Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Small Teams Benefit in Daytona, Montoya Has Fun

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Big Ones Open Opportunity for NASCAR’s Small Teams

If your Daytona 500 top-10 predictions were correct, after Sunday you may have a few new friends next time you go gambling in Las Vegas — or when you make a DraftKings team.

While veteran Kurt Busch grabbed an epic last-lap victory for the first time in 16 attempts, the rest of the field seemed to take a tumble after multiple Big Ones occurred in the 59th annual Daytona 500.

To match the two major accidents, the race’s final three laps saw three lead changes as Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott ran out of fuel to give Busch the thrilling win.

But he was not the only beneficiary.

Wood Brothers Racing and Ryan Blaney busted through into second place, giving NASCAR’s “traditional” fans a moment of excitement. Blaney was one well-timed bumpdraft away from giving the Woods their second Daytona 500 in the last seven years.

With JTG Daugherty Racing’s AJ Allmendinger posting up third, the final results took on a look of surprise. These two teams had only five top fives total in 2016; now, they’ll start the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in fine shape.

WOLKIN: AJ Allmendinger Starts 2017 Season with Podium Finish at Daytona

That duo seemed to be lifetime success stories, though compared to who ran right behind them. The rest of the top five were veterans, Aric Almirola and Paul Menard, who have only won twice in 580 combined starts and failed to finish inside the top five in all of 2016.

Further back, Michael Waltrip ended his NASCAR career with an eighth-place finish, while Matt DiBenedetto scored the first top 10 for Go Fas Racing in their first race together.

CATANZARETI: Ninth-Place Finish ‘A Heck of a Way to Start the Year’ For Matt DiBenedetto’

Then, there was Brendan Gaughan, who grabbed 11th in a one-off race with team owner Mark Beard. For Gaughan, it was his best run in Cup since the 2004 season finale at Homestead, a gap of over a dozen years.

So the Great American Race, in short turned into the Great American Miracle for so many. It was an impressive list of underdog stories, always a highlight of plate racing and a theme NASCAR hopes to carry beyond Daytona with their new rule changes. – Zach Catanzareti


Ryan Reed Tames a Wild Race

For the second time in his career, Ryan Reed won at Daytona, this time surviving the longest XFINITY Series race in history. For Reed, he’s now 2-for-3 in his past three February starts here but hopes this time it creates momentum over the course of a full season. The last time we saw him in Victory Lane, back in 2015 Reed went without a single top-10 finish the rest of the year.

Why such a marathon 300-miler? Saturday was an event filled with mistakes, causing multiple melees and unsung heroes towards the front of the field. But several crashes also created several opportunities for big surprises. Besides Reed, Scott Lagasse Jr., Joey Gase, Garrett Smithley and Harrison Rhodes all recorded top-10 finishes with underfunded race teams. Those organizations, in particular JD Motorsports, hope their performances attract sponsorship to help their small groups of employees get through the rest of the season.

The wild swings also found their way into the standings. Despite finishing 24th in the race, Elliott Sadler sits third in the points heading to Atlanta Motor Speedway, just 14 markers behind Reed. The No. 1 team swept the first two stages in XFINITY Series history, giving them an additional 20 season points. – Dustin Albino 

Camping World Truck Series

Teenagers Take Center Stage

Think about where the Truck Series was a year ago, with Johnny Sauter entering Victory Lane at Daytona. If I would have told you the top 3 in that race the following year would be Kaz Grala, Austin Wayne Self and Chase Briscoe, what would you have said?

You would have probably laughed me out of the media. Or checked into mental help for me. Probably both.

But that’s how quickly the series can change, this unpredictable season opener a reminder of its parity. Grala, just 18, had never won a race in any major series before Friday night. Suddenly, he’s elevated to “young guns” status as a potential playoff and title contender.

Then there’s Self, who wasn’t even supposed to race this event until an injury forced him into the driver’s seat. He’s only running a limited schedule after a disappointing rookie season; this result gives that part of his career some hope. Both of AM Racing’s two teams (JJ Yeley was ninth) ran top 10 after earning just one such finish all of last year.

