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Race Weekend Review - April 30, 2017

F1 Bottas Russia

Formula One VTB Russian Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Bottas wins even though both Ferraris start on the front row

April 30, 2017: The Russian Grand Prix, which was run on the former Winter Olympics site in Sochi, was in truth pretty much a procession with no significant changes in race order after the first lap was completed. But the result, which saw the dominant Lewis Hamilton start from the second row and finish in fourth place while his teammate Valtteri Bottas won his first Grand Prix, made it remarkable and worth watching.

In qualifying, the two Ferrari drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen were fastest, Vettel starting from the pole – while the Mercedes duo, Bottas and Lewis Hamilton qualified third and fourth quickest – in that order with Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo fifth.

The start of the race was delayed by a lap after the hapless Fernando Alonso abandoned his dead McLaren-Honda at the entrance to the pit lane – yet another tremendous disappointment for the former world champion and for the Mclaren team.

Then, when the race started, Bottas shot forward into the first corner and found a way past both Ferraris to take the lead in the race. Meanwhile Max Verstappen, who had qualified in seventh place, made his own banzai start and finished the lap in fifth place. The made the race order Bottas, Vettel, Räikkönen, Hamilton and Verstappen – and that was the way they finished the race – one Mercedes driver and two Ferrari drivers on the podium with Hamilton out of the picture.

In the melee at the start Canadian Lance Stroll tangled with another car and made a big spin but, this time, he was able to continue. He finished in eleventh place, just one spot out of the championship points. Meanwhile, Romain Grosjean and Jolyon Palmer go together and they both crashed out of the race.

Almost immediately Ricciardo had a problem with a rear brake which seemingly was on fire and this forced him to pit with no brakes and retire. This meant that there were now four of the 20 starters out of the race after only five laps hade been run.

Bottas made his only pit stop on lap 26 of the 52-lap race and came back out in fourth place with Vettel in the lead. Räikkönen pitted on lap 30 and dropped to fourth behind Bottas . The TV commentators thought that Vettel’s only hope of beating Bottas was to have pitted almost immediately after Bottas did, but the team waited until lap 34 before they called him in – and, after this stop, he came back out in second place about five seconds behind Bottas. In other words, after this cycle of pit stops, the front-runners were back in the same order and gaps they had been in before the pit stops.

The commentators tried to inject some suspense and excitement into the remaining laps of the race, but not much happened and the order remained the same until the checker flew.

This result sees Vettel continue to lead in the championship points standings with 86 points to second-place Hamilton’s 73, a 13-point difference. Bottas is third in the points standings with 63 points.

The next round in the Formula One championship is the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona on Sunday, May 14.

Indycar Phoenix Pagenaud

Verizon IndyCar Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway
2016 champion Pagenauld wins his first oval race

April 29, 2017: The French driver Simon Pagenauld won the IndyCar championship last year but he had never won a race on an oval track. But here at Phoenix he got lucky with his pit stop strategy and he put a lock on the win, winning the 250-lap race by a nine-second margin over his Penske teammate Will Power – and taking the lead in this year’s championship points standings. The Chevrolet-powered and configured cars seemed to have an advantage here – the top five qualifiers had Chevrolet engines and the top four finishers were Chevrolet adherents.

The race saw only two cautions and the first came on the opening lap when Mikhail Aleshin lost control and collected several cars – eliminating five before the first lap had been completed. Helio Castroneves, another Penske driver, started from the pole and led for the first73 laps on the fast one-mile oval. Josef Newgarten, who won last week at Barber, made a strong start in his Penske car and he dogged Castroneves until the first round of green-flag pit stops when he briefly took the lead at lap 74.

