After numerous rain showers forced Kentucky Speedway and NASCAR officials to throw in the towel last night, the Quaker State 400 finally got underway this afternoon under partly cloudy skies and in front of a decent but noticeably thinner crowd.
Carl Edwards immediately took the lead from pole sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. and led all the way up to the Lap 30 competition caution that was announced prior to last night’s rainout. “Cousin Carl” then brought the leaders down pit road for service, but Earnhardt and teammate/Sprint Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson managed to beat Edwards out after they all opted for two-tire stops.
Earnhardt took the Lap 36 restart on the outside lane above Johnson and managed to hold off the five-time Cup champion in a brief battle for the lead. But three laps later, the yellow flew again after a flat tire came apart for Denny Hamlin as he was traveling on the pit access road between Turns 3 and 4. The rubber then went through the grass and hit Earnhardt’s car, then Johnson’s at speed in Turn 4, triggering the race’s second caution period.
Both of them sustained visible front-end damage, but the Hendrick Motorsports duo opted to keep their track positions and led the field back to green at Lap 43. However, almost immediately, Caution No. 3 came along as Kyle Busch spun coming out of Turn 2 while running fifth, causing the field behind him to scatter quickly. Luckily, they were able to evade him and Busch was able to get back going.
Johnson managed to take the lead through all of that and on a Lap 47 restart, he quickly pulled away from Earnhardt, who fell back into the pack. As that was happening, Brad Keselowski (pictured), running 10th at the time, was turned around by Kurt Busch, who was on the tri-oval apron attempting to make the pass. Keselowski then came up the track in Turn 1, where he was hit from behind by an oncoming Greg Biffle. The incident collected seven cars in all and forced the red flag to fly at Lap 49.
“I knew I needed to get to the bottom but my car was a little bit loose getting into [Turn 1] and I just had nowhere to go,” Biffle told TNT afterwards. “I just couldn’t get it turned down to miss [Keselowski].”
TNT later replayed radio transmissions from Kurt Busch, who said the transition from the apron to the banked tri-oval straight caused him to slide into Keselowski, and Jeff Gordon, who called for NASCAR to ban use of the apron.
Keselowski and Travis Kvapil have been checked and released from the infield care center following the wreck.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.