Categories
News

Kevin Harvick closes out Michigan weekend with a win

Recovering from a punctured right front tire that cost him track position early in the race, Kevin Harvick passed Joey Logano on Lap 183 of 200 and cruised to a 1.595-second victory in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

During a closing 48-lap green-flag run that began with a restart on Lap 153, Harvick charged from seventh to first, recording his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season, his third at the 2.0-mile track and the 47th of his career.

“It was a day of a little bit of adversity that we were able to overcome,” Harvick said. “We had a really fast car all weekend. Our car handled really well today, and with the multiple lanes (thanks in part to the application of traction compound in the high grooves), we were able to run all three lanes pretty well and make our way through traffic.

“They (the team) put a really fast race car on the track, and we were able to capitalize on it, so that’s always fun.”

When Harvick crossed the finish line, leading his 22nd lap of the afternoon, Denny Hamlin was running second after Logano pitted for a splash of fuel on Lap 197. Kyle Larson ran third, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez, who re-entered the Playoff picture when two drivers on the bubble ahead of him — Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer — had disastrous days in the Irish Hills.

Thirty-one laps into the race, Harvick steered his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford onto pit road with a flat right-front tire. But with the first 60-lap stage running green from start to finish, Harvick was able to drive up to sixth by the end of the stage.

Martin Truex Jr. won Stage 1 after starting from the rear because of two pre-race inspection failures, but his No. 19 Toyota wasn’t as strong in traffic late in the race than it had been early on. Kyle Busch won Stage 2, but his car, like Truex’s, wasn’t as effective in traffic after pit stops at the end of the stage scrambled the running order.

Likewise, Hamlin’s car was best in the heat of the day on a hot, slick track, but the speed in Harvick’s car prevailed as the asphalt cooled down.

“Well, it seemed like we generally had the best-handling car when it was really hot and slick, but as the day went on and the track cooled off, the guys that had built more speed into their car, it kind of handicapped it for them. So, we were able to hang on to those Fords there at the end, and then just got — the 4 (Harvick) was trying to save fuel I’m guessing there, the 2 (pole winner Brad Keselowski) and the 22 (Logano) peeled off.

“Nothing I could really do just didn’t have enough speed. The 4 was about a half-second faster than us in qualifying, and when we were holding it wide open there at the end, just couldn’t overcome it.”

Kyle Busch ran sixth, and Ryan Preece came home seventh, posting his first career top 10 in his 28th series start. The Hendrick Motorsports trio of William Byron, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.

Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson wasn’t as fortunate. On Lap 15, his No. 48 Chevrolet slapped the outside wall, severely damaging the right side of the car. Johnson finished 34th, eight laps down.

Bowyer’s misfortune came on Lap 137, after contact with the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford of Paul Menard. Bowyer’s car slammed into the Turn 3 wall, and efforts to repair the car proved futile. Bowyer retired from the race in 37th place.

Johnson dropped two places to 18th in the series standings, 12 points behind Bowyer and 12th-place finisher Ryan Newman, tied for the last Playoff-eligible position. Suarez moved past Johnson to 17th in the standings and trails Newman and Bowyer by four points with three races left before the cutoff at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Categories
News

Late qualifier Brad Keselowski storms to Michigan pole

BROOKLYN, Mich. – The last qualifier in Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series time trials at Michigan International Speedway will be first to the green flag on Sunday afternoon.

The final driver to make an attempt, after shadows started to shroud the track, Brad Keselowski covered the 2.0-mile distance in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford in 37.801 seconds (190.471 mph) to knock Kevin Harvick off the provisional pole for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Harvick had turned a lap in 37.877 seconds (190.089 mph) before Keselowski made it an all-Ford front row with his blistering circuit. The Busch Pole Award is Keselowski’s second of the season, his second at Michigan and the 16th of his career.

Keselowski grew up in Rochester Hills, Mich., and the pole is the first step toward winning for the first time at his home track.

“The Discount Tire Ford Mustang has been incredible since we unloaded,” Keselowski said. “We were really fast in practice, and then everybody started picking up a bunch toward the end of qualifying, and I got a little nervous.

“But (crew chief) Paul Wolfe and the team did a great job. We picked up just enough to get our second pole here. Hopefully, we can convert it into a win.”

