By John Gardner
The racing this past weekend was far-flung and action-packed. NASCAR destroyed a few million dollars’ worth of machinery at Talladega with the Nextel Cup and Busch Series while the Craftsman Truck Series behaved itself nicely at St.
So, in the words of famed boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer, let’s get ready to rumble!
NASCAR: Gordon Wins
After the crash-a-rama that was the Busch Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday (see below), one might be tempted to think that drivers in Sunday’s Nextel Cup race would exercise a modicum of restraint.
One would be wrong.
Although everyone seemed to be on their best behavior for the first half of the race, a little contact among Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mike Wallace and Jimmie Johnson in the middle of a typical three-wide, 12-deep pack on Lap 132 triggered a melee – the second-largest in the track’s history – that collected 25 cars and launched a 45min red-flag period. Once the race was restarted, the top contenders were the usual suspects: Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Michael Waltrip, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, plus Jamie McMurray, Elliott Sadler and Martin Truex Jr.
However, another multi-car pile-up on Lap 186 eliminated Earnhardt, Johnson, Harvick and Truex. The race ended with a green-white-checkered shootout among Gordon, Stewart, Waltrip, McMurray and Jeremy Mayfield, and Gordon was able to hang on to win his second restrictor-plate race of the year and his fourth of the last five, firmly establishing Hendrick Motorsports as the current plate-racing masters, displacing the previously dominant Dale Earnhardt Inc. teams.
Gordon was obviously the class of the field, leading 139 of the 194 laps. He finished ahead of Stewart, Waltrip, Mayfield and McMurray. Rounding out the top 10 were Sadler, defending series champ Kurt Busch, Ken Schrader, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton.
NASCAR has made a number of rules changes this year that are supposedly designed to curtail the expense of campaigning these cars 38 weekends a year, but when you have 65-70 cars out of the 86 entered in both the Nextel Cup and Busch Series races going home with major damage, it’s hard to see where teams are saving that much money, especially when you consider the thousands of dollars that go into aerodynamically massaging these cars to maximize their slickness, not to mention the money spent on restrictor-plate engine programs for only four of those 38 races. Thankfully, no one was injured in all these crashes, but for those of us who have been following the sport for a number of years, this is not racing.
NASCAR Nextel Cup Top Five:
1) Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 194 laps
2) Tony Stewart, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet
3) Michael Waltrip, No. 15 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet
4) Jeremy Mayfield, No. 19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge Charger, 194
5) Jamie McMurray, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge Charger, 194
Driver’s Championship: 1) Jimmie Johnson, 1368; 2) Kurt Busch, 1238; 3) Jeff Gordon, 1217; 4) Greg Biffle, 1181; 5) Elliott Sadler, 1164.
Busch Series: Truex’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Defending Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr. emerged victorious after one of the worst displays of professional restrictor-plate racing ever witnessed at
The race was delayed 3.5 hours for rain, and then a 16-car pileup on Lap 17 demolished almost a third of the field and brought out a red flag. Once the race resumed, the fastest contenders appeared to be polesitter Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Joe Nemechek. However, all but Stewart were also eliminated in a nine-car fiasco on Lap 83, when Nemechek chopped across the nose of Denny Hamlin, who slammed into the car of Casey Mears, who got airborne and landed on his roof.
Once that mess was cleared up, and with darkness falling, Truex (whose car was damaged in the first red-flag incident but repaired) was able to hold off Jon Wood to win his second straight race at the
David Stremme finished third, ahead of Ashton Lewis and Kerry Earnhardt (making his first Busch Series appearance of the season in a Michael Waltrip-owned car). Rounding out the top 10 were Randy LaJoie, Justin Labonte, Jason Keller, Brent Sherman and Kertus Davis.
Only a dozen, at most, of the 43 starters managed to finish the race without significant body damage. The race, which was scheduled to start at 2:15 pm EDT, finally took the checkered flag about 7:45 pm. Ugly doesn’t even begin to describe it. Drinks all around for the inventors of the HANS Device and SAFER barrier.
The series limps off to
NASCAR Busch Series Top Five:
1) Martin Truex Jr., No. 8 Chance2 Motorsports Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 120 laps
2) Jon Wood, No. 47 ST Motorsports Ford Taurus, 120
3) David Stremme, No. 14 FitzBradshaw Racing Dodge Charger, 120
4) Ashton Lewis, No. 25 Team Rensi Motorsports Ford Taurus, 120
5) Kerry Earnhardt, No. 98 Michael Waltrip Racing Chevrolet
Driver’s Championship: 1) Carl Edwards, 1482; 2) Clint Bowyer, 1335; 3) Reed Sorenson, 1329; 4) Martin Truex Jr., 1260; 5) Ashton Lewis, 1207.
Craftsman Truck Series: Totally Ted
When it’s your night, it’s your night. Saturday night was Ted Musgrave’s. Having neither won a race nor led a lap thus far this season, Musgrave started from the pole at Gateway International Raceway and led all but two laps to claim his first victory of the season in totally dominant fashion and propel himself into the championship lead.
