Chase Elliott seizes control at Dover to advance in playoffs
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Last fall at Dover International Speedway, Chase Elliott led a race-high 138 laps and was poised to get his first Monster Energy Cup Series victory, only to see Kyle Busch pass him for the win with two laps to go.
On Sunday at Dover, it was Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola who were left empty-handed, as Elliott took control on a late restart in the Gander Outdoors 400 and led the final 11 laps to get his second win of the season and a guaranteed advance to the third round of the Cup Series playoffs.
Harvick was the first to see his hopes dashed. A valve stem of a tire was cut during a pit stop on Lap 319 after he’d led a whopping 286 laps and won both stages.
His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Almirola quickly took over and led 64 of the next 75 laps and was four laps from victory when another teammate, Clint Bowyer, wrecked and brought out the caution flag.
As Almirola and the rest of the leaders headed to pit road for fresh tires, Elliott stayed on the track and took the lead, but on worn tires.
On the restart, Almirola, then running sixth, bounced off the wall attempting to take third place and triggered a five-car crash that collected four other playoff contenders — Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr.
After a brief red flag to clear the track, the green flag flew for an overtime run to the finish. Elliott took the lead from Denny Hamlin at the drop of the flag and sped away to get the win, with Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Kurt Busch completing the top five.
Elliott, who like his father, Bill Elliott, had eight runner-up finishes before scoring his first Cup win, said the lessons learned in past disappointments — like the one at Dover last fall — helped him seize the moment at Dover on Sunday.
“[The earlier losses] definitely make you learn for sure, and it makes you appreciate a day like [Sunday] more,” Elliott said in his winner’s interview. “I can assure you if last year wouldn’t have happened, I wouldn’t appreciate it as much as I do today. When you have those hard days, that certainly makes you learn and gives you no choice but to grow up a little bit.”
The decision by Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson to stay on the track at the end meant that Elliott’s tires had 50 laps on them, while his challengers behind him had fresh rubber. But Elliott said he supported the call all along.
“I actually thought it was the move,” he said. “I was shocked that those other guys didn’t stay out there with only seven laps to go. … I’m glad they didn’t, so it worked out for me.”
While Elliott was celebrating, there was a mix of reactions from the drivers who saw their chances of victory at Dover slip away.
Harvick recovered from his tire troubles to finish sixth and retain the points lead heading into Talladega, but Almirola finished 13th and dropped to ninth in the standings, outside the top eight who will advance after two more races.
For Almirola, it was yet another opportunity to win that slipped away at the end, just like at Daytona, Chicago and New Hampshire earlier this year.
“We’ve had so many opportunities and been so close and had the car to win and been in position and, I don’t know, it just seems to not come through,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m frustrated and mad and angry.”
Photo Caption: Chase Elliott emerges from his No. 9 Chevrolet after performing a burnout to mark his win at Dover.
by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR
Wild finish highlights the Roval’s Cup Series debut
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
For many a NASCAR fan, the fall race on the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte Motor Speedway had become just another race on a “cookie cutter” racetrack, as several of the Monster Energy Cup Series events are run on tracks very similar to Charlotte.
With at-track attendance and interest on the decline, Marcus Smith, the track’s president, and others in his company — with the blessing of NASCAR officials — decided to step way out of the box and create a track that was part road course and part of the aforementioned oval.
The 17-turn, 2.28-mile Roval track uses parts of the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte and a radically redesigned infield road course.
For the first 103 laps of Sunday’s Roval experiment, the race was different, but not the kind of event that would have people talking NASCAR at water coolers across the country on Monday.
But the last six laps delivered the kind of drama that Roval backers were hoping for when they transformed the infield of the 59-year-old track.
On a restart with six laps remaining, Brad Keselowski, who had led the previous 29 circuits, drove off the track and into the Turn One barrier, taking five other contenders for the win with him.
After a red-flag period for clean-up, the green flag flew for a three-lap dash to the checkered flag with two former champions — Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. — leading the way.
Truex held the lead until the duo were within sight of the checkered flag, but Johnson made a desperate move into the final turn, lost control of his car and bounced into Truex, knocking them both around.
That opened the door for third-running Ryan Blaney to scoot by and get his first win of the season over Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch.
But the drama didn’t end with the Johnson/Truex spin. With the Roval race being the cutoff event for the first round of the playoffs, four drivers faced elimination, and it wasn’t until all the cars had crossed the finish line that the four losers were determined.
Among them was Johnson, who fell to eighth place and wound up tied for the 12th and final transfer spot with Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola. Johnson wound up the odd man out due to the tiebreaker of best finishes in the opening playoff round. Also eliminated were Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon.
Larson, who led a race-high 47 laps before being swept up in the 15-car crash on Lap 105, made the most dramatic run to the finish as he was able to overtake the spinning Jeffrey Earnhardt despite heavy damage to his own car. Almirola also had to gain spots in the final three laps in his banged-up No. 10 Ford.