Austin Wayne Self is strutting around with confidence this week after scoring a second-place result in the Daytona season opener. (Photo: Matthew Thacker/NKP)

Last but not least, there’s Briscoe, who was a relative unknown this time last February until he burst onto the stage with six ARCA wins and the series championship. Despite an ugly mistake Friday, starting the first Truck Series wreck of the night the rookie recovered, took responsibility, and showcased why he’s a future talent ready to rise in NASCAR.

Together, the trio showed the future of the Truck Series is bright. And if these youngsters can mix it up with veterans like Sauter and Matt Crafton? The second year of their Chase may be a battle for the ages. – Tom Bowles

Sports Cars

Unattached Montoya Has Some Fun in Sebring

As noted in our roundup of last week’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship test at Sebring International Raceway, Juan Pablo Montoya came out to play around with Risi Competizione’s Ferrari 488 GTE on Friday.  With no full-time gig in 2017, Montoya is free to have at it in whatever he wants to.
Montoya’s best lap time was 121.414 seconds (110.893 mph), nearly three seconds off the best GTLM times of the weekend.  The 41-year-old veteran racer, undergoing a learning curve is cognizant of the vast differences between the cars that he’s used to racing and the 488 GTE.
“There’s a lot of pitch movement with the cars. It’s very easy to get it wrong,” Montoya told SportsCar365.com’s John Dagys on Friday.  “You go in one time and it turns, the next time you go in, it doesn’t, the next time you go in, it gets loose. It’s very hard to be consistent.”
Montoya does have some sports car racing experience.  He was a regular participant in big races for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in the Grand-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, winning the Rolex 24 at Daytona on three separate occasions (2007, 2008 and 2013).  However, those wins came in Daytona Prototypes.  Montoya describes those cars as having handling characteristics similar to that of open-wheeled racers.  Montoya’s previous sports car races have seen him exhibit a lot of the same driving traits that he has displayed in INDYCAR and NASCAR, much to his opponents’ consternation at times.
Could sports car racing on a more regular basis be in Montoya’s future?  Possibly.  It is a path that a number of former open-wheeled racers have taken, with varying degrees of success.  Just take the car that Montoya tested.  One of the regular drivers of the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari (not present at the test) is Giancarlo Fisichella, a man with 14 years of experience in Formula One.  After leaving the World Championship, Fisichella settled into sports cars, spending the past few years racing Ferraris all over the world. – Phil Allaway


Second Verse Nearly the Same as the First
NHRA put its second event of the season, the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix, in the books Sunday with results that looked much like the Winternationals two weeks ago.
It was once again Leah Pritchett, the newest driver in the Don Schumacher Racing stable, who took the Wally in Top Fuel, this time besting Brittany Force in a replay of last year. Pritchett ran a lap of 3.705 seconds (328.22 mph) to beat Force’s 3.704-second, 330.39 mph run. Force lost the race on a holeslot.
“Honestly, I’m trying to keep up with my team for how well they’re doing and make them proud of me as a driver and do the job that is expected of a Don Schumacher racing team and I think we’re doing pretty okay with that,” said Pritchett. “We’re blessed with the equipment and the talent capabilities of the people and everyone that it takes to make it. I’m happy I can hold up my end of the bargain.”
Pritchett had a bye run in the first round and then also beat Clay Millican and Shawn Reed en route to the finals.
Going for the two-fer in Funny Car this week was Matt Hagan, and he got it, this time beating teammate Ron Capps with a pass of 3.878 seconds (330.88 mph). That bested Capps’ 3.883-second, 330.88 mph run which landed him in the runner-up spot. Hagan got by Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, and Tommy Johnson Jr. in earlier rounds.
Pro Stock shook things up just a bit from the last time out, as this final round saw Greg Anderson face off against Drew Skillman. Give it to Anderson with a 6.547-second, 211.43 mph run over Skillman’s 6.565 seconds (210.50 mph).
“It was brutal today, but I knew it was going to be coming in,” Anderson said. “The class is awesome right now. I think every race I had today was decided by less than a foot. You just don’t get better racing than that. It’s fantastic out there. It’s just a battle royale every time you stage the car. Anybody can win and that’s what it’s all about.”
Anderson also beat Kenny Delco, Shane Gray and Tanner Gray to make his way to the finals. – Toni Montgomery

About the author

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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