Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: A Rainy Kind of NASCAR Weekend

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Stewart-Haas Racing Asserting Its Dominance

For the seventh time this season, Stewart-Haas Racing is taking home another race win trophy, this time with Clint Bowyer’s second victory of the season in the rain-shortened race at Michigan International Speedway. Joining teammates Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, who has five wins this year, the trio scored SHR’s first 1-2-3 finish in team history.

“It’s just awesome,” SHR competition director Scott Zippadelli said. “I was saying to somebody, there’s nothing better than winning other than winning on a weekend off.  When you have a 1-2-3, makes that weekend even better.  Enjoy time off with the family.

“It’s big momentum for our group.  Pretty awesome to see Mike (Bugarewicz, Bowyer’s crew chief) take a chance there.  They had a good car.  Gave them the opportunity to win.”

The first is another for the organization, which put all four of its drivers inside the top 10 earlier this season. With one full season of racing Fords under its belt, it’s clear SHR has found its rhythm and has adjusted to the manufacturer change. And if the team gets its other two drivers in Busch and Aric Almirola into Victory Lane, the organization will have a giant-sized role in this year’s championship battle. – Beth Lunkenheimer


XFINITY Series: Rain, Rain Go Away

It took nearly two years, but Richard Childress Racing found XFINITY Series Victory Lane once again in Saturday’s LTi Printing 250.

Austin Dillon led the final 18 laps, most of which were completed under the yellow flag. But when the rains came for good, it was the famed No. 3 out front to take advantage. It was Dillon’s first checkered flag in the series since Bristol in mid-August of 2016.

Though Dillon grabbed the rain-shortened victory (91 of 125 laps), it was Kyle Busch who led the most laps, as much of stage one ran single-file.

Why? Oh yeah, those restrictor plates.

For the second consecutive week, NASCAR implemented plate racing on a non-plate track (Pocono last week). But while stage one left much to be desired, this race played out much, much better than Pocono. Behind the single-file action up front early on, drivers such as Kaz Grala were able to get from the back to the front and have a respectable finish.

Overall, the result likely got robbed due to weather because as the race evolved, there was more taking and less giving. This package worked and has potential on this type of layout. NASCAR has found something here but needs to be strategic with how it’s implemented in future races.

Behind Dillon, RCR teammate Daniel Hemric finished runner-up to give RCR a 1-2 performance. Cole Custer, Ryan Reed and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five finishers. – Dustin Albino

Camping World Truck Series: Emotional Texas Victory for the No. 21 Team

It’s a story that feels like it’s on repeat. Much like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Johnny Sauter is having a career year. He notched another victory Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, his fourth of the 2018 season and is on cruise control in the CWTS standings.

If it weren’t for the playoffs, it would be time to start engraving the championship trophy with Sauter’s name. But since the title comes down to a series of eliminations and a single race for the win, anything can happen.

Perhaps what’s sometimes forgotten in the hustle and bustle of race day is what the drivers or crew members have going on in their personal lives behind the scenes. That’s the case for Sauter’s crew chief Joe Shear Jr. Last December, he lost his wife suddenly and has been working his way through his grief ever since. But Texas plays a special role in Shear’s life.

“This win is really special to me. I lost my wife in late December and she was from Dallas, TX,” Shear explained as he fought back tears. “She always came to this race with us, her family always came out here, it was always a big race for me and still is. I’m at a loss for words. She was definitely looking over us today.”

It’s incredible to think that Shear and Sauter have worked together to score four wins in the first eight races this season, despite all Shear has going on in his personal life. Sure, a distraction like work can be just what the doctor ordered for someone dealing with grief. However, you can’t help but marvel at the pair’s accomplishments, despite what could be a major distraction for some. – Beth Lunkenheimer

NHRA: The Strong Stay Strong

Both Steve Torrence and Courtney Force demonstrated why they are leading the Top Fuel and Funny Car points in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series’ return to Virginia Motorsports Park for the Virginia NHRA Nationals.

Torrence faced off against Doug Kalitta in the Top Fuel final and made a pass at 3.812 seconds, 322.96 mph to defeat Kalitta’s 3.844-second, 309.56 mph run. Torrence also defeated Scott Palmer, Terry McMillen and Antron Brown to advance to the finals.

In Funny Car, it was a family affair as Courtney Force faced off against family patriarch John Force. Youth prevailed with a run of 4.039 seconds at 321.96 mph for Courtney to beat her dad’s 4.076 seconds at 307.65 mph. Courtney also got by Jeff Diehl, Jim Campbell and J.R. Todd in earlier rounds.

“Every single crew guy on my Advance Auto Parts Chevy, Brian Corradi and Dan Hood who are turning this thing, they are the ones who gave me a fast hot rod all weekend long and I am just so proud to be in that driver’s seat,” Force said. “It was a lot of fun to be able to race my dad in the final round.”

Pro Stock also saw youth prevail over experience as second-year driver Tanner Gray made a run of 6.595 seconds at 208.81 mph to beat two-time class champion Erica Enders’ run of 6.628 seconds at 208.46 mph. Gray defeated Kenny Delco, Vincent Nobile and Drew Skillman en route to the final round matchup.

