Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: NASCAR Veterans Head In 2 Directions, Christopher Bell Dominates Xfinity at Loudon

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Two Veterans Headed In Opposite Directions

Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson were born less than three months apart. Their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series careers started within one year of each other, 2001 and 2002, as the California natives rose up and won in their first years on tour. Multiple championships followed (one for Kevin, seven for Jimmie) as they’ve both become first ballot Hall of Famers.

At age 43, however, their careers seem to be headed in two markedly different directions. The Foxwoods Resort 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday (July 21) made that perfectly clear.

Harvick, in his sixth year paired with Stewart-Haas Racing, continues to ride a second wind. A stirring victory at NHMS was his first of the year for SHR and 23rd overall with the program in 5+ years. That matches the 23 Cup victories he earned with Richard Childress Racing in 13 years with their program. A frustrating season of near misses finally corrected itself as the No. 4 Ford team reminded everyone of why they’re a perennial Championship 4 contender. Despite a 21-race winless streak, countless pit road mistakes and horrific luck this team still sits third in the point standings.

” I’ve had a big part of knocking the sides off these things lately, keeping us out of Victory Lane a couple times,” Harvick said after outlasting Denny Hamlin in a last-lap duel. “We’ve made mistakes.  But I think in the end, everybody — whether our cars are slow or fast, whether I run it into the wall or [crew chief Rodney Childers] makes a call that doesn’t work out or whatever the case may be, we show up the next week, and the only thing we think about when we make the first lap on the racetrack is we have a chance to win.  Everybody else might not think that, but we legitimately think we can win every race. Mentally, that’s just the attitude of the whole team.”

It’s that confidence – not to be confused with cockiness – that has left Harvick in his prime at age 43. At the same age Dale Earnhardt Sr. won his final championship, his 2001 replacement could easily make another run at it come Homestead-Miami Speedway this November.

Compare that with the disappointment of a man who’s spent a decade-plus as one of Harvick’s main rivals. Johnson simply struggled to run top 10 at New Hampshire, leading as many laps in the last seven years there (four) as Harvick has wins at this place. Eventually, poor luck in the form of a power steering and water pump failure turned Johnson’s so-so day into a nightmare. He wound up 30th, 12 laps off the pace and dropped to the wrong side of the playoff cutline.

That’s right. In his first year with a new crew chief, the 43-year-old who outright dominated NASCAR’s postseason structure is a shell of his former self. A winless streak has reached two-plus years while back-to-back 30th-place efforts now put a larger streak in jeopardy: 15 consecutive postseason appearances.

“We’ve been trying all year,” Johnson said. “It’s not like we can magically flip a switch and all of a sudden have more. We’ve been able to run in the top five and we need to get back to doing that. That’s really what it boils down to.”

Johnson now has six races to make up a 17-point deficit on Clint Bowyer for a postseason spot. History says you bet on the man with seven championships to his credit. But when Johnson is driving like he is, posting just three top-five finishes in 20 starts, will that be enough to get the job done?

The fact it’s even a question tells you how far Johnson’s stock has fallen. He and Harvick may be the same age but they’re heading in two starkly different directions. Can Harvick find Johnson his golden horseshoe? – Tom Bowles




Xfinity Series: New Hampshire Becoming Christopher Bell’s Personal Playground 

Over the past few weeks, Cole Custer has jumped to the top of a lot of people’s favorites for the Xfinity Series championship. In the Roxor 200 at New Hampshire, Christopher Bell wanted to remind said people that the No. 20 team is pretty damn good.

Bell dominated the 200-lap event, leading 186 laps, though missing out on the stage one victory, as Brandon Jones edged out Bell and Tyler Reddick in a three-wide photo finish. Following the first stage, the No. 20 car led the final 153 laps.

It’s Bell’s second victory in as many Xfinity starts at the track. Dating back to 2017 in the Truck Series, he’s on a three-race winning streak of winning in the Granite State. And in his other lone NASCAR start at the track, he finished second in 2016 to William Byron in trucks. Not too shabby.

Custer finished the race in second, reversed from last week’s race at Kentucky Speedway when the No. 00 won and the No. 20 finished second. Justin Allgaier finished third, picking up his first top-five finish in four races. Reddick and Paul Menard rounded out the top five.

Speaking of Menard, he and 18-year-old Harrison Burton got into a shouting match after the race, as Menard dumped Burton on lap 155. The No. 18 finished 29th.

The series heads to Iowa Speedway next Saturday (July 27), for its second race at the track in the past six weeks. Oh, and Bell cruised to the victory in the first race, leading 186 of 250 laps.

Early Sunday morning, Kaulig Racing announced Nick Harrison, crew chief for Justin Haley. had passed away. In 120 starts at the Cup level, Harrison had one top-five effort with Kurt Busch in 2012 at Sonoma Raceway. Over the past six years, Harrison was inside the Richard Childress Racing organization at the Xfinity level, winning three races with Austin Dillon (most recently at Michigan International Speedway in 2018) and one race with Paul Menard. He has another win with Busch in 2012 with Phoenix Racing and one win with Dillon in three Truck starts.