To do so, Keselowski will have to be fast in race trim as well. With Michigan being the last non-impound event for the higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package introduced this season, crew chiefs have considerably more latitude in preparing the cars specifically for qualifying and then making wholesale changes for the race.

“There’s a lot you can do to optimize the car for today (in qualifying) that maybe won’t carry over to Sunday,” Keselowski said. “But still, it’s good to be starting first, and I think we’ve got a lot of knobs to get her tuned in for the race.”

Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron (189.703 mph) and Alex Bowman (189.509 mph) claimed the third and fourth starting spots, respectively. Clint Bowyer and Chase Elliott, last Sunday’s winner at Watkins Glen, will occupy the fifth and sixth positions on the grid.

Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10 in time trials. Denny Hamlin was 14th in the fastest Toyota with a lap at 188.093 mph.

Harvick was pleased with his second-place qualifying effort.

“It was a good day for our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang,” he said. “Track position is really important everywhere we go. Coming to Michigan, it is of the utmost importance, so this is a really good start to the weekend for us.”

Bowyer is 15th in the standings, 12 points ahead of Johnson and Ryan Newman, who are currently tied for the last available spot in the Cup Series Playoffs. Newman qualified 20th, 10 positions behind Johnson.

Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric posted the seventh and 11th fastest laps in qualifying, but their times were disallowed post-inspection because the cars were not running fully functioning alternators, as prescribed by NASCAR rules.

Dillon and Hemric will start from the rear of the field on provisionals.

Categories
News

Chase Elliott goes back-to-back at Watkins Glen

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – It was a striking case of déjà vu.

In a replay of last year’s GoBowling at the Glen, Martin Truex Jr. chased pole winner Chase Elliott lap after lap around the 2.45-mile road course, using everything in his arsenal to try to deprive Elliott of his second straight victory at the track.

Nothing worked for Truex, who crossed the finish line in the wake of the winning No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, .454 seconds in arrears.

Elliott logged his second victory of the season, his second at The Glen and the fifth of his career, becoming the first Chevrolet driver to win multiple races this season.

“This is wild,” exulted Elliott, who outran Truex last year at WGI to pick up his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory. “Thank you, guys, that was pretty awesome. I’ve never been so far from home and thought I was at my house. Thank you. What a day!

“We had such a bad fast Camaro, and we stayed mistake-free. Martin was a little quicker those last two runs, but track position was king, and I didn’t mess up in (Turn) 1 this time, so that was good.”

In fact, nothing went wrong for Elliott until he ran out of fuel after his celebratory post-race burnout—same as last year.

“Sorry I ran out of gas again,” Elliott said.

Elliott swept the first and second stages and led 81 of the 90 laps, surrendering the top spot only during pit stop cycles. Truex, who led one lap by pitting one circuit later than Elliott on Lap 60, got tantalizingly close to Elliott’s rear bumper at several points during the final 25-lap green-flag run, but the 2017 series champion couldn’t mount a serious threat to overtake the winner.

“I tried to do all I could,” Truex said. “Chase did an excellent job, just not making mistakes, and really all I could do was get to two car lengths—one-and-a-half at the closest in braking—and just try to force a mistake. But he hit his marks. His car was really fast in the key areas that you need to be, leaving a few of the key corners.

“I just couldn’t get a run on him, and we just were kind of stuck there. Unfortunate, but our Bass Pro Camry was really, really fast today. We passed quite a few cars there that were fast and finished up front, just couldn’t pass that last one.”

Denny Hamlin ran a consistent-if-distant third, 11.229 seconds behind Elliott at the finish. Erik Jones started 14th and came home fourth, posting his fourth straight top-five result and solidifying his position in the standings with four races left before the cutoff for the Playoffs. Jones is 13th, 54 points to the good.

Ryan Blaney ran fifth on Sunday, followed by Matt DiBenedetto, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch finished 11th, recovering from a pit road speeding penalty and on-track dust-ups with front-row starter William Byron (21st on Sunday) and Bubba Wallace (28th).

Scoring points in both the first and second stages, Jimmie Johnson finished 19th in the debut of new crew chief Cliff Daniels and made up 12 points on Ryan Newman, who ran 25th after a flat tire forced an unscheduled pit stop, and a subsequent loose wheel compounded the problem. Newman and Johnson head for next Sunday’s race at Michigan tied for 16th, the last Playoff-eligible position.

