Everything you need to know about Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol

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Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s all the important numbers and notes you need to know going into this coming weekend’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway – round 4 of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

BRISTOL-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Greg Biffle (No. 16 Meguiar’s Ford)
· Six top fives, 12 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 12.0
· Average Running Position of 12.7, third-best
· Driver Rating of 94.8, fifth-best
· 318 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· 764 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 115.009 mph, fourth-fastest
· 6,393 Laps in the Top 15 (70.9%), third-most
· 483 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), fifth-most

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· Five wins, seven top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 14.0
· Average Running Position of 14.3, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 92.0, sixth-best
· 338 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
· 850 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.978 mph, sixth-fastest
· 5,657 Laps in the Top 15 (62.8%), seventh-most
· 480 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Skittles Toyota)
· Five wins, eight top fives, 12 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 9.9
· Average Running Position of 13.0, fourth-best
· Series-best Driver Rating of 101.8
· Series-high 585 Fastest Laps Run
· Average Green Flag Speed of 115.066 mph, third-fastest
· 6,008 Laps in the Top 15 (66.7%), fifth-most
· 456 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
· One win, seven top fives, 14 top 10s
· Average finish of 11.5
· Average Running Position of 13.6, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 89.3, 10th-best
· Series-high 1,003 Green Flag Passes
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.918 mph, seventh-fastest
· 5,656 Laps in the Top 15 (62.8%), eighth-most
· 485 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 Kelloggs/ Frosted Flakes Ford)
· Two wins, four top fives, seven top 10s; two poles
· Average finish of 15.9
· Average Running Position of 15.1, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 87.7, 12th-best
· 340 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.798 mph, 11th-fastest
· 5,590 Laps in the Top 15 (62.0%), ninth-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet)
· Five wins, 16 top fives, 23 top 10s; five poles
· Average finish of 12.3
· Series-best Average Running Position of 9.5
· Driver Rating of 101.2, third-best
· 409 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 115.110 mph, second-fastest
· Series-high 7,413 Laps in the Top 15 (82.2%)
· 523 Quality Passes, third-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota)
· One win, four top fives, seven top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 16.1
· Average Running Position of 14.9, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 90.3, eighth-best
· 382 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· 833 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.874 mph, ninth-fastest
· 4,689 Laps in the Top 15 (58.5%), 12th-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet)
· One win, nine top fives, 12 top 10s
· Average finish of 13.4
· Average Running Position of 13.6, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 89.8, ninth-best
· 285 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· 887 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.994 mph, fifth-fastest
· 5,523 Laps in the Top 15 (61.3%), 10th-most
· 406 Quality Passes, 12th-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet)
· One win, seven top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 15.3
· Average Running Position of 13.2, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 91.4, seventh-best
· 469 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.793 mph, 12th-fastest
· 6,247 Laps in the Top 15 (69.3%), fourth-most
· 411 Quality Passes, 11th-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet)
· One win, five top fives, nine top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 17.4
· Driver Rating of 87.9, 11th-best
· 399 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· 861 Green Flag Passes, fifth-most
· 4,785 Laps in the Top 15 (53.1%), 11th-most
· 443 Quality Passes, ninth-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota)
· Three wins, 11 top fives, 18 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 12.5
· Average Running Position of 10.6, second-best
· Driver Rating of 101.8, second-best
· 470 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 115.129 mph
· 7,226 Laps in the Top 15 (80.2%), second-most
· Series-high 563 Quality Passes

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
· Two wins, three top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 14.4
· Average Running Position of 13.2, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 94.9, fourth-best
· Average Green Flag Speed of 114.916 mph, eighth-fastest

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2014 Top 10 at Bristol Motor Speedway

Rank Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating
1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 28 0 1 7 14 1 11.5 89.3
2 Brad Keselowski 8 0 2 3 3 0 14.4 94.9
3 Jimmie Johnson 24 1 1 7 13 1 15.3 91.4
4 Joey Logano 10 1 0 1 2 1 19.9 77.4
5 Jeff Gordon 42 5 5 16 23 6 12.3 101.2
6 Carl Edwards 19 2 2 4 7 2 15.9 87.7
7 Matt Kenseth 28 1 3 11 18 4 12.5 101.8
8 Denny Hamlin 16 1 1 4 7 1 16.1 90.3
9 Ryan Newman 24 3 0 1 13 3 17.1 88.6
10 Kyle Busch 18 1 5 8 12 0 9.9 101.8

* – Based on last 18 races at Bristol Motor Speedway (2005 – 2013).

