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Race Weekend Review - May 7, 2017

MENCS VL Stenhouse Talladega  050717

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
Pole sitter Stenhouse outruns the field to score his first ever Cup win at Talladega

May 7, 2017: Kyle Busch led every one of the final 40 laps of the MENCS race but the last one. In a surprising result, Ricky Stenhouse, passed him on the final lap of the overtime shootout to take the win while Jamie McMurray was able to slot up between two cars to finish in second place ahead of Busch, Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne.

Afterwards, Busch said, "We did all we could here today and it's all circumstantial on how you win these things. Unfortunately our circumstances didn't quite go our way, but we go to a real race track next week and we'll try to win there." Wow! Its unusual to hear drivers be so outspoken about their true feelings about this big high-banked oval which produces pack racing and big multi-car crashes. By 'circumstantial' he means it's really just a big lottery and by "real race track" he means that, given that Talladega produces racing where the results are more happenstance than good management, he (and, I reckon, every other driver) would prefer to race at a venue that rewards skill and not merely dumb luck.

But the grandstands were full. It has become commonplace for most NASCAR races to run in front of a lot of empty seats – often at other places more than half of the seats are vacant. Some sources estimate that the grandstands at Talladega can seat about 75,000 fans (and, that before the trend to removing the overbuilt grandstands at many race tracks began, there were probably more than double that number of seats here). That's significantly larger attendance than any other race on the calendar except perhaps the Daytona 500 – another big high-banked oval. So, while the drivers may dread coming to Talladega, the fans love it – they love the high-speed drafting packs and, no doubt, many of them get a high on the anticipation of the mayhem of the multi-car crashes.

In addition, Talladega has a reputation with fans as being the track where the Earnhardts, Dale Sr. and Jr., were able to outdrive the opposition. So we can't be sure whether the fan turnout this time was to see the big drafting packs and to feel the edge-of-the seat thrill of the anticipation of the commonplace big crashes or maybe they were just there to cheer Junior on to victory now that he has announced his retirement plans. Regardless, everyone seemed happy to see the big crowd and there is no chance that the France family will be taking the bulldozers to Talladega and Daytona in favour of only going racing on the 'real race tracks'.

Due to the rain that fell here on Friday, the drivers had almost no chance to practice before they had to run in the shoot-out for starting positions on Saturday. Given that 41 cars showed up, one was going to fail make the race and that turned out to be the Canadian driver from St. Thomas DJ Kennington who recorded the slowest qualifying speed. Stenhouse won the pole with Earnhardt Jr. alongside on the front row to the delight of his fans. In the race, Earnhardt only led for three laps mid-race. He did run up near the front for much of the race but an unscheduled pit stop to fix a loose wheel near the end of the race dropped him back out of contention. He finished on the lead lap but back in 22nd place.

This 500-mile race was scheduled to run for 188 laps but it actually ran 191 laps before the checker flew because the final caution had come on lap 187, leaving no chance to finish the race as scheduled on lap 188 under green. During those 191 laps there were 26 lead changes among 14 different drivers, the usual stuff at this place. Kyle Busch led the most laps, 48, while Denny Hamlin led for 43 laps. Brad Keselowski looked like a candidate to win the race, leading 31 laps but he lost track position a couple of times and had to struggle to work his way back up towards the front. He was still mid-pack when the 'big one' happened on lap 170 and his car suffered some damage in the jumble of wrecking cars. After that he was lucky to be able to regain some ground and finish in seventh place in the reduced field. Only 23 cars finished all 191 laps of the race.

The big wreck was set up after the fifth caution which came on lap 162 when Stenhouse and Ryan Blaney collided on the backstretch and Blaney crashed out of the race. By this stage of the race, Busch had a stranglehold on the lead. He took the restart alongside Chase Elliott. As the field shuffled around behind them, AJ Allmendinger made a run up to the front and tapped Elliott's rear bumper a bit askew and that was all that was needed for Elliott to lose control and spun, collecting many cars in the process. Allmendinger's car did not escape the carnage and he ended up on his roof. In all, they counted 16 cars that had been involved. This brought out the red flag while the mess was cleaned up.

Busch held onto the lead through the final two cautions which took the race into 'overtime'. Not long before Stenhouse had been outside the top ten – but, based on his qualifying speed and his speed during the race, it looked like he was as fast as Busch – but did he have the race craft to catch him and pass him for the win? Somehow, in the midst of the second-last caution, he vaulted himself from sixth to third for this restart. And he was up in second place alongside Busch for the final restart. Busch jumped out into the lead but Stenhouse did have the speed to match him and, after half a lap of side-by-side running, Stenhouse took the lead and he held it until the finish – with a fast-closing McMurray a mere 0.095 second behind him at the line.