Categories
News

Austin Cindric gets first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in duel at The Glen

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Opportunity knocked for Austin Cindric after a mechanical failure knocked Kyle Busch out of Saturday’s Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.

And after Cindric and road course ace AJ Allmendinger traded knocks on the final two laps of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, Cindric—on fresher tires—emerged the winner for the first time in his career.

Following post-race inspection, Allmendinger’s No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet was disqualified for a rear height violation, dropping Allmendinger to last place in the running order. But fans left the track with the memory of an intense battle over the closing laps.

When NASCAR called the sixth caution on Lap 69 of 82, Brian Wilson, crew chief on Cindric’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford, made a courageous call that later proved decisive. Wilson brought Cindric from the lead to pit road for fresh tires, dropping the 20-year-old driver to ninth in the running order for a restart on Lap 73.

An immediate caution for a pile-up in Turn 1 left Cindric in sixth for the next restart on Lap 76. When Christopher Bell was knocked sideways in Turn 2, and Justin Allgaier and Tyler Reddick lost momentum while fighting for the second spot, Cindric charged around the outside into second place and chased Allmendinger.

It took three laps for Cindric to trim Allmendinger’s advantage from 1.714 seconds to .521 seconds, and from that point, the game was on. On Lap 81, Cindric nudged Allmendinger up the track in the carousel and took the lead. Allmendinger returned the favor approaching Turn 7 and regained the top spot as Cindric was forced wide.

But Allmendinger entered Turn 7 too wide and Cindric drove back underneath to lead Lap 81. On the final circuit, he pulled away to win by 1.168 seconds and clinched a spot in the Xfinity Series Playoffs.

Cindric and Wilson had discussed the possibility of a late pit stop before the race.

“I’ve been on the other side of it,” Cindric said. “(Bell) had been pretty good all day, so it was going to be hard to hold him off depending on which lane he had on the restart.”

The only thing that went wrong was Cindric’s celebratory burnout. But it was helpful that pole winner Kyle Busch had critical issues during the race itself.

“I was kind of bummed,” Cindric said. “I broke the clutch out of it trying to do a burnout, so my guys are going to have to do a little extra work and I’ll have to buy them an even bigger dinner. We talked before the weekend, and we knew something would have to go wrong with (Kyle Busch), but I’m so blessed to be able to be here.”

After winning the first stage and pitting thereafter, Busch had just passed Ryan Blaney for the lead entering the inner loop when the upper control arm on the left front of his No. 18 Toyota broke. Busch retired from the race and opened the door for Cindric.

“As soon as KB went out, everybody’s eyes opened up, and it was like, ‘OK, here we go,’” Allmendinger said. “When you take tires like that, it’s all about getting lucky. If you get a restart where you get by a chunk of cars, it makes that strategy work—and he did it.

“Congrats to Austin. He went in there and nudged me, and that was fair. I nudged him—you race how you get raced—but that’s what racing’s all about. He deserved it. He was on it the whole race.”

With the Allmendinger disqualification, Bell inherited the runner-up spot, followed by Allgaier, who traded hard knocks with Ross Chastain, eliminating Chastain from the race after hard contact with the barrier in the carousel. Blaney and Reddick ran fourth and fifth.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Matt DiBenedetto Finding Improvement with Leavine Family Racing

At the start of the season, it appeared to be a struggle for Matt DiBenedetto. However, the past six races, it appears that Leavine Family Racing has turned a corner.

After scoring no top-10 finishes in the first 15 races, DiBenedetto has scored three in the last six events, including a fourth-place finish at Sonoma Raceway. 

The success can be not only attributed to the chemistry between DiBenedetto and crew chief Michael Wheeler, but also the team’s alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR has obviously been fast this year, sweeping the top-three spots at Pocono Raceway.

“It’s been good,” DiBenedetto commented. “We get really good race cars. I have a good relationship with the fellow Toyota drivers which helps and it’s so nice to be able to pick their brain and get advice from champions and such good drivers. The support from Toyota is really good, and we are lucky to have the people on our team that we have. Guys like Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) and our engineers that are so good, because we don’t get all the information, like Furniture Row (Racing) did. We are not quite at that level yet, but we have such good people that it just shows that we can still perform and go out there and get those top-fives and top-10s.”

Being able to sit in some of the meetings with JGR, DiBenedetto added the biggest benefit has been the consistent advice the other drivers have been able to offer so the No. 95 Toyota Camry is fast as it can be from the drop of the green flag.

