Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Matt Crafton Crumbles, Champions Are Crowned And NASCAR Rained On

Sprint Cup Series: Mother Nature Makes Mockery Of Chase – NASCAR hoped to fill Phoenix with compelling storylines. Instead? Mother Nature filled it with water.

Rain in the desert was honestly the perfect way to push a bumbling, stumbling Chase toward its conclusion. The Eliminator Round wound up with a whimper in a race dominated by Kevin Harvick once it actually did get underway well after 9:00 Eastern time. The event had just two caution flags, one for a competition yellow and the second for an accident involving Joey Gase and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Once that wreckage was cleared, rain began again and NASCAR confusingly called the event – a playoff race, no less – at around the same time (11:45 p.m. ET) they threw the green flag at Daytona Beach back in July.

It was a confusing series of circumstances, one that robbed Kevin Harvick of the win (Dale Earnhardt Jr. beat him off pit road both before and during the yellow flag). It was another confusing call in a series of them NASCAR has issued over the last month. And the end results did little to alter the results of a Final Four basically set after Texas barring a Harvick TKO on the track or some unforeseen, catastrophic circumstances. Jeff Gordon had already earned his way in while Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the field. Carl Edwards wound up five points short, unable to close the gap on a conservative Truex while Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, and Joey Logano were too far back in points to realistically make a charge without a win.

For Earnhardt, the win is big for his crew, unsung heroes in getting the No. 88 out front and puts the cherry on top of an impressive first season with new head wrench Greg Ives. Without a Chase, Earnhardt would be sitting third in the season-long standings; with a different Talladega ending he’d be going for the championship at Homestead. Harvick, of course was the root cause of all that drama so maybe Mother Nature was trying to give Earnhardt a make-up call? Or NASCAR?

Who even knows. This playoff has not been the sport’s finest hour but at the very least, a ho-hum Phoenix heads them to Homestead with some compelling championship stories within the Final Four. Will it be Harvick, Gordon, Truex or Busch holding the trophy? They’re all very evenly matched. Let’s just hope Mother Nature cooperates the next time around. – Tom Bowles

NHRA: All Good Things Must End – The NHRA wrapped up 2015 with the Auto Club NHRA Finals from Pomona, ending a couple of eras along the way. It was the final race on ESPN, and along with that, the final events for on-air personalities Mike Dunn and Gary Gerould. Gerould is retiring while Dunn is being replaced with Tony Pedregon as analyst when the series moves to FOX next season. It was also the last race for carburetors in Pro Stock. The category will be moving to fuel injection next season, among other changes.

Two championships were decided at the last event in Las Vegas, leaving two more to be sorted out at the finale. Funny Car came down to a semi-final matchup between the two contenders, Jack Beckman and Del Worsham. Beckman was holding a provisional national record, good for an extra 20 points, putting both drivers in a must-win situation to clinch the title. Worsham did just that, earning a trip to the finals and with it the Funny Car world championship.

“It was an amazing feeling. I have been here before, not that did me any good up there,” said Worsham. “It felt like it was 25 years agon and I was myaking my first run. The team has been behind me, regardless of the situation. We are racing for Scott, Connie and the entire Kalitta Motorsports family. My teammates, sponsors, DHL, Toyota, Red Line, thank you for your support. Nicky Boninfante, Jon Oberhofer, Dave Boyer and the entire DHL team, the job they have done has been incredible. They have not made a mistake since September.”

He went on to face off against Tommy Johnson Jr., where he also took home the final Wally of the season with a run of 3.900 seconds, 328.14 mph to Johnson’s 4.023 seconds, 305.42 mph.

Worsham also got by Pedregon and Robert Hight before the matchup with Beckman en route to the finals.

Pro Stock Motorcycle was the other category with a championship in the balance. Andrew Hines went in holding the advantage over Jerry Savoie and at the end of the day, it was Hines who prevailed to win his fifth Pro Stock Motorcycle championship when Savoie’s bike broke in the second round. It was teammate Eddie Krawiec who took home the race Wally at the end of the day, beating Matt Smith with a 6.846 second, 192.58 mph run to Smith’s 6.888 second, 194.21 mph effort. Krawiec beat Scotty Pollacheck, Savoie, and Hines in earlier rounds.

Allen Johnson took home the last Wally of the carbureted era in Pro Stock, running a 6.541 second, 210.18 mph pass to beat Vincent Nobile’s 6.540 second, 211.93 mph on a hole shot. Johnson got by Jonathan Gray, Shane Gray, and Pro Stock champion Erica Enders to make it to the finals.

Shawn Langdon closed the season the same way he opened it, with a Top Fuel victory in Pomona, although he did it in two different cars, opening the season in his usual Alan Johnson Racing ride and closing it with Don Schumacher Racing while AJR continues the search for sponsorship. Langdon defeated teammate and Top Fuel champion Antron Brown in the finals, running a 3.715 at 332.43 mph to Brown’s 3.732 second, 321.73 mph.

Langdon also defeated Larry Dixon, Clay Millican, and Doug Kalitta in earlier rounds. – Toni Montgomery

Xfinity Series: A Title Coming Down to the Final Race – After another dominating race by Kyle Busch, the NXS is set for quite the wild season finale. With four drivers in contention for the championship, Homestead will be one of the closest championship battles that we have seen as of late.

Chris Buescher is in a great position to lock up his first NASCAR championship, sitting 18 points ahead of reigning champion Chase Elliott. Evidently, it would take a finish of 19th or worse and a victory by Elliott for Buescher to lose the title. However, for Ty Dillon and Regan Smith, it would take an even larger collapse by the points leader and Elliot to lose the championship.