This was an auspicious win for Stenhouse and the Roush team. It ended a 101-race winless streak for Jack Roush and it gives hope that this team has finally returned to being a powerhouse team in the NASCAR garages. And it might just be the first of many wins for Stenhouse who suddenly was being touted as one of the new wave of young drivers who are poised to take over from the older generation of drivers. At any rate, this win does give him a spot in the season-end 'chase' for the championship.

The next MENCS race is an evening affair on May 13 at Kansas Speedway.

NXSVL Almirola Talladega 050617

NASCAR Xfinity Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway
Almirola scrambles to the front to lead the final four laps and take the win

May 6, 2017: When the track went green again after the final caution, with 11 laps to go, Aric Almirola was in fifth place behind four strong runners – Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Joey Logano and Erik Jones. All of them except Sadler are Cup series regulars this year. First Logano took the lead and then Jones but, with just four laps left, Almirola pushed past them all to take the lead and the win. Almirola, who usually is driving the MENCS No. 43 Ford for Richard Petty Racing, won here in the Biagi-DenBeste Ford by a margin of 0.143 seconds over Sadler. Logano finished third, France family scion Ben Kennedy was fourth and Jones was fifth.

In an unexpected result, Blake Koch had won the pole ahead of Kasey Kahne and Daniel Hemric. Almirola qualified way back in the field in 23rd place.

This 300-lap race was run in three stages, the first two stages at 25 laps each. This race was held at the crash-prone Talladega Superspeedway, so it was no surprise when there was a big wreck involving nine race cars on lap 22 and three good cars, including Hemric, were knocked out of the race. The first of two red flag sessions was called to allow the track to be cleaned up. Prior to this early caution on lap 22 there had already been eight lead changes with Almirola now in the lead. They restarted the race with just two laps left in the stage and he held onto the lead for the final two laps of the first stage making him the winner of that stage.

But when Almirola pitted he was eighth in line coming back out – and another eight drivers had not pitted at all, producing a scrambled order with another carpetbagger, Ty Dillon, now in the lead. Justin Allgaier had just taken the lead a couple of laps before the end of the second stage. He took the flag ending this stage as the winner of the stage but, before the field could whoa up, another big wreck collected eight cars – and brought out a second red flag before they could make their pit stops.

Eventually the track went green again after a round of pit stops at the end of this second stage. Prior to this mess, Amarillo was back in eighth place. After racing resumed he was suddenly up into second behind Allgaier who had made his fast pit stop by not taking on tires. This strategy soon failed him and he fell back. Kahne took the lead for 10 laps in this final segment, then Jeff Green, of all people, led for 18 laps. then Allgaier again. In the end the battle was between Logano and Jones and Amarillo and it was Amarillo who came through to lead the final four laps and take the win.

The next NASCAR Xfinity race is on Saturday, May 27 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

imsa Weathertech No 10 Taylor 29131713

IMSA Weathertech Championship Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown at COTA, Austin, Texas
The Taylor brothers dominate the weekend to build their championship lead

May 6, 2017: The Taylor brothers, Jordan and Ricky, continued their dominance of the series' prototype class, scoring their fourth straight win in their No. 10 Cadillac Dpi-V-R. Ricky Taylor qualified the No. 10 car on the pole by a margin of 1.6 seconds over the next quickest car the No. 22 Nissan DPi driven by Johannes van Overbeek.

In the race, the No. 10 car never relinquished the lead, not even when they pitted to change drivers. They took the checker by a 18.6-second margin over the second-place finisher, the No. 31 Cadillac of Dane Cameron/Eric Curran. The No. 5 Cadillac of Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi was third, another second adrift. The No. 2 Nissan of Scott Sharp/Ryan Dalziel had been running in third place until almost the end when it caught on fire and Dalziel stopped near a marshal's post where the fire was extinguished – but they ended up in 28th place, five laps down on the race winners.

This win will further strengthen the Taylor brother's hold on the lead in the championship points standings.

In GTLM, the action happened in the first corner of the race when several cars were damaged after a collision set off chaos among the jam-packed group of cars. In qualifying the No. 24 BMW M6 of John Edwards/Martin Tomczyk was fastest with the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE of Giancarlo Fisichella/Tony Vilander was second, just 0.032 seconds behind. Third quickest was the No. 25 BMW M6 of Bill Auberlen/Alexander Sims with the two Ford GTs – the No. 67 of Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook and the No. 66 of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller – forth and fifth in line. The No. 3 Jan Magnussen/Antonia Garcia Corvette C7.R was sixth quickest while the No. 4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner was 8th.

All this was thrown in a cocked hat at the first corner after the start of the race. One car, perhaps the No. 66 Ford, touched the No. 4 Corvette and it spun collecting much of the GTLM field – the No. 3 Corvette, both Ford GTs, the No. 62 Ferrari, the No. 912 Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor/Wolf Henszler. The Ferrari was withdrawn immediately while the No. 912 Porsche struggled around a few laps before it too retired. The Fords and the Corvettes had all suffered damage but they continued after attention in the pits, the No. 67 Ford GT finishing 10 laps in arrears while the No. 4 Corvette was 32 laps down.

