Pace Laps: 2019 NASCAR Handling Package Kicks Critics to the Curb at Kansas

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: For New 2019 NASCAR Handling Package, There’s No Place Like Kansas

Insiders told me the sport’s low-horsepower, high-downforce package used in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this year had its best chance to succeed at Kansas Speedway. The ingredients were all there to put on a good show on this 1.5-mile oval: cooler, nighttime temperatures combined with progressive banking. The asphalt is fairly new but not to the point it’s impossible to pass; tires would actually wear out a bit over a long, green-flag run.

If it didn’t work at Kansas, those people said, the sport was in real trouble on intermediates. Frankly, criticism has been growing over an inability to pass with any of the sport’s new handling setups. Just last week, Kyle Busch spouted out to our Dustin Albino that the shorter-track, high-horsepower package used at Dover “sucks,” among other comments. Owner Bob Leavine piped in and NASCAR suddenly found itself playing damage control. A number of pre-race inspection failures at Kansas, a growing problem over the past few weeks sure didn’t help their cause.

With all that drama, there was a lot riding on Saturday night’s race (May 11). But 400 miles at Kansas led to two important words for NASCAR stakeholders: Thank God.

Dorothy’s ruby red slippers clicked twice and delivered the best race this season on a 1.5-mile oval. Cars were bumping and grinding in multiple grooves, creating restarts where they squeezed four-wide at times. 23 lead changes were the most for this race since 2014; most of them actually occurred on the racetrack, not during green-flag pit stops. Drafting allowed cars to get high-speed runs and showcased the potential everyone saw from this package during the Charlotte All-Star Race one year ago.

Heading into the 2019 All-Star Break, NASCAR officials can breathe a sigh of relief. Perhaps the only downer came from playoff bubble drivers who all whiffed on a chance to clinch a spot. Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Erik Jones had cars capable of winning but Brad Keselowski’s veteran savvy won out. The sport has just six drivers who’ve won the first dozen races, a new low in the sport’s playoff era.

But at least this Monday, NASCAR isn’t playing defense concerning its 2019 on-track product. And that, folks, is a major win in itself. – Tom Bowles

Xfinity Series: Tyler Reddick Shines During Xfinity Off Week

The Xfinity Series in on a stretch of consecutive off weeks before spending 19 of the next 20 weeks on the road. But that didn’t stop Tyler Reddick from making his second start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Despite a 21st-place starting position, Reddick was able to be in contention for a top 15-20 all race long at Kansas. But when a caution flew during a cycle of green flag pit stops, the No. 31 car had not yet come to pit road, slotting Reddick inside the top 10.

On the restart, Reddick got as high as third, only behind Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott. Despite fading to ninth, the California native was able to notch his first top-10 finish (ninth) in the Cup Series.

Reddick’s having a career year, which is ironic based off his championship performance last season in the Xfinity Series. But through the opening 10 races, he has a victory at Talladega Superspeedway and eight top-five finishes, already besting his total from 2018 (seven).

Reddick is ready for the Cup Series. He’s probably more ready than a few of the drivers within the Richard Childress Racing stable.

The Xfinity Series has another off week, but 18 drivers will be taking over Philadelphia this week. Justin Allgaier will throw out the first pitch on Tuesday (May 14) at the Philadelphia Phillies v. Milwaukee Brewers game. Meanwhile, drivers will get a tour of the city and spend time at the Comcast Center Plaza for an autograph signing. – Dustin Albino 

Gander Outdoors Truck Series: Saying Farewell to Longtime Owner Mike Mittler

Shortly before Friday night’s Digital Ally 250 at Kansas Speedway, news surfaced that longtime Truck Series owner Mike Mittler had lost his long battle with cancer. But just as he would have wanted, the series raced on and Ross Chastain scored his first career victory and the first for Niece Motorsports.

Mittler, a fixture in the Truck Series since its inaugural season in 1995, gave hundreds of drivers their start in NASCAR and was instrumental in bringing some of today’s biggest names to the sport, including Cup Series winner Brad Keselowski.

“I’ve got to dedicate this win to Mike Mittler,” Keselowski said after his win in Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400. “He helped a lot of guys in their career, and I was one of them, and he passed away yesterday and just such a huge loss for the NASCAR community. He’s one of those unsung heroes that work in the garage, gave his whole life to this sport, and there’s so many of those guys, so many of those fans, and it just hurts to see those guys go away.

