Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: HMS Flounders, Schumacher Wins Again and Perspective

Sprint Cup Series: The Mighty Stumble – Hendrick Motorsports has long been the barometer to which other teams measure themselves.  Their position atop the performance and business hierarchy make them an easy target, similar to teams like the New York Yankees or the New England Patriots.  And for those who love to take a shot at them, then this past race at Kansas was for you, as Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Kasey Kahne all got personal with the wall at some point.  Jeff Gordon escaped, somewhat, with a mere brush after tangling with Jamie McMurray.

The ramifications for Johnson, Jr., and Kahne are that there unfortunate finishing spots of 40th, 39th, and 22nd, respectively, puts them in a troubling spot for trying to make it through to the next round.  Gordon’s 14th place finish would be more cause for concern had Brad Keselowski also not greeted the wall and earned 36th.

While the statistical probability that all four HMS drivers would be racing for the Cup at the race in Homestead was about nil, there’s now a very realistic chance that three of them won’t even make it to the next round.  Johnson has shown only flashes of speed, never consistency this year; Jr. seems to be working on hot/cold kind of drive; and Kahne, hm, let’s just say his season has been confusing and that he’s lucky to be there in the first place.

The funny thing is that Joe Gibbs Racing, who has struggled to find decent pace for much of the year, had all three of its drivers finish in the top thirteen.  That puts all three of them in excellent positions to move on and proves that this new Chase format is interestingly bizarre.  – Huston Ladner

Formula One: Race Results Not All That Matter – Lewis Hamilton pushed his lead further on his teammate Nico Rosberg by winning the Japanese Grand Prix in conditions that could sarcastically be called: wet.  Rosberg had earned the poll and looked to be in good shape, but the handling of his car suffered in the rainy conditions and, after taking his time, Hamilton was able to pass for the lead and then put the field in arears.

None of that really matters, however.  In a weird and unfortunate twist, Jules Bianchi spun out and crashed into a recovery crane.  Let’s put this together.  On lap 42, as rain increased in intensity, Adrian Sutil lost control of his car and spun out, backing himself into a tire wall.  Safety vehicles showed on the scene and began removing the carcass of a car, and taking Sutil off the track.  And then Bianchi followed in a similar trajectory off the same turn and nailed the crane that was about to hoist Sutil’s broken ride.

Safety workers removed the unconscious Bianchi and transported him to the nearest hospital – but it should be noted that track officials could not airlift Bianchi due to the weather conditions, that being the approaching Typhoon Phanfone.  That’s a point of debate for another day.

Reports stated that Bianchi suffered a severe brain injury and that doctors were performing surgery and then would be moving him to intensive care.  Niki Lauda, himself no stranger to the risks of motorsport, stated, “Motor racing is dangerous. We get used to nothing happening and then suddenly we all get surprised. We always have to be aware that motor racing is very dangerous.”  While that’s a reminder of the edge on which motorsports lives, it’s also a moment to remember that all of these drivers, all over the world, strap into a machine with the very real prospect that they may not come home, and they do it for our entertainment.  –Huston Ladner

NHRA: Tony Schumacher Takes Home Third Wally in Four Races – Can anyone keep seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher from making it eight? That’s the big question as Schumacher takes home his third Wally in four Countdown races with the win at the NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Schumacher beat Bob Vandergriff, Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta en route to a final round matchup with Brittany Force. Both drivers lost traction and battled their cars down the lanes but Schumacher got his dragster to the finish line first.

“Luckily I don’t have the give up attitude,” said Schumacher. “I got back in it. I think I pedaled it twice and finally got it to hook up a little bit. I’ve been working on that a long time. That’s the first one of those I’ve won in a long time, I’ve been taken a beating. You’ve got to win those.”

Schumacher remains the points leader in Top Fuel, holding a lead of 134 points over second place Doug Kalitta.

Matt Hagan took the race win and the points lead in Funny Car. Hagan beat Tony Pedregon, Jack Beckman, and Alexis DeJoria before facing off against teammate Tommy Johnson, Jr. in the finals. The engine in Hagan’s Rocky Boots Dodge Charger grenaded as he crossed the line but he still posted a pass of 4.333 seconds at 215.00 mph.

