Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: A Sonoma Snoozer, While Ross Chastain Takes NASCAR by Storm

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: New Track, Same Sonoma Story

Sonoma Raceway added its famed Carousel for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. But the new 2.52-mile course led to an unexpected challenge, not for the drivers but the fans.

A caution-free race, except for stage breaks, became dominated by Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in a rare road course snoozer; most fans were simply struggling to stay awake at the end. Third place Ryan Blaney was over 25 seconds behind in the race’s final stage as the field spread out and lacked the speed Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas showed up front.

Busch tried to make a race of it, charging down Truex with fresher tires but in the end the No. 19 team held on. The two teammates have now combined to win eight of 16 Cup races as JGR positions itself for another run deep in the NASCAR playoffs.

But their success kept Cinderella from reaching the dance floor, a lengthier configuration doing little to give underdogs a chance. Other than Matt DiBenedetto, who had the best run of his Cup career (fourth), the usual suspects were at or near the front all day. Truex has now won two straight Sonoma races; the second-place finisher, Busch, is arguably the sport’s best road course driver.

Behind them, there were a handful of spins but no serious incidents. The added turns increased the level of difficulty but didn’t lead to better competition. For a sport that relies on these right-turn tracks to provide a welcome distraction from oval racing, the race simply didn’t live up to expectations.

At least Darrell Waltrip got a proper sendoff in his final race broadcasting for FOX Sports. But without the pomp and circumstance, there’s little that was memorable from Sunday’s Sonoma showdown. –Tom Bowles

Xfinity Series: Heatin’ Up the Summer

With the summer solstice passing this past week, the Xfinity Series is getting ready to heat up the summer, spending the next 15 weekends on the road.

The stretch of racing spans from Chicagoland to Dover, including four road courses, three short tracks, one superspeedway and the first round of the playoffs will be complete. It’s the longest stretch of being on the road between the top-three national touring series, with the Cup Series’ longest being 12 weekends.

Through the opening four months of the season, which included the final month of winter and all three months of spring, Tyler Reddick has been the definition of consistency, recording 11 top-five finishes in 14 races. Add Christopher Bell‘s four wins and Cole Custer‘s three, and Xfinity’s Big Three have combined to win 10 of 14 races. But like last year, success during the regular season doesn’t guarantee you a spot to Homestead, just ask Justin Allgaier.

With 12 races remaining in the regular season, it’s hard to believe any of the current 12 drivers inside the cut-line will miss the postseason. Brandon Jones — yes, a Joe Gibbs Racing driver is on the bubble — is currently 12th, 91 points ahead of 13th, which is locked down by Gray Gaulding. And though it would be a nice story, I don’t see an SS Green Light Racing team making up 91 points on a JGR team in 12 races.  – Dustin Albino 

Gander Outdoors Truck Series: Redemption for Ross Chastain, Niece Motorsports

Less than seven days after crossing the start/finish line first at Iowa Speedway, only to have the win stripped after his No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet was found too low in post-race inspection, Ross Chastain won again. And this time, the truck passed inspection so the win sticks.

Chastain, who took fuel only for his final pit stop of the night, bested Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Christian Eckes and Todd Gilliland, who both had two newer tires on a late-race restart. Despite spinning his tires when the final green flag flew, Chastain managed to keep the pair behind him and was further assisted when Eckes spun on the white flag lap. Gilliland posted a season-best runner-up finish ahead of Stewart Friesen. Chandler Smith and Brett Moffitt rounded out the top five.

It took Chastain just three races after announcing he would try to run for the Truck Series championship to put himself in a position to make the playoffs. While he’s not yet eligible to race for the title, all he needs to do now that he has a win is to move into the top 20 in the standings. Sitting just 38 points behind 20th-place Josh Reaume, Chastain should find his way inside the top 20 with little issue, provided he continues to run inside the top 10 like he has all season. There’s a true Cinderella story unfolding in the Truck Series right in front of our eyes. – Beth Lunkenheimer

NTT IndyCar Series: Alexander Rossi Dominates at Road America

Alexander Rossi wasn’t going to finish second to anybody on Sunday.

The Andretti Autosport driver dominated on Sunday at the Rev Group Grand Prix at America, leading 54 of 55 laps and beating Will Power to the checkered flag by almost 30 seconds, putting an end to a frustrating string of races in which he finished second in three out of the last four rounds. With the win, Josef Newgarden’s lead in the NTT IndyCar Series points standings has shrunk to just seven points, setting up a two-man duel for the championship in the final seven races.

Simon Pagenaud, by virtue of his sweep of May, sits third in the standings but will have to overcome a 61-point deficit in order to claim a second title. Scott Dixon, the defending champ, is trailing Newgarden by 94 points and likely needs a miracle to go back-to-back for the first time in his career. Neither driver has managed to match the consistency of Newgarden and Rossi, and without some help, they’ll be fighting to be best of the rest.

