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Race Weekend Review – September 29-30, 2018

FIA Formula 1 VTB Russian Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom
Mercedes one-two finish gives Hamilton a near lock on the title

Sochi, Russia, Sept 30/18 (GRW): This was a bad weekend for Ferrari fans but it was a good one for Hamilton and for Mercedes supporters as Hamilton’s points lead over Sebastian Vettel grew to a huge 50-point advantage with five races left to go. Unfortunately, Mercedes opted for team orders to allow Hamilton to pass his teammate Valtteri Bottas for the win. The team decision was made after Bottas had started from the pole and he seemed to be solidly in command of the race an on his way to the win. But first place gave Hamilton seven more points than second and this helped him to leave here with a massive lead in the points race. Needless to say, Bottas, while he understood that he was bound by team orders and he did let Hamilton past when told to do so, was anything but happy with this turn of events.

The mood in the Mercedes camp afterwards was solemn as if they knew that Bottas had been robbed by team orders of a well-deserved win – and this win for Hamilton will likely turn out to be unneeded when all the races have been run.

“Valtteri was an incredible gentleman today,” said Hamilton. “Honestly, it’s the strangest day I can remember having in the sport in my career. I remember, we have crossed this situation and discussion before. It’s always felt super uncomfortable, I was like ‘Look, I want to win the right way’, that’s always how it is for me. I would say ‘Look, as racing drivers we exist to win, and if you tell us we can’t win, it’s like you are taking our air away, our life away’. It’s that deep. I would never wish it upon anyone else and would never ask for it, ever. Obviously, the team took the decision when they saw that my tyres were blistered and Vettel was charging from behind. There are stronger heads in the team who are like ‘We have to win, it’s all about the win. We have got to win both Championships, we don’t care who finishes ahead’. I think ultimately, it’s really important right this second to first acknowledge Valtteri, because as I said he was just the ultimate gentleman.”

Photo F1 Russia podiumOn the podium: James Allison, Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel (© Daimler AG)

Vettel started in third place behind the two Mercedes and he ran the whole race behind them, finishing in third place. If there had been hope that he might have been able to get ahead of Hamilton when they made their pits stops on adjacent laps, that hope was dashed when he came out of the pits behind his rival.

Meanwhile, Max Verstappen put on an amazing run. Both he and his teammate Daniel Ricciardo had to start at the back of the grid as a penalty for changing engines. On the start Verstappen made hay. He passed car after car in the first few laps, getting up to fifth place eight laps into the 53-lap race. After that moved forward as one-after-the-other of the four cars ahead of him pitted and he inherited the lead on lap 19. After that he had clear sailing leading the field around lap after lap. When he finally made his sole pit stop on lap 43, he fell back to fifth place and that is where he finished the race.

Of course the other teams understood that Verstappen’s time in the lead would not last forever and that his position at the front was not a factor in their strategy. Just before half distance, the call came to Bottas to allow Hamilton past into the lead and he complied – setting up the eventual finishing order of Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Räikkönen and Verstappen which fell into place when Verstappen pitted. Ricciardo did not make the same progress as Verstappen in the early going but he did manage to hang on and take sixth behind his teammate.

The next Grand Prix will be the Japanese GP at Suzuka next Sunday, October 7.

Click HERE for the results of the Russian GP.

 MENCS Charlotte photoJimmie Johnson races Martin Truex Jr. during the Bank of America Roval 400 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/NASCAR)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bank Of America Roval 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course
Blaney emerges from a late-race wreckfest as the winner

Charlotte, NC, Sept 30/19 (GRW): Given the crashes that had occurred in pre-race testing on the new road-course configuration at Charlotte, it came as no surprise when the finish of the race was marked by a series of crashes which knocked most of the front runners out of contention.

The final caution ended on lap 107 of the 109-lap race with Martin Truex and Jimmie Johnson on the front row. The two battled around the circuit with Johnson pursuing Truex for these last two laps. Finishing in second place would have ensured that Johnson would have handily moved forward to the second round of the playoffs – but that was not good enough for him. The multi-time champion wanted to win this race. Coming into the tight chicane at the start of the front stretch – in sight of the flagman with the checkered flag, he made a run for the lead. His tired tires and brakes let him down and he spun in the chicane – and then his car whipped around and collected Truex’s as well.

By the time they got going again a lot of cars had gone past, leaving Johnson to finish in eighth place and Truex in 14th. Truex had lots of points coming into this race so this finish saw him promoted easily to the next round of three elimination races. Johnson was not so lucky, his result was not good enough to prevent him from being eliminated from the group of 12 playoff drivers going forward. The drivers who were eliminated after this, the third race in the first round, were Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson.

