Greg Biffle

Greg Biffle brings home historic victory for Ford at Michigan

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Two weeks after declaring that his Roush Fenway Racing team had a “systemic problem,” Greg Biffle has delivered Ford its 1,000th victory in NASCAR with a win in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Biffle had pitted just before the final caution of the day came out on Lap 167 for Jamie McMurray blowing a right front tire and hitting the tri-oval wall. With no need to pit under yellow, Biffle was out in front on the restart with 27 laps to go and used the clean air to his advantage.

Jimmie Johnson started 10th on that restart and quickly cut through the lead pack, rising to second with nine laps to go. He had gotten the gap to Biffle down to less than a second when a tire went flat on his car with three laps to go, causing him to hit the wall and limp back to the pits.

With Johnson out of the picture and the race staying green, Biffle’s historic win for the Blue Oval was safe.

“I was really worried about that 48 [Johnson] – he’d been pretty fast,” Biffle admitted on TNT in Victory Lane. “But when this thing got in clean air, it was all over.

“Everybody’s working really hard. We’ve still got a little bit to do on our cars when we’re back in traffic, but once we get out front like Pocono last week, we’re pretty good. We just need to work on our cars a little bit. It’s not for a lack of effort.”

Meanwhile, Johnson’s late troubles ended a horrible day for Hendrick Motorsports, which saw Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne involved in crashes – Kahne’s incident coming while he had a 3.6-second lead at Lap 104 – and Dale Earnhardt Jr. losing an engine on Lap 131 after leading 34 laps.

Johnson wound up 28th at the checkers, causing all four HMS cars to finish outside of the Top 25 for the first time in a race since Sonoma in 2005.

“I hate having that problem at the end,” Johnson told TNT. “I had to run the car really hard through all those guys and I must have worn through the right-front tire and with two or three [laps] to go, it went down through Turn 1.”

Kevin Harvick collected the runner-up result thanks to Johnson’s flat tire, while Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart rounded out the Top 5. Michigan native Brad Keselowski ran out of gas on the final lap, tumbling to 12th at the finish ahead of Danica Patrick, who turned in a decent run to 13th place.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field. Finishing sixth in 2015 after a late rally was Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 6th Place, 3 Wins, 1 Pole, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 195 Laps Led, 10.2 Avg. Start, 10.9 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 6th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 4 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 71 Laps Led, 12.2 Avg. Start, 10.4 Avg. Finish

The old adage “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” would probably be the best way to sum up Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 2015 season, which until the final quarter of season could best be described as a forgettable nightmare.

The first three races seemed somewhat OK, with eighth, seventh and fourth place grid spots. But none of the three produced a result of note; Hunter-Reay was also caught up in the three-car, late race accident at NOLA Motorsports Park and didn’t bank any good finish until a fifth place at Barber the end of April.

A tailspin followed. Hunter-Reay started between 14th and 21st every race between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Milwaukee – a stretch of eight races – and only had one top-10 finish in that stint, eighth at the rain-affected lottery that was Detroit race two. Some seasons are just ones you want to end and by Milwaukee it was obvious that Hunter-Reay was racing just to get to the end of the year, without things getting any worse.

Things finally came good with a typically good drive at Iowa and arguably one of the drives of his career, two races later at Pocono, to end with two wins and extend his streak of winning a race in each of his six seasons at Andretti Autosport. It was no coincidence, either, that Hunter-Reay’s uptick in form came with the return of the late Justin Wilson’s presence in a fourth car.

After Pocono, Hunter-Reay also drove well to finish second at Sonoma, and by that point he’d completed an incredible late-season turnaround to jump from 14th to sixth in points. But if asked, he’d probably admit this was his toughest season yet at Andretti and arguably his toughest overall since his 2009 season, when he was in-between full-time rides and saw out the year with Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.