It was another busy weekend. Formula 1 was at Germany’s Nurburgring for the Grand Prix of Europe (an excuse to give Michael Schumacher’s homeland two races each year), while NASCAR’s Nextel Cup and Busch series ran night races on Friday and Saturday at the lovely three-quarter-mile Richmond International Raceway. The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and Grand-Am Cup were bumpin’ and bangin’ at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series dodged raindrops at Atlanta Dragway. Here’s what happened:
Formula 1: Schumacher Wins Again
Seven-time World Driving Champion Michael Schumacher won his second Grand Prix in as many races on Sunday at Germany’s Nurburgring circuit, utilizing superior race strategy from the Ferrari team and blazing-fast “in” and “out” laps to surge past defending World Champion Fernando Alonso.
Alonso started his Renault from pole for the first time this season, with Schumacher qualified second, and led comfortably for the first two-third of the race. Both Alonso and Schumacher were on two-stop strategies, and Alonso managed to stay in front through the first round of stops. However, Schumacher stayed out three laps longer than Alonso prior to his second stop, shortening the amount of time it would take to put on sufficient fuel to get to the finish. That, combined with amazingly fast laps prior to his stop, allowed him to rejoin the race ahead of Alonso after his second stop.
Schumacher led handily to the finish, much to the delight of his home crowd. Alonso gave up the fight near the end and appeared to fade back to impede the progress of Schumacher’s teammate Felipe Massa, running third. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen was closing in on Massa, and if he had been able to pass Massa, that would have helped Renault in the constructors championship points chase.
Massa held off Raikkonen to claim the first podium finish of his F1 career, while Raikkonen had to settle for second. Rubens Barrichello finished fifth, as it seems he is finally coming to grips with the Honda. Alonso’s teammate Giancarlo Fisichella finished sixth, with Nico Rosberg (who started on the last row with Williams teammate Mark Webber after both had Saturday engine changes) and BMW Sauber’s Jacques Villeneuve claiming the final points-paying positions.
Attrition claimed a number of victims, including Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Vitantonio Liuzzi, after a first-lap crash; both Red Bull Racing teammates David Coulthard and Christian Klein; Webber; Honda’s Jenson Button; both Super Aguri teammates Takuma Sato and Franck Montagny (replacing Yuji Ide at least temporarily); Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher and McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya.
The teams only get a one-week break between races now, and they will be back in action next weekend at Barcelona for the Grand Prix of Spain.
Grand Prix of Europe Top Five:
1) Michael Schumacher, No. 5 Ferrari, 60 laps
2) Fernando Alonso, No. 1 Renault, -3.751sec
3) Felipe Massa, No. 6 Ferrari, -4.447sec
4) Kimi Raikkonen, No. 3 McLaren/Mercedes, -4.879sec
5) Rubens Barrichello, No. 11 Honda, -1:12.586
Driver’s Championship: 1) Fernando Alonso, 44; 2) Michael Schumacher, 31; 3) Kimi Raikkonen, 23; 4) Giancarlo Fisichella, 18; 5) Juan Pablo Montoya, 15.
NASCAR: Earnhardt Wins at Richmond
Dale Earnhardt Jr. took advantage of a strategic mistake by Kevin Harvick’s team to claim his first Nextel Cup Series win of the 2006 season at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night.
Harvick, who won Friday night’s Busch Series race (see below) and signed a three-year contract extension with Richard Childress Racing this week, was by far the dominant car on Saturday, leading 272 of the race’s 400 laps. However, a critical error came on Lap 261 when his team chose not to pit when all the other front-runners did. Harvick remained out front, but his tires wore out eventually and he was unable to hold off his challengers any longer. Rookie Denny Hamlin, a hometown favorite racing with 19 stitches in an injured hand, got by on Lap 330. Kyle Busch also took a brief turn out front before Earnhardt made the winning pass on Lap 356.
Hamlin hung on to finish second ahead of Harvick, with Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five. Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Sterling Marlin and Clint Bowyer completed the top 10.
The win was the 17th of Earnhardt’s career, and his first since Chicago Speedway last year, which was a fuel-mileage win. With the personnel changes made since last year, Earnhardt’s team definitely seems to be back. He now sits sixth in the championship standings, and looks poised to make a run at the Chase for the Championship.