Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Aric Almirola’s Wreck Changes the Game, Ben Rhodes Comes up Shy of First Victory

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Almirola Crash Changed The Game  Just one week ago, Aric Almirola stood inside Victory Lane at Talladega Superspeedway. He’d won his second XFINITY Series race in his last three restrictor plate attempts, following that up with a fourth-place effort in the Cup race. A season-long goal of making the playoffs suddenly seemed within reach.

One week later? A few awful seconds, at 200 mph at Kansas Speedway leaves him struggling to get out of his hospital bed.

That’s the risky business of racing, one NASCAR’s impeccable safety record the last decade-plus has made it all-too-easy to forget. It’s been 16 years now since Dale Earnhardt Sr. died on that fateful Daytona day in February 2001; we haven’t lost a driver within the sport’s top three divisions since.

But Saturday night, the angle and speed at which Almirola slammed into Joey Logano left us far too close to another tragedy. It made who won the race forgettable; it created images of neck braces and pain and the types of memories you want to discard. Logano, whose contact with Denny Hamlin four years ago led to a compression fracture for Hamlin, who will certainly remember every moment until we learned Almirola was released from the hospital.

Moving forward, NASCAR will learn from this wreck. They ordered all the parts and pieces strewn across Turn 1 picked up by safety crews and sent to the R&D Center for research. You better believe there’s a new innovation coming, as soon as possible to make the Cup cars just that much safer.

But safety on the track, as in life is not 100 percent guaranteed. Almirola, his family, his peers and his fans are grappling with that cold reality this Monday morning.

Let’s hope that feeling doesn’t come back in this sport for oh, about another 16 years. – Tom Bowles

Camping World Truck Series: Ben Rhodes Suffers Heartbreak in Kansas – It almost happened. After struggling through a season that saw the ThorSport Racing shop suffer a major fire that left the team scrambling to set up trucks wherever it could find the space, Ben Rhodes and the No. 27 team looked like it was on the way to a victory Friday night at Kansas Speedway. It would have been particularly special as a first career win for both Rhodes and crew chief Eddie Troconis.

But it wasn’t meant to be when a piece of debris stuck a hole in the radiator, causing the engine to blow just a handful of laps before the checkered flag flew. Understandably upset, Rhodes took some time to compose himself before facing the media for interviews.

The thing that Rhodes needs to walk away from Kansas knowing is that he has the equipment and the team to head to Victory Lane. Sure, it didn’t happen Friday night, but he was able to run down Kyle Busch, pass him cleanly and pull away before the engine went south. And after a solid test at Charlotte a few weeks ago, you can bet you’ll see much more of the same from the No. 27 team next Friday night. – Beth Lunkenheimer

Formula 1: The See-Saw Season Continued at the Spanish GP – Lewis Hamilton earned his second win of the F1 season at the Spanish Grand Prix and now sits six points behind Sebastian Vettel, who finished second in the race.  Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull earned his first podium this year by taking third. If one were looking only at the boxscore, the weekend would read: Hamilton wins the pole, follows up by winning the race – which seems kind of mild description for a weekend that saw Ferrari and Mercedes again attempting to outdo the other.

Vettel looked like he had the advantage after leading the race from the start.  The pitstops that began with about 30 laps to go in the race became the focal point.  Hamilton pitted first and took the lead but Ferrari called Vettel in shortly thereafter and his in and out laps times proved enough to get him back to the front.  The problem for Vettel proved to be his tyres as he had to switch to the medium compound to comply with the sporting regulations while Hamilton drove on the softs, and passed Vettel a few laps later.

This race indicates that the teams have come close to equalling each other regarding their speed and that more than ever, crafty race strategy is going to be what separates Mercedes and Ferrari.

Of note, both Force India drivers finished in the points, with Sergio Perez taking fourth followed by Esteban Ocon placing fifth.  While the team certainly benefitted by the retirements of Max Verstappen, Kimi Raikkonen, and Valtteri Bottas, such a result will be one to celebrate for the struggling team and is an example that they may be leading the race of the mid pack.  Huston Ladner

Sports Cars: Justin Marks Backs Up his Words – Back in January, part-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racer Justin Marks told Frontstretch about how he loves the idea of the Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli and wanted to get in on the action.  He pitched it as something he might do in a few years.  “A few years” quickly became this past weekend.

Marks, driving a Ford Mustang in the headlining TA class, made his series debut at Road Atlanta.  He managed to win the overall pole for the 100-mile race on Friday, turning in a lap of the 2.54-mile road course in 80.104 seconds (114.152 mph).

In the race itself, Marks used his past experience at the hilly road course to stake out to a decent lead.  However, he ran a little too hard.  While in position for a great finish, Marks blew the engine in his No. 33 Ford.  While the day ended with a disappointing 25th-place finish, Marks had lots of fun doing it.

Also, in unrelated news, Trans-Am Series Steward/FOX Sports on-air personality Wally Dallenbach Jr. excluded Tomy Drissi from the Road Atlanta event due to unjustifiable risk with the safety crew after being stranded at Turn 6.  In 2015, he was given a year-long suspension due to conduct in a race at Mid-Ohio. – 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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