Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Chase Elliott & Ryan Blaney, Who’s Ahead at the Halfway Point?

Who Has the Upper Hand, Chase Elliott or Ryan Blaney?

One year ago at Kentucky Speedway, the top two rookies of the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series campaign wrecked together in Turn 3. At the time, it was in the middle of the worst string of races for both Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott, who each eventually impressed in the end.

But as they both sat in the garage last July, they sat on even ground: wrecked and frustrated.

One year later, who has the upper hand?

If we’re talking Kentucky stats, you must give a tip of the cap to Blaney. In the last seven XFINITY Series events at Kentucky, Blaney is the only repeat winner, winning in 2013 and ’15. On the other hand, Elliott finished a best of fourth in four series starts.

In 2017, the tables may be turned. Though Blaney has that first career win and more playoff points under his belt, Elliott is far ahead of the No. 21 in points, earning 89 more through 17 races.

Additionally, Elliott’s average finish is a 13.5 to Blaney’s 19.1, further proving an advantage is Elliott’s consistency.

So, despite that massive first win at Pocono Raceway, the nod goes to Elliott in 2017. But don’t be surprised if Blaney uses his Kentucky past to spring an advantage.

What Should We Expect from the Kentucky Surface?

It’s already a hot topic on Twitter, so we might as well dive a little deeper into the question: what kind of races will we see this weekend at Kentucky Speedway?

After posting a photo of the tire-dragging machines laying down rubber around the 1.5-mile track mid-week, Parker Kligerman posited the question of why the track chose to rubber the already-popular bottom groove without touching the likely unused upper lanes.

A single-groove track is known to up the desperation on restarts. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Brendan Gaughan went further, saying it was a “stupid” decision to rubber up the groove that would naturally be the one fit for the quickest lap. However, with a couple days of rain in the Kentucky area, it may all be insignificant anyway.

But one year removed from the track’s first race on the repaved, reconfigured surface, it’s a toss-up in terms of how the cars will adapt to the track this time around. Last year’s Cup race saw 11 cautions, which tied for most all-time, along with 16 lead changes, the most since 2012 at Kentucky.

The XFINITY Series event had 12 yellows, most all-time of any series in track history, along with a sixth consecutive different winner in Elliott Sadler.

With slick track conditions, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ran his final race of 2016 at Kentucky before a concussion sidelined him for the remainder of the season, was critical of Goodyear’s tire and how the track was like being on “pins and needles” all night.

“You couldn’t hustle the car at all,” Earnhardt said. “If I had a big slip, I was going to lose all kinds of track position. It sucks to race that way.”

With a softer right-side tire and an even lower downforce package for this weekend, Earnhardt and the rest of the garage may get their wish.

Will Esteban Gutierrez Succeed in Oval IndyCar Debut?

We all know how an oval debut turned out for Fernando Alonso this year. Esteban Gutierrez hopes to have some similar speed.

Following years on road and street circuits, Gutierrez will finally get his chance on one of those American oval tracks, making his first oval race in Saturday’s Iowa Corn 300 in the Verizon IndyCar Series at Iowa Speedway.

The start will mark his fourth race in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 18 Geico Honda. Unlike the prior three, the Mexican will battle left turns only at the 7/8th-mile track.

Since Sebastien Bourdais’ injury in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in May, Gutierrez, along with James Davison and Tristan Vautier, have received seat time in his absence. Though that’s no positive way to get your start, Gutierrez will nonetheless run the remainder of the season for Coyne.

With time to learn in the country’s top open wheel division, the 25-year-old will be the latest Formula 1 driver to make their oval debut in IndyCar. Having run 59 F1 races for Sauber and Haas F1 Team, Gutierrez said the oval experience was more mentally challenging than anything.

“It’s not so much physical but it’s demanding on the mind,” he said. “All the time you’re cornering and all the time the Gs are on the left which is something I’m not used to.”

Iowa is usually one of the sport’s wild races, joining the narrative of insanity on IndyCar ovals. How quickly Gutierrez will be able to get up to speed will be an interesting story to follow.



Will Red Bull Continue Momentum Into Red Bull Ring?

Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull Racing ended their recent disappointment (for at least a few weeks) after winning the Baku Grand Prix two weeks ago in Azerbaijan.

Gaining valuable points in both the driver and constructor championships, perhaps it’s right we next head to the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, for round nine of the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship.

Though the track has been in the team’s name since its return to the calendar in 2014, it hasn’t been a nice one for the Red Bull team. With Mercedes taking all three victories, a second-place finish by Max Verstappen last season marks the team’s only podium in the Austrian Grand Prix.

Three straight points finishes in Austria may be enough to complement the momentum of Ricciardo’s fifth career victory in Baku. If not, the Australian has four consecutive podiums in 2017, the longest streak of any other driver.

As Ricciardo sits fourth in points, 19 markers behind Valtteri Bottas, the real trouble isn’t with him; rather, it’s with Verstappen, who is sixth. The 19-year-old has only finished half the races this year, already experiencing more DNFs this year than all of 2016 combined.

With Force India’s Sergio Perez  nearing for that sixth spot in points, Verstappen needs a boost. A driver’s championship may be out of realistic reach, but Verstappen has plenty of time to push reset on his season. It all starts with Austria.

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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Bill H.

Ryan Blaney hands down over Chase Elliott. I am beginning to doubt that Chase Elliott will win a race at all this year, or maybe ever. He’s had many chances and, even when finishing second, has not even come close to a win. He increasingly is showing a lack of the killer instinct. I am beyond disappointed, as I was a BIG fan of his daddy and had high hopes for Chase as he came up through Xfinity.


Get real! Chase is 21 years old. If drivers like Stenhouse, Blaney and Dillon can win, Chase will certainly get his share of Cup victories over the next 15 years. Circumstances have worked against him, while favorable calls by NASCAR have gifted Blaney and Dillon with questionable wins, just like Buescher got a gift win last season. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are 0 for the season and Logano doesn’t have a win that counts. I doubt they have lost the “killer instinct.” And how many races did it take Bill to find VL?

Talk to me 10 years from now when we see who has the wins and the championships.

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