Truex blamed Johnson for making a move that he said had no chance of succeeding.
“[Johnson] just over-drove it and was never going to make it and used me as brakes and turned us both around,” Truex said. “It sucks. We could have raced side-by-side off the last corner for a win, and that would have been cool. The fans would have been digging it, but instead we finished 14th and he’s locked out of the playoffs.
“I guess that’s what he gets.”
Johnson said a playoff berth wasn’t on his mind when he attempted to wrestle the lead from Truex.
“I wish I wouldn’t have been so focused on a race win and I could have transferred and kept my championship hopes alive,” he said. “But we had such a good car and just one of those split-second decisions to race for the win instead of for the points and it bit me.”
Blaney acknowledged that he wouldn’t have won had Truex and Johnson not wrecked.
“They were so far ahead I wasn’t even really trying, and then I saw them kind of close to each other through the oval track in [Turns] Three and Four and I was like, ‘Oh, something might happen here,’” he said in his winner’s interview. “They touched just trying to win the race, and I was lucky to sneak through there.
“That’s not how you really want to win them. I’d rather go out and dominate the race and win by a lap, but you’ve got to take them how you can get them nowadays.”
For Smith, the track president, the last-lap drama exceeded his expectations for the Roval.
“I think it was incredibly exciting,” he said. “The roar from the fans was all I needed to know that that was the moment that everybody will remember for a long time.”
Kyle Busch wins his seventh race of 2018 season, advances in Cup Series playoffs
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Brad Keselowski’s three-race win streak on the Monster Energy Cup Series came to an end on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway as the season’s Big Three drivers reclaimed their spots at the top of the pecking order.
Kyle Busch came back from a disappointing 39th-place qualifying effort to take the lead from Keselowski with 37 laps remaining and score the win. Kevin Harvick finished second, and Martin Truex Jr., who won the first two stages and appeared to have the fastest car, came back from a pit-road penalty to finish third.
It was the first time this season that the Big Three have all finished in the top three in a race.
The win was Busch’s seventh of the season, tying him with Harvick for the series lead. Truex has four wins this year and Keselowski three.
It also was Busch’s 50th Cup win, which tied him with Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 11th place on the Cup circuit’s all-time wins list. It also assures him of advancing to the second round of the Cup playoffs, which begins after the upcoming race on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Playoff drivers swept the top 12 finishing positions at Richmond, with the other four all finishing inside the top 20.
Busch, Keselowski and Truex enter the upcoming weekend at Charlotte worry-free. Harvick, who wrecked early at Las Vegas in the playoff opener, has a good chance of being among the 12 drivers advancing to the second playoff round, as he’s 57 points ahead of 13th-place Clint Bowyer, thanks to the playoff points he accumulated throughout the season.
The bottom four drivers in the standings after the Roval race will be eliminated from the playoffs.
That foursome currently consists of Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones.
Busch, in his winner’s interview, explained why so many drivers are worried about the Roval.
“I think everybody is just nervous because it’s very slick,” he said. “When you go to the Roval, though, you’re just on edge the entire time. It feels like ice. You’re never comfortable. …
“I think a lot of guys will have different mentalities going in this week and what they expect and what they are looking to achieve. We’ll go in there with a good mindset and a good attitude about it, and hopefully it’ll come out well for us.”
Brad Keselowski’s hot streak continues
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
For most of the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series season, the weekly storylines were about the Big Three of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., who combined to win 17 of the first 23 races.
But in the past three weeks, Brad Keselowski has emerged as the driver to beat in the 10-race playoffs, as his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday was his third in a row, following wins at Darlington and Indianapolis in the final two races of the regular season.
Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford hasn’t appeared to be the fastest car in any of his three wins, but between quick work by his crew, good race tactics from crew chief Paul Wolfe and determined effort from the driver, he’s been able to beat the Big Three as well as the rest of the field.
Truex, who finished third in spite of his No. 78 Toyota being the fastest car for much of the South Point 400, said Keselowski has found a lucky horseshoe.
“Obviously, he hasn’t led the most laps in any of those races, and he showed up at the end with good pit stops and good short-run speed,” Truex said. “He’s hot right now. He’s on a streak.”
At Las Vegas, Keselowski led 75 laps to Truex’s race-high 96 and took the lead for good with 22 laps remaining. He was the dominant driver from that point forward, as six caution periods in the final 50 laps turned the end of the race into a series of short sprints.
Keselowski excelled on restarts to take the victory, the 500th in major-league motorsports for team owner Roger Penske. Kyle Larson finished second ahead of Truex, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola and Kyle Busch, as playoff drivers swept the top seven finishing positions.
Harvick, who entered the race as the points leader, was one of eight playoff drivers who finished 19th or worse.
Still, Keselowski said he’s not ready for the conversation to shift to a “Big Four” that includes him.
