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Race Weekend Review – April 27-28, 2019

Race Weekend Review – April 27-28, 2019

FIA Formula 1 Socar Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku, Azerbaijan
Bottas win here makes it four wins in a row for Mercedes

Baku, Azerbaijan, Apr 28/19 (GRW): Chalk it up as four Grand prix races and four one-two sweeps for the Mercedes team. This time Valtteri Bottas started from the pole and he was able to hold off his teammate Lewis Hamilton to the end, taking the checkered flag by a margin of 1.52 sec. What been touted as a return to real competitiveness for the Ferrari team this year has, so far, turned out to be total dominance by the Mercedes pair of drivers.

“This victory feels really good,” said Bottas. “When you're starting from pole, you hope for a straightforward race - the less drama, the better it is. I didn't have the greatest start; after the wheel spin in China I was maybe just a little too cautious. Lewis had a better start so we went side-by-side into Turn 1 and 2; it was good, respectful racing between the two of us and I'm glad I could pull up in front of him. Lewis was very quick today and was able to put on some pressure at the end of the race, so I had to make sure to not make any mistakes.”

Behind the dominant Mercedes duo, Sebastian Vettel was third, some 12 seconds behind Hamilton while Max Verstappen was fourth another six-seconds to the rear. Charles Leclerc led for much of the race but, in the end, his team’s tire strategy failed to deliver even a podium finish and he had to settle for a fifth-place finish.

Leclerc had been favoured to win the pole for this race but during Q2 he got caught out in the narrow section by the castle and crashed, ending his hopes to win the pole in Q3. His time was only good enough to see him starting in ninth place.

PHOTO BAKU 2 STRAIGHTSCredit Daimler AG

At the start, Hamilton charged up alongside Bottas but he failed to get past into the lead and Bottas was soon able to build a three-second lead over his teammate with Vettel another three seconds behind him. Max Verstappen started in fourth place but he was passed by Racing Point driver Sergio Perez who had qualified fifth quickest; it took him about five laps before he was able to get back ahead of Perez.

Perez was the first of the front five to pit, coming in for fresh tires on lap 10. Over the next four laps, Vettel, Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen came in for tires as well. They had all started on soft tires but now they switched over to medium tires. Leclerc had had to start in ninth place after his problem during qualifying but this allowed him to start the race on new mediums. Those tires proved to be the best choice for the race and by the time the front- runners had pitted – and changed over to mediums – he was up into the lead.

There was going to be only a single pit stop during the race for most of them and it became a question of whether Leclerc would be able to build enough of a lead over the others to allow him to make his pit stop for fresh tires and come out ahead of them still in the lead. At first he led Bottas by 13 seconds, not quite enough to allow him to pit and stay ahead of him.

However, as the laps went on, Leclerc’s tires were getting older and his pursuers were now on the same tires - closing in on him. As each lap went on the gap got smaller and smaller and hopes of his being able to pit and come out in the lead over the others evaporated. Leclerc kept running on his original tires lap afer lap as the gap back to Bottas shrunk. Finally, on lap 32, Bottas reeled him in and passed him. Leclerc pitted two laps later and returned in fifth place 20 seconds behind Verstappen and two seconds ahead of Gasly.

A few laps later Gasly pulled off the course and retired with some kind of drive train problems (a broken half-shaft?). This brought out the Virtual Safety car. When racing resumed, Leclerc was still nearly 20 seconds adrift of Verstappen and about 30 seconds ahead of Perez. Given this situation – in which he had no hope of catching Verstappen to gain a position and no danger of being caught by Perez, Leclerc was called into the pits for fresh soft tires. On these tires he was able to set the fastest lap fo the race – and earn a single championship point for this feat. Had Leclerc not done this, it looked like Bottas was going to take the point for fastest lap.

It has to be admitted that, once the leaders had completed their one-and-only pit stops, the race was pretty processional with Leclerc’s quixotic pursuit of the podium and then the fastest lap being about the only point of interest.

The Racing point team saw both its drivers earning points. Perez for his sixth-place finish and Lance Stroll for his ninth place. The two McLaren drivers, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris finished in seventh and eighth place although Norris was some 16 seconds behind his teammate. Stroll, in ninth place, was the last car to finish on the lead lap. Not counting the four retirees, the two Williams entries finished dead last in the classification, 2 laps back and at least lap behind any other finisher.

Click HERE for the results of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

The next F1 Grand Prix will be Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona in two weeks time, May 12.

PHOTO MENCS 9ElliottWinsTalladega3Chase Elliott takes the checkered flag with Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece in the GEICO 500 Talladega Superspeedway (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Monster Energy Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
Elliott emerges as the winner of a pack racing demonstration

Talladega, AL, Apr 28/19 (GRW): They changed the rules for the cars for this ‘restrictor-plate’ race. No more restrictor plate – rather a rose by a different name, a ‘tapered spacer” – but it did give the cars about 100 hp more than before. This was countered by making them run a humongous rear spoiler which created a lot of drag and generally kept the speeds down below 200 mph.