Frontstretch sends our thoughts and prayers to Kaulig Racing and Harrison’s family. – Dustin Albino

NTT IndyCar Series: Josef Newgarden Dominant in Iowa — Again

Josef Newgarden owns Iowa Speedway.

For the third time in four years, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion dominated at the .875-mile oval this weekend, leading 245 of 300 laps on his way to his fourth win of the 2019 season, extending his lead in the points race to 29 in the process.

Always making it look easy, Newgarden has led a cool 868 laps at the physically demanding, blindingly fast short track—all in just the last five races—collecting two wins along the way.

The series’ annual trip to Newton couldn’t have come at a better time for the championship leader. Just four points ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi coming into the weekend, Newgarden was in danger of losing control of the title chase for the first time all year. But with the win, rarely in doubt over the course of the night, Newgarden sent a very loud and very clear message to the rest of the field: to win this year’s title, you’re going to have to take it from him.

For Rossi, who ended the night in sixth, it was a setback, but not an unexpected one. Fortunately, he did well to minimize the damage and has five rounds left—including the double-points finale—to make up the deficit. To help him close the gap, the schedule now swings in his favor, just as it did for Newgarden. Last year, Rossi ran away from the field at Mid-Ohio, where the series heads next week, and rocketed home to a second straight win at Pocono, which will follow several weeks later on Aug. 18. If he wants to put the Penske pilot under some pressure, now would be the time.

But Rossi wasn’t the only one to keep the dam from bursting in Iowa. Scott Dixon won the lottery on Saturday night, pulling off a miraculous podium finish in classic Iceman fashion. Stuck back in 16th, a full lap off the pace with an ill-handling Dallara, a well-timed caution and a new set of Firestones sent the Aussie straight to the front. On a night that could have effectively put an end to his title defense, a second place finish is exactly what Dixon needed in order to keep his hopes alive. – A.J. Hecht

ARCA: Sweet, Sweet Iowa Redemption for Chandler Smith

Chandler Smith made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut a few weeks ago at the Iowa Speedway. Smith was looking strong especially after starting from the pole, his first career pole (awarded via practice speeds). During that race, it looked as if Smith was going to challenge for his first career victory in the series but radio issues relegated him back but still a top-10 finish.

On Friday night, Smith returned to the Iowa Speedway seeking redemption, and redemption was just what he found. Smith dominated the evening after starting from the pole and tallied his sixth career victory. Smith led a race-high 140 laps with his Venturini Motorsports teammate and runner up finisher Christian Eckes leading the other 10 laps. Michael Self added padding to his points lead finishing third and Carson Hocevar and Ty Gibbs rounded out the top-five.

Self now has a 90-point lead over Bret Holmes while Christian Eckes moved into third passing Travis Braden. As the series heads to Pocono for the second and final time of 2019, the points lead is brewing up and it’ll be interesting to see if Eckes can make up more ground on both Holmes and Eckes.

The Forts USA 150 at Pocono Raceway on Friday, July 26 goes live at 4 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. Zane Smith earned the victory last season over Sheldon Creed after the race was rain-shortened. – Christian Koelle

Sports Cars: G-Drive Racing Resumes Winning Form Post-Le Mans

While IMSA teams were sweltering through a hot and humid day in Connecticut Saturday, the European Le Mans Series got their season back underway at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona after the Le Mans break.  G-Drive Racing showed that they hadn’t missed a beat.

Starting third, Roman Rusinov was able to maintain his position, approximately eight seconds behind the leaders until John Farano put his car in the tire barriers to bring out a full course yellow 33 minutes into the race.  The yellow brought everyone in for their first stop of the day.  During that stop, the G-Drive crew were able to get Rusinov out in front of IDEC Sport and Cool Racing to take the overall lead.  The lead gained just past one-eighth distance was one that they did not give up as Rusinov, Jean-Eric Vergne and Job van Uitert held on to take their second straight victory.

LMP3 saw InterEuropol Competition’s Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore start eighth in class and slowly make their way towards the front.  Moore was able to take the lead from United Autosports’ Mike Guasch 49 minutes from the finish.  From there, Moore held on to give the defending LMP3 championship team their first win of the season.

GTE competition saw Kessel Racing lead early, but it was pit strategy that ultimately decided the race.  Luzich Racing’s Fabien Lavergne got off-sequence early on and got ahead of the rest of the pack when everyone else made their second stop early in the second hour.  The strategy, along with decent pace from Lavergne, Nicklas Nielsen and Alessandro Pier Guidi, was enough to allow them to lead the rest of the race and take the win. – Phil Allaway

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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