances of winning the race. Theriault went on to claim the win to become the first driver since 2011 to claim his first ARCA win in his ARCA debut.

Mitchell entered the race trailing Grant Enfinger for the series point lead by 20. He took advantage of his runner-up finish and his pole award points to surpass Enfinger for the lead. Enfinger came home in eighth place. Seven cars finished on the lead lap. Theriault is a development driver for JR Motorsports with a five race deal to run in the Nationwide Series this season.

The series heads to Elko, Minnesota next weekend for the Akona 250 Presented by Federated Car Care. The racing will be carried on CBS Sports Network at 9:00 PM on Saturday the 21st. Mike Neff

Sports Car Racing: 24 Hours of Le Mans – While the 24 Hours of Le Mans has definitely not gotten any easier for Audi in recent years, Audi Sport Team Joest’s preparation is second to none in motorsports.  They came prepared to build up a brand-new chassis right in the garage if need be.  After Loïc Duval’s massive crash on Wednesday in Free Practice, the team was forced to use that skill and put together a new No. 1 R18 e-tron quattro overnight.  That car was ready to go for qualifying the next day.

Despite the team’s preparation, they did not have the speed of Toyota’s TS040’s or Porsche’s 919 Hybrids.  What they did have was reliability and (for the most part) good luck.  The challenge of both Toyota and Audi took a hit when the rains came during Hour 2.  Nicolas Lapierre, driving the No. 8 Toyota, hydroplaned on the Mulsanne Straight under the safety car and sparked a crash that took out the No. 3 Audi driven by Marco Bonanomi and the GTE-Am class leading No. 81 Ferrari F458 Italia driven by Sam Bird.  Bird and Bonanomi were out on the spot, while Lapierre’s No. 8 required an extensive stay in the garage.

Through the entire first half of the race, the No. 7 pole-winning Toyota shared by Kazuki Nakajima, Stéphane Sarrazin and Alexander Wurz was dominant.  Then, electrical issues hit during Hour 14, stranding the No. 7 out on course and forcing its retirement, giving the leadto the No. 2 Audi shared by Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoit Treluyer with the No. 1 of Lucas di Grassi, Marc Gené and Tom Kristensen in second.

In P2, OAK Racing’s No. 35 Ligier JS P2-Nissan dominated the race, leading for over three-quarters distance.  However, in Hour 19, the car spent ten minutes in the garage to scope out potential engine issues and a change of brakes.  That stop allowed Tristan Gommendy in the No. 46 Thiriet by TDS Ligier JS P2-Nissan to take the lead.  However, Gommendy suffered a suspension failure that knocked him out of the hunt.

That gave the victory (and fifth overall) to the No. 38 Zytek Z11SN-Nissan of Jota Sport, shared by Simon Dolan, Harry Tincknell and last-minute replacement Oliver Turvey.  Turvey was named to drive only on Wednesday night after the team’s third driver, Gené, a reserve/test driver for Audi Sport Team Joest, was tapped to replace Duval in the No. 1 Audi.  Jota Sport won by a lap over the No. 46 Thiriet by TDS Ligier and the No. 36 Signatech Alpine A450b-Nissan shared by Paul-Loup Chatin, Nelson Panciatici and Oliver Webb.

GTE-Pro was dominated by AF-Corse’s No. 51 Ferrari F458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni, Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander.  Their primary competition was the No. 97 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage for Stefan Mücke, Darren Turner and Bruno Senna.  The two teams staged a race-long duel until the No. 97 suffered power steering issues.  From there, the No. 51 Ferrari cruised to a one-lap victory over the No. 73 Corvette Racing C7.R shared by TUSC regulars Antonio Garcia, Jan Magnussen and Jordan Taylor.  The No. 92 Porsche Team Manthey Porsche 911 RSR shared by Marco Holzer, Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki was third in class.

The No. 95 Aston Martin shared by an all-Danish lineup of David Heinemeier Hansson, Kristian Poulsen and Nicki Thiim claimed the class victory by two laps over the No. 88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR driven by Khaled Al-Qubaisi, Klaus Bachler and Christian Ried.  AF-Corse’s No. 61 Ferrari shared by Marco Cioci, Luíz Pérez-Companc and Mirko Venturi was third in class.  The No. 95 was the fourth-highest finishing GTE entry, finishing 19th overall, ahead of all but the top-3 GTE-Pro teams.

It was an emotional victory for Aston Martin Racing, given the events of last year.  Then, Allan Simonsen had qualified the No. 95 on the GTE-Am pole and was considered to be a favorite for the class victory.  Three laps into the race, Simonsen got loose exiting Tertre Rouge and crashed hard into the Armco at a harsh angle.  The crash pushed the Armco back against a tree behind the barrier, making the hit harder than it would have been otherwise.  While Simonsen was said to be awake and alert after the crash, talking to first responders, he later died at the track’s medical center later.

For TUSC, their next race is the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen on June 28th.  For teams in the World Endurance Championship, which Le Mans counts as the third round, they now have a long break.  Their next race is the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas on September 20th, which is a split weekend with TUSC.  Phil Allaway

Short Tracks: Family Feud Isn’t Just a TV Show – We hear it all of the time. Local short track racing is a family affair. Everyone at the track is one big family. The competitors race hard but when a racer is in need everyone will pitch in to help them out. While that is generally true there are some situations where the family ties end up straining it a little too much. Franklin County Speedway is a race track in Callaway, Virginia. The 3/8 mile paved oval has been around for years and had a reputation a couple levels below a Sprint Cup facility.

In 2013, Langley Austin took over the promotion of the track from his father Whitey Taylor. In a year’s time the track saw car counts increase, attendance soar and the reputation of the track improve tremendously. The facility advanced so far that it was able to secure a PASS Southern Division race for its schedule. All of that came to a screeching halt on Saturday the 7th.

Austin was leasing the facility from his father and during the late stages of the race program on the 7th, Taylor commandeered the public address system and began promoting a mud bog event for the coming weekend. The track staff became skeptical of who was in charge and racers apparently had similar doubts. By the end of the week the word was out that Austin had dissolved his relationship with Taylor and the race track. The fans and racers have come out in extensive support of Austin and the future of the track is in question.

Many people will tell you to never mix business and family. There are many success stories the defy that skepticism. Unfortunately there are more stories the point out just how true it is. Austin has teased that the racing show is going to go on the road. Details are still being hammered out but the people who supported Austin at Franklin County have vowed to back him wherever he takes his show. Hopefully he’ll land on his feet somewhere that appreciates the show he brings to their race track. Mike Neff

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A Cup regular wins the NW race and that surprises you? Where have you been?

Bill B

You know, I don’t have a problem with a cup guy that only has one “fall into it” win running in the NW series. He isn’t that much better than some of the NW drivers.


You have to feel for the NW guys. Work hard all week and spend the money to get a good car for the track. But, you then have Cup Regulars showing up to run the race and keep you from winning 1st place and getting your name out there.

Wish they would go back to the old days in the early 90s. The only Cup guy out there was Mark Martin and the regular series guys won all the time. You knew all of their names, which you don’t know because Kyle Busch and others are taking all of the attention in the race.

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There was a Truck race this weekend? Missed it somehow.

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