Pagenaud also took the lead for a couple of laps during this pit cycle by then Power took the lead and he was in command for the next 59 laps when the next cycle of green-flag pit stops began and he pitted along with almost everyone else. Pagenauld was the exception, he was set to pit later than the others and, before he could do so, Takuma Sato spun on lap 137 bringing out the second and final yellow of the race. Now Pagenauld was able to pit under yellow and retain his position at the head of the field – indeed, when he came out of the pits, he was all by himself on the lead lap. Under IndyCar rules, the lap-down cars behind the pace car but ahead of Pagenaud were given the ‘wave around’ and they took up their positions at the tail of the lead lap – but behind all the lapped cars far behind Pagenauld.

When the green was displayed again to restart the race, Pagenaud was solidly in the lead with a six to eight-second margin over Power and 90 laps left to run. This went on through the final round of green-flag pit stops around the 200-lap mark but Pagenauld was able to maintain his lead and emerge with a three-second margin over Power, with Newgarten another five seconds back in third place. Despite his best efforts, Power was unable to close up on the road-course specialist Pagenaud and he finished the race in second place still nine seconds in arrears. Newgarten looked set for a solid third-place finish but he got together with Ryan Hunter-Reay and he came into the pits to have his front wing replaced. After that, he continued but he had lost two laps and he finished in ninth place.

JR Hildebrand, who had injured his wrist in a crash at Long Beach and who had sat out the Barber race to give his injuries more time to heal, finished a remarkable third. Castroneves was fourth and Scott Dixon was fifth, the highest-placed Honda runner.

Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe qualified in 11th place and he was lucky to escape the first-lap Aleshin crash. He was having to pit earlier than the others and In the end he finished 12th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series moves back to its home base in Indianapolis for the ‘Month of May’ with the road-course IndyCar Grand Prix on Saturday, May 13 and the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 28.

RIR MENCS JLogano 043017

NASCAR MENCS Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway
Logano goes from last to first for the win; it’s a Penske one-two finish

April 30, 2017: Joey Logano had been sent to the back of the field for the start of this race after his crew changed the transmission in his Penske Ford. But he never gave up and he kept on working his way up through the field until he took the lead on lap 371 of the 400-lap race. Even after that, it looked like his plan might be foiled when, on the final caution which ended with just 19 laps left in the race, six drivers – led by Kyle Larson – did not pit, so he ended up taking the final green in seventh place behind them. But when that flag flew he charged for the front and he soon passed them all to take the lead and he held on for the final 17 laps to take the win ahead of his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski had also pitted during that final caution and he took the green right behind Logano but he got bogged down by those slower cars ahead of him and he could not stay in touch with Logano as he charged to the front. Eventually he did get past the clog of cars and then he made a charge to catch Logano in the last few laps but time ran out and he ended up in second place almost on Logano’s rear bumper.

Denny Hamlin finished third in the Joe Gibbs Toyota ahead of two more Fords – Ricky Stenhouse and Kevin Harvick.

Matt Kenseth had put his Gibbs Toyota on the pole and he led the race for the first 163 laps until Keselowski drove him down and took over the lead. It looked like Keselowski had the strongest car if the track stayed green for a long run and, by the end of the race, he had led six times for a total of 110 laps. But his car was not so good early in a run and this race – with a combination of the Stage yellows and assorted incidents, saw nine cautions – and Keselowski had to contend with faster runners after each of these cautions.

After the seventh caution which ended on lap 361, he was lined up alongside Hamlin. Hamlin made a remarkably quick start and beat Keselowski for the lead for a couple of laps until Keselowski got back past him. But then another yellow flew. This time, Keselowski and Logano, who had been running one-two, opted to not pit while the rest behind them did – a move that might have proved to be disastrous. But just a few laps later, there was yet another caution and the two Penske cars dove into the pits – as did most of the other contenders. On the restart they two Fords had those six cars which had not pitted ahead of them to pass with just 19 laps left in the race.

Logano was able to make quick work of them to regain the lead while Keselowski was bogged down for a few laps until he got by, setting up the one-two Logano-Keselowski finish.