Hagan now holds a lead of 36 points over second place John Force.

Rodger Brogdon scored his second career win in Pro Stock, defeating Allen Johnson with a pass of 6.516 at 212.13 mph. Brogdon also defeated Richie Stevens, points leader Jason Line, and Greg Anderson on his way to the finals.

“I think that we can’t be taken for granted,” said Brogdon, who picked up his first career win at Bristol last season. “We’re working on hopefully a three-year deal with Owens Corning and this win definitely had to help.”

Eddie Krawiec was the winner in Pro Stock Motorcycle, his fourth win of the season. He beat Scotty Pollacheck with a 6.796 at 197.13 mph. Krawiec is battling Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson teammate Andrew Hines for the championship and with the win, pulled within 25 points of leader Hines.

After four consecutive events to kick off the Countdown, NHRA teams and drivers can now take a breather until the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Oct. 30th-Nov. 2nd.  –Toni Montgomery

Sports Cars: Championships Decided Amidst Wreckfest at Road Atlanta – On Saturday, the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship came to an end with the 17th running of Petit Le Mans.  Unfortunately, the ten-hour endurance race ended up being a wreckfest.  A record 13 full-course cautions slowed the race for 69 laps.  For quite a while, it appeared that the race would fail to reach 1000 miles prior to the ten hour time limit.

The first 129 laps saw seven full course cautions.  Two of them were for debris, while the others were for wrecks.  In addition, the wrecking continued in the pits.  During the fourth full course caution, a red light at the end of the pit lane resulted in three of the top GTLM teams coming together.  Pierre Kaffer saw the red light and stopped his Ferrari.  Patrick Pilet, who had just gotten in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, looked down to tighten his belts and ran into the back of Kaffer.  Jan Magnussen, who had just gotten in the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, suffered a similar fate when he ran into the back of Pilet.  Kaffer’s Ferrari suffered damage that eventually put the Risi Competizione No. 62 out of the race.  The quantity of the cautions meant that it was very difficult for teams to get into any kind of rhythm until after the halfway point.

While a number of drivers who ran well ended up falling victim to the wrecks, Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 10 Konica Minolta-sponsored Chevrolet Corvette DP Evo shared by Max Angelelli, Jordan Taylor and Ricky Taylor ran a near flawless race.  The WTR trio led 250 of the 400 laps and managed to survive a late shootout to beat Action Express Racing’s No. 5 Chevrolet Corvette DP Evo by 11 seconds.  The regular duo of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi, despite failing to win, still walked out of Road Atlanta with quite a bit of hardware.  By completing the minimum required drive time of 45 minutes each, Barbosa and Fittipaldi won the Prototype drivers’ championship.  The team also won the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup as well.

The PC title was already decided before Road Atlanta, but core Autosport desperately wanted to sweep the endurance races.  However, they came up short.  Starworks Motorsport’s No. 8 shared by Alex Popow, Mirco Schultis and Renger van der Zande inherited the class win after 8Star Motorsports’ Sean Rayhall was spun out of the lead with less than 20 minutes to go in the Esses.  Replays showed that Rayhall was hit by the GTLM Ferrari driven by Tracy Krohn, spun down the hill and hit the wall.  What couldn’t be seen on TV (and what Rayhall later relayed on Twitter) was that after he hit the wall, he slid into the tires and flipped upside down. Rayhall was ok, but was not very happy with Krohn’s driving afterwards.

GTLM saw a driver lineup change at SRT Motorsports resulting in points leaders Kuno Wittmer and Jonathan Bomarito being split in order to give Dodge a better chance at the manufacturers’ title.  The move ultimately failed thanks to Team Falken Tire defending their victory from last year in ALMS’ GT class, which gave the manufacturers’ title to Porsche.  Wittmer finished third in class to Bomarito’s sixth to take the drivers’ title.

Finally, GTD saw Paul Miller Racing take their first win of the season and the only win of 2014 for the Audi R8.  Dane Cameron finished fourth in class, which was good enough to give him the GTD drivers’ championship in the sole BMW Z4 in the class.  – Phil Allaway

About the author

Ava Lader headshot photo

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Sad to see another driver severely injured. Yes, we forget from week to week that it is dangerous until we are reminded in a terrible way all over again.

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