Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Kyle Busch Gets That Monkey Off His Back

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Last Lap the Sweetest for Kyle Busch – It took 1,114 laps led for Kyle Busch to turn into Victory Lane in 2017.

Starting from pole for the fifth time this season, Busch led the most laps in Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway (74), surviving a 55-lap green-flag run to the end for his first triumph since Indianapolis in July 2016.

Following a round table of close-wins and fast cars this season, win No. 39 of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series seemed to sneak past his grasp. From debunked strategy, bad luck and hard wrecks, Busch now gives the series 14 different winners in 21 races.

Lacking no speed all season, how will this lift of pressure affect the No. 18 team’s dominance in the final five races of the regular season? – Zach Catanzareti

XFINITY Series: Ryan Preece Stands Out in Standalone Race – When Ryan Preece announced he would be joining Joe Gibbs Racing for a pair of events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway, his stock sky-rocketed.

The Connecticut native went on to finish second, only to a dominant Busch at New Hampshire. But Iowa was his race to capture as he was on a mission in the No. 20 Toyota

The 26-year-old picked up his first NASCAR pole at the speedway, beating out teammate Kyle Benjamin. His biggest competition was Justin Allgaier, as the No. 7 car took the lead early on, leading 106 circuits. But with a caution coming out in the middle of the final stage, Allgaier was a sitting duck as he stayed out, while the rest of the field pitted. Preece re-captured the lead with ease.

There were a series of cautions coming in the final laps that bunched the field together. Throughout the final two laps, which was setup as a green-white-checkered, the Nos. 18 and 20 were side-by-side as Preece edged Benjamin for his first XFINITY Series triumph. – Dustin Albino 

Truck Series: Christopher Bell Making A Run At Byron’s Success – Last year, William Byron made the Truck Series his personal playground. Running with Kyle Busch Motorsports, he won seven times, earned three poles and racked up 16 top-10 finishes. A blown engine at Phoenix was the only hard luck moment keeping him from holding up the championship trophy at Homestead.

Bell, his fellow rookie teammate at KBM watched in awe. Now? He’s out to set his own level of awesome in this series. A wreck by the boss, Kyle Busch, opened the door for Bell to score his fourth win this season. He’s now got 11 top-10 finishes in 12 races; a Dover wreck serves as the only rough spot on his resume. Eight victories and 20 top-10 finishes appear easily attainable.

Some sophomore slump that is. Bell, whose name has even been mentioned as a longshot for a Cup Series ride next year is an overwhelming favorite to take home the Truck title. His remarkable run of consistency and aggression is making every race in this series a must-see event. – Tom Bowles

Sports Cars: Endurance Racing Returns to Mid-Ohio in 2018 – On Friday, IMSA and Mid-Ohio officials announced that the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will hold a round at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the weekend of May 4-6, 2018.  It will be the first endurance race weekend at the 2.258-mile road course since the merger of Grand-AM and the American Le Mans Series.

Mid-Ohio President Craig Rust is very happy with the news.

“We are thrilled to announce that the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be joining our schedule in 2018.  It is a great way to kick off our season,” Rust stated on Friday.  “We have a tremendous following of sports car fans, and they ask us every year when we might be able to bring the IMSA series to Mid-Ohio.  We are very proud that we were able to work with Scott Atherton and his team to get this done for them, for us – and most importantly for our fans.”

Pre-merger, Mid-Ohio hosted races for both the American Le Mans Series and Grand-AM’s Rolex Sports Car Series.  The Rolex Sports Car Series raced at Mid-Ohio all the way up to 2013, while American Le Mans Series raced there through 2012.  Both series typically ran sprint races 165 minutes in length.

The race weekend, which will also feature the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, will replace Circuit of the Americas on the calendar.  Full 2018 IMSA schedules will be released next weekend at Road America. – Phil Allaway

Formula 1: Vettel Extends Championship Lead Before Summer Break – Prior to the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton commented that Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari would have an easy go of the race and cruise to the win. Hamilton may have been right about Vettel winning but the victory did not come as easy as some imagined. The results had Vettel taking the win, Kimi Raikkonen earning second, and Valtteri Bottas standing third on the podium.

Vettel, starting from P1, led from the start with his teammate Raikkonen maintaining the second position. For much of the race, the Ferrari duo looked like they had things in hand. It may have appeared that way, but Vettel developed a steering issue that hampered his drive about midway through, opening up the possibility for either Bottas or Hamilton to make a charge to the front. Though Raikkonen pleaded with Ferrari to allow him to race Vettel, it never materialized, while Mercedes had Bottas pull over for Hamilton to attempt to challenge for the top.