As we approach the last race of the season, Buescher will attempt to win the title with more than five top 10s lower than the highest amount in the NXS. Though he has not had speed to compete for top fives like his peers, his ability to limit mistakes is what will ultimately call him champion at season’s end. – Joseph Wolkin

Camping World Trucks: Crafton’s Title Hopes Crumble – There’s a moment in every challenger’s quest for a championship where their push to topple the leader reaches desperation status. For Matt Crafton those seconds came inside the closing laps at Phoenix Raceway. Erik Jones, the current point leader had dominated the race and was heading toward a second straight win. Crafton, after a restart had moved up to second and saw an opportunity to steal one, fighting back on his near-insurmountable deficit and making a race out of the championship at Homestead.

Instead, coming off turn 4 Crafton dug a little too deep. The No. 88 truck lost control, Crafton careened hard left and slammed into the outside wall, taking pieces of metal and the hopes for a third straight title along with it.

“I just got loose, it was 100% my fault,” Crafton said. “It was close, tight racing. I made a mistake, mistakes happen, we’re all human.”

Turns out Crafton is human after all, victim to the rising talent in NASCAR known as Jones. While the No. 88 truck was out on the spot in an incident that also involved teammate Johnny Sauter it was Jones who was able to maturely race his wounded truck around to a ninth-place result. Timothy Peters won the race but Jones, now holding a 19-point edge over Tyler Reddick and 32 over a beaten Crafton has clearly won the war. Get ready for a new Truck Series champ to be crowned in impressive fashion at Homestead. – Tom Bowles

Formula 1: Consecutive Wins for Rosberg – Though Lewis Hamilton already won the F1 championship, the F1 season hadn’t ended with his coronation. Nico Rosberg has taken it upon himself to show that he may be a threat to the title next year by now winning his second consecutive race, following his win in Mexico two weeks ago. Rosberg posted an amazing qualifying lap to steal the pole from Hamilton and used the advantage to launch to a meager early lead and, through the course of the race, finally extend the gap to cruise to the win.

Hamilton took the second spot, followed by Sebastian Vettel and then teammate Kimi Raikkonen. The top part of the finishing order showcased the fact that Mercedes still holds the advantage over the field while Ferrari is holding down the marker as second best. The finishing order suggests that Ferrari has the potential to close the gap over the offseason but still has yet to match the Mercedes pace.

Valterri Bottas slotted into the fifth spot and continues to show that Williams is a team holding its own as well as the fact that he is one of the drivers that will continue to draw interest in the coming years as a driver to move into a prime ride. One race remains in the F1 season as the series concludes in Abu Dhabi in two weeks. – Huston Ladner

Short Tracks – The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West title was decided between four drivers Thursday night at Phoenix International Raceway. Along with them there were a number of aspiring drivers from the East looking to gain some experience at a facility they hope to potentially compete at in the top tiers of competition someday. Indiana teenage racer JJ Haley won the pole award and looked to be well on his way to victory number one, but with less than 10 laps remaining a cut tire abruptly ended his chances at a win. Todd Gilliland entered the picture and went on to become the youngest winner in series history in his first career start, matching a feat that also occurred earlier in the season in the ARCA Racing Series. Gilliland also became a third-generation winner in the series along with his father NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular David Gilliland, and former series champion and grandfather Butch Gilliland, who were both in attendance.

Further back in the field, Chris Eggleston held off challenges from Noah Gragson to finish 11th and claim the series championship. The driver most notably known for winning $75,000 in a big super late model race held at North Wilkesboro in 2011 finished his first full season with two wins and nine top fives.

Out east, New Smyrna Speedway (Fla.) held the 50th running of the Governor’s Cup for super late models, but there were not many cars left unscathed at the end of 200 laps. Ty Majeski survived and continued his winning ways from the Midwest.  Steve Wallace was a contender for the victory but the son of 1989 NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace was done before the finish after an on-track incident with short-track standout Bubba Pollard. – Aaron Creed

Sports Cars: New WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Programs Announced – The past week has been quite interesting for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT-Daytona class as three teams have announced their programs for the 2016 season. All four will be using brand-new machinery.

On Tuesday, Paul Miller Racing, which had already announced a switch to the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 for 2016, announced their driver lineup to SportsCar365.com. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow will drive the Huracan GT3 full-time in 2016, while Bryce Miller will continue with the team in the four Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup races (Dayona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta). Sellers comes to the team after spending the past few years racing full-time for Team Falken Tire in the GT-Le Mans class (and the American Le Mans Series’ GT-class before that). Snow started out 2015 racing the No. 58 Porsche with Jan Heylen before the team cut back their schedule. Once that move was made, Snow moved to Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, where he raced a Huracan (a different type of Huracan, but a Huracan, nonetheless).

In addition, O’Gara Motorsports, a team that competes full-time in Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, announced their full-time GT-Daytona program for 2016 with another Huracan GT3. Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler, the 2015 class champions with Scuderia Corsa, will drive full-time. In all, there will be three full-time Huracans in 2016 (Paul Miller Racing, O’Gara Motorsport and Change Racing, a team owned by RAB Racing with Brack Maggard co-owner Robby Benton), plus a potential additional Huracan at the Rolex 24.

Also, Audi gained two organizations last week. The first is Stevenson Motorsports, which is returning to top-flight American sports car racing for the first time since 2013. On Thursday, the CTSC stalwarts announced that they will run two Audi R8 LMS’ in 2016. Their driver lineup is unclear due to driver rankings at the present time. In addition, longtime Porsche campaigners Magnus Racing will make the switch to Audi. Team owner John Potter and Andy Lally will continue to drive full-time. – Phil Allaway

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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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