This pack racing by the high-drag cars saw an almost constant shuffling of the race order within the front half of the field. Indeed we saw no fewer than 39 lead changes over the race’s 188 laps (500miles). But the race ran most of the way incident free.

There was a caution during the first Stage which eliminated Kevin Harvick, Darrell Wallace and two others and it left Denny Hamlin running around as a lame duck, eventually finishing only 80 laps.

After that, the race ran without another crash until lap 183 – within five laps of the finish. Five cars were involved – Aric Almirola, Martin Truex, Chris Buescher, Justin Haley and Matt DiBenedetto. Given the number of cars involved and the fact that it was so close to the finish, they red-flagged the race until the clean up was completed. Almirola and Truex were able to continue when the race resumed.

Four laps later, just after the white flag had been displayed to signal the final lap, another mess broke out when Ricky Stenhouse spun and hit the wall – other cars (William Byron, Kyle Larson, David Ragan and Jeffrey Earnhardt) were caught up in the melee. Larson’s car barrel-rolled several times along the track.

The yellow was displayed but, given that this had already been declared the final lap, the cars took the yellow alongside the checker when they completed that lap. Elliott, who had taken the lead on the previous restart, crossed the line first and he was declared the race winner.

“What a day!” Elliott said. “A huge thanks to all my partners, my team, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet — there was a lot of teamwork done today. We just had a plan, and we executed really well. Obviously, it could have gone either way, but fortunately everybody stayed together and stayed the course and we got a little help on the last lap with the caution.”

Elliott’s teammate Alex Bowman finished second. Ryan Preece was third, Logano was fourth while Daniel Hemric was fifth.

Elliott had led the most laps during the race, 44, while Joey Logano led for 37 laps and Almirola had led 27 laps. In all 15 different drivers led the race at one time or other.

It looked like the Chevrolet camp had given careful thought to the way these races run at Talladega and how the new rules might affect the running. In the latter stages of the race, it was obvious that the Chevrolet drivers were following a plan which saw them pitting under green in concert and working together to dominate the front of the field. Presumably the Ford and Toyota camps had also tried to organize their team efforts as well but, on the day, the Chevrolet strategy proved to be the winning one.

This pack racing on the big ovals may seem like a strange kind of auto racing to some but, looking at the near sell-out crowds here (in contrast tot he spotty attendance at many other NASCAR race), it is obvious that there is a healthy fan base for this style of high-speed pack racing with its almost guaranteed big multi-car crashes every time.

Click HERE for the results of the GEICO 500 at Talladega.

The next MENCS race will be next Sunday, May 5, at Dover, DE.

 PHOTO NXS TSS1 NXS ReddickLeadsPack2 042719Tyler Reddick leads a pack of cars during the MoneyLion 300 at Talladega Superspeedway (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Xfinity Series MoneyLion 300 at Talladega Superspeedway
Reddick overcomes adversity to score a win at Talladega

Talladega, AL, Apr 27/19 (GRW): Despite some problems during the race, Tyler Reddick emerged as the winner here. During the Stage #1 pit stops he was penalized for speeding on pit road. Late in Stage Two, he grazed the wall and fell back. Then, early in the final stage he was falling back and in danger of going a lap down when a caution came out for debris. This gave him a chance to regroup, stay on the lead lap, and to go on to win the race.

As the race wound down he was working his way towards the front when, on lap 96 of the 113 lap race, a bunch of cars got together – including Michael Annett, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric and Ryan Seig – but he was able to dodge the chaos and gain a spot near the front of the field.

Reddick said, “As soon as I missed that wreck when the 00 (Custer) and the 1 (Annett) got caught up, and I somehow missed it, and the 23 (John Hunter Nemechek) did a great job weaving his way out of it, too, I thought, ‘There must be a reason why I wasn’t in that wreck.’ It was just a lot of fun to work my way back to the front.”

In the remaining laps he moved forward and displaced Christopher Bell from the lead with 11 laps to go. Reddick led those final laps while Gray Gaulding moved up to finish second. Bell hung on to finish third ahead of Chase Briscoe and Cindric. Annett who had started from the pole alongside Reddick, was knocked out of the race in that accident and he was credited with a 31st-place finish.

During the race there were ten different race leaders; Reddick led the mot laps with 34 laps led – the most important of those laps being the final 11 which took him to the checker.
This race was the third of the four Dash-4-Cash races and, as the race winner here, Reddick won the $100,000 bonus.

Click HERE for the results of the Xfinity race from Talladega.

The next Xfinity race will be run next Saturday, May 4, at Dover, DE.

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