“I have always been a smart racer and have been able to get the most out of my equipment,” he continued. “I can go out there and hustle the car and wheel it. But getting some of the finer points, like from Martin (Truex Jr.) and Kyle (Busch) and some of them on making sure that I can maximize what I have for the weekend in the car. That’s a big part of it, and their experience has been nice to lean on when I can.”

The fourth-place finish a couple weeks ago has certainly helped the confidence, especially now heading into Watkin’s Glen on Sunday. It almost brings more pressure in everybody wondering if DiBenedetto can back up the performance.

“I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself,” he commented. “I’m always hard on myself as far as making sure I’m as perfect as I can be for my team. I am big on that. I have been through so much in my career. It has made me a really, really mentally tough person, so not a lot gets to me. I just go out, perform, do my job and the rest of it takes care of itself.”

Another strong performance would certainly help their position in points, as they currently sit 24th in the year-long standings. A win would be a dream come true, and put them in the playoffs.

“I think the focus is really just doing what we are doing and focusing on track position and focusing on setting ourselves up for the end of these races,” he said. “Because that’s our best shot is to keep positioning ourselves where we are in the top-five and is something happens and we can get a win, that gives a bigger point jump than anything else.

“We are 24th in points. We’re a much better team than that.”

The success has caught the attention of the fans, as it’s always great to see an underdog succeed. It’s even more special in realizing the shop that they’re working out of, which led Alan Kulwicki to his underdog success with a championship in 1992.

“A lot of history in our race shop, right behind the Charlotte Speedway,” he said. “It’s cool being called an underdog, or a growing, team. We’re still in the growing stages. It’s so much fun to go out there. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was really satisfying when we go out and pass powerhouse teams and go up and run in the top-five like we have the last few weeks.

“When we pass former champions and beat powerhouse teams, it’s pretty satisfying.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Bubba Wallace Continues to Provide for Race Fans

It’s no secret that Bubba Wallace has not had the 2019 season he had hoped for in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He currently sits 270 points below the cutoff line with five races remaining before the playoffs and unless he gets a win, a playoff berth seems unlikely.

However, the 25 year old driver is making all the right moves in another area of the sport – the hearts of race fans.

Following Dale Earnhardt Jr’s retirement in 2017, NASCAR found itself with a fresh new face of the sport when Chase Elliott claimed the title of ‘Most Popular Driver’ last season. This newfound accolade may not be so easy to come by for the racing prodigy at the conclusion of the 2019 season, though, as Wallace seems to be making headlines almost every race weekend, not for on-track success, but his ability to connect with fans.

Wallace made his debut in the Cup Series in 2017 after powering his way through NASCAR’s Home Tracks program. Since then, he remains the only African-American driver competing in the premier series. As a result, he has become an ambassador for the sanctioning body’s Drive for Diversity program in which young developmental drivers of different nationalities show off their skills through the Home Tracks program.

This is an incredibly large responsibility for any athlete to carry on their shoulders, but the driver from Mobile, Alabama seems to be doing it with ease. As he continues to pave the way for young, hopeful drivers, he also bring along a new legion of race fans accumulated from his outgoing and interactive personality. It also helps that he is driving the famed No. 43 made famous by ‘The King,’ Richard Petty.

In Wallace’s most recent interaction with fans, he took to Twitter sharing a photo of himself in his Petty Blue Chevy Camaro with Petty’s autograph on his arm.

The tweet went viral in many aspects, garnering comments and support from fellow competitors. In just two day, the impressive feat of 43,000 retweets was achieved and the seven-time champion approved of his young driver’s request. Wallace revealed his car owner had been laughing about the idea and further elaborated that Petty would NOT be getting his driver’s autograph tattooed as well, but he would join him when he went for his new ink.

Also, who says rain delays have to be boring? The driver of the No. 43 has revolutionized these boring times with a new unofficial tradition. At the first race at Michigan International Speedway this season, instead of waiting out the weather in his trailer like a majority of his competitors, Wallace grabbed a football and began passing it back and forth to race fans braving the weather in the grandstands.

Since this interactive element was implemented by Wallace in Michigan, he replicated this connection with fans once more at Daytona International Speedway in July. Both times the driver broke out the pigskin, he was joined by special guests such as Corey LaJoie and Daniel Hemric. This is not only a positive way to connect with fans on a personal level when there is a halt in action on the track, but this is a powerful way to boost ratings for the sport when it needs it the most.

