By John Gardner
All the open-wheel series were off this weekend, leaving the spotlight for stock cars, sports cars and drag racing. NASCAR was at Texas Motor Speedway with the Nextel Cup and Busch series, accompanied by the International Race of Champions. Meanwhile, on the east coast, the American Le Mans Series visited their home track at Road Atlanta for the series’ second event of the season, with the SCCA’s Speed World Challenge on the undercard, and out west the NHRA was rollin’ big numbers at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR: Deep in the Hot of Texas
Greg Biffle was the man with the plan in Texas on Sunday, coming from 41st on the grid to score his second victory of the season in seven events. Biffle destroyed his primary car in practice on Friday (yet another victim of a tire failure, a phenomenon that seems to be occurring with alarming frequency this year), but his Roush Racing team immediately rolled out a backup car that was similarly bullet-fast.
Biffle really stunk up the show on Sunday, leading 219 of the 334 laps (second-highest number of laps led was 45, by Tony Stewart, who grenaded a motor late in the race and sustained minor burns to his extremities). Chip Ganassi’s team had a good day, placing three cars in the top five. Jamie McMurray was second, Casey Mears fourth and Sterling Marlin fifth (no doubt inspired by recent rumors that he’ll be looking for a new ride next year). Mr. Consistency, points leader Jimmie Johnson, broke up the Ganassi party with a third-place finish in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevy.
Michael Waltrip was sixth, with Kurt Busch, Ricky Rudd, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rusty Wallace completing the top 10. Mears, who has had miserable luck this year, gambled with a two-tire stop in the closing laps and got out of the pits first, but Biffle blew past like he was brushing a fly off his arm just a couple laps after the restart and brought McMurray and Johnson along for the ride. And that, as they say, was that.
From Texas the series heads further west to Phoenix for a Saturday-night race.
NASCAR Nextel Cup Top Five:
1) Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Racing Ford Taurus, 334 laps
2) Jamie McMurray, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge Charger, 334
3) Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 334
4) Casey Mears, No. 41 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge Charger, 334
5) Sterling Marlin, No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge Charger, 334
Driver’s Championship: 1) Johnson, 1142; 2) Biffle, 1007; 3) Wallace, 905; 4) Kurt Busch, 897; 5) Jeff Gordon, 895.
Busch Series: Kahne is Able
Kasey Kahne passed rookie sensation Reed Sorenson with seven laps to go and picked up his first Busch Series victory since 2003 on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Greg Biffle provided a hint of what was to come on Sunday with a strong second-place finish, just .3sec behind Kahne, with Sorenson finishing third ahead of Carl Edwards and Elliott Sadler, who shares Robert Yates Racing’s No. 90 Ford with Nextel Cup teammate Dale Jarrett.
Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Jon Wood, Kenny Wallace and polesitter Shane Hmiel completed the top 10.
Following the race, the No. 1 Dodge of Johnny Sauter, owned by James Finch, was disqualified for an illegal carburetor, and stripped of all points and money earned by its 14th-place finish. Look for an announcement of further strict sanctions against the No. 1 team later this week.
The Busch Series will join the Nextel Cup at Phoenix next weekend.
NASCAR Busch Series Top Five:
1) Kasey Kahne, No. 38 Akins Motorsports Dodge Charger, 200 laps
2) Greg Biffle, No. 66 Brewco Motorsports Ford Taurus, 200
3) Reed Sorenson, No. 41 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge Charger, 200
4) Carl Edwards, No. 60 Roush Racing Ford Taurus, 200
5) Elliott Sadler, No. 90 Robert Yates Racing Ford Taurus, 200
Driver’s Championship: 1) Edwards, 1271; 2) Sorenson, 1195; 3) Bowyer, 1105; 4) Wallace, 973; 5) Ashton Lewis, 932.
IROC: French Fried
Most of the stock-car fans who tuned into Friday’s International Race of Champions from Texas Motor Speedway probably didn’t know much about defending Champ Car titlist Sebastian Bourdais, who won the previous weekend’s Champ Car season opener at Long Beach. They do now.
The diminutive Frenchman proved that he’s a quick study in the comparitively monstrous IROC cars, and dominated this season’s second round to score his first series win ahead of all-time IROC master Mark Martin. Defending Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice finished third, ahead of Busch Series champ Martin Truex Jr. and Craftsman Truck Series champ Bobby Hamilton.
The IROC rolls on to Richmond International Raceway on September 8.
ALMS: Audi Two for Two
Champion Audi’s all-conquering Audi R8 won its second race of the season at Road Atlanta on Sunday, but it wasn’t easy. Dyson Racing’s quick little Lolas gave the big Audis all they could handle, taking the pole and leading until 25 laps to go.
James Weaver and Butch Leitzinger seemed to have everything going their way in Dyson’s No. 16 Lola, but Audi’s pit-stop strategy had the No. 1 of JJ Lehto and Marco Werner out in front when Weaver had to stop for a final fix of fuel and tires. Leitzinger took over the final stint, but two spins – one terminal – in the final minutes promoted the sister Dyson No. 20 of Andy Wallace and Chris Dyson to the runner-up spot, coming home just under 45sec behind the winners. The No. 2 Audi of Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro was third, a lap down.