Pro Stock Motorcycle came down to LE Tonglet facing off against Andrew Hines. Give this one to Tonglet, with a 6.841-second, 196.76 mph pass over Hines who ran 6.848 seconds (196.22 mph). Tonglet defeated John Hall, Eddie Krawiec and Hector Arana Jr. before his matchup with Hines. – Toni Montgomery

Verizon IndyCar Series: Scott Dixon Moves to Third All-Time With Texas Victory

When Scott Dixon won the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night, he gained sole possession of third on the all-time IndyCar wins list.

Dixon surpassed Michael Andretti’s 42 career victories at the 1.5-mile oval and is nine behind Michael’s father, Mario.

The New Zealand native led 119 of 248 laps while Simon Pagenaud, who started second and led 26 laps, finished second. Alexander Rossi led seven laps and ended up third in another so close, yet so far performance as Dixon clearly had the best car.

“It means a lot (to be third on the all-time wins list), but more so for the team,” Dixon said. “We celebrate together, and we win and lose together. 42 of those wins have come with this team. I can’t thank them enough.”

Dixon’s won two of the last three IndyCar events and leads the championship by 23 points over Rossi. Will Power, who started from the pole, was involved in an incident with Zachary Claman DeMelo with less than 50 to go and is third in the title hunt. He wound up 18th in the race.

The series will compete again in two weeks at Road America for the Kohler Grand Prix. The defending winner? Scott Dixon. Could this mean one of the sport’s best drivers is about to get on a roll? – John Haverlin

Sports Cars: Le Mans is Heating Up

None of the major sports car series were in action last weekend and for good reason.  Activities are already underway in preparation for next weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.  Sunday saw the first 22 of 60 entries go through scrutineering (opening technical inspection) right in the middle of Le Mans in a session open to the public.

The remaining 38 teams will go through the process on Monday.  All drivers are required to be present during the scrutineering, which also includes clothing.  Of those drivers, 23 are full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, while a number of others are part-time.  Three (Sébastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan) are full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

On-track action is scheduled to begin Wednesday with a four-hour free practice session starting at 10 a.m. ET.  Unlike most FIA World Endurance Championship races, there will be three rounds of qualifying.  The first round is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Wednesday night and lasts for two hours.

The second round is Thursday at 1 p.m. ET and will last for two hours.  It will be the only one of the three sessions during the daylight hours.  The final session is scheduled for 10 p.m. Thursday night.  No average lap times are collected here.  Quite simply, the fastest time overall earns the pole.

The entire race will air flag-to-flag on American TV for the first time since 2001.  Coverage starts Saturday morning at 8 a.m. ET on Velocity. – Phil Allaway

Formula One: Is Sebastian Vettel’s Win in Canada Ferrari’s Turning Point?

Going into this weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, Ferrari had never won a Formula One race in this region in almost 15 years. But Sebastian Vettel, who had a terrible first two practice sessions on Friday, came alive Saturday by winning qualifying. On Sunday, he capped off a brilliant weekend by capturing the race almost eight seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas in his Mercedes.

It revived what has been an up-and-down season so far for the Ferrari team. Vettel, after winning four world titles between 2009 and 2014, is looking for his fifth Formula One driving championship. This season, he’s locked in a battle with fellow four-time titleholder Lewis Hamilton. Following Sunday’s dominating win, when he took the race from start to finish, Vettel proved he’s back in the hunt.

Vettel now leads Hamilton by one point in the standings after seven rounds of 21. Hamilton struggled up in Canada; a pit stop at the beginning of the race because of an overheating engine led to a fifth-place result. It’s the first time that Hamilton has finished in this position in a Grand Prix that he had won six times previously. Hamilton remains one win away from equaling Michael Schumacher’s mark up in Canada with seven victories.

So, still with 14 rounds left in the world championship, it will be very interesting to see how this seesaw battle will now unfold between Vettel and Hamilton. Can outsiders like Red Bull Racing join the fight? Their opportunity appears to be fading as this title could very well be a two-man battle that comes down to the final race in November. – Mark Gero

ARCA Racing Series: Sheldon Creed Victorious in Michigan

Though the No. 28 team had to weather several late-race restarts, it was obvious early that Sheldon Creed’s first win was going to come at Michigan. Creed, tied for the ARCA Racing Series lead in top-five finishes heading into Friday’s race, took the lead on lap 37 and didn’t relinquish it, at one point leading the event by the full length of Michigan’s vast front straightaway. And though Riley Herbst put on a spirited charge at the final restart with just under 15 laps to go, Creed rode off into the sunset to a comfortable nine-second margin of victory. Herbst, Michael Self, Gus Dean and Joe Graf Jr. rounded out the top five.

Creed’s performance, while not unexpected, completely overwhelmed the ARCA field, with multiple drivers and teams resigned to running for second even with nearly half the race remaining. Herbst’s No. 18 team reached that conclusion mid-race, with the driver himself noting around lap 68 that he had nothing for leader Creed. The same could be heard from Quinn Houff’s No. 98, which despite being amongst the fastest cars on the longer run stated that even running the white line on both ends of the track would not allow them to catch the No. 28.

Creed’s first career win, coupled with a pedestrian 11th-place finish for MDM Motorsports teammate Zane Smith, propelled his No. 28 back atop the ARCA Racing Series point standings. Defending race winner Brandon Jones won the pole and led the first four laps of the event, but dropped through the field after the race’s first caution before being parked with overheating issues, ending a consecutive race-win streak for MDM’s No. 12 team. – Bryan Davis Keith

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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