Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: The Race That Wouldn’t End, Sadler’s Sickness and Bubba’s Championship Hopes Go Up in Smoke

Sprint Cup Series:  The Stop and Go 500 – How do you like your races?  Well this one seemed to mimic bad traffic.  The race had a green flag feel until the caution came out for debris on lap 174.  Then the race became a contest between who was good for twenty laps at a time, who had a mistake-free pit stop, and who could get a good restart.  That doesn’t exactly make for compelling racing.

Another problem was the caution count was eight came because of debris, so it’s not like there was some kind of action to really make things interesting.  And then Joey Logano’s lazy spin due to a flat brought out another yellow.  And then there’s Clint Bowyer’s ride into the wall.  Add in Jeff Gordon’s cut tire (that led to a whole different thing) and it’s hard to glean much from this kind of racing.

One thing that can be stated is that the flared side skirts are a weird aspect to the cars.  NASCAR has not developed any kind of way of policing how teams are altering this part of their cars, and the fact that it seems to be a dangerous adjustment.  With the flared side skirts, any time these cars make contact, there’s a good chance that there’ll be a tire going flat.  This situation doesn’t seem to be a good one and warrants some further examination.

2014 Texas II CUP Jimmie Johnson Jeff Gordon racing CIA
(Credit: CIA Stock Photography)

Perhaps the goofiest comment that can be made is that Formula 1 race started about twenty minutes prior to the Cup race (yes, genius scheduling by everyone involved) and that Cup was still going an hour and a half later — with 30 laps still to go!  With the green-white-checker finish (still lame) the race still lasted nearly four hours.  That’s just way too long.  Huston Ladner

IndyCar: The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Schedule Proves to Disappoint – The dark, listless abyss that is the INDYCAR offseason showed some signs of life this past week, as series officials finally released the much-speculated-about 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Unfortunately for those hoping for more INDYCAR-centric storylines in the wake of this news, I have some bad news for you.

For the fourth year in a row, the schedule is drab, lifeless, and uninspired.  The only major additions to the schedule were a new race in Brasilia, Brazil that will serve as the season opener, along with a race at the newly-built NOLA Motorsports Park. While it’s nice to see the circuit visit new tracks, neither one of these races will do much to generate any real excitement.

Meanwhile, the puzzling disparity between road / street and oval races remains, and only looks like it will get worse going forward. Only six oval events are on the schedule, with the rest of the schedule being a strange potpourri of polarizing street races and fly-by-night road race events at purpose-built tracks that have little in the name of character or clout. Yeah, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma are nice, but where are the races at Watkins Glen, or Road America? You know, the kinds of road circuits that have the potential to put on exciting shows.

Oh, and where are these new oval events that INDYCAR brass keeps insisting are in the works? Michigan? Phoenix? Is INDYCAR just not wanted at these places? What gives?

All told, the 2015 IndyCar Series schedule really can not be characterized as anything other than a disappointment. The schedule has been a sticking point for this series for a long time now, and that fact doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon.  Matt Stallknecht

Nationwide Series: Sadler Sits Out Texas – As the Nationwide Series returned to action Saturday, Elliott Sadler struggled through the weekend. According to a report from Bob Pockrass at Sporting News,  the Joe Gibbs Racing driver suffered a stomach virus that kept him out of qualifying. Having to already start in the back, Sadler gave up his seat to Clint Bowyer just nine laps into Saturday’s race, so he’ll be credited with the ninth-place finish.

“I’m sorry about this,” Sadler told his crew prior to the race. “We’ll make the most of it. You’ve got a good man you’re putting in here.”

While I’m sure he was disappointed he had to sit on the sidelines, the long-term effects of sitting out of the car are really rather minimal. Sadler was already out of contention for the title at 63 points behind leader Chase Elliott, and he left the facility 68 markers back. Aside from the obvious of not wanting to do anything when you’re sick, it’s probably wise that Sadler sat out since his head was likely not really into the race either. He’ll move on to next weekend at Phoenix and close out the season at Homestead.

Camping World Truck Series: Championship Hopes Go Up in SmokeDarrell Wallace, Jr. headed into Texas Motor Speedway with a long shot chance at snagging the championship this year. Fresh off of his third win of the season at Martinsville last weekend, Wallace had moved to just 22 markers behind leader Matt Crafton, and he had high hopes for the weekend at Texas, a mile-and-a-half track that Kyle Busch Motorsports as a whole has been so strong at all season.

After starting eighth, Wallace took the lead for the first time just four laps in and participated in multiple spirited battles with team owner Kyle Busch. But it wasn’t meant to be for the sophomore driver, whose truck succumbed to engine failure shortly beyond the 100 lap mark. The resulting oil that was laid down over more than half of the track led to a short red flag period for cleanup. You could see the dejection in Wallace’s body language as he sauntered back to his hauler. He now sits 52 points behind the leader and pretty much out of contention in third.

Formula 1: Hamilton Takes His Fifth Straight – Lewis Hamilton started off the weekend by showing the speed of his Mercedes, earning the top spot in all three practice sessions.  Qualifying had the feeling of being a fait accompli, with Hamilton likely to put himself P1.  That’s not how things went down, though, as the points leader suffered with some braking issues and ultimately fell to his teammate, and closest challenger, Nico Rosberg.