When these two drivers spun, it let Ryan Blaney into the lead for the short distance from the chicane to the finish line giving him his first win of the season and moving him forward to the next round of elimination races. Jamie McMurray was second, Clint Bowyer third, Alex Bowman fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.

“You know, when I got out of the Bus Stop, I could still see them through the oval 3 and 4, and they were really close to each other,” said Blaney. “Jimmie was almost pushing him. I was like, hmm, it might get physical here. I don't know what happened. By the time I got to them or by the time I was able to see something, Jimmie was sideways, and I'm sure they just tried to out- brake each other, (for) which you can't blame them. They're going for the win, of course. When I was thinking they were kind of sitting there, I almost wrecked trying to get through the chicane as fast as I could just because you're trying to make up time and try to seize the moment. But it was kind of just disbelief.”

That last restart came after two cautions – both for the same reason – came in quick succession. Ricky Stenhouse lost control coming into the first turn – the tight left-hander into the infield – and crashed bringing out the caution on lap 103. Meanwhile Keselowski was leading the race ahead of Kyle Larson and both were low on fuel. A quick caution and the field liked up for the restart. They all charged off into the first turn again but this time Keselowski’s car slid straight off into the exact same place Stenhouse’s had found a couple of laps earlier. Only this time it seemed like half the field followed him in and got tangled up in the melee. Fifteen cars were listed as involved and many of them, including Keselowski and Larson who had expected to continue their battle for the win were heavily damaged. Keselowski was unable to continue as were Kyle Busch and Paul Menard. Larson’s car had also had damage to the right-front suspension but he was able to drive away and park his car with the rest of the field when the red flag was displayed to give time for clean up.

This unexpected turn of events had taken Larson from hoping for a win to hoping to be able to complete the final three laps of the race with his damaged car. When the track went green again it was Truex in the lead ahead of Johnson. And when the checker flew it was Blaney who was the winner. Somehow Larson was still on the lead lap despite the damage his car had sustained. He knew there was a big chance that his right front tire might blow at any moment but when he saw Jeffery Earnhardt spin in the final chicane he saw his chance. He pushed the accelerator I hopes of beating him to the line. The tire blew and he hit the wall but he bounced off and continued through the chicane. He hit the wall again but he kept going to take the flag ahead of Earnhardt. This gave him a 25th place finish, good enough for him to earn his way into the group moving forward to next week’s Round of 12 playoff eliminations.

After the race, the TV announcer exclaimed, “What a show!” One would hope that the sport of auto racing does not fall to the level of being a mere demolition derby. There are other organizations that offer such ’entertainment’.

The next MENCS race will be the first race in the ‘Round of 12' playoff elimination races; it will be run next Sunday, September 7 at the Dover speedway.

Click HERE for the results of the race from Charlotte.

NXS Charlotte photoChase Briscoe celebrates after winning during the Drive for the Cure 200 (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Drive For The Cure 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course
Part-timer Chad Briscoe masters the Roval

Charlotte, NC, Sept 26/18 (GRW): Carpetbagger drivers from the Cup series may be banned from competing in the seven playoff rounds of the Xfinity series but that did not keep Chad Briscoe, a driver who has been running a few races in several different series this year from coming and beating all the regular drivers for the win.

Last year Briscoe was a full-time driver for Brad Keselowski’s truck team but when that team was shut down, he was left stranded. Obviously Ford sees him as a driver with a future and they have kept him in their driver development group finding rides for him in various series this year – including 14 starts in the Xfinity series. After Austin Cindric had won the pole in a Penske Ford, given his substantial road-course experience, many pundits expected him to win. But it was Briscoe who has also gained some road-course experience this year co-driving a Multimatic Mustang in five IMSA Continental Tire races this year, who emerged as the winner..

In the race, Cindric led the first 13 laps until he spun on lap 13 letting Daniel Hemric through into the lead. Hemric was leading when Stage 1 ended on lap 15 but Briscoe, who had not yet pitted, took the lead on the restart ahead of Hemric who had also not pitted. Briscoe pitted under green on lap 27 handing the lead over to Christopher Bell who was thereby the winner of Stage 2 when it ended on lap 30.

Given that he did not need to make any more pit stops, Briscoe stayed out during the pit stop cycle at the end of Stage 2 and he took over the lead when the others pitted. There were two more cautions in the short, 55-lap race but he held on to the lead easily, taking the checker ahead of part-time driver Justin Marks and Cindric. Ryan Preece was fourth in the no. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota while Bell finished in fifth place.

