Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Championship Favorites Reign at Chicago, Josef Newgarden Wins IndyCar Title

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: The Importance of Execution – It ended some days and opened opportunity for others. Heck, it even had its place in the day of the race winner Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Execution is an important factor in tying one end of the race to the other, especially once the playoffs start. And as Sunday stood as Race No. 1 in the postseason, we saw execution on pit road take its toll on some top contenders.

As mentioned, race winner Martin Truex Jr. had his own scare down pit road, with the No. 78 car getting caught speeding on lap 42. However, a fast car in the early going kept him on the lead lap and in contention as the race grew old.

While Truex was on the sidelines, pole-sitter Kyle Busch ran a near-perfect opening stage, winning it after leading all but two laps. But pit road wouldn’t escape the dominator, as the No. 18 car pitted with an expected loose wheel and was penalized for a crewman over the wall too soon.

And with a new pit crew for the first time this weekend, that was a big ouch. A race with only two non-stage cautions kept Busch from reaching the lead lap, finishing 15th.

With execution showing its happy and ugly faces with Truex and Busch, it also gave a thumbs up to Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick, who each led their most laps since the spring while the two Toyotas were out of pocket.

Only one race in and the 2017 playoffs have already showcased the importance of simply executing a 400-mile race. – Zach Catanzareti

XFINITY Series: Justin Allgaier Gets it Done at Home Track – Until 15 laps to go, Justin Allgaier was a fifth-place car at best in Saturday’s TheHouse.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway. That’s when the veteran driver had the restart of his life en route to his first multi-win season of his XFINITY Series career.

As Allgaier made an evasive move down toward the grass, it caught Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney by surprise. The two dominant cars ended up in the wall, suffering damage that wouldn’t allow them to compete for the victory.

It’s Allgaier’s fifth career victory, and second at his home racetrack, though the first one, coming in 2011 was by fuel mileage. Winning this race was emotional for many reasons, as it’s also his sponsor BRANDT’s home track. The team had hundreds of hospitality guests.

The playoff picture remained the same as Brendan Gaughan did enough to stay ahead of Dakoda Armstrong in the standings. The field of 12 will set their eyes on the 2017 championship beginning next Saturday evening at Kentucky Speedway. Elliott Sadler is the defending winner of the race. – Dustin Albino 

Camping World Truck Series: 2017 Playoff Field Set – As Johnny Sauter sailed to Victory Lane at Chicagoland Speedway, all eyes were on a different battle between Ben Rhodes and Ryan Truex. The two entered Friday night’s race separated by just eight points. But when the checkered flag flew, Truex found himself fourth – his fourth top five in the last five races, while Rhodes ended up sixth. By virtue of stage points secured earlier in the race, the point margin between the two ended up at zero, and the tie-breaker came down to Rhodes finishing second, ahead of Truex at Pocono.

“It sucks,” Truex said. “Half the guys in the playoff field run 12th to eighth every week and we run top-five and miss it. That’s racing. If we didn’t have any of the issues earlier in the year that we couldn’t control, we wouldn’t have been talking about this because we would have been locked in. That’s part of racing and sometimes you’re on the good side and you’re on the bad. We’re going to keep working and win before this season is over.”

Rhodes joins Chase Briscoe as the only other championship contender who has not scored a win this season. Christopher Bell, the regular season champion, enters as the top seed with four wins, while Sauter and John Hunter Nemechek hold two victories apiece. Meanwhile, Matt Crafton, Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala head into this year’s championship battle each with one victory.

This Saturday begins the 2017 playoffs, which will run three rounds over seven races. After Talladega, the championship field will dwindle to six then drops to four after Phoenix. The final four will compete head-to-head at Homestead Miami Speedway to close out the season and crown the champion. – Beth Lunkenheimer

Verizon IndyCar Series: Pagenaud Wins Sonoma, Newgarden Earns First Title – Team Penske had a perfect day at Sonoma Raceway as Simon Pagenaud won his second race of the year and Josef Newgarden earned his first career championship.

All four Penske drivers placed in the top-five with Newgarden finishing second, Will Power third, and Hélio Castroneves fifth. Scott Dixon, the lone Chip Ganassi Racing driver in contention for the title finished fourth.

Newgarden’s championship is the 15th in Penske’s history, and he became the first American to win it since Ryan Hunter-Reay did with Andretti Autosport in 2012. He’s also the fourth driver to win a title in his first year with Penske, following Al Unser Sr., Unser Jr. and Gil de Ferran.

He started from the pole and battled Pagenaud throughout the race, despite having a large enough point lead over the 2016 champion to afford to finish behind him.

“I was using my natural instincts. I try to win the race,” Newgarden said. “I tried to get him.”

After the race was over, both drivers did a burnout during the cooldown lap. When Newgarden climbed out his car, team owner Roger Penske, his crew and his competitors congratulated him as he celebrated with an American flag draped over his shoulders. -John Haverlin

Formula 1: Hamilton Sneaks Soggy Singapore Win – Lewis Hamilton started the Singapore Grand Prix in fifth but benefited from a Turn 1 crash that took out the drivers in front of him.  The night race began under wet conditions after a passing storm soaked the track, making for a challenging event.

Daniel Ricciardo, who started third, took the second spot on the podium with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas earning the final spot.  The win means that Hamilton moves ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the driver’s championship, now holding a 28-point lead.


