NASCAR Nationwide Series 2013 Season Review

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On one hand, the NASCAR Nationwide Series served its purpose with young drivers like 2013 champion Austin Dillon and 21-year-old Kyle Larson doing well this past year and now preparing to move up to Sprint Cup in 2014.

But on the other hand, Sprint Cup regulars continued to dominate, with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski alone winning a combined 19 of 33 races as part of their teams’ battle for the owner’s championship. And one could argue that duel took some heat from Dillon’s tight race for the driver’s title with fellow NNS regular Sam Hornish Jr.

As a result, the season had a bit of the “same ol’, same ol'” feel even though the aforementioned Dillon, Larson and Hornish, along with others such as Regan Smith, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney, did their best to keep things interesting.

Dillon’s championship came despite him not being able to win, making him the first NASCAR national series champion to earn a title without a victory. Nonetheless, he was able to make dogged consistency (13 Top-5s, 22 Top-10s, and just one DNF) work for him. Some can argue that it was unspectacular, but no one can say it wasn’t effective.

As for Hornish, he came up just three points shy of what would have been a breakthrough championship for him. The former IndyCar champion has impressed many people in his bid to maintain a place in stock car racing, and it’s been reported that he has options for next season. But a title could’ve made his off-season job hunting much easier.

Both drivers, however, found themselves at times having to conduct their championship runs almost in secret. That was because JGR’s No. 54 Toyota and Penske’s No. 22 Ford – the two teams involved in the aforementioned race for the owner’s title – were the class of the field in 2013.

The contrast was noticeable between the two sides. Busch won all 12 of the No. 54 team’s victories in 2013, while the No. 22 had four different drivers take it to Victory Lane: Keselowski (six wins), Joey Logano (three), Allmendinger (two), and Blaney (one).

In the end, the team effort won out. A sixth-place finish from Logano in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway was enough for the Penske No. 22 to win the owner’s battle by a single point over the JGR No. 54 and Busch, which finished third that day.

Meanwhile, Kyle Larson completed a solid first year of Nationwide racing to claim Rookie of the Year honors. Larson went winless, but notched 9 Top-5s and 17 Top-10s.

His ROTY award also marked a milestone for NASCAR’s sometimes-maligned “Drive for Diversity” program as Larson became the first of the program’s graduates to earn ROTY honors in a national series.

It was as good an ending to the year as Larson could’ve hoped for after how ugly it started for him – and many others.

In one of the most violent accidents in NNS history, last-lap contact between Smith and Keselowski coming to the checkered flag at Daytona triggered a horrendous crash that had Larson get airborne and then slam into the catch fence – the impact launching chunks of debris into the frontstretch grandstands.

More than 30 fans were injured, with many of them requiring hospitalization. Thankfully, all involved survived a situation that could’ve ended up much worse.

Other memorable moments included:

  • Allmendinger’s revival: Roger Penske gave him another chance and the ‘Dinger did well with it, earning two wins on the road courses at Road America and Mid-Ohio. Not long after, the former Champ Car star had his ticket back to Cup in hand with a full-time drive at JTG Daugherty.
  • BK1000: Winning a series’ 1,000th race is obviously a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing, so Keselowski should have fond memories whenever he sees his trophy from Richmond this past fall. Not that it didn’t come without controversy; runner-up Brian Scott maintained that Keselowski jumped the final restart with six laps to go. Replays appeared to back Scott’s argument, but NASCAR didn’t make a call on Keselowski.
  • Blaney’s upset: 19-year-old Ryan Blaney couldn’t have a celebratory shot of Kentucky bourbon following his first career NNS win in September at Kentucky Speedway. But we figure he didn’t mind that much. A string of late accidents kept setting up Blaney to lose the race on restarts, but the son of NASCAR/sprint car veteran Dave Blaney maintained his poise and was able to outlast Dillon in the final laps.
  • Could we speed this up?: A multi-car crash with 17 laps to go in the Homestead finale somehow led to a 12-lap caution period that saw numerous restarts called off as workers tried to clean up the mess. NASCAR’s refusal to throw the red flag was a surprise, and it didn’t help Hornish, who had only five laps to work with when the green flag did come out. Hornish finished eighth, four spots ahead of Dillon, but he was still three points shy of the NNS crown.

Gasly takes Sugo podium to stay in Super Formula title hunt

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Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly will head into the final round of the 2017 Super Formula season just half a point off the lead after finishing second at Sugo on Sunday.

Gasly, 21, was placed in the Japanese Super Formula series for this season after winning the GP2 title last year, and vaulted into contention for the title with back-to-back wins at Motegi and Autopolis.

Gasly continued his good form by taking P2 at Sugo on Sunday, having narrowly lost out to Yuhi Sekiguchi following a race-long battle.

Gasly trailed Sekiguchi through the early part of the race before extending his opening stint longer than his rival in a bid to jump ahead, only to emerge from the pits second again.