In the end, it was that No. 3 Corvette which won the class after taking the lead on lap 27 of the 73-lap race with the No. 25 BMW second. Third was the No. 24 BMW. It might have won the class had not a pit-lane penalty dropped them back out of contention. The No. 911 Porsche of Patrick Pilet/Dirk Werner was fourth. The No. 66 Ford GT, which had been damaged in the first-lap crash was fifth in class a lap down on the four GTLM cars which finished ahead of them.

The No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Ben Keating/Jeroen Bleekemolen finished 13th overall and won the GTD class

The next IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race is on Saturday, June 3 at the Belle Isle circuit in Detroit.

imsa No 76 Holton Plumb COTA 29127318

IMSA Continental Championship Circuit of the Americas 120 at Austin, Texas
Holton and Plumb score a first win for the McLaren GT4; teammates Keegan and Rondet are second

May 5, 2017: Last year the Toronto-based Compass C360R race team was running a Shelby Mustang alongside the Multimatic entry which won the championship. For this year, they switched to a pair of McLaren GT4s.

In this, the third round of this year's Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, they overwhelmed the opposition to come home one-two. Paul Holton and Matt Plumb drove the teams Mustang last year. Now, in the new McLaren entry, they won this the third race of the schedule. Holton had put the car on the pole ahead of the Motorsports in Action Team's McLaren driven by Jesse Lazare from Montreal. Dylan Murcott qualified his No. 28 Porsche Cayman GT4 third quickest with the second C360R McLaren, driven by Matthew Keegan was fourth.

After the first two rounds, Multimatic drivers Scott Maxwell and Jade Burford, who were leading in the series points standings, were absent. Seemingly, Multimatic has opted to not contest this series championship this year.

In the race the Holton/Plumb No. 76 McLaren took the lead ahead of the No 28 Dillon Machaven/Murcott Porsche and the No. 57 Matt Bell/Robin Liddell Camaro. After four laps the other C360R McLaren, the Keegan/Nico Rondet No. 77 car, moved past the Camaro to take over third place. The course went yellow on lap 20 of the 47-lap race and Holton relinquished the lead when he pitted. When the track went green again on lap 28 the No. 57 Camaro had the lead and it took the No. 76 car (now driven by Plumb) until lap 36 to regain the lead. Meanwhile, the No. 77 McLaren which had been in third place when the caution flew dropped to ninth when it pitted. But by lap 36, when the sister car took the lead, the No. 77 moved up to second place. It held that position to the end of the race, finishing 3.7 seconds behind the race winner..

The No. 12 Porsche Cayman GT4 of Trent Hindman/Cameron Cassels was third. The No. 28 Cayman was fourth and the No. 57 Camaro finished in fifth place.

The next round of the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge is on Saturday, July 1 at Watkins Glen International.

WEC Spa Toyota No 8 590ddbcfdb388

FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
Toyota one-two in final race before the Le Mans 24

The LMP1 No. 1 Porsche 919 of Neel Jani/André Lotterer/Nick Tandy set the fastest qualifying lap in preparation for the 6 Hours of Spa -Francorchamps but, in the end the result was two Toyota TS050s, the No. 8 of Sébastien Buemi/Anthony Davidson/Kazuki Nakajima ahead of the No. 7 of Mike Conway/ Kamui Kobayashi, coming home one-two with the two Porsches, the No. 2 of Timo Bernhard/Earl Bamber/ Brendon Hartley and the No. 1 car, third and fourth – all on the lead lap. This was the second win for the No. 8 Toyota this year. The No. 7 Toyota team looked to be set to win but they were unfortunate to lose out on both of the full-course yellow periods.

In LMP2, the No. 26 G-Drive Oreca-Gibson driven by Roman Rusinov/Pierre Thiriet/Alex Lynn, won the class, finishing in seventh place overall, 13 laps down on the race winner.

The No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE of Davide Rigon/Sam Bird won the GTLM-Pro class with the No. 51 Ferrari GTE second in class behind them. The No 66 and the No 67 Ford GTs of Stefan Mücke/Olivier Pla/Billy Johnson and Andy Priaulx/Harry Tincknell/Luis Felipe Derani were third and fourth in class, a lap in arrears of the class-winning No. 71 Ferrari.

In GTE-Am, Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda won the class in their No. 98 Aston-Martin Vantage.

The next World Endurance Championship race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 17-18.

Box Scores:
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
NASCAR Xfinity Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway
IMSA Weathertech Championship Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown at COTA
IMSA Continental Championship Circuit of the Americas 120 at Austin, Texas
FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Photo Credits:
MENCS: Chris Graythen/Getty Images/NASCAR
NXS: Daniel Shirey/Getty Images/NASCAR
IMSA WeatherTech: ©2017 Phillip Abbott/LAT/IMSA
IMSA Continental: ©2017, Jake Galstad/IMSA
WEC: Marius Hecker©AdrenalMedia.com

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