Vettel suffered damage to his Ferrari after his teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen collided, taking out all three drivers while also adding Fernando Alonso, who had made a brilliant start in gaining five positions, into the mix.

The difficult track also added Daniil Kvyat, Marcus Ericsson, Nico Hulkenberg, and Kevin Magnussen to the list of drivers who failed to finish the race.  Having the race start under wet conditions added a wholly new element to a race that already has featured a safety car every time it has been held.

Of note is that Slipstream Saturday mentioned that Stoffel Vandoorne could be in for a solid points day and something that came to fruition as he took seventh – which for McLaren could almost feel like a podium.  – Huston Ladner

Sports Cars: Robin Frijns, Stuart Leonard Pull Surprise in Blancpain Sprint Finale – While Pirelli World Challenge teams were wrapping up their season in Sonoma, the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup held their final races of the season at the Nürburgring in Germany.  The championship favorites were HTP-Motorsports’ Maximilian Buhk and Franck Perera, who entered the final race with a seven-point lead over WRT’s Dries Vanthoor and Marcel Fässler.

In Sunday’s Main Race, things seemed to be going well for Buhk and Perera in their Mercedes early on.  Perera led the first half of the race from pole with Fässler giving chase.  Stuart Leonard in the WRT No. 17 Audi was further back, but running steady.

Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup races, as Àlvaro Parente explained to Frontstretch back in May, contain a mandatory pit stop with tire changes.  Trouble hit both championship contenders here.  The pit crew on Perera and Buhk’s No. 84 car was a little off the pace with their work.  That allowed the WRT Audi of Vanthoor to get out first.  However, Vanthoor ran over an air hose, which upended a mechanic.  That resulted in a penalty.  Vanthoor and Fässler would eventually finish 10th.

Later on, Buhk’s No. 84 Mercedes suffered a catastrophic tire failure that put him out for the day.  That put Robin Frijns up to second.  A late pass on teammate Markus Winkelhock not only gave Frijns and Leonard the race win, but the championship as well.

Main Race points in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup are awarded identically to how Formula One awards points.  Buhk and Perera’s retirement resulted in no points, while Vanthoor and Fässler’s finish resulted in one point.  Frijns and Leonard’s victory awarded 25 big points, moving them from fourth to the championship. – Phil Allaway

Short Tracks: Ted Christopher Killed in Plane Crash – A small plane crash in Guilford, Conn. has claimed the life of Modified standout Ted Christopher. Christopher was one of two passengers on the aircraft that went down in a wooded area. Air traffic control reported no mayday was received upon take-off or before the crash. Eye witnesses report there was no sound from the plane before it hit the trees with a thud. Christopher was en route to Riverhead Raceway to compete in the Whelen Modified Tour event on Saturday night.

Christopher was the 2008 Whelen Modified Tour champion. He also won the 2001 Whelen All-American Series national championship, including winning 15 of 18  races at Thompson Speedway that season. Christopher won races on the Southern Modified Tour along with numerous track championships. He also made starts in the Cup, XFINITY and Truck series. He won races in the K&N East Series and its predecessor the Busch North Series.

Waterford Speedbowl and Riverhead Raceway both had ceremonial laps of Christopher’s car in memory of the fallen racer.

Frontstretch staff sends their thoughts and prayers to the Christopher family and the family of Charles Dundas, the pilot who was also killed. – Mike Neff

NHRA: Teammates Take On Teammates at zMax – The opening event of the six-race Countdown to the Championship pitted teammate versus teammate as three of the four final rounds came down to all-teammate battles to decide the winners in the 10th annual Carolina Nationals NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event at zMax Dragway in Concord, N.C.

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all picked up victories over their teammate in the money round while Tanner Gray picked up the win in Pro Stock as the top spots in the Countdown standings were all up for grabs.

Doug Kalitta scored his first victory of the season in Sunday’s Top Fuel final round in the 10th annual Carolina Nationals NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event at zMax Dragway.

Kalitta beat out Chris Karamesines, Tony Schumacher and Clay Millican in the opening rounds, while Crampton took down Scott Palmer, top Countdown seed Steve Torrence and Brittany Force to reach the finals in just his second start of the season.

In the final, Kalitta was first off the line by a hundredth of a second and quickly opened up a gap as Crampton started dropping cylinders at the halfway mark, crossing the line with an ET of 3.775 seconds at 318.39 mph over Crampton’s 3.876, 306.40.

It was the first win of the season for Kalitta and in his third final-round appearance of the season and the 43rd of his career, and pushed him to the top of the Countdown standings by 14 points over Torrence.

“Getting this win gives us great momentum with only five races to go, but with the team I have with me I’m full of confidence,” Kalitta said. “It’s huge for me to get my first win at this great facility, because we have been coming here for a lot of years and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

Kalitta and Crampton fought their way to the finals against some of the top drivers in the Countdown, with the top six in points falling in the opening two rounds – four of them at the hands of Kalitta and Crampton.

The Funny Car final was another battle between teammates as Courtney Robert Hight beat out Courtney Force in the money round for his third trip to the Winner’s Circle this season.

Meeting in the final round for just the second time, Hight had the advantage at the start and was already a second ahead at the halfway mark, hitting the win light with a 3.943 at 328.86 mph over Force, who dropped slowed after dropping a cylinder to finish the day with a 3.980, 315.19.

With the victory, Hight takes over the points lead by 44 points over Ron Capps, who had entered the weekend as the number one seed. – Pete McCole 

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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