While Wallace has established a relationship with fans through social media and events at the track, his outreach to fans extends on an even deeper level. More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression and amidst the competition and fame, it’s sometimes easy to forget that athletes suffer from the same disease; Wallace is no exception.

In a recent interview with USA Today, the 25 year old driver opened up about his battles with depression even while competing in stock car racing. In conjunction with serving as an ambassador for Drive for Diversity, Wallace also bravely admits to struggling with this disease that most everyone can relate to. In a time and head space where you feel isolated in the world, it’s important to note that you are not alone and even athletes competing in NASCAR’s most prestigious series are struggling with the same battles.

Wallace is an easy driver for fans to both sympathize and empathize with. Most athletes elect to mask their emotions, whereas Wallace chooses to embrace a more natural reaction – whatever that may be. In 2018, Wallace finished runner-up in the Daytona 500, earning him the record of highest finishing African-American driver in NASCAR. In a post-race press conference, the African-American driver, understandably broke down in front of reporters after accomplishing the historic feat.

Tears are no stranger for the Alabama-native as he’s even broken down in tougher times. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one on a race weekend, or continued on-track struggles it’s something race fans have seen. While times are tough for Wallace, it’s important for everyone to see that athletes are human and it’s tremendously brave for Wallace to wear his heart on his sleeve and fans see that.

Most recently, at the conclusion of the Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway, Wallace turned heads following a heated altercation on pit road with Daniel Suarez. Both drivers wouldn’t comment on the matter, saying there was no issue, but the video says otherwise. Regardless, it’s nice to once again to see some emotion from drivers in a time where the sport is lacking identity.

The 2019 season has not been a total bust for Wallace. In one of the more popular finishes of the year, the driver of the No. 43 successfully muscled his way into the Monster Energy All Star race after a thrilling battle with Suarez in the Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Following the race, a choked up Wallace was all smiles after feeling like he finally caught a break he deserved. After seeing the sheer joy from the 25-year-old driver, you get the sense that a win is coming in the not-so distant future and that once it comes, there will be unfathomable roars from the grandstands.

As Wallace nears his third complete season in the Cup Series, he has clearly cemented himself as one of the sport’s fan favorites between fan interactions and his display of raw emotion. He has opened himself up to fans in a way that not many athletes opt to do and as a result has reached a broader audience into what many call a dying sport.

Could Bubba Wallace be NASCAR’s saving grace? One thing is certain, he has already amassed a persona which is bound to ensure a career of longevity in the sport for years to come.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Erik Jones Deserves A Top Ride

As the summer heats up, so does the silly season rumors in NASCAR, with the focus this year on the future of Erik Jones and Christopher Bell.

Bell has continued to be one of, if not, the most dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and is expected to move up to one of Toyota’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ rides. However, the question is which one, which is where Jones comes into play. The 23-year-old does not have anything secure for the 2020 season, and his lack of wins compared to his JGR teammates has many speculating that he could be replaced by Bell.

Jones’ future is so murky at the moment, that following a second-place finish Sunday at Pocono Raceway, team owner, Joe Gibbs, was still unable to provide any clarity.

“I know people get frustrated because you haven’t made a decision yet on some things. But I just say this: there’s sponsors involved, so many relationships involved, you’re trying to get through all that and work it all out,” Gibbs said. “Yeah, I think honestly that’s part of Erik’s world. It doesn’t go easy sometimes. He knows. I keep him updated; we do. He knows we’re working as hard as we can. Hopefully, it will be one of those things will get put in place here pretty quick.”

The statement continued the on-going trend of leaving the current driver of the No. 20 without a solid plan for the future.

Now, it is very possible Jones, regardless of what happens with the Bell situation, stays inside the Gibbs/Toyota family, with some suggesting that an opening at Leavine Family Racing could be where one of the two drivers ends up.

However, does Jones even deserved to be bumped from his ride? No, he does not, and his numbers prove that.

Now, it’s easy to point to Jones’ win column and say his only win has come at a superspeedway; but, that’s not exactly fair to Jones, especially when you compare him to other drivers that have recently come into the sport.

William Byron, who was dominant in Xfinity, still has not won a race at NASCAR’s highest level.

Ryan Blaney has only won twice, and one of those wins was essentially handed to him thanks to the last-lap chaos at the ROVAL.