In the LMP2 class, Intersport Racing’s Jon Field and Duncan Dayton picked up the class win in fourth overall in their Lola B05-40/AER. Second in class was the brand-new B-K Motorsports Courage/Mazda of Jamie Bach and Guy Cosmo, six laps behind the class winners in 17th overall and (loudly) marking the return of rotary power to the series.
Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell scored the new Corvette C6-R’s first GT1 race victory in fifth overall, a lap ahead of the team car of Oliver Gavin/Olivier Beretta. The controversial Maserati MC12 of Andrea Bertolini/Fabrizio De Simone was third in class, another 11sec back, with the Acemco Saleen S7R of Terry Borcheller/Johnny Mowlem fourth in class, another 23sec back on the same lap.
In GT2, Panoz Motor Sports claimed the first class win for the Panoz Esperante, albeit with a dash of controversy. British ace Robin Liddell, teamed with the always-quick Bill Auberlen, was leading in the late laps when he was punted off by the Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of Timo Bernhard, co-driving with Romain Dumas. ALMS officials called Bernhard in for a stop-and-go, and Liddell reassumed the lead to get the class win in 11th overall. Bernhard came back to claim second in class, 27sec further back, with the Petersen/White Lightning Porsche of Patrick Long and Jorg Bergmeister taking third in class in 13th overall, one lap further back.
The series moves on to Mid-Ohio over the weekend of May 20-22.
ALMS Grand Prix of Atlanta Top Five:
1) JJ Lehto/Marco Werner, No. 1 LMP1 Champion Audi R8, 112 laps
2) Andy Wallace/Chris Dyson, No. 20 LMP1 Dyson Racing Lola EX257/AER, -44.785sec
3) Frank Biela/Emanuele Pirro, No. 2 LMP1 Champion Audi R8, -1 lap
4) Jon Field/Duncan Dayton, No. 37 LMP2 Intersport Racing Lola B05-40/AER, -4 laps
5) Ron Fellows/Johnny O’Connell, No. 3 GT1 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6-R, -4 laps
In the supporting events, Max Papis scored his first series win in the Speed World Challenge GT series, leading a three-car podium sweep for the Cadillac CTS-V ahead of Andy Pilgrim and Max Angelelli. Tommy Archer’s Viper and Leighton Reese’s Corvette rounded out the top five. Papis was running second on the last lap, but punted off the Porsche of race leader Robin Liddell. Liddell wound up 15th, and Papis was docked $5,000 and 10 driver’s points. In the Touring Series race, RealTime Racing teammates Pierre Kleinubing and Peter Cunningham made an Acura TSX sandwich out of Jeff Altenburg’s Mazda 6, with Charles Espenlaub’s Mazda Protégé and Chip Herr’s Audi A4 taking fourth and fifth.
NHRA: Vegas, Baby!
Larry Dixon made drag racing history this weekend, as the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series visited The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With his 36th career win, he moved into third place on the all-time NHRA wins roster, just behind Joe Amato (52) and Kenny Bernstein (39) and ahead of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits (35). With the final-round defeat of Doug Kalitta’s Mac Tools dragster (with a 4.591sec/326.40mph run to Kalitta’s 4.648/319.52), Dixon’s victory in the Miller Lite dragster was also the 100th for car owner Don “The Snake” Prudhomme (combined wins as a driver and ownerin both Top Fuel and Funny Car).
In Funny Car, Whit Bazemore defeated Tony Bartone to claim his second win of the season and the 19th of his career, posting a 4.976/315.12 to edge Bartone’s 4.983/303.23 and propel himself into the class points lead ahead of legendary John Force.
Dave Connolly also captured his second victory of the season in Pro Stock, ending Greg Anderson’s four-event win streak with a 6.879/201.46 to Anderson’s 6.955/200.77, and moved to the top of the class points standings over “Professor” Warren Johnson.
The series heads to the hills of Tennessee for the Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol over the weekend of April 29 – May 1.
NHRA Final Round Results:
1) Larry Dixon, Miller Lite Dragster, 4.591sec/326.40mph
2) Doug Kalitta, Mac Tools Dragster, 4.648/319.52mph
1) Whit Bazemore, Matco Tools Dodge Stratus, 4.976sec/315.12mph
2) Tony Bartone, Got CMKX?/Lucas Oil Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.983sec/303.23mph
1) Dave Connolly, Bullet Motorsports Chevrolet Cavalier, 6.879sec/201.46mph
2) Greg Anderson, Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac Grand-Am, 6.955sec/200.77mph
Racing on TV This Week (all times ET):
4:30 pm, Speed: NASCAR Busch Series qualifying, Phoenix International Raceway
6:00 pm, Speed: NASCAR Nextel Cup qualifying, Phoenix International Raceway
9:00 pm, FX: NASCAR Busch Series race, Phoenix International Raceway
7:00 am, Speed: Formula 1 qualifying round one, San Marino Grand Prix
7:30 pm, Fox: NASCAR Nextel Cup race, Phoenix International Raceway
12:00 noon, Speed: Formula 1 qualifying round two, San Marino Grand Prix (same day)
1:00 pm, CBS: Formula 1 San Marino Grand Prix (same day)