Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain Pick Up Pocono Wins

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Denny Hamlin Wins Strategy Filled Race

Pocono Raceway is known for a variety of different strategies. That’s exactly what we saw in Sunday’s Gander RV 400, with Denny Hamlin stretching the fuel tank to earn his third victory of 2019.

Hamlin didn’t have the best car but was a definite contender throughout the race. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were a tick better, but the No. 18 team’s day made a turn for the worse when Busch stayed out on a lap 83 caution. Crew chief Adam Stevens called Busch to pit road with three laps to go in the second stage, only to end the stage under caution for a dust up between Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez.

In the final stage, strategy was once again key. On a lap 113 caution for Ryan Preece slamming into the wall, Busch stayed out while everyone else pitted. Ultimately, the No. 18 Toyota gained track position but needed more fuel to get to the finish compared to the rest of the drivers behind him. Once out front, Busch checked out, but pitting with 26 laps to go looked to have hindered his finish significantly, as most drivers were going to attempt to make it to the end on fuel.

When Josh Bilicki stopped on track with seven laps remaining, that put a halt to everyone’s strategy, as now some teams pitted, though most stayed out. Ultimately, a late restart led to another late restart and Hamlin stretched the fuel to edge out Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. for the victory. William Byron and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five.

For Hamlin, it’s his third win of the season, and he’s regained all the confidence he lost in his winless 2018. Jones continues his recent hot streak, recording three consecutive top-three finishes.

With five races remaining until the playoffs begin, the playoff bubble got a bit closer. By winning the second stage, Jimmie Johnson gained five points on the cut line, which is currently a dead tie between Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman. – Dustin Albino 

Xfinity Series: Chase Briscoe Grabs First Victory of 2019, Christopher Bell Dominates

Heading into Saturday’s (July 27) U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, Christopher Bell was the overwhelming favorite. By winning the pole and leading 234 laps, the No. 20 car backed it up.

But because of a late-race pit strategy in which Bell and others stayed out, the No. 20 was on old tires at the end of the race. Meanwhile, Chase Briscoe was not, and drove from the back half of the top 10 to the lead, passing Bell with seven laps to go en route to his first victory of the season.

Bell, who earned a new career-high in laps led, finished runner-up. John Hunter Nemechek was battling for the lead late, but could never get by the No. 20 car and was passed by Briscoe. Nemechek finished third, with Noah Gragson and Tyler Reddick rounding out the top five.

Shane Lee, finishing seventh, had his best run since H2 Motorsports started up its operation six races ago. Other surprises inside the top 15 were Ray Black Jr. in 11th, tying his best finish of the season, and Josh Williams in 15th, despite making contact into the wall on a couple of different occasions.

The Xfinity Series heads to Watkins Glen International next weekend, marking the first of three road course races in the month of August. – Dustin Albino

Gander Outdoors Truck Series: Ross Chastain Wins Pocono, Stewart Friesen Falters

Ross Chastain did exactly what he needed to at Pocono Raceway to protect his spot in the championship battle and posted a dominant victory Saturday afternoon. Leading a race-high 54 laps, the driver of the No. 45 Chevrolet scored his third win of 2019 and his second that will count toward his title efforts (win at Kansas was before declaring for Truck Series points).

Because there can only be a maximum of seven regular-season winners with two races remaining to set the playoff field, Chastain is guaranteed his spot in the championship battle, regardless of who wins the next two events at Eldora Speedway and Michigan International Raceway.

Meanwhile, Stewart Friesen didn’t even make it through lap 1 before he crashed out at Pocono, putting himself in a precarious position without a victory this season. He sits just 13 points ahead of the cut line and could be in danger of missing the playoffs, depending on how things play out at the unpredictable Eldora this Thursday (Aug. 1) and Michigan in a couple weeks.

As the Truck Series winds its way to the conclusion of the regular season, the battle to set the playoff field should only intensify. – Beth Lunkenheimer

Formula One: Action-Packed German Grand Prix

It was a great day for Formula One as the German Grand Prix was absolutely incredible. The race started under rainy conditions, then it went dry. It then rained again before drying up yet again. Seven cars did not finish the race. Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas all made mistakes and went off the track. In the end, no Mercedes driver finished in the points and Max Verstappen survived the madness to get his second win of the season.

Sebastian Vettel did not take part in qualifying on Saturday with engine issues but was able to survive the madness to take second place, he stayed consistent and on the track to overcome what could’ve been a low scoring race.

But the biggest story of the race might end up being the third position on the podium. In 2016, Daniil Kvyat was replaced by Verstappen in the main Red Bull seat, Kvyat lost his confidence that ended up leading to him losing his seat in F1 at the end of 2017. He came back this season and showed great pace, a revitalized driver who had his confidence back. It looked like a great chance for strong points. But when it became a strategy race at the end, Kvyat was put on the dry tire at the right time to get up to second with less than five laps to go, and eventually get a well-deserved podium, his third in his career and first since he drove the Red Bull in China 2016. It was a massive result for Toro Rosso, which had a driver on the podium for the first time since Vettel scored a win in Monza 2008. It almost seems fitting that a race this spectacular ended with a surprise podium.