Chase Elliott, only started to find his winning ways in his third full-time season, and still has not become a regular fixture upfront yet.

All of these drivers are considered the next big things of the sport, and they all have shown that they need time to develop like Jones, but it’s not just that. Jones has statistically been better than of all of them this season, with more top-five’s and more top-10’s, with only Elliott ahead of him in points.

Yet, for some reason, Jones is being considered a bust by some and has a significant chance of being replaced at season’s end by a driver that would also likely need time to develop before being able to win races on a regular occurrence.

This should not be the case, and it could be argued that if he was able to enter the market, he would be in high demand. Jones is a young driver, that has proven that he can run up front on a weekly basis. What kind of team would not want that?

In fact, if a move to LFR is his only option with the Toyota camp, it could very easily be argued that Jones should weigh his options and maybe see if other teams, like a Stewart-Haas Racing that has aging drivers or a Team Penske who could field a fourth car, would be interested in his services.

This is not to say Bell does not belong in Cup, because he does, but Jones should not be shoved aside so quickly with the potential and promise that he has proven to hold.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Home Tracks

Grassroots Racing Returns to ISM Raceway in 2020

Earlier this year, it was announced that NASCAR’s championship weekend would move from the sandy beaches of Homestead-Miami Speedway to the valley of the sun at ISM Raceway. The desert jewel continues making waves with track president Julie Giese revealing that grassroots racing would be making a return to Avondale, Arizona – and in a big way.

The ARCA Menards Series will be making its inaugural debut at Zoomtown U.S.A on March 6, 2020. For those unfamiliar with this series, it’s essentially the final stage of racing for developmental drivers spanning from the East and the West hoping to compete in one of NASCAR’s three premier series.

The currently unsponsored ARCA race is scheduled to kick off the Spring race weekend, along with the Gatorade Pole Day for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FanShield500. Following Pole Day, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will make its return to the one-mile tri-oval on March 7, with the Cup Series on March 8.

In what could be deemed the most exciting news from Giese’s statement, it was announced that ISM Raceway would be host to four of NASCAR’s championship series. The NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series champion will be crowned at the conclusion of the Lucas Oil 150 on November 6, 2020. Saturday will now feature a championship double header with the Xfinity Series and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. Finally, the Cup Series will see a new champion, basking in the glory of the Arizona sun on November 8.

“I’m extremely pleased to add these grassroots races to our historic 2020 race season at ISM Raceway,” Giese said. “We are committed to delivering to our ticket holders as much-on track action as possible during our race weekends and these races provide a great opportunity to showcase so many up-and-coming drivers in our sport.”

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

Categories
News

Denny Hamlin leads 1-2-3 Pocono finish for Joe Gibbs Racing

Thanks to a fast No. 11 Toyota, a feel for fuel economy and a first-ever application of traction compound to the asphalt at Pocono Raceway, Denny Hamlin rediscovered the magic at the Tricky Triangle that marked his spectacular debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2006.

Leading a 1-2-3 finish by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers—none of whom, surprisingly, was Kyle Busch—Hamlin passed teammate and race runner-up Erik Jones on Lap 144 and saved enough fuel to last through an overtime that carried the event three laps beyond its scheduled distance of 160 circuits.

Hamlin won for the fifth time at the 2.5-mile triangular track after a nine-year absence from Victory Lane. The victory was Hamlin’s third of the season and the 34th of his career.

After losing a last-lap battle to Kevin Harvick last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hamlin made what turned out to be the winning pass on the outside of turn 3, where had the PJ1 traction compound had been applied.

“You just want to know that you’re a race winner,” said Hamlin, who turned heads in his 2006 rookie season with two wins from the pole at Pocono. “You just want to know that you can contend for wins. Yeah, you’re looking for momentum, but you’re just looking for wins week-in and week-out.

“We really fought for it last week and came up short, so it feels really good to kind of redeem ourselves this week and have such a strong car. Once we got behind there, we were able to make up positions on the 19 (third-place finisher Martin Truex Jr.) and 20 (Jones).”

Hamlin last pitted for fuel under caution on Lap 115, after Ryan Preece clobbered the Turn 1 wall to bring out the fifth of seven yellows. All three of the JGR cars were saving gas during the final run.

“I was in fuel-save mode and still trying to get around those guys,” said Hamlin, who was running third behind his teammates after a restart on Lap 119. “When I got around them, I really went into conservation mode instead of stretching the lead out there.”

