Racing Results: April 25, 2005

April 24, 2005

by John Gardner

It was a reasonably quiet weekend on the motorsports front. Formula 1 was at Italy’s Imola circuit to kick off their European season in fine style after three off-shore races, while NASCAR’s Nextel Cup and Busch series were at Phoenix International Raceway for the Arizona oval’s first springtime race, as NASCAR has awarded the track a second Nextel Cup date this year. Everybody else had the weekend off. Except us. But that’s okay; that’s why we get the big bucks, right?

Formula 1: Three the Hard Way

Renault’s Fernando Alonso won his third consecutive Formula 1 race of the season in the Grand Prix of San Marino at Italy’s Imola circuit on Sunday, and in doing so cemented his position as “the next big thing” in the series.

Alonso held off a furious charge by the resurgent seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher throughout the closing laps to claim the victory with a 0.2sec margin of victory. Schumacher, who has struggled with an uncompetitive Ferrari in the first three races of the season, drove one of the best races of his storied career after having to start 13th due to an off-course excursion in qualifying that killed his lap time. He used a staggered pit-stop strategy, starting with a heavy fuel load that allowed him to run four laps longer than the leaders in the opening stint, during which time he ran the fastest laps of the race to that point.

When Schumacher emerged from his pit stop on Lap 27 he was in third place, 20sec behind BAR/Honda’s Jenson Button with Alonso 10sec further ahead. Running 1.5 to 2.0sec a lap faster than the front two, Schumacher carved into Button’s lead and eventually shot past on Lap 47 when Button was briefly balked by a tussle between the two Williams/BMW cars.

After Schumacher made his second stop on Lap 49 he was 1.3sec behind leader Alonso, who had stopped on Lap 42. He quickly closed the gap and the two ran nose-to-tail to the Lap-62 finish. The Ferrari was able to get its nose alongside the Renault a couple of times, and Schumacher locked the brakes twice over the final two laps trying to make the pass, but to no avail.

Button hung on for third to score his first points of the season, ahead of McLaren’s Alexander Wurz (subbing for injured Juan Pablo Montoya) and teammate Takuma Sato. Claiming the final points were Sauber’s Jacques Villeneueve (in his best peformance of the season), Toyota’s Jarno Trulli and Williams’ Nick Heidfeld. Trulli’s teammate Ralf Schumacher originally crossed the line in eighth, but was penalized 25sec for an “unsafe maneuver in the pit lane” (pulling out of his pit box aggressively in front of Heidfeld) and fell to 11th in the final standings.

After the race, the race scrutineers investigated Button’s BAR/Honda to ensure it met the weight requirements. Although it met the weight (600 kg) with the fuel remaining in the tank at the time, it was underweight once the fuel was pumped out (i.e., the team is using fuel as ballast and could conceivably run underweight at various points in the race between pit stops). However, the car was declared legal and the results verified. After that, the FIA appealed the scrutineers’ decision and a hearing will be held May 4 at the FIA’s International Court of Appeals in Paris. Therefore, Button’s third-place finish remains tentative until the matter is resolved.

Notable retirements included polesitter Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren (driveshaft), Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello (electrical) and Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella (crash). The series moves on to Barcelona on May 8, where Alonso’s countrymen will no doubt be just as avid as the Italian tifosi were Sunday.

Grand Prix of San Marino Top Five:

1) Fernando Alonso, No. 5 Renault, 62 laps

2) Michael Schumacher, No. 1 Ferrari, -0.2sec

3) Jenson Button, No. 3 BAR/Honda, -10.4sec

4) Alexander Wurz, No. 10 McLaren/Mercedes-Benz, -27.5sec

5) Takuma Sato, No. 4 BAR/Honda, -34.7sec

Driver’s Championship: 1) Fernando Alonso, 36; 2) Jarno Trulli, 18; 3) Giancarlo Fisichella, 10; 3) Michael Schumacher, 10; 5) Ralf Schumacher, 9.

Complete Race Results

Postscript: The FIA International Court of Appeal ruled on May 5 that the BAR/Honda Formula 1 team was in violation of a variety of sporting and technical regulations during the Grand Prix of San Marino, and excluded the team from the results of that race and banned it from the next two races. In addition, it added a six-month suspension that has been suspended for one year. The below results reflect the BAR/Honda expulsion.

Grand Prix of San Marino Top Five:

1) Fernando Alonso, No. 5 Renault, 62 laps

2) Michael Schumacher, No. 1 Ferrari, -0.2sec

3) Alexander Wurz, No. 10 McLaren/Mercedes-Benz, -27.5sec

4) Jacques Villeneuve, No. 11 Sauber/Petronas, -64.4sec

5) Jarno Trulli, No. 16 Toyota, -70.2sec

Driver’s Championship: 1) Fernando Alonso, 36; 2) Jarno Trulli, 20; 3) Giancarlo Fisichella, 10; 3) Michael Schumacher, 10; 5) Nick Heidfeld, 9.

