Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Ryan Blaney Lets One Get Away, Erik Jones Dominates in XFINITY Series

Monster Energy Cup Series: The Wood Brothers are Back – 1982. That was the last time a Wood Brothers Racing car led more than 100 laps in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

The 35-year streak ended Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway as the team’s second-year driver Ryan Blaney led the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 for 148 circuits, nearly five times the number of career laps led in his previous 60 Cup starts.

A streak that didn’t snap, however, was the winless drought, as the day didn’t end with a trip to Victory Lane.

The nostalgic sight of seeing the red and white No. 21 car slaying the field may have been a special visual for traditional fans, but it came untied when it counted.

Winning the first two stages, Blaney lost the top spot when they chose to pit to begin the final 165-lap run to the end. Restarting 20th for the ensuing restart, Blaney got as high as seventh for the remainder of the race.

Lapped traffic, no cautions for more than 100 laps and a mistake on pit road likely all kept Blaney from rebounding from the lost track position.

The 23-year-old may have only finished 12th, but he surprised NASCAR nation in a big way by showing he has the ability to lead laps. Next, he needs to learn how to close it off. – Zach Catanzareti

XFINITY Series: Erik Jones Wins in Commanding Fashion – It didn’t take long for Erik Jones to grab the top spot in Saturday’s My Bariatric Solutions 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. The No. 20 car started from second, quickly grabbing the lead to win the opening stage.

Jones want on to lead 112 of the 200 total laps, en route to his seventh career XFINITY Series victory. The 112-lap tally was the second highest he had led in any XFINITY Series event, only down from leading 154 laps last July at Iowa Speedway.

The race was filled with strategy as it was much of a one-lane race groove with TMS new asphalt and reconfiguration. The mixture of of strategy led to William Byron picking up his first career stage win (Stage 2), notching the rookie a playoff point.

For the most part Cup Series stars dominated the race, but Cole Custer was the highest finishing XFINITY Series regular in fifth position. The top-five effort came after a rough West Coast swing for the 19-year-old, finishing no better than 11th and ending the day in 21st and 35th in his last two outings.

As the series heads into its second off-week of the season, Elliott Sadler remains the championship leader by six points over Byron. They are followed by a pair of Roush Fenway Racing teammates in third and fourth, respectively, with Justin Allgaier rounding out the top five. – Dustin Albino

INDYCAR: Indy Lights Veterans Zach Veach, Jack Harvey Earn Indianapolis 500 Rides – The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend saw two ride announcements made for next month’s Indianapolis 500.  On Friday, AJ Foyt Racing announced that they will field a third entry, No. 40, for Zach Veach.  Veach will be sponsored by the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim.

Veach, who will be making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut, is quite excited about the opportunity to race at Indianapolis in what is currently a one-off.

“It’s going to be kind of special,” Veach said.  “I was lost for words when I first knew this was going to be coming together. [The Indianapolis 500 is the] most important race in the world to me. Being from a small town in Ohio, it’s always been my dream to make the name ‘Veach’ one of the names around Indianapolis history.”

On Sunday morning, Andretti Autosport announced that Jack Harvey will drive for the team in a fifth entry for the team at Indianapolis.  The car will be sponsored by AutoNation, the largest automotive retailer in the United States.

Harvey, a past Freedom 100 winner, is overjoyed to race in the 500.

“[The Indianapolis 500 is] one of the biggest races in the world,” Harvey said.  “I think for any driver trying to compete in the 500 would be a bucket list race.  To get my first opportunity to drive with Andretti Autosport is a dream come true because everybody knows what a great team they are. Even people from the UK who don’t know much about the 500, they absolutely recognize the name.”

Both drivers will take part in Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the lead-up to the month of May. – Phil Allaway

Sports Cars: Sofronas Overcomes Thievery to Win GTA at Long Beach – For GMG Racing, Long Beach is a very important venue for the team since it is their home race.  The team is based in Santa Ana, which is roughly a half-hour drive from Long Beach.  It is important that the team does well.

In the lead up to this weekend’s racing, a couple of thieves broke into the team’s shop and made off with more than a million dollars’ worth of parts for the team’s new McLaren 570S GT4’s and Porsches.  KCBS filed this report on the theft.

Naturally, such a loss is substantial.  However, GMG Racing owner James Sofronas overcame that financial loss to finish tenth overall and tops in the GTA subclass.

Afterwards, Sofronas was happy given the circumstances.

“The GMG [Racing] guys all came together,” Sofronas told Frontstretch after the race.  “It was a tough week, but this is what we do.  We put our heads down, get the work done, prepare the cars and do what we have to do.  With a lot of family, friends, sponsors and partners, this is a big home race for us.  If you’re going to deliver, you have to deliver [here].  Good to finish strong, the car’s in one piece, top 10 overall against the top pros in the world.  For me, it’s very gratifying.”

The stolen parts have still not been recovered.  Sofronas is on record asking the thieves to simply return the ill-gotten gains since they cannot be used in any street car. – Phil Allaway

Formula 1: Hamilton Earns Chinese GP Win – Two weeks ago in Australia, Ferrari was able to outfox Mercedes through pit strategy and push Sebastian Vettel to the win. At the Chinese Grand Prix, Mercedes needed little in the way of strategy for Lewis Hamilton to earn his first win of the 2017 season.  All the Silver Arrows needed was for Hamilton to show again that Mercedes was the fastest car on the track.  Vettel finishing second, with Max Verstappen taking the third spot on the podium

Verstappen was voted the F1 Driver of the Day, and may have provided some of the most entertaining moments of the race as he started from the rear of the grid and overtook nine cars through the first lap.  While Hamilton seemingly cruised to the win, Verstappen showed why many consider him to be the future of the sport.  He’s already sliding into the top driver position at Red Bull and there appears that should the Red Bull/Renault pairing be able to saddle him with a car that can match Mercedes power, he’ll be taking the top spot of the podium.
The Chinese Grand Prix was held in soggy conditions that had the teams start on intermediate wet tyres.  The series resumes next weekend when they race the Bahrain GP, where the track is much more likely to be dry, and possibly sandy.  – Huston Ladner

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Young Blaney didn’t surprise Nascar nation, we have seen how good he is for about a year now. This is really the second time he has shot himself in the foot and not won a race he was capable of winning. He also added to his woes in this race when he decided to play bumper cars with another youngster, that dropped him from the front few to back to the teens. Maybe he just needs to learn maturity, and then the race wins will come. The Wood brothers with Penske support are certainly giving him the car every week. Now it’s up to him to bring it home.

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