Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Chase Elliott, Austin Cindric Take Over Watkins Glen, Friesen Finally Wins

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Chase Elliott Wins As Playoff Race Heats Up

Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. We’ve seen them battle mano-e-mano in western New York before and the 2019 Go Bowling At The Glen was round two. This time, Elliott hung on with pure speed, putting on the most dominant performance of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career to date. But their success at the Glen was, for the most part, expected.

What we didn’t expect to see was Jimmie Johnson fired up.

The seven-time NASCAR champion entered the race with a new crew chief and fresh attitude. His 15-year streak of making the playoffs is on the line; Johnson entered the day 12 points behind Ryan Newman for the final spot on the grid. New head wrench Cliff Daniels wasted no time getting aggressive, pulling a fuel only strategy call mid-race in an attempt to gain Johnson more track position.

But suddenly, the plans went awry as Ryan Blaney went to pass with fresh rubber. The two made contact, Johnson wound up spun and his temper, typically kept in check throughout his long Cup career, spun out of control.

“He just drove through me,” Johnson said. “Spun us out, and clearly, that has big implications on what we’re trying to do for the playoffs right now.”

But Johnson still fought back, a 19th-place finish with six stage points enough to close the gap on Newman. A unscheduled stop for a flat tire deflated Newman’s Roush Fenway Ford team, putting him two laps down at one point before a late rally to finish 25th.

But his misfortune leaves the two tied for the spot with Clint Bowyer just 12 points ahead. Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and William Byron are also close enough that a crash in the coming weeks could leave them perilously close to the cutline.

Just think about the weight of those names. For the first time in forever, NASCAR has itself a battle to simply make the playoffs. If emotions are boiling over this much now, can you imagine what Bristol Motor Speedway is going to be like in two short weeks?

Blaney better watch his rear bumper.

“He claims it was racing,” Johnson said. “I can’t wait to go racing. Stay tuned.” –Tom Bowles

Xfinity Series: Austin Cindric Scores First Win at Watkins Glen 

Since Austin Cindric moved up to the Xfinity Series full-time in 2018, drivers, teams and fans have been critical of the way he races. But the driver of the No. 22 Ford showed up on Saturday (Aug. 3) at Watkins Glen.

When it came to practice and qualifying, Cindric was the best of the rest, as Kyle Busch made his return to the series after a four-month hiatus. Consistently, the No. 18 Toyota was three-tenths or more quicker on the field. But the race changed on lap 35, when Busch broke a suspension part while racing Ryan Blaney for the lead.

From there on, the race was controlled primarily by Cindric, AJ Allmendinger and Justin Allgaier. We’ll get to Allgaier in a minute.

While leading late in the event, crew chief Brian Wilson called Cindric to pit road for fresh tires. On the restart, the No. 22 went from ninth to sixth, only to go from sixth to second on the following restart after Christopher Bell had a save of the year candidate in front of the entire field.

In the waning laps, Cindric caught Allmendinger for the lead, and with two laps to go bumped the No. 10 car out of the way. Heading into turn 6, Allmendinger sent Cindric, only for Cindric to get by on the frontstretch. When the checkered flag flew, the No. 22 was out front, ending a winless streak for Team Penske.

Despite crossing the finish line second, Allmendinger’s No. 10 car failed post-race inspection, awarding Bell with second place. Allgaier was third, with Blaney and Tyler Reddick rounding out the top five.

Allgaier was a centerpiece of the race, starting with a lap 15 restart, as Ross Chastain dumped the No. 7 machine in the inner loop. Four laps later, Allgaier caught the No. 4 car and flat out wrecked Chastain into the turn 5 wall. These drivers have a history of racing each other hard. Allgaier described it as a “rocky relationship.”