“I’m so thankful for guys like Mike and for them to give me the opportunities. This was just ‑‑ wow. I’m so thrilled to be in victory lane, to honor Mike and his family, Bev and friends, Bill, their whole team. It just seems surreal. I know he was watching up above and giving me a little push on that last restart.

Up until late last season, Mittler continued to field the No. 63 throughout the year, though he became much less of a fixture at the track as he went through multiple treatments to fight the disease. It’s a loss that will truly be felt throughout the NASCAR community for a long time. – Beth Lunkenheimer

NTT IndyCar Series: Simon Pagenaud Breaks Year-long Drought

With his drought-snapping victory at the IndyCar Grand Prix on Saturday, Simon Pagenaud made a strong case that he belongs at Team Penske.

Slicing and dicing his way through the field in a wet start to May, the Frenchman gave a masterful performance reminiscent of his 2016 title-winning season. Unable to find victory lane since 2017, speculation was running rampant that he could soon be out of a ride with the Captain. But by carving his way through the field, dispatching last year’s champion Scott Dixon to take home the win in the process–his third on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course–Pagenaud vaulted himself into the middle of the title conversation, just 44 points behind teammate Josef Newgarden.

His seat should be safe for now, but he’ll need a few more showings like Saturday’s, plus a little more consistency, to get himself completely out of the woods.

But Pagenaud wasn’t the only driver who had his best race of the year. Jack Harvey, running a limited schedule with Meyer Shank Racing, picked up where he left off after Friday, turning his third place starting position into his first ever podium. The stunning result should give the small, Columbus, Ohio based outfit a nice boost heading into the Indianapolis 500.

Pagenaud’s teammates, however, will have to rebound from a few rough showings on Saturday. Newgarden, still the points leader, fell to 15th after receiving a penalty for a loose wheel in pit lane. Helio Castroneves, in a warm-up for Memorial Day weekend, spun coming off pit lane late in the race, ending up in 21st, two laps down. But without running the full season, the poor finish shouldn’t do much to shake the Brazilian’s focus on becoming the next four-time winner. – AJ Hecht

Sports Cars: It’s a Three Hour Race.  Don’t End Your Day On The First Lap

Sunday saw the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup hold their second race of the season, a three-hour race at Silverstone Circuit.  Let’s just say that the 48-car field was a bit jumpy at the start.

On the first lap, Phoenix Racing’s Ivan Peraras spun exiting Becketts in front of most of the field.  Peraras didn’t hit anything, but it sent the field scrambling.  One of those that took to the grass was Sainteloc Racing’s Nyls Stievanart in another Audi.  By going off the course, Stievanart cut a tire.

The Ferrari of Pierre Ehret was then spun into Stievanart and created a mess on the Hanger Straight.  Come Ledogar and Michael Meadows were also collected.  When the dust cleared, the safety car was out and four drivers (Ehret, Ledogar, Meadows and Stievanart) were out on the spot.

Also of note, the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup used the support pit lane (the old Formula 1 pits) and the old start-finish line.  As a result, this crash occurred before the halfway point of the first lap.  Can’t get too excited at the start of a three-hour race, or you’ll get the horns. – Phil Allaway

Formula 1: Hamilton Bests Bottas: Verstappen Ever-lurking

Lewis Hamilton used a masterful start to overtake his teammate Valtteri Bottas at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, Spain.  Though Bottas had held rule over the field for much of the weekend, all it took was a split second to see it all slip away. Hamilton sped away by the end of lap one and never faced much of a challenge.  

Bottas kept his strong season going with a second-place finish but Max Verstappen taking third might be the continued hidden story of the season.  It has been clear that Red Bull, now paired with Honda as their engine supplier, faces a deficit in power and is unable to match Mercedes and Ferrari.  

What Verstappen has done, thus far, deserves special mention.  Through five races this season, he has yet to finish below fourth.  The Mercedes duo have locked out the first two steps on the podium through all five races, but Verstappen has earned third twice, has beaten at least one Ferrari in every race, and holds a 3.6 average finish.  

Currently, Verstappen finds himself two points ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the championship and in third – the big problem is that he’s 39 points behind Bottas, who is seven points behind first-place Hamilton.

Mercedes dominance has overshadowed just how excellent Verstappen has driven, using his considerable talent to draw the most out his Red Bull while being able to avoid some of the intellectual hiccups that have hurt him in the past.  One might wonder if part of the reason for Verstappen being more complete has to be feeling more comfortable with his 2019 teammate, Pierre Gasly, than he was with Daniel Ricciardo. Whatever it may be, he’s showing that he is maturing into the championship-caliber driver that many assume he can be.  IAve Ladner

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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