“I feel like we’re proud of this win, but it’s one win in a long grind, and there are nine weeks of long grinding left,” he said. “In 2014 we won the first race, I think, in Chicago, and that was terrific. … But we were eliminated out of the playoffs four or five weeks later. … You look too far ahead, you get in trouble.”
Keselowski also said he agrees with Truex’s comments that he’s been extremely fortunate the past three weeks.
“I feel like we stole the last three races,” he said. Keselowski and other drivers said the heat on Sunday at Las Vegas, measured at more than 100 degrees, was hard on drivers, crews and fans.
“I’ve heard stories about living in an oven before, and I think I’ve lived it now,” he said. “This was a mentally grueling race because when you get hot, when you’re stuck in those situations and then you add the chaos of the restarts and all those things come together, it really tests you and challenges you mentally, and our team was able to make the most of that.”
Photo Caption: Team Penske drivers Joey Logano, left, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski celebrate the team’s 500th victory in motorsports following Keselowski’s win at Las Vegas.
By Matt Sullivan/Getty Images for NASCAR
Brad Keselowski takes regular season finale; playoff roster set
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
After going winless for the first 24 races of the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series season, Brad Keselowski has scored back-to-back victories, and they came in two of the sport’s marquee events.
On Sept. 2 at Darlington Raceway, Keselowski made a late charge to win his first Southern 500. On Monday, in a rain-delayed Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he took advantage of fresher tires on his No. 2 Ford and wrestled the lead from Denny Hamlin coming to the white flag.
Sophomore Cup driver Erik Jones made a late surge to take the runner-up spot over Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
The victory, arguably the biggest of the 26 that Keselowski has scored in his 11-year Cup career, was the first at Indianapolis in the NASCAR Cup Series for his car owner, Roger Penske, who has 17 wins as an owner in the Indianapolis 500.
Penske also won the 500 in May, giving him a sweep of the track’s top two races this season.
Keselowski was a nonfactor for most of Monday’s race. Bowyer, who led 37 laps, appeared to have the fastest car as the laps wound down. However, he made his final pit stop a couple of laps after Hamlin, running second at that point, made his stop. When Bowyer returned to the track, he was in second place and unable to overtake Hamlin.
Then Keselowski entered the picture, having stopped for fresh tires 15 laps after the leaders. He lined up eighth on the next-to-last restart and drove to third place before the race’s final caution set up a three-lap run to the finish.
Hamlin took the early lead, but Keselowski put his fresher rubber to work. After a couple of door-to-door bumps, he surged ahead to take the win.
“We weren’t the fastest car by far, but this team never gave up on it, made the most of the strategy and executed a perfect race,” Keselowski said. “That is something I am so proud of.”
The finish of Monday’s 400-miler also set the field for the 10-race, season-ending playoffs.
Kyle Busch, with an eighth-place finish, secured the regular season championship and the 15-point bonus it carries, while Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman held onto the bottom two spots among the 16 drivers who will start the playoffs this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Johnson finished 16th and Bowman was 33rd after being collected in an early crash.
Busch and Harvick will start the playoffs with 2,050 points apiece, while Martin Truex Jr. begins with 2,035. Keselowski opens with 2,019, and the rest of the drivers fall in line based on the playoff points they’ve accumulated this season by winning either races or stages. Johnson and Bowman start with the playoff minimum of 2,000 points apiece, as neither has won a race or a stage this year.
Busch said the playoff points are important, as drivers carry them through the early rounds of the playoffs and they can help a driver overcome a bad finish in one race and continue to the next round.
“Any bonus points you can pick up are obviously good ones, and I feel like we did a good job of gaining some of that stuff here this year,” he said.
Photo Caption:Brad Keselowski passes by his crew following the team’s victory in the rain-delayed Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis.
By Michael Reaves/Getty Images for NASCAR
Keselowski dominant late at Darlington
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Brad Keselowski scored two victories this past weekend at Darlington Raceway, a track where he’d never before won in any series. Keselowki capitalized late in both the Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup series races when the No. 42 Chevy owned by Chip Ganassi, which dominated both events with drivers Ross Chastain in Xfinity and Kyle Larson in Cup, respectively, fell by the wayside.
But in the overall picture, the weekend’s biggest winner was the track itself, as NASCAR’s original superspeedway continues to pack its grandstands with a successful throwback-themed weekend.
Darlington, which hosted its first Cup race in 1950, once appeared on a path to suffer a similar fate to North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham and North Wilkesboro Speedway, both of which were once-popular venues but now are idle ghost tracks.
In 2004, Darlington lost its marquee Labor Day weekend race date to Auto Club Speedway in California, then lost its second race date the following year.
The track eventually was left with a race on the Saturday night before Mother’s Day, a date once considered unworkable.
But the employees of the track kept working, and the fans kept coming, and in 2015, Darlington got its Labor Day weekend date back.
Between the date reinstatement and the throwback weekend, Darlington has become one of the highlights of the season for a sport struggling with declining at-track attendance and TV viewership.