Is retaliation like this fair or foul? You be the judge, but that was one of the best Xfinity races in some time. – Dustin Albino

Gander Outdoors Truck Series: 1 More Race to Set the Playoff Field

Last Thursday night at Eldora Speedway, Stewart Friesen finally broke through and scored his first career Gander Outdoors Truck Series win. He also became the sixth different series regular to win this season

With six race winners this season, it means only one driver will point their way into the playoffs. Grant Enfinger holds a solid lead and, barring a major early disaster next weekend at Michigan, will win the regular-season championship to join winners Tyler Ankrum, Ross Chastain, Friesen, Austin Hill, Brett Moffitt and Johnny Sauter. Matt Crafton holds a 63-point advantage over teammate Ben Rhodes and will only drop out of this year’s playoff field if a driver below the cutoff line wins at Michigan International Speedway.

With just one race remaining to set the playoff field, it’s looking more and more like Kyle Busch Motorsports, which has put at least one truck in the championship battle since the series started running the playoffs in 2016, won’t have a driver running for the title this year. Rookie Harrison Burton and sophomore teammate Todd Gilliland have been shut out of victory lane so far this season, and both have enough of a deficit on the cut line that it will take a win from either one to put KBM in the playoffs.

The Corrigan Oil 200 from Michigan will run Saturday, Aug. 10 at 1 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1. – Beth Lunkenheimer

Formula One: Red Bull Brings the Fight to Mercedes

The 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix was a battle of strategy as Max Verstappen dominated most of the race with Lewis Hamilton biding his time behind. As Hamilton and Mercedes realized that trying to get past Verstappen on track with the same tires would be a tough move to make.

Mercedes then decided to take a gamble and pit Hamilton with just under 20 laps to go for a softer, medium tire. It turned out to be the right move as Verstappen’s tires died with five laps to go in the race and Hamilton sped on by to claim victory.

Red Bull really seems to be able to match Mercedes pace on tracks like Hungary. With Ferrari being nowhere to be found, Pierre Gasly is useless for Red Bull, and Valtteri Bottas has reverted back to Bottas 1.0 and is taking himself out of contention for the title and the Mercedes seat in general. If Honda can keep the pace with the Mercedes engine on the power tracks like Belgium, Monza and Circuit of the Americas, Verstappen might not be out of a title fight. Ferrari does have a great power advantage so they will be in the fight the next couple of races to take points away from Verstappen. We will have to see how the rest of the season turns out in September, as F1 hits the beach for a month for the Summer break. – Drew Mongiello

Sports Cars: A Second Look at IMSA’s 2020 LMP2 Plans

On Friday, IMSA made a number of announcements as part of their State of the Series at Road America.  Significant attention was paid to the LMP2 class.

IMSA splitting the Prototype class in two was designed to make LMP2 into more of a Pro-Am class, similar to what the class is in Europe.  Unfortunately, the teams did not follow since the cars could no longer challenge for overall wins.  JDC-Miller MotorSports and CORE autosport acquired DPis, while Performance Tech and PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports stayed behind to race against each other.  Other than DragonSpeed bringing in two cars for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, they’ve raced alone this year.

For 2020, in an attempt to make the class more budget-friendly, the Rolex 24 at Daytona will not award championship points to LMP2 teams.  The idea here is that the substantial expense of the Rolex 24 at Daytona can be a turnoff for organizations looking at a full season program.  Also, much like in 2017, IMSA is hoping that some European teams take a look at making the trip over the Atlantic to compete since the race is more or less in the offseason.

At the time, the sanctioning body offered incentives for new teams to consider making the trip.  It enticed United Autosports and the JOTA Sport-run Jackie Chan DC Racing into making the trip with two cars each.  Will cutting Daytona out of the regular championship and other cost-cutting moves convince more teams to take the plunge into LMP2?  That remains to be seen. – Phil Allaway

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Interesting that JJ thought Ryan Blaney was shaking and scared…of him? I certainly didn’t get that vibe from the Blaney interview at all. Maybe it made Jimmie feel like a big man again after so many bad runs?

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