Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Martin Truex Jr. Comes up Clutch, Alex Bowman Wins in First Start of Season

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Chevrolet, Ford Let One Slip Away in Charlotte – After 30 races, we seem to know what to expect come a mile-and-a-half race in 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing: Toyota dominates while Chevrolet and Ford scratch for a top-five result.

However, Sunday’s Bank of America 500 broke that norm, as Ford had the powerhouse machine in Kevin Harvick, while Chevrolet’s Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson populated the top three-to-five spots regularly.

Starting with Harvick, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver took the lead from Elliott on lap 52, leading for 42 circuits before returning to the lead mid-race for more than 100 consecutive laps. Overall, Harvick spent 149 circuits out front, the most he’s led since March at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The one-time race winner this season looked to not only have a fast car, but a maneuverable one at that, switching from the inside lane to the PJ1-covered outer groove throughout the 337-lapper. But despite these varying performance gains, Harvick lost the lead for good late when Larson powered away from Martin Truex Jr. on a lap 271 restart. Harvick only managed a third-place result.

And it got even worse for Chevy from there. Even though Larson seemed to be their best shot at victory all day, the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team had a slow stop late, relegating Larson back to 11th for the final restart. Further contact with Kurt Busch gave Larson a tire rub, making a decent 10th-place result a little easier to swallow.

And finally, Elliott was once again in that near-win situation, as he trailed Harvick for much of the first two stages before leading the event for 12 laps. And for the third time in the last four races, the Hendrick Motorsports driver finished second behind — you guessed it — Truex, a Toyota. – Zach Catanzareti

XFINITY Series: Alex Bowman Wins First NASCAR Race, Epic Battle for Transfer Spot: Alex Bowman made just his second start of the NASCAR season on Saturday evening, and he dominated the final stint of the race to pick up his first career victory in the sport.

Bowman, piloting the No. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing, started the event in fourth en route to leading the final 32 circuits. The victory is the fifth of the season for the team with its third different driver.


Before advancing to the Cup Series in 2018 and replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bowman has one more scheduled start in the XFINITY Series coming at his home track of Phoenix International Raceway next month. Last season, he led 194 in the Cup Series race at Phoenix.

Ryan Reed beat out Brendan Gaughan by one point to transfer into the second round of the playoffs. Coming into the race, the No. 16 team had a two-point advantage on the No. 62 crew, and for the majority of the race the pair of drivers ran around each other.

Unfortunately for Gaughan, he probably needed a handful more of laps to pass Elliott Sadler and capture that alluded point. His Richard Childress Racing teammate came up a few tenths of a second shy of passing Reed, which also would have gotten the No. 62 team into the Round of 8.

After competing in 20 consecutive weeks, the XFINITY Series has a week off before heading to Kansas Speedway to kick off the second round of the playoffs. – Dustin Albino 

Formula 1: Hamilton Scores at Suzuka – Lewis Hamilton enjoyed another race weekend, doing what has become a somewhat routine pattern over the past few years, He earned the pole for the Japanese Grand Prix then drove away from the field and lights out, and mostly cruised home to his fourth win at the track. Max Verstappen made a late-race charge but could apply only so much pressure as both traffic and degrading tyres kept him at bay. His Red Bull teammate withstood his own challenge, but Daniel Ricciardo finished third.

Sebastian Vettel retired on lap 5 with what was determined to be a spark plug issues. The malfunction was not terminal and Ferrari later stated that they could have fixed it with just a little more time. Instead the team retired their driver so not to cause any harm to a motor that will be part of their strategy for the next four races.

The race saw two virtual safety cars and one actual one, with wrecks by Carlos Sainz, Marcus Ericsson, and Pierre Gasly. Nico Hulkenberg, who was holding a place in the points and looked to be having a great day, later retired with a broken DRS flap.

With the win, Hamilton now enjoys a 59 point lead over Vettel for the driver’s title with four races left, which is likely to be all Hamilton needs. Vettel faces scrutiny for two incidents at the JGP, the first for missing the national anthem, and the second for skipping mandatory interviews. There is a chance he endures a 10-spot penalty for the next race, the USGP in two weeks. – Huston Ladner

Sports Cars: Champions Crowned Amid Future Lineup Uncertainty – At Road Atlanta Saturday, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship crowned champions in three of the four classes.  Prototype Challenge champs James French and Patricio O’Ward clinched at Road America back in August.  For three of the four championship pairings (six of eight drivers), their futures are currently unclear.

In the Prototype class, the Taylor brothers (Jordan and Ricky) clinched the championship by starting Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans.  However, Saturday might have been the last time that the brothers team up.

While Jordan will likely be back in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi-V.R. full-time in 2018, Ricky might not.  Discussion on IMSA Radio last weekend made it sound like Ricky would likely end up as Helio Castroneves’ full-season teammate in the second Acura ARX-05.  SportsCar365.com’s John Dagys reported on that possibility in September. There has been no public comment on this rumor.

For Performance Tech Motorsports, the team is currently looking to move up to the Prototype class.  No word on a chassis choice as of yet.  The team has not announced whether French and O’Ward will stay for 2018.  GT Le Mans is likely the steadiest class in the series.  Champions Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen will be back next season in the No. 3 Chevrolet Corvette C7.R to defend their title.

However, the same cannot be said for back-to-back GT Daytona champions Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen.  There is a decent likelihood that Gunnar Jeannette, Cooper MacNeil and MacNeil’s WeatherTech backing could move to the No. 63 Ferrari, putting both Balzan and Nielsen out of rides.  MacNeil and Jeannette drove for Scuderia Corsa at Le Mans earlier this year.  While Nielsen’s 2018 plans are a question mark, Balzan seems very confident in his future plans.

“I think it will be a nice surprise,” Balzan told Frontstretch Saturday night.  “You will see me around.  [On] Tuesday, you’re going to know where.”

Quite intriguing.  Suppose we’ll have to wait to find out. – 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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