On Sunday night, the grandstands were packed with enthusiastic fans, and the weekend included appearances by numerous NASCAR Hall of Fame members who participated in fan events and a parade.
In the winner’s interview Sunday night, Keselowski spoke about what it meant to win at Darlington.
“This is such a special race track,” he said. “It always has been, and I think it always will be.
“And when we added in all this retro stuff a few years ago, it’s like a spark that just reignited this track as just being stupid-cool.”
To make the win even more special, Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford was decked out in a paint scheme reminiscent of the Miller Genuine Draft colors once used by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, who spent much of his career driving for Keselowski’s team owner, Roger Penske.
Amazingly, Wallace never won at Darlington, and Penske hadn’t won there since 1975, when Bobby Allison drove his AMC Matador to victory in the Southern 500.
“To win here and to win wearing Rusty’s colors and driving his car, I kind of feel like I’m in a dream from when I was 10 years old,” Keselowski said. “It’s something that I’ll carry forever. It’s probably the biggest win of my career, especially with it being a weekend sweep at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit.”
Kyle Larson, who finished third behind the Team Penske duo of Keselowski and Joey Logano, left Darlington heartbroken after dominating the 500, winning both of the first two stages and leading a race-high 284 laps.
But on the race’s final pit stop, Keselowski’s crew was just a tick of the stopwatch quicker, and he beat Larson off pit road. Once the green flag was displayed, Keselowski drove away unchallenged, leading the final 22 laps to score his 25th career Cup victory.
It was Larson’s second straight finish of second or third and his seventh of the season. For his career, he has 31 finishes of second or third with just five victories.
On Saturday, Larson saw his Ganassi teammate Ross Chastain lead the most laps but lose out on a chance for victory in the Xfinity race, but he took some satisfaction in the fact that both cars went far.
“It was cool to see both cars like that, leading a bunch of laps … but at the same time, coming up short like we have a lot of times with [sponsor DC Solar] on our car is disappointing,” Larson said. “I felt like from the first run on the track on Friday, I knew we were going to have a pretty good weekend. …
“Just wish we could have got the win.”
Photo: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for NASCAR
Kurt Busch shatters 58-race drought with night-race victory
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
After several lackluster editions in recent years, the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway regained much of its magic Saturday night.
There was a villain, Kyle Busch, who was involved in three on-track incidents and drove like a madman throughout the 500-lap race. He put on some amazing moves, but also drew choruses of boos.
There also was passing aplenty, with 19 official lead changes and lots of other action on the track.
In the end, there was a surprise winner: 40-year-old Kurt Busch, who got his sixth career Cup victory on the half-mile oval and his first since the spring of 2006. It was his 30th career Cup victory overall and his first since the 2017 Daytona 500.
But it was younger brother Kyle who was the center of the attention up until the last few laps.
The younger Busch spun on the third lap of the race and went two laps down. His crew patched up his No. 18 Toyota as best they could, and Busch began his comeback.
At the caution period for the end of the race’s second 125-lap stage, Busch got the free pass and rejoined the lead lap. Despite his car being so battered and damaged that it took extra long pit stops for his crew to refuel it, by Lap 443, Busch was challenging Martin Truex Jr. for second place when he contacted Truex’s rear bumper and sent him sliding down the track and eventually into the oncoming car of J.J. Yeley.
Truex was done for the night and initially was angry with Busch, but later accepted part of the blame for the incident.
He said he should have moved race leader Clint Bowyer aside before Busch got to him.
“I probably should’ve bumped the 14 (Bowyer) out of the way just to get the lead, and I wouldn’t have been in that position,” Truex said. “Sometimes you’re the nice guy and you get knocked out of the way. We’ll just have to race him a little harder next time.”
Busch, undaunted, continued on until Lap 483, when he, Chris Buescher and Jimmie Johnson went three wide racing for third place. There was contact, and Busch and Buescher both wound up with flat tires. Johnson acknowledged on Twitter that he should have given the two more room. Busch wound up finishing 20th.
With the action behind him simmering down, Kurt Busch was left to battle Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson for the win.
On the restart following his brother’s final incident, Kurt Busch drove away from Bowyer initially, while Kyle Larson, on much fresher tires, charged from fourth place to second.
But Larson was unable to close on Busch and wound up second over Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Bowyer.
Larson said he just didn’t have a winning car, despite winning the pole for Saturday’s race.
“I was happy about running second, but just disappointed because I had a lot of confidence going into this race and thought our car was really good,” he said.
Busch’s win locked him into the Cup Series playoffs, which begin after the upcoming races at Darlington Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Also securing spots among the 16 playoff drivers were Larson, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski, none of whom have won a race this season.
In his winner’s interview, Kurt Busch noted how special a win at Bristol is for a competitor.
