Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Xfinity Frustration, Historic Finals, F1 Changeup & More

Sprint Cup Series: Denny Hamlin Joins In on JGR Dominance – Joe Gibbs Racing has been on a surge since the beginning of the summer, rattling off eight wins in the 11 races leading up to the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Kyle Busch claimed four victories, Matt Kenseth reeled off three wins, and Carl Edwards put on a show to take the NASCAR Throwback weekend at “Carlington.” However, Denny Hamlin had been unable to join the fun entering the Chase, making news only when he tore his ACL prior to the Sept. 12 race at Richmond International Raceway.

That all changed on Sunday, when Hamlin overcame an early spin and drove masterfully on a late-race restart to take the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Raceway, the opener to the 2015 playoff.

“It’s big,” said Hamlin in his post-race press conference. “We find ourself – No matter what year we’ve had, we find ourselves at an advantage over everyone right now.

“We entered this Chase with as much momentum as we’ve ever had, maybe not in race wins, but certainly in top-five finishes,” Hamlin continued. “We’ve been battling for race wins here in the last few months. Even though my teammates have been winning, we’ve been the second-best car. We’ve been right there, we just haven’t had things work out for us.
“We had a similar restart like this at the end of Darlington. Unfortunately, it was with a teammate, so I had to treat it slightly different, but I can tell you that things worked out for us and obviously this is the momentum we need to continue on.” – Aaron Bearden

XFINITY Series: Another Day Another Win for Kyle Busch – Who would have guessed that Busch won an Xfinity Series race yet again? For the fourth time in nine races (44% of the time), “Rowdy” visited Victory Lane, this time at Chicagoland Speedway, and did so in dominating fashion for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Busch and teammate Kenseth led the overwhelming majority of the race, disappointing many NXS regulars, such as Brian Scott and Darrell Wallace Jr., who felt as if they could win on Saturday evening. But the real highlight of the race was the championship battle, which changed once again.
Ty Dillon had a solid run throughout the 300-mile race, but came on strong late in the going, finishing fifth in the No. 3 car. Being the second-highest series regular behind Wallace, he returned to the runner-up position in the championship standings, which is something he and reigning champion Chase Elliott have swapped multiple times over the past two months. Elliott finished 14th at Chicago, barely making it into the top 15 with five laps remaining in the race, evidently giving up second in points to Dillon. Points leader Chris Buescher recovered from a pit-road penalty to finish seventh, showcasing a key skill in a champion to make the most of what could have been a disappointing end to the race. He now holds a 25-point lead over Dillon with seven races remaining in the season. – Joseph Wolkin

IndyCar: INDYCAR Officials Plan Tribute to Justin Wilson – The Verizon IndyCar Series 2015 championship battle may be complete, but the stars of the series will assemble one more time for a good cause: To honor fallen brother Justin Wilson.

IndyCar will host “Celebrating the Life of Justin Wilson” on Tuesday, Sept. 29 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pavilion, honoring the late IndyCar driver. Wilson passed away after a fatal incident in an August race at Pocono Raceway, when a piece of debris off of Sage Karam’s machine hit Wilson’s helmet.

Multiple tributes have already been held for Wilson, who was oft regarded as the nicest driver in the Paddock. Fans held vigils at both Pocono and Indianapolis, series’ including Formula 1, NASCAR and MotoGP held moments of silence for the fallen driver before events, and fans and competitors purchased “Badass Wilson: merchandise, with the proceeds benefitting the driver’s family.

“Celebrating the Life of Justin Wilson” will be held from 4-6 p.m. ET. The event will not be open to the public, but will be streamed live for interested fans on IndyCar.com. – Aaron Bearden

NHRA: A Historic First During Countdown Kickoff – The Top Fuel final at the NHRA Carolina Nationals marked a historic first as the first time two African-American drivers squared off in a professional category final. It was Antron Brown vs. JR Todd.

Give the win to Brown, who got the jump off the line and put down a pass of 3.832 seconds at 311.56 mph to beat Todd’s 4.063 seconds, 286.32 mph. He also defeated Terry McMillen, Steve Torrence and teammate Tony Schumacher en route to the final round matchup with Todd.