Lance Stroll finished a strong fourth after running at the bottom of the order all race and being the first driver to take the dry tire on the second to final safety car. He ran in the podium places before Vettel got by on his recovery drive, but it was still a strong run for the Canadian getting great points for Racing Point.

Hamilton wrecked while in the lead, leading to a five-second penalty for his entry to pit lane and a 45-second pit stop as his team was not ready for his car. Valtteri Bottas crashed violently while trying to pass Stroll for third. Pierre Gasly crashed into Alex Albon. Nico Hulkenberg went from a potential podium to a crash of his own in his home race. I highly recommend finding a way to watch the replay if you can. It was truly action-packed from start to finish. – Drew Mongiello

ARCA Menards Series: Christian Eckes Reinserts His Name in Championship Hunt

After missing Salem earlier in the year and having some trouble at Talladega, Christian Eckes put himself behind the eight ball early on, and many had written him out of the championship picture. He battled it out with Todd Gilliland on Friday and came out on the right end of things, earning his fifth career victory. Eckes capitalized on Gilliland being handed a penalty for an unsafe merge and held off the No. 18 to re-certify himself as a championship contender.

“Once they told me what happened to Todd, it was all about keeping our heads down and not making any mistakes,” Eckes said. “We knew there was a long way to go and we needed to be perfect to close it out.

“We need to be perfect from here on out. Without missing the race at Salem, we’d be 150 points ahead. Without the last lap at Elko, we’d be within 50 points or so. We were perfect here today and we need to be perfect every week from here on out. I’ve won at three of the five tracks and my crew chief Kevin Reed has won at all five of them so I am confident we can make a run at it.”

It will be the Eckes v. Michael Self during the final string of races starting in a few weeks on the dirt of Illinois State Fairgrounds for Allen Crowe 100, which begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, Aug. 18 on MAVTV. Five races remain and four of the next five will be broadcast live on MavTV. – Christian Koelle

NTT IndyCar Series: Josef Newgarden Makes Rookie Mistake at Mid-Ohio

Josef Newgarden could have very well just thrown away his second NTT IndyCar Series championship this weekend at Mid-Ohio.

With a fourth-place finish solidly in hand, the Team Penske driver got greedy trying to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay and spun on the last lap, effectively handing over 20 free points to championship rivals Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Sunday’s race-winner Scott Dixon.

Rossi, who finished fifth, now sits just 16 points back of Newgarden, while Pagenaud closed his deficit to 47. Dixon, who held off teammate Felix Rosenqvist to claim his sixth win at the track, is now just 62 points off the lead.

Year after year, the IndyCar title race comes down to the final round, and now Newgarden has just three races left to rebuild a buffer before the series takes to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the finale.

And it gets worse. Next month, the paddock heads to Pocono Raceway for a 500-miler, a race Rossi ran away with last year. And at the only other superspeedway race this year–the Indianapolis 500–both Rossi and Pagenaud got the better of Newgarden.

Now, the 2017 champ can no longer afford to take a defensive approach, especially with the double-points finale looming on the horizon and a turn in the schedule that favors Rossi. He’ll have to try to collect every point he can to make sure he has some insurance for the end of the year.

Sure, he’s still atop the standings now, but a 16-point lead will be worthless when they get to Laguna Seca, especially when the Iceman is involved. – A.J. Hecht

Sports Cars: SRO America 2020 Provisional Schedules Released

Last weekend was the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the premiere event for the Stephane Ratel Organization (SRO).  During the weekend every year, the SRO has a big press conference where they announce schedules for the next season.  Here, provisional schedules for all of SRO America’s series were announced Friday.

Blancpain GT World Challenge America’s schedule will once again consist of seven race weekends of two races each.  There are a few changes of note.  Circuit of the Americas will open the season on an unknown date.  VIR will move back six weeks to early June to the weekend Sonoma had this year, resulting in Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on Victoria Day weekend becoming the second race weekend of the year.  Sonoma will move to early August.  Road America and Watkins Glen will also swap weekends.  Finally, the season finale will move from Las Vegas to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  This will be a new eight-hour endurance race that will replace the California 8 Hours at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.  It will serve as a joint round of both Blancpain GT World Challenge America and the Intercontinental GT Challenge.

GT4 America Sprint and SprintX will have similar schedules, but a number of the events are currently unconfirmed.  To prevent confusion, there will not be separate GT4 East and GT4 West championships next year.  TC America will be back with some changes to their schedule.  There are a number of unconfirmed dates since Ratel wants TC America to join up with INDYCAR for more than just St. Petersburg, but nothing is confirmed.  Finally, a new GT2 series will join up for five race weekends.  This is a new class with 600 horsepower cars with limited downforce that are supposed to be for amateur racers.

Given the sheer number of unconfirmed dates and venues, there will be a number of updates to these schedules over the next few months.  Regardless, it appears that 2020 will be an interesting year for SRO America. – 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.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via