Earlier in the week Dale Earnhardt Jr. had announced his intention to retire as a driver at the end of this season. Everyone hoped that this race – and the remaining races in 2017 – would go well for him. But things did not go well this Sunday. He got a speeding penalty and was sent to the back of the field pretty much killing any hopes of a top finish. Then, later in the race, his car was handling badly and he was running around up against the wall. His teammate Jimmie Johnson was on a more conventional line and he swooped up from the bottom towards the wall. Neither driver was aware of the other and Johnson slammed Earnhardt hard up into the wall. This made Earnhardt’s car junk and he was luck to be able to continue at all. He finished in a disappointing 30th place.

The next NASCAR MENCS race is Sunday, May 7 at Talladega Superspeedway.

RIR NXS Allgaier Larson 042917

NASCAR Xfinity ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway
Larson pips Allgaier on the final restart to take the win

April 29, 2017: Justin Allgaier, a full-season driver in the Junior Motorsports Chevrolet, was dominant in this race until the closing laps, having led for 157 of the race’s 250 laps. However, things started to unravel for him during the fifth caution which fell on lap 240. After that, even though he lined up in the front row alongside Kyle Larson for the final – overtime – restart, Larson had the advantage and he beat Allgaier to the overtime line and thereby won the race when cars started crashing behind them.

When the fifth caution flew late in the race, it triggered a rush by almost everyone into the pits for new tires. Allgaier who had been leading at that point for the previous 77 laps came out behind Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler and he was getting set to line up behind Dillon on the lower line. However, Joey Logano, who had been up in the commentary booth was claiming that Dillon had jumped the previous restart – but this infraction was not obvious to many others and NASCAR had done nothing. This would have left Dillon in the front row for the next restart which would come with only a few laps remaining with Larson alongside above Dillon and Allgaier in the third spot behind Dillon in the lower line. In trying to understand Allgaier’s loudly voiced complaints after it was all over, he seemed to think that if he had started from this third-place slot he would have been able to overtake Dillon and shoot out into the lead past Larson and win the race.

However, it was not to be. As the cars stated lining up for this restart, NASCAR finally made a decision about the previous restart and they sent Dillon to the back of the field for jumping that start. Now Allgaier was in the front row for the restart but on the high side alongside Larson. All this shuffling of the restart order cost many laps under the yellow and the race went on into overtime. When this last restart finally came, Larson made a good start and jumped out ahead of Allgaier. Meanwhile Ryan Reed was spinning back in the pack – but Larson and Allgaier had crossed the overtime line before NASCAR displayed the yellow flag, so this would be the finishing order of the race – Larson, Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney.

Allgaier’s finishing position won him the $100,000 “Dash 4 Cash’ award but there was no consoling him. In his mind he should have won the race and he went around telling this to anyone with a microphone rather than going to the NASCAR trailer to make an official complaint. No matter, whatever his argument, it was too much of a stretch to expect to make much headway with the NASCAR officials who had, in Allgaier’s mind, set this all off by sending Ty Dillon to the back of the field.

Hemric who finished in third place, is driving for Richard Childress this year after a solid season in a Keselowski truck last year. He started from the pole and he led early on in the race for a total of 26 laps. Kyle Benjamin is another young protégé, who is driving a limited number of races in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Toyota. He qualified for the front row in this race and he ran in the top ten until that fifth caution when he was caught up in the resulting melee. William Byron, who had such a strong season last year driving a Kyle Busch truck, has been tipped by some as the one to replace Dale Earnhardt next year. He qualified here in ninth place and ran most of the race in about tenth place until he too was caught up in the melee which brought out the fifth caution late in the race.

The next NASCAR Xfinity race is Saturday, May 6 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Box Scores

Box score – Formula One VTB Russian Grand Prix
Box score – Verizon IndyCar Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway
Box score – NASCAR MENCS Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway
Box score -
NASCAR Xfinity ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway

Photo Credits:

F1: Steve Etherington/Daimler AG
IndyCar: Chris Jones/IndyCar
NASCAR MENCS: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images/NASCAR
NASCAR XS: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images/NASCAR

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