Come raceday, everyone started on the soft compound tyres and after an early safety car due to Adrian Sutil and Sergio Perez getting together, Rosberg drove to a nearly two-second lead over Hamilton.  Then came the first rounds of pit stops and the switch to the harder compound tyres.  Rosberg maintained his lead for a while, but Hamilton excelled on this compound, cut into the lead and eventually passed the leader.

With the win, his second at the Circuit of the Americas, Hamilton now enjoys a 24-point lead as the series heads to Brazil next week.  Though the final event in Abu Dhabi offers the double points, Hamilton looks to be in great shape to claim his second F1 championship.

The bigger story is the ongoing financial issues that plague the sport.  With Marussia and Caterham now in administration, a euphemism for bankruptcy, the smaller teams are now fighting just to stay afloat in a big budget spending game dominated by Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and the like.  The concern is how the money is distributed.  There doesn’t seem to be a positive trickle-down effect and it seems that perhaps the series could borrow from Major League Baseball, with some of wealthier teams sharing some of their spoils.  But as Bernie Ecclestone admitted, he’s not sure how to fix it.  Huston Ladner

Sports Cars: TUSC Makes A Schedule Adjustment
IMSA released the official 2015 schedule for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship back in August during the Road America race weekend.  Everything seemed to be set in stone.  However, Prototype Challenge teams were not happy since they were again scheduled to compete in an event along with IMSA Prototype Lites at Virginia International Raceway (VIR), separate from the GT-Le Mans/GT-Daytona race.  There were two such events on the 2014 (VIR and Kansas) that saw the teams grouse about them from the minute they were announced.
From the start, the PC teams have viewed the races with Prototype Lites as being somewhat low-rent.  The Kansas weekend, in particular, was derided by teams as being a “glorified club meet.”  Well, there won’t be any glorified club meets for PC teams on the schedule next year.
On Friday, IMSA announced a schedule shift that will see the PC class no longer compete at VIR in 2015.  To replace the cancelled race at VIR, the PC class has been added to the round at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, currently scheduled for May 30th.  At Belle Isle, the PC teams will race with the Prototype and GT-Daytona classes on the street course.
RSR Racing owner Paul Gentilozzi seems pleased with the change.
“This is a fantastic change for the Prototype Challenge class and absolutely confirms IMSA’s commitment to the category,” Gentilozzi told IMSA.com.  “As a Michigan-based team, this is great news for RSR. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
One of the primary issues with the race with Prototype Lites for PC teams was the complete and total lack of exposure.  Earlier this year, the PC doubleheader at VIR was not aired on television at all.  The races were not originally going to be recorded at all, but a late deal saw them streamed on FansChoice.tv (the broadcasts were later uploaded to YouTube).  The lack of TV exposure is a big issue for teams.  Kansas was worse, as there were no TV cameras at the track all weekend.  As a result, neither of the two 45-minute PC/Prototype Lites races, or the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge event were aired on television or streamed online.  Friday’s announcement means that all ten rounds for all four classes will be aired on television.  Phil Allaway
NHRA: Coming to the Conclusion With Tight Battles
Upsets and tight battles were the name of the game as the second to last event of the NHRA season, the NHRA Toyota Nationals, played out at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For Erica Enders-Stevens, it’s full speed ahead as she scored her fifth win of the season and retook the lead in the Pro Stock points standings, now holding a margin of 17 points over second place Jason Line heading to the final event. She’s trying to become the first female Pro Stock world champion and entered the weekend trailing Line by 35 markers.
The top Pro Stock contenders battled it out pretty much directly, with Line facing off against third place Dave Connolly in round two and then lining up against Enders-Stevens in the semi-finals. Enders-Stevens took out the driver she was trying to catch, and then went on to face off against defending Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin, Jr. in the finals. Her run of 6.587 seconds, 209.36 mph was good enough to beat Coughlin’s 6.596 seconds, 209.14 mph.
“I wanted to come in with a positive attitude,” said Enders-Stevens. “When I walked in the gate on Thursday afternoon I had a good feeling. I was a nervous wreck in Reading. I’ve never felt that way in my racing career. I decided I was going to give it to God, keep the faith, do my best and let him do the rest. That quick mental change made everything run so much smoother today.”
The Top Fuel championship will move on to be decided at the finale in Pomona after Tony Schumacher, who had a chance to clinch it, was upset by Billy Torrence in the first round. To Schumacher’s benefit perhaps, the Top Fuel ranks featured several early upsets, with second and third place drivers Doug Kalitta and Steve Torrence also falling in the first round.
The final would be decided between Spencer Massey and J.R. Todd, with Massey taking it with a run of 3.756 seconds at 330.88 mph to Todd’s tire spinning 7.375 seconds, 87.51 mph. Massey beat Terry McMillen, Shawn Langdon, and Leah Pritchett en route to the finals.
Del Worsham won his first Wally in five years in Funny Car, defeating John Force in the finals with a run of 4.064 seconds, 318.39 mph to Force’s 4.104 seconds, 321.42 mph. Matt Hagan fell in the semi-finals to Worsham, but still holds the points lead over Force by 21 points heading to the final event.
Andrew Hines was the winner in Pro Stock Motorcycles, defeating Matt Smith with a run of 6.955 seconds, 191.302 mph. Hines continues to lead the standings in Pro Stock Motorcycle by 92 points over teammate Eddie Krawiec.  Toni Montgomery

About the author

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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