The problem for Mercedes came in the fact that Hamilton endured overheating brakes that could manage to let him get only so close before he would then back off. In what looked like a rare display of sportsmanship, Hamilton let Bottas pass him just prior to the finish line, in a move where he conceded the position that Bottas had given him earlier. For a driver that is often maligned for his attitude toward his teammates, it was a striking maneuver, and one, with Vettel’s victory, that put him further back in the driver’s championship.

While the Mercedes teammates may have worked well together, the drivers at Red Bull adopted the practices of Force India. At the start of the race, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo had pipped Hamilton and looked to be in excellent position, when heading into the third turn Verstappen bounced into Ricciardo, putting Ricciardo out of the race. While Verstappen served a 10-second penalty, he still managed to come home fifth.

Though there may be a number of notes to be made from the race, there is the notable aspect that, Fernando Alonso, celebrating his birthday, finished sixth, a high point of the season for a driver that has faced frustration from an unreliable Honda power unit in his McLaren. His teammate, Stoffel Vandoorne, also finished in the points, taking 10th. – Huston Ladner

NHRA: Drag Racing Hits Sonoma – In the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the only Top Fuel driver who has been able to consistently keep the Don Schumacher Racing cars at bay has been Steve Torrence.

Torrence and his family-owned team have been like David to DSR’s Goliath, with four of his prior five victories this season coming at the expense of DSR drivers in the final rounds.

Sunday in the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway, Torrence beat out DSR’s Antron Brown to collect his sixth victory – tops among the Top Fuel division – and stayed atop the division standings by 54 points over Brown.

Torrence bested Troy Coughlin Jr., Doug Kalitta and Brittany Force to reach his eighth final round of the season and his fourth against Brown, taking down the four-time Sonoma winner with a pass of 3.784 seconds at 329.42 mph for his 14th-career victory.
“It’s basically been just a dream season,” Torrence said. “At the end of the day it’s just a testament to my guys. We will continue to do what we’re doing and we will do what we’ve done to get here.”

In Funny Car, J.R. Todd raced to his first-career NHRA Funny Car victory with a win over Tim Wilkerson in the final round, coming the first African-American to score win in the division.

Todd raced past Alexis Dejoria, John Force and Jack Beckman to face Wilkerson, who went up in smoke in the final round while Todd ran 4.049 seconds at 323.27 mph in his DHL Toyota Camry to get the win light.

Todd, who spent the better part of 10 years running in the Top Fuel division where he collected nine victories, is in his first year of competition in Funny Car driving for Kalitta Motorsports. Sunday’s finals marked the first time he’s advanced all the way to the money round in Funny Car.

(Photo: Marc Gewertz/NHRA)

“Our car showed us a lot of promise in Denver which gave us hope coming into here,” Todd stated. “We’ve been struggling so bad this season; I’m just happy to win a Funny Car. I was able to win here last year in Top Fuel and to be able to come back and do it again in Funny Car is pretty special.”

In Pro Stock, rookie Tanner Gray took out points leader Bo Butner to win his third event of the season.

Gray picked up round wins over Alan Prusiensky, defending world champion Jason Line and No. 1 qualifier Drew Skillman to set his second final-round matchup against Butner, who lost out to Gray earlier this year at Las Vegas on a holeshot run in the finals.

This time around, it was Butner who got the jump at the line but it wasn’t enough, as Gray tracked him down at the 100-foot mark to get win, running 6.572, 210.05 over Butner’s 6.577, 210.93.

“I’m proud of my guys,” Gray stated. “This is the best I’ve seen them run the car. We’ve got to go back and keep working, though. If I can go into the Countdown in the top three, then you have a legitimate chance of winning the Championship. That’s what my focus is now.”
LE Tonglet followed up his win in Saturday’s Mickey Thompson Tires Pro Bike Battle with a win over Matt Smith in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final for his fifth Wally of the season.

Tonglet clocked in at 6.783, 197.02 to get the win over Smith, who ran 6.790, 196.67 in the loss.

“It’s a big benefit to win the battle the day before which builds your confidence going into Sunday,” Tonglet, who defeated Fred Camarena, Angie Smith and Hector Arana Jr. to advance to the final round, said. “I could hear him (Smith) the whole way and knew it was close. I wanted to look over very badly, but I just stayed tucked in and just stared at the win light and it lit which was exciting.”
Tonglet still holds the points lead by 74 points over Eddie Krawiec. – Pete McCole

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