“This track brings out the best in everybody,” Kurt Busch said in his winner’s interview. “Just to come here, to feel that Saturday night atmosphere, racing under the lights, it brings you back to the roots. … When you come to the Holy Grail of short tracks, you want to win it.”
Busch also said he was glad to get the win with his dad, Tom Busch, in attendance.
“I’m always a little bit more nervous when my dad is at the track,” he said. “He’s watching, sees every move.
“There are things you do on restarts he taught me from the beginning. The Saturday night atmosphere is family — brings out the best in you. Glad we were able to deliver.”
The win was the first in Cup for Busch’s crew chief, Billy Scott, but his driver predicts there are more to come.
“It’s time now. We’ve been a consistent team, but we’re starting to crest that corner of now we need to win.”
Busch said his 30th career Cup win fulfills one of his bucket-list wishes. Now there’s another within reach: the Southern 500 at Darlington on Sept. 2.
Kevin Harvick wins at Michigan — and at being a dad
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Kevin Harvick figured out a way to turn a runaway win in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway into a feel-good story.
After leading 108 laps and winning both stages of the race for his league-leading seventh win of the season, Harvick shared his victory celebration with his 6-year-old son, Keelan.
It was Keelan who walked across the track and accepted the checkered flag, then climbed aboard his father’s No. 4 Ford for a victory lap around the track.
As Harvick slowly circled the two-mile speedway, Keelan held the checkered flag out the passenger side window. Even in Victory Lane, Keelan joined in the festivities, spraying a bottle of water on an unsuspecting official.
“It was pretty cool,” Harvick said of the father-son moment shared on national TV. “We got to go celebrate together. He’s been with me for the last three weeks, so we’ve had a big time.
“It’s pretty cool to look over there on your victory lap and see your 6-year-old in the passenger seat and being able to enjoy it with you. That was definitely way up there on the bucket list of things that you didn’t expect.
“That was pretty neat.”
Harvick also said that celebrating with his son on Sunday isn’t the only part of his job that he’s relished recently.
“I think, as you look at the year, you’ve got to remember, I spent a lot of years not having the most fun and not having the most success,” he said. “Over the past five years, we’ve been able to win a lot of races and do a lot of things on the racetrack and winning races and a championship. It’s been an incredible amount of stuff and wins packed into almost five years now.
“I’m just enjoying every moment, because you never know when it’s going to go the other way, and right now, our guys are just doing a great job, and I’m enjoying everything.”
Harvick said his and Keelan’s time away from home, where mom, Delana, was home with the Harvicks’ 8-month-old daughter, Piper, has been memorable, including the youngster’s crashing a golf cart into a tree and his first ride in a Quarter Midget race car.
“We’ve had some unapproved mom moments this weekend with the golf cart crash and the Quarter Midget,” Harvick said. “I’m sure that she’d probably be OK with him riding in the right side of the car since we didn’t do any burnouts.
“But as you look at it over the summer, like I say, he’s been with me for the last three weeks, and what other sport can you take your kids to work and be able to enjoy things like that with them, and for me as a dad, there’s not much better — and all you dads know this — than looking over and sharing one of your cool moments and looking over and the only person with you is your son.
“That’s pretty special.”
Others in the sport quickly took to Twitter to express their joy at seeing the father-son victory celebration.
“I love it,” wrote Paige Keselowski, the wife of Cup driver Brad Keselowski, and whose father, Louis White, is a Late Model racer from North Carolina. “Reminds me of riding around with my dad after his late model wins!!!”
Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric posted: “How awesome was that?!? What a special memory just made that will last a lifetime for both.”
And Sherry Pollex, girlfriend of Martin Truex Jr., weighed in too: “Seeing Keelan get to ride to VL with his Dad is pretty freaking cool.”
While some went online to lament the fact that Keelan’s story was receiving higher play than the events on the track before the checkered flag, there was drama throughout the day.
Among the more interesting developments was Ty Dillon’s crash after running over what appeared to be a battery on the track.
“I was just hoping it was a glove or something that wouldn’t collect it,” Dillon said. “As soon as it hit, it was like hitting a wall and I had no control of the car. I just drove it straight at 218 mph into the wall, no brakes, no nothing. Hopefully, NASCAR finds whose piece that was, because that shouldn’t happen in our sport.”
Then there was a pit gamble by Martin Truex’s team that took one of the sport’s Big Three out of contention for the win. Truex, trying to stretch his fuel and win the race’s second stage, ran dry and lost a lap getting back on track. He wound up 14th.
“We had a rough day for sure,” Truex said. “Everything that could go wrong did. … We never could get on the right end of things. We had a good car and that was cool because we worked hard on it today and we learned a lot this weekend.”
Brad Keselowski finished the race in second place, ahead of Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney.
Chase Elliott scores first Cup Series win
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
In a time of sagging attendance figures and declining TV ratings, NASCAR finally had a Sunday that has the potential of being the start of a turnaround.