“This is a stadium. It reminds me of one of those old coliseums. It’s like being one of the gladiators. That’s what it brings out in you when you come here,” said Brown. “You’ve got the four-wide, which is like a battle royale in the spring and then in the fall this is the first race of the Countdown. You better bring your A+ game to get those round wins so you get off to a great start.”

In Funny Car it was Del Worsham versus Tommy Johnson Jr., with Worsham taking the win with a 4.086 second, 307.16 mph run to Johnson’s 4.119 seconds, 300.93 mph. Worsham had to race his way through Dave Richards, Matt Hagan and John Force to get to the finals.

Worsham is the first driver to win at zMAX Dragway in both a Top Fuel car and a Funny Car. Final tally on the day for the Nitro divisions makes it a split between Don Schumacher Racing (Brown) and Kalitta Motorsports (Worsham), who faced each other in both finals.

Erica Enders-Stevens scored her third win in a row, also her third in a row on a hole shot, when she beat Vincent Nobile in the Pro Stock finals. This is her seventh win overall in the season, tying her with Angelle Sampey for most wins in a single season by a female driver. She was tied with Shirley Muldowney at second with 18 on the overall female win list coming into Charlotte, so she now is in sole possession of second with 19 wins, trailing only Sampey.

Thanks to her better reaction time, Enders’s 6.581 seconds, 210.97 mph was good enough to hold off Nobile’s 6.575 seconds, 211.13 mph. She also made it past V Gaines, Chris McGaha and Allen Johnson in the earlier rounds.

Andrew Hines cut a great .007 light while Matt Smith was dead asleep with a .150, giving Hines the easy win in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Hines also beat Chaz Kennedy, Steve Johnson and Jerry Savoie en route to the final round matchup with Smith. Hines also walks away with the points lead in the class. – Toni Montgomery

Formula 1: Vettel Breaks the Mercedes Dominance – For the first time in what seems like ages, but in reality is 21 races, a team other than Mercedes claimed pole position. Sebastian Vettel won qualifying at the Singapore Grand Prix, took off in his Ferrari from the first starting spot, and never felt a real challenge, cruising to his second win of the 2015 season. Daniel Ricciardo, of Red Bull, earned second, with Kimi Raikkonen taking the final spot on the podium.

Vettel’s win inches him closer in the championship hunt as Lewis Hamilton retired with mechanical issues. Hamilton leads by 41 over Nico Rosberg, who finished fourth, and Vettel lurks 49 points back.

The Singapore circuit is known for the safety car making its presence known and this one was no different – though the second time it came out was due to a fan disrupting the race. Ricciardo mentioned after the race that the second safety car may have cost him a good shot at the win.

Of note to American fans is the fact that Alexander Rossi made his F1 debut, driving for Manor and earned a respectable 14th-place finish. While Rossi had been rumored to be a potential candidate for the Haas team joining the grid next year, that is not likely to happen. – Huston Ladner

Sports Cars: The CTSC Makes Some Changes – In the not-too-distant past, the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge was a series with massive grids (70+ cars for some races) and excellent racing.  However, the past couple of years have seen car counts drop off significantly while costs have increased. The Grand Sport class has been hurt by direct and indirect factory involvement running teams out of the series while hurting the class diversity, while the Street Tuner class has been hurt by rules that seemed to favor the Mazda MX-5 and Porsche Cayman over everything else.

On Tuesday, IMSA announced a couple of rule changes for 2016 that are in line with a mission statement released recently.  Cars will now be allowed to carry onboard air-jacks for pit stops. Officially, they’re not mandatory, but the subsequent cut in the number of crewmen allowed over the wall from four to three will essentially mandate them.  Previously, teams employed a jackman to raise the car, NASCAR-style.