He crossed the finish line 0.935sec ahead of Dennis Setzer to take his 16th series win, with Musgrave’s Ultra Motorsports teammate Jimmy Spencer third. Mike Skinner and Rick Crawford rounded out the top five, with defending series champ Bobby Hamilton, Todd Bodine, Robert Pressley, Chad Chaffin and Ricky Craven completing the top 10.
Craven was all set for a top-five finish before being pushed out of the racing line by Skinner in the closing laps and falling back to 10th. The two had a brief, but pointed, conversation after the race that ended with a very half-hearted handshake.
That conversation may very well resume when the series travels next to
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Top Five:
1) Ted Musgrave, No. 1 Ultra Motorsports Dodge Ram, 160 laps
2) Dennis Setzer, No. 46 Morgan-Dollar Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado, 160
3) Jimmy Spencer, No. 2 Ultra Motorsports Dodge Ram, 160
4) Mike Skinner, No. 5 Bill Davis Racing
5) Rick Crawford, No. 14 Circle Bar Racing Ford F-150, 160
Driver’s Championship: 1) Ted Musgrave, 796; 2) Bobby Hamilton, 783; 3) Ricky Craven, 748; 4) Jimmy Spencer, 745; 5) Todd Bodine, 678.
IRL: Wheldon’s Twin Win at Twin Ring
With three laps to go in the IRL’s annual visit to Honda’s fabulous Twin Ring Motegi oval in
Scheckter, son of former Formula 1 champ Jody, had a nice-sized lead on Andretti-Green teammates Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon. But Scheckter must have been reciting the old racing adage, “To finish first, first you must finish” as the fuel ran out with two laps to go and Kanaan was peeling off into the pit lane for a splash-and-go.
Result? Wheldon wins the race, his second in a row at Motegi (much to Honda’s delight and
Scott Sharp gladly inherited second place upon the demise of Scheckter and Kanaan, and came home 3.46sec behind the winner. Rahal-Letterman teammates Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick (who qualified second and impressively led a good number of laps) finished third and fourth, with Andretti-Green’s Bryan Herta finishing fifth, the last car on the lead lap.
Kanaan managed to salvage sixth, ahead of Sam Hornish Jr., Darren Manning, Kosuki Matsuura, Scheckter (two laps down) and Helio Castroneves, who crashed (in fluid spilled from teammate Hornish’s car) on the penultimate lap.
After a shaky start (a crash on the first lap and another on the restart), the race settled down with Dario Franchitti passing early leader Patrick and looking like the man to beat. However, he crashed on Lap 123 while battling Wheldon for the lead after a restart. Scheckter got past Kanaan and Wheldon to take the lead, but the race turned into a fuel-economy run at the end.
The series moves on to
IRL IndyCar Series Top Five:
1) Dan Wheldon, No. 26 Andretti-Green Racing Dallara/Honda, 200 laps
2) Scott Sharp, No. 8
3) Buddy Rice, No. 15 Rahal-Letterman Racing Panoz/Honda, -21.884sec
4) Danica Patrick, No. 16 Rahal-Letterman Racing Panoz/Honda, -22.188sec
5) Bryan Herta, No. 7 Andretti-Green Racing Dallara/Honda, -29.498sec
Driver’s Championship: 1) Dan Wheldon, 184; 2) Tony Kanaan, 138; 3) Sam Hornish Jr., 131; 4) Bryan Herta, 104; Helio Castroneves, 101.
Grand-Am: Pruett/Diaz Take Two
Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz won the Grand American Road Racing Association’s Rolex Sports Car Series race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday, holding off the hard-charging duo of Elliott Forbes-Robinson and Butch Leitzinger to claim their second consecutive victory in the fourth round of the 14-race season.
It was the first visit to the historic road course outside
Car-to-car contact was prevalent, and the resultant six full-course caution periods and series-mandated drive-through penalties resulted in a lot of hurt cars and feelings.
Once the race settled down, the EFR/Leitzinger duo seemed to have the car to beat, pulling out a lead of over 10sec, but cautions closed the field up and allowed the Pruett/Diaz entry to muscle its way past going into the Corkscrew. A spate of late-race cautions prevented a fightback, as the EFR/Leitzinger car was admittedly better on long runs, and the race ended under the yellow flag.
The Bell Motorsports team of Ralf Kelleners/Terry Borcheller finished third, ahead of the SunTrust Racing team of Wayne Taylor/Max Angelleli and the Michael Shank Racing duo of Kenny Wilden/Mike Borkowski.
In the GT class, it was a 1-2-3 BMW sweep for Prototype Technology Group, with Bill Auberlen/Justin Marks/Tom Milner Jr. finishing five laps down in 23rd overall, leading home Kelly Collins/R.J. Valentine and Ian James/Chris Gleason/Joey Hand.