While the series’ annual trip to Wisconsin ended exactly how it needed to for Rossi, Colton Herta’s weekend turned into a bit of a disappointment. The youngest winner in series history also became the youngest pole-sitter in history on Saturday and led the field to the green flag for the first time in his young career. But after looking like he’d be fighting for the win in the early stages, a bad pit stop, some poor strategy and a few on-track mistakes resulted in just an eighth place finish for Herta and the Harding Steinbrenner Racing team. While the youngster left Road America with his third top 10 of the year, the afternoon could have easily ended with Herta in the top five. Hopefully, the team, which has struggled for most of the year, can build off of the decent showing and close out the season strong. – A.J. Hecht

ARCA Menards Series: Ty Gibbs Finally Prevails at Gateway

Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t visited victory lane at Gateway in nearly 10 years. But on Saturday night, Ty Gibbs prevailed and tallied his first career victory in the ARCA Menards Series. After three second-place finishes, Gibbs made a last lap pass on Sam Mayer, a fellow rookie, who was also looking for his first career victory. Mayer was clearly unhappy following the race, but can you blame him as his first career victory was within grasp.

“I didn’t get passed,” Mayer said in the ARCA recap. “We had a fifth or sixth place car and we ended up third, so that’s good. But we were leading at the white flag. The GMS Racing guys gave me a really great car and made great calls to give us a chance to win the race. I am really happy to come out of here with a third-place finish, which is probably better than we were going to be without that last caution. But we didn’t get passed on the last lap, we got moved on the last lap.”

The battle for the championship lead saw points leader Michael Self falter once again. Self led the first 41 laps and was competing for another top-five finish when his car suffered a transmission issue at lap 87. He’d finish the race in 13th, but the only thing that helped his points lead was the fact that second place driver Bret Holmes spun twice during the race and relegated him to a 10th-place finish.

Self has a 30-point lead over Homes as the series heads to Chicagoland Speedway.

The ARCA Menards Series kicks off the Chicagoland quadruple hitter on Thursday night. The race can be seen live on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET. – Christian Koelle

Sports Cars: Mercedes Unveils Revised AMG-GT3

In sports car racing, the month of June is a very busy time, and not just because of Le Mans.  You start to see some new things that are in the pipeline.  On Friday, Mercedes-AMG unveiled a new version of the Mercedes-AMG GT3, which is scheduled to race for the first time in 2020.  It will compete in a variety of GT series around the world, including Blancpain GT World Challenge America and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT Daytona class.

Compared to the current AMG-GT3, there is a revised nose that dumps a nose-wide secondary spoiler (above the splitter).  In addition, the rear bodywork has also been revised and the rear wing is more easily adjustable.  Importantly, the engine rebuild interval will be expanded, allowing for cheaper running costs.

For now, the new AMG-GT3 will be rigorously tested for the next few months.  The manufacturer expects that deliveries of the new car will begin towards the end of 2019.  The first major race for the new AMG-GT3 could be any one of three races in January, including the Rolex 24 at Daytona.  There is currently one full-time team (Riley Motorsports) running the Mercedes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and two in Blancpain GT World Challenge America from DXDT Racing.  P1 Motorsports also had a car in both championships before pulling out. – Phil Allaway

Formula 1: Daniel Ricciardo Given the Vettel Treatment

Daniel Ricciardo, by what would seem to be most accounts, enjoyed a solid drive on Sunday at the French Grand Prix.  What made the day a solid one at the Circuit Paul Ricard was his spirited drive in the final laps, one where he was able to make his way past an ailing Lando Norris to claim seventh for the day.  Though the result is not up to what Ricciardo outdid with frequency when he drove at Red Bull, the finish still had to bring some satisfaction.

And then it didnʻt.

The stewards found Ricciardoʻs pass on Norris to be problematic as well as his tangling with Kimi Raikkonen.  What made the ruling even more troubling is that even though the tete-a-tete with both drivers happened on the same lap in roughly the same corner, the stewards saw fit to see the matter as two different incidents.

The resulting ruling dropped Ricciardo to the 11 spot and out of the points.  Such a ruling highlights the role and rule that the stewards have over the races and follows on the heels of Sebastian Vettel getting called out for impeding Lewis Hamilton at the French GP after Vettel drove off track and rejoined in an unsafe manner.

Clearly, Ricciardo was not pleased.

We can call that Twitter response the very exemplification of the adage: discretion is the better part of valor.  Ava Ladner

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Sol Shine

Does anyone really care about F1 anymore? I mean really, it’s a pointless exercise in spending vast sums of money for a futile cause because one team will always spend more than you do. Worse, it is usually dull racing with the obligatory first lap crash making them look like ride buying amateurs, which most of them actually are.

David Edwards

I for one, am enjoying the domination of the Cup series by just two teams. And it ought to highlight the fact that in a spec series engineers are perhaps more important than ever.

As for F1, they certainly do have their issues because of the Mercedes domination, even so, on their worst day far more people worldwide care about it than nascar.

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