Kyle Busch’s bid for a fifth consecutive spring race win at Richmond International Raceway was put into danger twice in the late stages of last night’s Toyota Owners 400. He escaped the first calamity, but couldn’t get out of a second one.
Busch had been quiet for the first half of the race, but appeared set to contend once again at Richmond when he took the point from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth at Lap 253. He was solidly in the Top 5 when Travis Kvapil drew his second caution of the night at Lap 309 with a blown motor (he had also brought out the yellow at Lap 294 for hitting the wall).
But shortly after Busch pitted, NASCAR initially hit him with a penalty, stating that he had not made it inside the commitment line entering pit road. Busch was set to go back to the tail end of the longest line. However, upon further review, NASCAR rescinded the penalty after replays showed that he had indeed put two tires on the line.
That allowed him to restart sixth, but instead of advancing, Busch fell back multiple spots on the green flag run before being collected in an incident involving Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson on Lap 326. Stewart had gotten loose and tagged Johnson, who then slid back down the track and left Busch with nowhere to go except into his car.
Repairs could only do so much for Busch, who came home 24th and saw his Richmond spring streak end.
“We got behind several guys with no tires on one of the restarts and everyone was fighting for the bottom, and I just got freight-trained and shuffled back,” said Busch. “Then Tony and Jimmie wrecked in front of me, and I tried to get to the bottom and I had nowhere to go. We had a really good race car, and once we got out front there, things were looking good.
“Just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that was it for our night.”
Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks
Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.
As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.
In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.
Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.
Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.
Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.
He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.
Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.
However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.
“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”
The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.
However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.
“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.
“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”
The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.
AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.
Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.
Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.
“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.
“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”