Hamlin passed Truex in traffic on Lap 142 to secure second place. Two laps later, he surged past Jones into the top spot.

“I got the opportunity on the outside of Turn 3,” Hamlin said. “Thank Pocono for the PJ1. Obviously, it could be hedged a little bit lower, but they at least gave us a second to race in today that we haven’t had before.”

Jones notched his runner-up finish after consecutive third-place runs at Kentucky and New Hampshire.

“Honestly, we started the race so far off today, I wasn’t sure how we were going to run,” said Jones, who moved up one position in the series standings to 13th and increased his cushion over 17th-place Jimmie Johnson to 39 points with five races left in the regular season. “We were able to turn it around halfway, get back in contention.

“There at the end, I wasn’t sure how it was all going to play out. It was nice to get some good restarts. Martin gave me a great push at the end (on the overtime restart after a wreck involving Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sent the race to extra laps). We were there for a second, then the top got rolling. I couldn’t really do anything. Good to get another top-three run. We’ve just got to break through. Once we get that first (win), I think we can click a few off here.”

William Byron finished fourth after starting 31st because his qualifying time was disallowed for a post-qualifying inspection failure. Kyle Larson ran fifth after starting from the rear in a backup car, the result of a wreck in opening practice.

Kevin Harvick, Daniel Hemric, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney completed the top 10. Harvick led a race-high 62 laps, and Busch was out front for 56, but inopportune cautions spoiled their respective race strategies and left them fighting through traffic to get the results they did.

Busch won the race’s first stage, and Johnson picked up his second career stage win in the second before finishing 15th.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Foxwoods Casino Resort 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

NASCAR has continued striving for a better racing package to put on more entertaining shows for their fans. The feedback has been simple – ditch the intermediate tracks for the tighter ovals on the schedule.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway was a perfect example on Sunday afternoon.

Although the field was spread out at times throughout the afternoon, there was always at least one battle for position within the top-10 to keep an eye on. By laying down the PJ1 traction compound in the separate lanes, it allowed drivers to get their cars working high or low to challenge each other.

There was also varying strategy played with earning stage points versus trying to set yourself up for a good finish and tire wear, which kept things interesting with a variety of drivers finding their way to the front at times.

Oh, and there was also the finish between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin to cap it off.

Lap cars can be thanked for bringing the pair closer together, but that’s all part of the long-run racing in how you handle the traffic. Harvick, using some of his short track skills, kept the advantage by slowing down a touch sooner than expected and taking the preferred line that Hamlin would have wanted.

On the same coin, Hamlin does earn respect in how he handled the situation. He gave Harvick a bump in turn one, but just enough to get scoot him out of the groove a little and not wreck him. Notice the difference in crowd reaction compared to how he handled Martinsville Speedway a couple years ago with Chase Elliott.

Now if Hamlin does take the bottom lane in turn three, how much harder does the bump go? Would it have made a difference at the end of day?

As Hamlin continues to ponder that through the next couple of days, the fans can relive the finish over and know that they got a show. Realistically, New Hampshire delivered all weekend if you were watching the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series with a three-wide finish to their all-star event on Friday. 

Though moving forward, a lot of eyes now fall on Harvick. The biggest surprise was the fact that he had yet to win this season – until now. How does a threat for the championship the past couple years not score a single win?

With the door opened on Sunday afternoon and the stretch of tracks ahead on the schedule, it’d be no surprise to see the Stewart-Haas Racing go on a terror moving forward. After all, the speed has been there all year, pacing over 80 laps in three races this season with 12 top-10’s. 

The flip side has to be Hendrick Motorsports. The organization saw three cars get wrecked in practice and qualifying leading up to the event, followed by both Elliott and Jimmie Johnson having water pump belt issues during the event. Alex Bowman, who admitted that he hates New Hampshire due to past struggles there, ran in the top-10 late in the event en route to a 14th-place finish – the highest of their four drivers. 

Now with the amount of races in the regular season counting down, Johnson sits outside of the playoffs following back-to-back 30th-place finishes. Meanwhile, Elliott who is locked in via his win at Talladega Superspeedway, has failed to score a top-10 in the last six events.

While it appeared their struggles were behind them a couple months ago with all four drivers running well, they are certainly losing momentum at the most crucial time.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.