Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Matt DiBenedetto Impresses at Bristol, Fuel Strategy Dominates IndyCar Series Race at Long Beach and Nico Rosberg Wins Again

Sprint Cup: Sensational Sixth for DiBenedetto –  Is Bristol Motor Speedway becoming the new place for the underdogs? It might be more so than Daytona and Talladega as Bristol once again opened the curtain for the behind-the-scenes characters to shine on Sunday afternoon.

One of the unusual suspects near the front of the field was Matt DiBenedetto. The once young teenage racer who partnered with Joe Gibbs Racing in the XFINITY Series eventually found himself with small start-and-park entries in the second-tier series over the past couple of years. Once 2015 hit, DiBenedetto was fortunate enough to turn a part-time deal with BK Racing into a full-time one, meaning the California native will be a Sprint Cup Series driver.

Jumping to Sunday at Bristol, you would have never guessed he was with a team that had only one previous top 10 in 361 Sprint Cup starts. Using nifty pit strategy to march his way into the top 15, his new tires – mixed with some outside-lane luck on the final restarts – pushed the 24-year-old from 10th to finish sixth.

CATANZARETI: Carl Edwards Dominates Toward Wild Bristol Win

“A sixth-place finish for BK Racing, for all my guys, this is like a win for us,” DiBenedetto said with tears in his eyes. “I apologize for being so emotional but this is an incredible run.”

The raw emotion shown from DiBenedetto and the small team shows us what racing is all about. Surviving a hectic day at a treacherous half-mile track, passing some strong cars late and showing some improved pace all afternoon, it is a well-deserved result for BK Racing. – Zach Catanzareti

XFINITY Series: Which regular is the next to win? – Erik Jones’ thrilling victory on Saturday is the first by an XFINITY Series regular in 2016. The win vaulted Jones to second in the points standings and all but guarantees him a spot in the Chase. So now that Jones has captured a win and with Kyle Busch taking a few races off, the door is open for another XFINITY Series driver to claim a Chase berth.
(Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)
Passing Kyle Busch late at Bristol during Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, Erik Jones was able to capture his third win in the division and first of 2016. (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

Daniel Suarez has appeared to be on the verge of winning for several weeks. He has been at the top of the championship standings since Las Vegas, and like Jones, has displayed respectable speed on a weekly basis. Aside from Suarez, do not be surprised if a JR Motorsports driver reaches victory lane soon. Both Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler have two top fives and six top tens through the first seven races of the year. – Bryan Gable

IndyCar Series: Fuel Strategy Dominates Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – Fans of strategy were in for a great afternoon on the streets of Long Beach, California on Sunday afternoon. Fans of passing, however? Not so much.

Simon Pagenaud Withstands Review, Scott Dixon to Score Long Beach Win

Sunday’s 80-lap Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was a race of fuel strategy for all teams involved. Teams varied between two and three-stop strategies, with the two-stop strategy ultimately prevailing for the podium of Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves.

As drivers worked to conserve fuel, passing was difficult to come by on the tight, California street course. Many drivers, including Takuma Sato, were left with multiple push-to-pass opportunities left in the waning stages of the race, but the most the gaps to the next car were too great to erase. Sato used seven in a failed attempt to catch and pass Juan Pablo Montoya in the final laps before slotting in just behind him in fifth. -Aaron Bearden

Formula 1: Rosberg Runs to Record WinNico Rosberg cruised to the pole position at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai after his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, failed to make it out of the first qualifying session. Being in such a position seemed to predict an easy day for Rosberg. At the start of the race, Daniel Ricciardo, sitting in the second spot, beat Rosberg to Turn 1 and eked out a small lead as the field made a mess of things behind them.
Ricciardo’s lead lasted just five laps before Rosberg caught him, and when Ricciardo’s tire blew, Rosberg made the easy pass. From there, Rosberg saw no challengers and cruised home to his sixth win in a row – making him only the fourth driver to accomplish such a feat.  Rosberg enjoyed such an easy day that his lead had grown to over thirty seconds when he crossed the finish line.
Sebastian Vettel, driving one of the many cars that sustained damage in what turned out to be an entertaining and fascinating race, scored the second spot on the podium. Daniil Kvyat, who helped spur the first laps incident, earned the final place where they spray champagne.  Vettel used the time before the podium ceremony to give Kvyat a dressing down, though Kvyat seemed to hold his own against the four-time champion.
Daniel Ricciardo endured to take fourth, a result that shows that he and Kvyat, driving for an improved Red Bull, with the Tag Heuer named Renault power plant, might be capable of battling Ferrari as the team capable of catching Mercedes.Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top five.
Hamilton, whose car suffered underside damage from a lap one collision, made five pit stops but could never show the pace of Mercedes and settled for a seventh-place result.
For fans of the American-based Haas F1 Team, the race proved to be a letdown as Romain Grosjean could not sustain his surprising results from the first two races and managed just a 19th-place result. Teammate Esteban Gutierrez fared better, crossing the line in 14th, which is his first race finish of the year after two DNFs.
It should be noted that all 22 cars were running at the end, something of a rarity in F1 races. – Huston Ladner
Sports Cars: Wrecking Isn’t Racing, Right? – Both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship races this past weekend featured instances in which a wreck clearly changed the result of the race. We’ll start with Saturday evening’s BUBBA Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, where the GT-Le Mans class came down to a three-car duel between Corvette Racing’s Tommy Milner and the two entries from Porsche North America, driven by Frederic Makowiecki and Nick Tandy.
Coming to two laps to go, Makowiecki made a very low percentage move to the inside of Milner at the hairpin. Milner took his normal line and the two cars collided. He spun and Makowiecki grinded to a stop with significant fender damage. Meanwhile, third-place Tandy slipped on the inside to drive off and take the win. It is the second straight race in which a Porsche and Chevrolet Corvette have collided while racing for the lead.
Naturally, Milner was rather angry about it.
“I just got wrecked basically,” Milner said after the race. “Two Porsches running nose to tail. It is pretty clear what happened there. It is pretty disappointing that it is the kind of racing here where we are better than that for sure. I don’t mind finishing second if it is clean and it is the right way, but that wasn’t the right way. We can hold our heads up high that we raced as hard as we could today, the right way.”
Makowiecki was officially given a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, but since he failed to continue, it ultimately didn’t matter. He would have finished in the same spot even with a post-race time penalty as he did (seventh). Whether IMSA takes further action remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, at Silverstone in Sunday’s 6 Hours of Silverstone, Porsche’s Brendon Hartley crashed out of the lead in the third hour when he ran into the slower, GTE-Am class No. 86 Porsche 911 RSR driven by Michael Wainwright.  Hartley’s Porsche 919 Hybrid nearly rolled before coming down on all fours and sliding into the trap.
The move earned Hartley an official reprimand from the stewards, who determined that he was solely responsible for causing the crash. – Phil Allaway

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