NASCAR: Busch Bounces Back

Defending Nextel Cup champion Kurt Busch scored his first win of the year at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday night, marking a strong comeback after crashing in four consecutive races and vaulting himself into second in the championship.

Busch dominated the race for the most part, leading 219 of the 312 laps, but had to hold off a determined Michael Waltrip through the closing laps as Waltrip, desperate to shake his rep as a restrictor-plate-race-only contender, did everything but crash in his attempt to run down the leader, including smacking the wall a couple of times.

Jeff Burton had his best race since 2002 to finish third, ahead of Waltrip’s teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. and rookie Brian Vickers, who posted his career-best finish. Bobby Labonte, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Johnny Sauter and Joe Nemechek completed the top 10.

Busch’s teammate, Greg Biffle, has been the man with momentum lately and ran up front early after winning Friday night’s Busch Series race (see below), but a pit-lane mishap with Mike Bliss holed his radiator and cooked his engine, relegating him to a 41st-place finish and a fall from second to third in the points. Championship leader Jimmie Johnson had his worst race of the season, finishing 15th, and also stirred up some controversy by bumping Tony Stewart into a spin that collected Rusty Wallace (who fell from third to 10th in the points), Ricky Rudd and Ken Schrader. Polesitter Jeff Gordon managed to lead a few laps, but never delivered on the promise of his qualifying form, finishing 12th.

Despite a 30-minute delay for weather at the start and a seven-minute red-flag period at Lap 142 for a power outage that afflicted the control tower, the first spring (and first nighttime) Phoenix race was a success. The series will return in November for its traditional schedule spot as the penultimate race of the season.

Although winning was great for Kurt Busch, Waltrip’s second-place finish will have him smiling as the circuit heads to his second-favorite track, Talladega, next weekend, where he will be one of the favorites to win.

NASCAR Nextel Cup Top Five:

1) Kurt Busch, No. 97 Roush Racing Ford Taurus, 312 laps

2) Michael Waltrip, No. 15 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 312

3) Jeff Burton, No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 312

4) Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 312

5) Brian Vickers, No. 25 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 312

Driver’s Championship: 1) Jimmie Johnson, 1260; 2) Kurt Busch, 1087; 3) Greg Biffle, 1052; 4) Jeff Gordon, 1027; 5) Elliott Sadler, 1009.

Complete Race Results

Busch Series: Biffle Spins and Wins

Greg Biffle’s momentum from winning the Nextel Cup race last weekend at Texas carried into Friday night’s Busch Series race at Phoenix, as he rebounded from an early-race spin to come back and claim his first Busch Series race win of the season.

Once he got to the front, Biffle – the 2002 Busch Series champ – was the dominant force in the race, leading 112 of the 200 laps. Elliott Sadler finished second, ahead of David Stremme, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. Joe Nemechek, Michael Waltrip, points leader Carl Edwards, defending series champ Martin Truex Jr. and J.J. Yeley completed the top 10.

The race was slowed by a track-record 14 caution flags and two red-flag periods, which resulted in 24 of the 43 starters being involved in one incident or another.

The series moves on to the wide-open spaces of Talladega next weekend, where it will join the Nextel Cup series.

NASCAR Busch Series Top Five:

1) Greg Biffle, No. 66 Brewco Motorsports Ford Taurus, 200

2) Elliott Sadler, No. 90 Robert Yates Racing Ford Taurus, 200

3) David Stremme, No. 14 FitzBradshaw Racing Dodge Charger, 200 laps

4) Kevin Harvick, No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200

5) Tony Stewart, No. 33 Kevin Harvick Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 200

Driver’s Championship: 1) Carl Edwards, 1418; 2) Reed Sorenson, 1262; 3) Clint Bowyer, 1229; 4) Kenny Wallace, 1088; 5) Martin Truex Jr., 1070.

Complete Race Results

Racing on TV This Week (all times ET):

4/28:

5:00 pm, Speed: NASCAR Busch Series qualifying, Talladega Superspeedway

4/29:

4:00 pm, Speed: NASCAR Nextel Cup qualifying, Talladega Superspeedway

4/30:

12:00 noon, ESPN: IRL Indycar Series race, Twin Ring Motegi, Japan (same day)

2:00 pm, Fox: NASCAR Busch Series race, Talladega Superspeedway

7:00 pm, espn2: NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series qualifying, Bristol Raceway (same day)

8:00 pm, Fox: NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, Gateway International Raceway

5/1:

12:30 pm, Fox: NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race, Talladega Superspeedway

3:00 pm, Speed: Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series race, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

7:00 pm, espn2: NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series eliminations, Bristol Raceway

11:00 pm, Speed: FIA World Rally Championship, Rally Italia Sardinia (same day)

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