“My family never had any money or anything, so I never thought stock car racing would even be a possibility and I just moved down here and was sleeping on couches, volunteering at race shops and somehow convinced the Cunningham family to let me drive their ARCA car two years ago and winning the championship there, and then last year getting to drive for Brad Keselowski came full circle,” said Briscoe. “I volunteered at Brian Keselowski and Bob Keselowski’s shop and now to be an XFINITY winner when I never expected to even get a chance to run in any of the top three series. It’s been such a blessing and I’ve just been so blessed in general, and just to get to drive for my hero Tony Stewart, growing up in Indiana, being a sprint car guy.”

For a championship playoff race this race was exceptional in that three of the top five finishers – Briscoe, Marks and Preece – were occasional drivers, having driven only selected Xfinity races this year. Next year Preece will be takin over the seat in the No. 47 Cup car currently driven by A.J. Allmendinger. Marks, who has an Xfinity race win to his credit has said that this weekend will mark his final participation as a race driver. As for Briscoe, let’s hope that his strong performance here and his other races this year and last earn him a regular seat in the Xfinity series or some other racing series next year.

There are 12 Xfinity drivers in this, the first three-race round of the seven playoff elimination races. Charlotte was the second race in the first round of eliminations. The race at Dover next Saturday, October 6 is the third race in the first round. After this race four of the playoff drivers will be eliminated and only eight will move on to the second round of three races.

Click Here for the results of the Xfinity race at Charlotte.

Photo Kennington Jukasa 2D.J. Kennington after wining at Jukasa, his first win in five years.

NASCAR Pinty’s Series Fall Brawl at Jukasa Motor Speedway
D.J. Kennington wins the finale; L.P. Dumoulin clinches the title

Hagersville, ON, Sept 29/18 (GRW): D.J. Kennington won the final race of the 2018 Pinty’s Series season here at Jukasa Motor Speedway. Kennington is a former series champion but this was his first win in five years. This win was no fluke. He won the pole in qualifying and he led 93 of the race’s 200 laps, including the final 27 through the final four cautions on his way the win. He took the checker ahead of Donald Theetge, Kevin Lacroix, Peter Shepherd III and Andrew Ranger.

Given that this was the final race of the season, attention was focussed on the season championship. Coming into the race, L.P. Dumoulin was leading in the points race by a four-point margin over Tagliani with Cole Powell third in the standings 19 points back of Dumoulin – making it a two-driver contest between Dumoulin and Tagliani. Neither of them qualified well in championship style. Tagliani was sixth fastest while Dumoulin was 12th quickest in the 21-car field. Powell qualified second fastest in an almost dead heat to Kennington – but his chances of winning the title were pretty much only mathematical and predicated on his winning the race while the other two had disastrous races.

Things looked up for Tagliani when Dumoulin was sent to the back of the starting lineup after his car failed post-qualifying inspection. Once the race started, Dumoulin began working his way forward and seventy-three laps in, just before the first caution, he was up into ninth place, just ahead of Tagliani. They were still in the same positions when the second yellow flew on lap 91. By the time the third caution flew on lap 135, Dumoulin was three places ahead of Tagliani, so it was looking like Dumoulin had the pace finish to ahead of Tagliani and clinch the title. On top of that Tagliani had troubles during this caution – including a penalty for pitting outside his pit box – and he went a lap down. He was never able to make up for this setback. Dumoulin was left able to cruise home with no pressure. He finished in tenth place but Tagliani was back in 13th, a lap down. This gave the championship to Dumoulin by a seven-point margin over Tagliani. This was his second series championship, he had won the title previously in 2014.

“The car was so good today that I could keep a little bit of speed in hand in case I needed to push later on in the race,” said Dumoulin. “But the team was emphatic – ‘Keep to the pace you need and focus on your title, not the win’. I listened, it worked and now we can go on to preparing for 2019.”

Although Powell had qualified on the front row alongside Kennington, he never looked like being a race winner - he only led the race for a single lap on the restart after the second caution. Most of the night he was running somewhere in the top five. When the final restart came with five laps to go, he was in second place ahead of Theetge but Theege put up a strong challenge and the two of them ran around the track side-by side vying for second. On the final lap they tangled in turn 4 and Powell was the loser. While Theege was able to continue unabated to take second, Powell lost ground and fell to sixth. As for the championship, Dumoulin’s tenth place finish and Powell’s sixth made any thought of Powell winning the title this year null and void. However, Powell was effectively a rookie in this series this year and he is planning on coming back next year again. Look for him to be a challenger for the title in 2019.

Click here for the results of the season finale at Jukasa Motor Speedway.

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