Fresher tires allowed Gasly to make serious inroads through the closing stages, but Sekiguchi held on to take his second victory of the year by just 0.2 seconds.

Kazuki Nakajima completed the podium ahead of Yuji Kunimoto, while Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist took P5 from Hiroaki Ishiura.

Ishiura heads into the season-ending double-header at Suzuka leading Gasly by just half a point in the drivers’ standings, with Rosenqvist sitting a further 4.5 points behind.

The Super Formula season rounds out on October 22 at Suzuka.

Norris made to wait for F3 title after final lap crash in Austria

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Rising British racer Lando Norris has been made to wait to secure the FIA European Formula 3 title after a crash on the final lap of Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring ensured the championship battle will go to the final round of the season.

Norris, 17, became part of Formula 1 team McLaren’s junior program earlier this year, and enjoyed his maiden test in a grand prix racer in Hungary over the summer, putting in an impressive display.

Norris has been racing in the highly-competitive FIA F3 series in Europe this year, a championship that has proved crucial in the careers for drivers such as Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi.

After finishing second earlier on Sunday, Norris needed to simply finish ahead of chief title rival Maximilian Günther in the final race of the weekend to clinch the championship with three races to spare.

Norris started second and retained his position throughout the race, only to come under pressure from Ralf Aron in the closing stages, the two drivers making contact on the last lap.

Norris was sent off the track and into the gravel, forcing him to retire from the race, and with Günther finishing fifth, the points gap was reduced to 72 with three races remaining at Hockenheim in three weeks’ time.

While a title win is still likely for Norris given just 75 are on offer, to have come so close to sealing it early will nevertheless come as a blow to the talented youngster.

Norris is set to be placed in Formula 2 by McLaren in 2018, but is poised to be a name that is spoken about for many years to come in F1.

Marquez fights to Aragon MotoGP win, opens up points lead

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Marc Marquez fought through to his fifth win of the 2017 MotoGP season in Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix, extending his lead in the riders’ championship to 16 points over Andrea Dovizioso.

A fall in qualifying meant Marquez started only fifth at Motorland Aragon, and failed to make any inroads at the start of the race, running only fourth in the early stages as Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo hit the front.

Marquez was able to slowly rise up the order, passing title rival Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and finally Lorenzo, taking the lead of the race on Lap 16.

Marquez ultimately crossed the line less than one second clear of teammate Dani Pedrosa, who continued his good record at Motorland Aragon to complete a one-two finish for Repsol Honda.

Lorenzo held on to take his second podium in Ducati colors in third, finishing ahead of Yamaha pole-sitter Maverick Viñales, who dropped to fifth on the opening lap and never recovered.

Rossi’s remarkable return to racing a little over three weeks since suffering a double leg break ended with a run to fifth at the checkered flag, having spent the early part of the race battling at the front before dropping back.

Aleix Espargaro finished sixth ahead of Dovizioso, who slipped to 16 points behind Marquez in the title race by only finishing seventh for Ducati.

Alvaro Bautista crossed the line eighth ahead of Tech3’s Johann Zarco, while Pol Espargaro completed the top 10.

MotoGP returns in three weeks’ time with the Japanese Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi.

Palmer calls breakthrough F1 points ‘a weight off the shoulders’

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Jolyon Palmer has conceded that his march to his first points of the 2017 Formula 1 season last time out in Singapore was “a weight off the shoulders” as he looks to gain momentum for the remaining six races of the season.

Palmer recorded his best finish in F1 under the lights at Marina Bay, crossing the line sixth in the first wet night race in the history of the sport.

The result came at the end of a tough weekend for Palmer that saw Renault confirm it would be dropping the Briton from its F1 line-up for 2018, drafting in Carlos Sainz Jr. from Toro Rosso.

Even without an F1 seat to save, Palmer hopes the result can mark the start of a strong run to finish his time with Renault through the final six races.

“Finally we had a smooth race, which is ironic given what was going on with the safety cars and the tricky weather conditions,” Palmer said.

“We made a good start, and the move on [Valtteri] Bottas was fun; a lot happened in the two hours. It feels
like a weight off the shoulders to get some points.

“I hope to push on now and get some more. I know I can do it.”

Should Palmer wish to remain in F1, his only realistic options lie with Williams and Sauber for 2018, although both teams are understood to be looking elsewhere.

A report from Autosport claims Williams has narrowed its shortlist to partner Lance Stroll next year down to existing driver Felipe Massa, reserve driver Paul di Resta and recent Renault tester Robert Kubica.

Ferrari youngster and runaway Formula 2 points leader Charles Leclerc looks nailed on to take one of Sauber’s seats next year, replacing Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein.

Marcus Ericsson is expected to keep his seat with Sauber for a fourth season, with Leclerc’s fellow Ferrari-backed youngster Antonio Giovinazzi seemingly the only alternative for the Swiss team.