The series’ next outing will be a six-hour enduro on
Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Top Five:
1) Scott Pruett/Luis Diaz, No. 01 Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus/Riley, 97 laps (finish under caution)
2) Elliott Forbes-Robinson/Butch Leitzinger, No. 4 Howard-Boss Motorsports Pontiac/Crawford, 97
3) Ralf Kelleners/Terry Borcheller, No. 54
4) Wayne Taylor/Max Angelleli, No. 10 SunTrust Racing Pontiac/Riley, 97
5) Kenny Wilden/Mike Borkowski, No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Pontiac/Riley, 97
On the undercard at Laguna Seca, Scott Maxwell and David Empringham scored the third Grand-Am Cup win in four races for the Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang team, although it was the first for that particular driving pair. They were followed to the checkered flag by the Zoom Motorsports Porsche 911 of Mike McCalmont/Darren Law and the Blackforest Motorsports Ford Mustang GT of Tom Nastasi/Ian James. In the ST class, Eric Curran and Bill Endicott took the class win in the Bill Fenton Motorsports Acura RSX-S ahead of Don Salama/Will Turner in a Turner Motorsports BMW 330i and Mike Liebl/Bob Beede in another Bill Fenton Motorsports Acura RSX-S.
WRC: Loeb’s Dominance Continues
Defending World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb picked right up where he left off in
In another hot, fast, gravel-road event like
Peugeot teammates Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin finished third and fourth, with Ford’s Toni Gardemeister completing the top five. Gardemeister was followed home by teammate Roman Kresta and Ford privateer Antony Warmbold, with Citroen privateers Juuso Pykalisto and Manfred Stohl taking eighth and ninth. British Ford privateer Mark Higgins, a familiar face in American rallying, rounded out the top 10.
Gronholm won the opening stage on Friday, but rolled his car on the second stage and fell to 22nd overall. He fought back courageously, winning two other of the 17 total stages and, helped by the late retirement by Mitsubishi’s Harri Rovanpera while running third, was able to take the final podium spot.
Loeb won eight stages, while Solberg won four. Single stage wins went to Mitsubishi’s Gigi Galli and Subaru’s impressive Australian rookie Chris Atkinson.
The series’ next stop is on the
WRC Rally of
1) Sebastien Loeb, No. 1 Citroen Xsara WRC, 4:06.33.7
2) Petter Solberg, No. 5 Subaru Impreza WRC 05, -59.6sec
3) Marcus Gronholm, No. 7 Peugeot 307 WRC, -3:07.3
4) Markko Martin, No. 8 Peugeot 307 WRC, -4:12.3
5) Toni Gardemeister, No. 3 Ford Focus WRC 04, -8:29.3
Driver’s Championship: 1) Sebastien Loeb, 35; 2) Petter Solberg, 34; 3) Markko Martin, 28; 4) Marcus Gronholm, 26; 5) Toni Gardemeister, 24.
NHRA: Putting the Thunder in
Bruton Smith’s legendary combined oval-and-drag-strip complex in
In Top Fuel, Kalitta faced upstart Rod Fuller to take the win, using a .01sec better holeshot to post a 4.593sec/322.50mph to Fuller’s quicker-but-losing 4.588/327.35. It was Kalitta’s 21st Top Fuel victory, his third final-round appearance of the year, and second in a row. The win propelled him to the Top Fuel points lead over Tony Schumacher, who was elimiated in the first round.
Gary Scelzi laid down the fastest Funny Car pass in
In Pro Stock, “Professor” Warren Johnson was the beneficiary of a red-light start by Richie Stevens to pick up the 800th elimination-round win of his career. Johnson clocked a 6.756/203.89 to Stevens’ moot-point 6.777/203.22 and now has a 50-point lead in the Pro Stock championship standings.
Johnson, who is heading for retirement with his “School’s Out Tour” this season, was reflective after his victory. “I have a sign on the side of my car that says, ‘Old age and treachery will win out over youthful exuberance every time,’” he said, “and I think that might have been the case today.”
Class will resume at Atlanta Dragway over the weekend of May 12-15.
NHRA Final Round Results:
1) Doug Kalitta, Mac Tools Dragster, 4.593sec/322.50mph
2) Rod Fuller, Valvoline Dragster, 4.588sec/327.35mph
1) Gary Scelzi, Hemi Oakley Dodge Stratus, 4.815sec/329.26mph
2) Jeff Arend, CMKX-treme Mining Machine Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 4.971sec/282.42mph
1) Warren Johnson, GM Performance Parts
2) Richie Stevens, Mopar/Valspar Dodge Stratus, 6.777sec/203.22mph (red-light)
Racing on TV This Week (all times ET):
3:30 pm, Speed: NASCAR Busch Series qualifying, Darlington Raceway
5:00 pm, Speed, NASCAR Nextel Cup qualifying, Darlington Raceway
8:00 pm, FX: NASCAR Busch Series race, Darlington Raceway
7:00 am, Speed, Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain qualifying 1,
7:00 pm, Speed: NASCAR Nextel Cup race, Darlington Raceway
12:00 noon, Speed: Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain qualifying 2,
1:00 pm, CBS: Formula 1 Grand Prix of Spain,