In addition, the series is trying to re-introduce the variety of car models that has been the hallmark of the series. Currently, 10 models are approved for GS and 14 for ST. All of those models will be legal for 2016. They have been joined by 27 more (ten in GS and 17 in ST). The new cars in GS are generally getting away from direct factory involvement in favor of teams using “bodies in white” or modifying street cars, like they did in the not-too-distant past. For instance, the new downsized Camaro SS will be eligible. In addition to American Iron, European GT4 cars will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The new Porsche Cayman GT4 will be the first car eligible there. The new Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan is eligible, as is the Audi TT-RS that currently races in Pirelli World Challenge’s GTS Class.In ST, there are a number of new models eligible that would be returning to the series like the Volkswagen GTI, the Ford Focus ST and the Kia Forte Koup.

However, there are some interesting cars as well. One that stands out is the Buick Regal with the 2.0 liter turbo four-cylinder engine. If a team fields the Regal, it will be the first appearance of a Buick in a major U.S. race in 20 years. Other models of interest include the Volkswagen Golf R, Alfa Romeo 4C, Mercedes-Benz CLA250, Hyundai Veloster Turbo and the Cadillac ATS Sedan. It remains to be seen if any teams bite on the brand new options available, but 2016 looks to be a slightly more varied season on the track. – Phil Allaway

Short Tracks:  The theme at a couple locales over the weekend was a different atmosphere at familiar places. Michigan’s Berlin Raceway, normally an asphalt 7/16-mile, was converted to dirt for its annual Down and Dirty Weekend featuring the World of Outlaws Late Models. Rick Eckert outran series champion and winner of this event in 2014 Darrell Lanigan for his fourth victory of the season. The track continues to be covered with dirt next weekend for the arrival of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series to town.

At Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, it was a driver from the west coast taking the victory in the Allen Turner Tune-Up 100, the final Pro Late Model race at the 1/2-mile before the Snowflake 100 as part of the 48th Annual Snowball Derby weekend. Derek Thorn, who finished third in the 2014 Snowball Derby, survived an event filled 35-car race that featured occasional NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Johanna Long and former multi-time Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin.  The win gives Thorn an immense amount of momentum heading into the December race week. Texan Ryan Luza won the track championship. – Aaron Creed

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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Great win for Vettel and Ferrari in Singapore yesterday. The series definitely needs serious challenges to the Mercedes domination. But the two biggest questions coming of the weekend are (a) was this a one off, meaning that Mercedes dominance returns in Japan? and (b) Just how huge will be the fine levied by Bernie on the promoters for allowing a spectator to get on the track?

J. Smith

What I found intriguing was the virtual safety car thing. I’ve heard NASCAR cheerleader Dave Moody tell a caller that it was not possible to do. What a great way to maintain the integrity of a race while removing debris. It still needs some work and I’d like to know more details about how it works but it seems like a great thing. Mercedes off pace all the sudden is suspect. Judge Judy says if it doesn’t make sense, it’s not true.


Nice points J. Smith. As far as the cheerleader saying a virtual safety car can’t be done, we along with millions of others saw it done. Just like they claim that it would be too much to expect Goodyear to bring two compounds of tire to the track and mandate that the teams run both. Yet Pirelli does it every race, and Michelin is willing to do it if they get the contract.

Its the same old thing from the cheerleaders, applauding the inertia which is leading them back down the path to once again being a regional sport.

I was shocked at Mercedes pace at Singapore also, but expect a return to form in Japan. Yet there is that niggling doubt from where they were obviously worried about being caught with low pressures at Monza.


Judging from the title of the article I thought the crack journalists at Frontstretch finally noticed that fans are about as impressed by a Cup driver using a lower series as practice as they would be with a High School pitcher throwing a no hitter against a little league team. Nope, same old oblivious sh-t.


Here’s the frustrating part: CUP DRIVERS DO NOT BELONG IN XFINITY OR TRUCKS! NASCAR must be the most ignorant sports governing body in the world! The stands are empty for these Xfinity races because real fans are sickened by watching millionaires beat up on the little guys. The XFinity regulars get to go home with their tails between their legs, while the Cup hogs get to race the next day for the big money! How is this even remotely in the spirit of competition???


The Xfinity and truck series provide graphic examples of why EVERY competitive endeavor known to man has classes. The fans grasp this concept and as a result have abandoned the second tier series. That NASCAR can’t seem to figure the whole classes thing out, and the racing press doesn’t seem to notice tells you all you need to know about the intelligence of both groups.

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