It was another busy weekend of racing as we hit the summer’s midpoint, with NASCAR’s Nextel Cup and Busch series doing the business at New Hampshire International Speedway, the Indy Racing League rockin’ at Nashville and Champ Car strafing a new airport course in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the American Le Mans Series squeezing their grapes among the hills of California wine country at Infineon Raceway, the NHRA breathing the rarified mile-high air in Denver and the World Rally Championship riding roughshod over the pampas in Argentina.
A little something for everyone, as it were. Pick your poison:
NASCAR: Stewart’s Hot Streak Continues at Loudon
Tony “Smoke” Stewart is (excuse the pun) smokin’ hot right now. He came into Sunday’s race at New Hampshire International Speedway having won two of the previous three races, then proceeded to put an old-fashioned butt-whippin’ on the field just like he did in Daytona two weeks ago.
Stewart got past then-leader Ryan Newman on Lap 51, and led 232 of the remaining 249 laps. Defending series champ Kurt Busch passed him briefly on a restart with 60 laps to go, but Stewart soon reestablished his dominance and led the rest of the way home.
Kurt Busch finished second, ahead of long-suffering Bobby Labonte, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth completed the top 10.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson was disappointed with his 13th-place finish, but not as much as teammate Jeff Gordon, who saw a certain top-10 finish fade – along with his brakes – to 24th at the finish.
As he did at Daytona, Stewart celebrated the win by climbing the frontstretch fence and mounting the flagstand to salute the fans, to roars of approval by the spectators.
The race was slowed 10 times for cautions totaling 49 laps, and the race started 24 minutes late due to rain.
The big off-track news was the announcement that Michael Waltrip will be leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the end of the season after five years as teammate to Dale Earnhardt Jr. The popular and very marketable Waltrip says he will be back in the Nextel Cup Series next year, but that he hasn’t signed a deal with anyone yet.
The series moves on to the triangular oddity that is Pocono Raceway next weekend.
NASCAR Nextel Cup Top Five:
1) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 300 laps
2) Kurt Busch, No. 97 Roush Racing Ford Taurus, 300 laps
3) Bobby Labonte, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 300 laps
4) Kyle Busch, No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 300 laps
5) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Racing Ford Taurus, 300 laps
Driver’s Championship: 1) Jimmie Johnson, 2672; 2) Greg Biffle, 2595; 3) Tony Stewart, 2587; 5) Rusty Wallace, 2442; 5) Kurt Busch, 2347.
Busch Series: Truex Holds Off Edwards at New Hampshire
Truex emerged at the front of the pack at the end of a wreck-strewn, caution-filled 201-lap event and had to hold off a hard-charging Carl Edwards in a green-white-checker finish at the “Magic Mile” after a caution came out with four laps remaining of the originally scheduled 200. It was a popular win for Truex, who hails from the Northeast and has many fans in the area.
Rookie Denny Hamlin finished third, having gambled on track position by staying out on old tires to claim his best career Busch Series finish. Elliott Sadler, who shares Robert Yates’ Busch Series car with Nextel Cup teammate Dale Jarrett, finished fourth, with Jamie McMurray fifth in Rusty Wallace’s Busch Series entry.
J.J. Yeley, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth and Stanton Barrett rounded out the top 10.
Harvick was the dominant driver in the first half of the race, and led the most laps (90), while Hamlin led the second-most number of laps at 67. There were a total of 13 cautions during the race, with two red-flag stoppages for repairs and track clean-up.
The series will head west to Colorado’s Pikes Peak International Raceway next weekend.
NASCAR Busch Series Top Five:
1) Martin Truex Jr., No. 8 Chance2 Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 201 laps
2) Carl Edwards, No. 60 Roush Racing Ford Taurus, 201 laps
3) Denny Hamlin, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 201 laps
4) Elliott Sadler, No. 90 Robert Yates Racing Ford Taurus, 201 laps
5) Jamie McMurray, No. 64 Rusty Wallace Inc. Dodge Charger, 201 laps
Driver’s Championship: 1) Martin Truex Jr., 2846; 2) Clint Bowyer, 2704; 3) Reed Sorenson, 2676; 4) Carl Edwards, 2626; 5) Kenny Wallace, 2499.
IRL: Franchitti’s Luck Changes at Nashville
Since migrating to IRL from Champ Car in 2004, Dario Franchitti has become known as the best driver with the worst luck in the series. He did pick up two wins last year at Milwaukee and Pikes Peak, but it’s been frustratingly quiet since then.
His luck took a turn for the better on Saturday night, when he won his first event of the year at Nashville Superspeedway, a facility he considers his “home” track since he now lives in Tennessee with his wife, actress Ashley Judd.
Franchitti, who started fourth after qualifying for the race was rained out and the field was set by combined practice times, had to run down and pass Patrick Carpentier and then hold off Sam Hornish Jr. over the closing laps as rain showers were bearing down on the track. Hornish held on for second ahead of Carpentier, with Scott Sharp and Helio Castroneves taking fourth and fifth.
Scott Dixon, Danica Patrick, Ryan Briscoe, Buddy Lazier and Ed Carpenter completed the top 10.
Attrition claimed a large portion of the field. Two of Franchitti’s teammates, championship leader Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta, suffered front suspension upright failures. The fourth member of the Andretti-Green squad, defending series champ and current points runner-up Tony Kanaan, was taken out when debris damaged his front suspension. The problems suffered by Wheldon and Kanaan helped Franchitti leapfrog Castroneves to claim third in the championship standings.