One of the good things about NASCAR racing is that there are thirty-six races in the Sprint Cup Series between February and November, plus thirty-four Nationwide Series and twenty-five Camping World Truck Series races too. None of this twenty race limit for the good ol’ boys of the US of A. But it does mean that holidays taken during those months invariably mean missing one or more of the races and so it proved for your reporter last weekend. So here is a resume of the major events of the past week or so, a week that included two wild races and the announcements of the losses of two major sponsors, one of which will have some impact on the drivers moves for next season.
The first of the races was Saturday’s Bucyrus 200 Nationwide Series race at Road America in Wisconsin. The intended 50 lap race at the Elkhart Lake circuit was a relatively straightforward race until the very last few laps when it seemed to transform itself into a demolition derby. It was to take the full quota of three green-white-checker finishes allowed and even then the race ended under yellow caution flags together with some diverse views about who had actually won the race.
At the first attempted g-w-c finish Max Papis and Brian Scott were spun by Jacques Villeneuve who had already endured an eventful afternoon having been given a drive-through penalty for changing lanes too soon during a mid-race restart. Villeneuve, who is a specialist in these road course races went on to finish third.
After the final attempt at a green-white-checker finish Aric Almirola unfortunately ran out of fuel and came to a stop on the track, in the process triggering a final full-course yellow and the ensuing confusion.
Although it wasn’t immediately obvious at the time, upon seeing the yellow Reed Sorenson slowed considerably. Ron Fellows, unable to see the flag and having received no notification of it over his radio, assumed Sorenson had run out of fuel, went past him and drove round to catch and follow the course car to the finish line.
Subsequent checking of the video replays clearly showed the yellow being waved before Fellows passed Sorenson and thus the win was given to the latter with Fellows second and Villeneuve third.
The win moves Sorenson to the lead in the championship just five points ahead of Elliott Sadler who remains second with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. dropping to third just two points further back.
The following day saw the Sprint Cup Series drivers also racing on a road circuit, this time in the Toyota/SaveMart 350 race at Infinion Raceway in California. Unlike the Nationwide race this one was anything but clean and straightforward, except for Kurt Busch that is.
Busch led 76 of the 110 laps to pretty much dominate the race and become the eleventh different winner in sixteen races so far this year. It was his first win of the season and his first ever on a road course, moving him three places up the points table to fourth, just ahead of his younger brother, Kyle.
The win came from Busch’s team opting for a two-stop race at what has always been traditionally a three stop track. They felt there was a chance the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge might be swallowed by the field as he was running on considerably older tyres at the end but strong driving by Busch and the self-destruct tendencies of more than a few of his competitors meant the fear was never realised.
Jeff Gordon was stuck mostly in the midfield pack for most of the race but through staying out on old tyres towards the end of the race salvaged second place and a useful forty-two points to move him into the vital top ten places. The same tactic worked for Carl Edwards who followed Gordon across the line and increased his points lead at the top of the table to twenty-five over ninth place finisher, Kevin Harvick.
Early in the race Tony Stewart turned Brian Vickers in one of the turns triggering an accident that involved seven cars altogether including Dale Earnhardt Jr. Stewart felt that Vickers was blocking so decided he needed moving out of the way.
On lap 87, as Stewart was racing behind Kurt Busch, Vickers let Stewart past and then pointedly knocked him around at the same turn eleven. Stewart’s car came to rest with its rear perched on top a tyre wall and that’s where his race ended. Vickers was unrepentant afterwards, feeling that if Stewart felt good to knock his [Vicker’s] car out of the way he should fully expect the same treatment back. Stewart, equally unrepentant, explained after that race that if even his own teammate was “blocking” him – the definition of blocking depends upon who is defining it! – he would spin him around, an interesting train of thought as Stewart is, of course, the owner of his teammate’s car!
Juan Pablo Montoya was another to trigger a three car wreck, taking out Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. If these past couple of months have given us nothing else they have certainly set the scene for some moments of payback over the rest of the season and those who know how it is done will be dishing out the revenge when it hurts their nemesis most.
It was announced just before the weekend that Red Bull is pulling completely out of NASCAR racing at the end of this season. The consensus opinion is that NASCAR is failing to attract the 18 to 34 year old males which is the target group for the drinks outfit. Kasey Kahne was driving for the team for this season only having already secured a drive with Rick Hendrick’s team for 2012, but Brian Vickers will now be hoping to find a drive for next season unless, as was suggested at the time of the announcement, Red Bull manage to find investors prepared to take over the team.
With several drivers having contracts coming up for renewal at the end of this year it was thought that one or two of them were seriously looking at a drive for Red Bull next year, Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer being two of the names most mentioned. It would seem that Bowyer is now trying to negotiate an extension to his contract at Richard Childress Racing especially as there are really no drives in the teams of the serious contenders available for next year unless Carl Edwards does the unthinkable and leaves Roush Fenway Racing.
And it was Roush Fenway who announced the loss of the other major sponsor, Crown Royal, who have been sponsoring Matt Kenseth since 2010 and have been supporting Roush Fenway drivers since the end of 2004.
This weekend sees both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series having their return visit to Daytona, this time for night races. You can expect more of the duetting as the drivers pair up for bump drafting around the super speedway.