Chase Elliott, one of the young drivers who is in a position to help rejuvenate the sport, scored his first Cup victory in front of an appreciative sellout crowd at Watkins Glen International.
And in a move that symbolized what the day meant for many, when Elliott ran out of gas on the cool-down lap, the likely superstar of the future got a push to his victory celebration from a superstar of the present, his teammate and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
The Elliott family history also was on display with the youngster’s first win.
Elliott’s first Cup victory is remarkably similar to that of his father, Bill Elliott, who was a 16-time most-popular driver and still remains one of the sport’s main attractions.
Both Elliotts got their first Cup victories on road courses, Bill at the old Riverside International Raceway in 1983 and Chase at the Glen on Sunday. Both had eight runner-up finishes before breaking through with a victory, and both had to beat the best in the business to score the breakthrough victory. Bill Elliott defeated Benny Parsons, Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt and Tim Richmond.
Chase had to outrun two of the season’s Big Three — Kyle Busch in the early going and Martin Truex Jr. in the latter stages — to win a race on the same track where his father got his lone Xfinity Series victory.
And of course both drove race cars numbered 9, a number that has become synonymous with the Elliott family.
Elliott said being able to celebrate with a sellout crowd, the fourth straight for the track, made the moment even sweeter.
“I ran out of gas, so I was coasting around, had a great view to see all the people,” he said. “It looked like a sellout.
“They were standing up, so that’s just a cool thing to see. There’s nothing that can re-create that feeling and looking in the stands and seeing people that excited for you for something that you did.”
Elliott, 22, said he’s enjoyed great fan support through his time in support series and in his 99 Cup starts.
“The fans have been a big part of my career thus far, voting us in a couple All?Star Races and so on,” he said. “I appreciate the ones who don’t support, too, because that drives you to be better, and the whole bit. Appreciate all of them, good and bad.”
Kyle Busch, who led 31 laps in the early going and appeared to have the fastest car most of the day, saw his bid for the win go awry on a pit stop with 34 laps remaining. His crew was unable to completely fill his gas tank, so he had to make a second stop, which put him in 31st place when the green flag flew with 32 laps remaining. Even without the benefit of a caution flag, Busch drove through the field to finish third behind Elliott and Truex. Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones finished fourth and fifth respectively, accomplishments for the young drivers that were largely overlooked with Elliott’s win.
Busch said in his postrace comments that Elliott drove mighty well for someone who has relatively little experience on a high-speed road course like Watkins Glen.
“What impressed me the most was just that he was hammer down and elbows up and flying — loose here, loose there and going through everything and doing everything right and really attacking the racecourse and not putting the wheel too far out of shape,” Busch said. “He looked like a pro. That was cool to see.”
Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric summed up the feelings of many in the sport with his postrace Twitter post: “I feel like I just won! Pumped for @chaseelliott. It’s a good day when our sport wins.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. weighed in on Twitter as well: “Incredible day for @chaseelliott and @nascar and THE FANS!!!”
Team owner Rick Hendrick, who watched the race on TV from his North Carolina home as Elliott delivered his company its 250th Cup win, said he hopes his four-driver outfit is getting some momentum with four races left to run before the start of the 10-race, season-ending playoffs.
“This is the right time to be closing the gap and building that momentum,” he told representatives from Chevrolet. “I’m so proud of all the folks at Hendrick Motorsports for keeping their head down and working hard.”
Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson, who celebrated his 43rd birthday with the victory, said his young driver has stood strong through the highs and lows of the previous 98 races.
“We all strive for greatness, and everybody wants to do the best things possible, and you want to win the race or hit the three?pointer at the buzzer or catch a touchdown, whatever it is,” Gustafson said. “And when it doesn’t go your way and you have those opportunities, sometimes that can be deflating.
“But at the end of the day, you’ve got to take some solace in what you do, and the fact that you gave it your best and learned from it and moved on, and certainly he has and will continue to do that.”
Kyle Busch bolts to sixth Cup win of the season
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Kyle Busch’s win in Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway was his sixth of the season and allowed NASCAR’s Big Three to maintain their stranglehold on the Monster Energy Cup Series.
In the 21 races to date this year, Busch and Kevin Harvick have six victories apiece, while Martin Truex Jr. has four.
Busch and Harvick posted the two fastest times in qualifying on Saturday, but were among 13 drivers who had their times disallowed when their cars failed post-qualifying inspection.
But that didn’t hamper either of them for long. Busch started 28th, took the lead for the first time on Lap 112 and led a race-high 52 laps, including the final 42.
Harvick started 27th and was in front by Lap 65, then led a total of 30 laps before a pit-road collision with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola sent him to the rear of the field late in the race. Still, he rallied to finish fourth in what many described as the fastest car at the track.
Truex was the only one of the Big Three to struggle at Pocono. He passed inspection after qualifying on Saturday and started eighth, but he never led a lap and finished 15th.
For Busch, it was a memorable weekend, as his win in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race was the 51st of his career, tying him with the retired Ron Hornaday Jr. for most wins in that series. He already holds the all-time record for wins in the Xfinity Series with 92, and now is tied with Tony Stewart for 13th on the all-time Cup list. One more Cup win will tie him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. And Busch’s 192 victories across NASCAR’s top three series are second only to the retired Richard Petty, who got all of his 200 wins in the elite Cup series.
Busch, who is just 33 years old, said in his winner’s interview after Sunday’s race that he’s proud to be in such legendary company, and that he plans to keep adding to his totals.
“Tony [Stewart] is a great friend of mine and really one of the guys that I kind of looked up to coming up,” Busch said. “Tony was a great teammate, great friend and still is, so it’s pretty cool to tie him, and certainly means a lot to kind of keep climbing the ladder and getting to the next bunch of guys, and eclipsing that 50 is going to be pretty special.”
A group of relative newcomers, led by sophomore driver Daniel Suarez, posted career-best finishes at Pocono.
Suarez, who started on the pole after the disqualifications of Busch and Harvick, led a total of 29 laps and challenged Busch for the lead on two late-race restarts before finishing second — the best result of his two-year Cup career. He said that’s even sweeter considering the next stop on the Cup circuit, the road course at Watkins Glen International, is where he finished third last year, his best finish in 2017.
“I was just talking about that, how good is this result for our race team and for everyone in the 19 group because we know how good we run in the Glen, and we had a good result my first time there in the Cup car,” he told reporters at Pocono. “We are not expecting anything less. We have good momentum right now on our side, and hopefully, we can keep that going.”
Hendrick Motorsports youngsters Alex Bowman and William Byron finished third and sixth respectively, both career-bests as well.
The finish allowed Bowman, who holds the 16th and final spot in the playoff standings, to put 56 points between him and his two closest challengers, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard, with just five regular season races left.
“It was great to have a good points day, but not trying to watch it too much, just trying to do the best job I can and that we can each and every week,” Bowman said. “If we maximize each and every week, hopefully they won’t catch us in points, and we’ll go from there.”
Short-track racer gets another crack at Xfinity Series
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Super Late Model racing standout Casey Roderick is returning to the Xfinity Series this weekend at Iowa Speedway after a six-year absence from NASCAR’s No. 2 circuit.
Roderick, from Lawrenceville, Georgia, once was a top young driving prospect, quickly moving from Legends cars to Late Models to ARCA and to the Xfinity Series, where he ran 11 races in 2011 and 2012.
But his career stalled at that point, and the then-19-year-old driver was facing the prospect of never having a career as a professional racer.
By 2013, he’d taken a job working with a moving company. He was in a house in Franklin, Tennessee, packing the owner’s furniture for a cross-country move, when a friend from Georgia who owned a Late Model team called and offered him a ride.
Roderick returned home and began building a car, and the next year he won several major races, including the World Crown 300 at Gresham Motorsports Park and the Rattler at South Alabama Speedway.
He continued to find success on the short tracks, and now drives a car for Southern racing legend Ronnie Sanders.
But Roderick never gave up on his dream of returning to the upper levels of NASCAR. Now, he has a one-race deal to drive the No. 23 Chevrolet for GMS Racing.
Roderick said he likely wouldn’t have gotten the chance if his fellow Georgian Chase Elliott hadn’t recommended him.
“I don’t think this would have happened if not for Chase,” Roderick said, adding that he’s also grateful for GMS’ team manager Mike Beam and others on the team who supported him. “That’s a great group at GMS.”
Although it’s just a one-race deal, Roderick, now 26, believes he still has time to realize his dream of racing full-time at NASCAR’s highest levels.
“That’s been my goal since I was 5 years old,” he said. “I ran Xfinity before and had to come back to Super Late Model racing, but I kept the faith and believed in myself that I could succeed at that level.
“Sometimes the timing’s not right, but maybe this is the right time. It’s the best opportunity I’ve had in good equipment with good people surrounding me.”
Justin Allgaier is feeling all good after Iowa win
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
The stats from Sunday’s Iowa 250 Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway don’t tell the whole story of how hard Justin Allgaier had to fight to score his second Xfinity win of the season and the seventh of his career.
The Father’s Day race was NASCAR’s marquee event for the weekend, as the Monster Energy Cup Series was idle, and no Cup drivers ran the race.
The statistics show that Allgaier started 11th, took the lead for the first time on Lap 59, won both of the first two stages and led a total off 182 of the race’s 250 laps, including the final 45, to get the victory over Christopher Bell.
What the numbers don’t show was that Allgaier had to rely on his years of experience both in Cup and Xfinity to hold off Bell, who had to start from the rear after his car failed a pre-qualifying inspection but drove his way to the front and challenged Allgaier for the top spot throughout the second half of the race.
Bell said he just couldn’t overcome the aerodynamic advantage Allgaier had by having the lead.
“I just needed to be in front of him,” Bell said. “Our Rheem Camry was really good. It was really good on the bottom in both corners, but I just didn’t have enough to clear him.”
Allgaier, who is sponsored by an agricultural company, Brandt, and had an ear of corn painted on the hood of his No. 7 Chevrolet, said winning at Iowa was really special.
“Incredible,” he said. “We’re in the middle of corn fields — how could you not enjoy this? … Doing it on Father’s Day, it was really cool having my daughter here.”
The victory secured a playoff berth for Allgaier, one he needed because his earlier victory at Dover International Speedway didn’t count for a playoff spot after his car failed a post-race inspection there.
Daniel Hemric finished third ahead of Cole Custer and Brandon Jones, while Riley Herbst came back from a penalty for speeding on pit road to finish sixth in his Xfinity Series debut.
Elliott Sadler maintained his series points lead despite a long, frustrating afternoon at Iowa. Sadler blew a tire early in the race and the impact with the wall damaged the suspension of his No. 1 Chevrolet.
He wound up finishing 28th, 11 laps in arrears. That followed a similarly disappointing finish the week before at Michigan International Speedway, where he finished 30th after starting third and leading 10 laps of a rain-shortened race.
Rookie driver Austin Cindric finished 11th at Iowa after earning his first career Xfinity pole and leading the first 58 laps of the race.
The Xfinity Series returns to action on June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway for the Overton’s 300.
Martin Truex Jr. tames the Tricky Triangle
By Rick Minter
Fourteen races into the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series season, three drivers have emerged as the dominant front-runners.
Defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. added his name to the list on Sunday with a victory in the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.
It’s his second win of the season, and he joins Kevin Harvick, who has five wins, and Kyle Busch, who has four, as the only drivers with multiple wins so far this year.
At Pocono, all three were potential race winners, and all three finished among the top four, with Busch in third place behind runner-up Kyle Larson and Harvick fourth, ahead of Brad Keselowski.
Harvick led the most laps with 89 circuits out front, and Busch led 13 late in the race before a decision to pit for four fresh tires on a late caution did not work in his favor.
Ironically, Busch lost last year’s first race at Pocono when he chose not to stop for tires late in that race, and those with fresh rubber outran him.
“I don’t know if it was the clouds or different tires, but those tires didn’t mean anything,” Busch said of his fresh rubber on Sunday. “We couldn’t get back up through there for anything. … It didn’t give any advantage. The fresh air didn’t mean anything today. That was frustrating and disappointing.”
Truex said in his winner’s interview that he wasn’t certain that staying on the track on older tires was the right call when the caution flag flew for debris on the track with 20 laps remaining. But he knew his car had been fast on older tires in Saturday’s final practice session.
“The final restart, really the end of the race just kind of played into our hands,” Truex said. “We decided to stay out there when some guys pitted. …
“Luckily, it worked out for us. We ran some really fast lap times at the end, but the restarts are always, always a question mark. You’re always a little bit nervous just hoping you do everything right and hoping two guys don’t get that bumper-to-bumper kind of tandem thing going and get a run on you.
“We were able to hold them off, and I felt like if we could get to Turn One with the lead, I felt pretty confident we could hold them off, and that was the case.”
Truex acknowledged that Busch and Harvick both had cars capable of winning if circumstances had played out in their favor instead of in his.
“Towards the end of the race there, it was 18 [Busch] leading, we were second, 4 [Harvick] was third,” he said. “We were all just sitting there, couldn’t get any closer to each other, and I felt like whoever was out front at that point was going to be the car to beat. We were all so closely matched.”
Harvick said his fortunes took a negative turn when Busch took the lead by beating him off pit road after a caution flag flew on Lap 126 of 160 for a spin by Derrike Cope.
“We just lost our track position of being in the lead and lost control of the race,” Harvick said. “That is what did us in there. We restarted second and then third and lost a spot on each restart as you start on the inside.
“Our Busch Ford was really fast, and the guys did a really great job. When you are racing the 18 [Busch] and 78 [Truex] you are splitting hairs, and they were just better than us on pit road today.”
Larson, whose runner-up finish was his third of the season, to go with earlier second-place runs at Auto Club Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway, said his No. 42 Chevrolet just wasn’t as fast as the cars of Truex, Harvick and Busch.
“Happy we finished second, but needed a lot more to kind of compete with the three guys that ran up front all day,” he said, adding that his Chip Ganassi-owned Chevy was fast. “I felt like my car today was kind of as good as it’s been all year.
“I feel like the Hendrick [Motorsports] guys have definitely gotten better, as well as [Richard Childress Racing] guys. but I feel like I’ve kind of just been a step behind the [Busch, Truex and Harvick]. …
“I think that three of those guys are definitely Head over Heels better than the rest of us, but I think from fourth- to sixth- or seventh- best car, it’s pretty close.”