Bristol Motor Speedway Data
Season Race #: 4 of 36 (03-16-14)
Track Size: 0.533-miles
Banking/Turns 1 & 2: 24-28 degrees
Banking/Turns 3 & 4: 24-28 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 4-8 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 4-8 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 650 feet
Backstretch Length: 650 feet
Race Length: 500 laps / 266.5 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Bristol
Kyle Busch…………………………. 101.8
Matt Kenseth……………………….. 101.8
Jeff Gordon………………………… 101.2
Brad Keselowski……………………. 94.9
Greg Biffle……………………………. 94.8
Kurt Busch……………………………. 92.0
Jimmie Johnson…………………….. 91.4
Denny Hamlin……………………….. 90.3
Kevin Harvick………………………… 89.8
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 89.3
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Bristol

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 pole winner: Kyle Busch, Toyota, 129.535 mph, 14.813 secs. 03-15-13
2013 race winner: Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 92.206 mph, (2:53:25), 03-17-13
Track qualifying record: Kyle Busch, Toyota, 129.535 mph, 14.813 secs. 03-15-13
Track race record: Charlie Glotzbach, Chevrolet, 101.074 mph, (2:38:12), 07-11-71

Bristol Motor Speedway History
· Groundbreaking for Bristol International Speedway, as Bristol Motor Speedway was originally known, took place in 1960. The track was an exact half-mile in length.

· First NASCAR Sprint Cup race was July 30, 1961; Jack Smith won the event (with relief from Johnny Allen).

· In the fall of 1969, the track was reshaped and re-measured to .533-miles.

· The name changed to Bristol International Raceway in 1978.

· The first night race was held in the fall of 1978.

· The surface was changed from asphalt to concrete in 1992.

· The name changed to Bristol Motor Speedway in May 1996.

· The track was resurfaced between races in 2007, and the turns were ground down in 2012 to eliminate part of the progressive banking.

Bristol Motor Speedway Notebook
· There have been 106 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Bristol Motor Speedway since the first race in 1961, two races each season.

· All races have been scheduled for 500 laps, except for both races in 1976 and the second in ‘77, which were 400 laps.

· 423 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol; 295 in more than one.

· NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the series in starts at Bristol with 60. Terry Labonte leads all active drivers with 58 starts.

· Fred Lorenzen won the inaugural Coors Light Pole with a speed of 79.225 mph.

· 47 different drivers have poles at Bristol, led by Mark Martin and Cale Yarborough with nine each. Martin swept both poles at Bristol in 2009.

· The race winner has started from the pole 22 times, the most productive starting position. The last driver to win from the pole was Carl Edwards, in the night race of 2008.

· Four drivers have won from the pole position multiple times: Bobby Allison (1972 twice), Cale Yarborough (1973, 1977 twice, 1980), Darrell Waltrip (1981 twice, 1982) and Rusty Wallace (1991, 1993, 1999, 2000).

· 10 different drivers have posted consecutive poles at Bristol Motor Speedway; Mark Martin is the only of the 10 to win four consecutive poles at Bristol: Fireball Roberts (swept 1962), Fred Lorenzen (swept 1963), Richard Petty (1967-’68), Bobby Allison (swept 1972), Cale Yarborough (swept 1973; swept 1977; swept 1980), Darrell Waltrip (swept 1981), Geoff Bodine (swept 1986), Mark Martin (swept 1995-1996– all four races; and swept 2009); Rusty Wallace (swept 1998) and Jeff Gordon (swept 2002).

· Jeff Gordon leads (active drivers) the series in average starting position at Bristol with a 7.476.

· Youngest Bristol pole winner: Joey Logano (3/21/2010 – 19 years, 9 months, 25 days) – his first series career pole.

· Oldest Bristol pole winner: Harry Gant (8/27/1994 – 54 years, 7 months, 17 days).

· 41 different drivers have won at Bristol, led by Darrell Waltrip (12). Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch each have five wins, the most among active drivers.

· Junior Johnson leads the series in car owner wins at Bristol with 16; Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske and Jack Roush are tied among active car owners for the most wins at Bristol with 10 each.

· 12 drivers have won consecutive races at Bristol led by Darrell Waltrip with seven consecutive victories from 1981-1984. The other 11 are Fred Lorenzen (1963-1964 sweep), David Pearson (1968 sweep), Bobby Allison (1972 sweep), Cale Yarborough did it twice (1974 sweep and four straight from 1976-1977), Richard Petty (1975 sweep), Dale Earnhardt also did it twice (1985 sweep and 1987 sweep), Alan Kulwicki (1992 sweep), Rusty Wallace (2000 sweep), Kurt Busch (2003 sweep and 2004 spring race), Kyle Busch (2009 sweep), and Brad Keselowski (2011 fall-2012 spring).

· Youngest Bristol winner: Kyle Busch (03/25/2007 – 21 years, 10 months, 23 days).

· Oldest Bristol winner: Dale Earnhardt (08/28/1999 – 48 years, 3 months, 30 days).

· Eight different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Bristol; led by Chevrolet with 43 victories; followed by Ford with 33. Toyota is ranked fifth among Manufacturers with six wins at Bristol.

· 85 of the 106 (80.1%) races have been won from a top-10 starting position; including 53 from the first four spots.

· 35 of the 106 (33.0%) races at Bristol have been won from the front row: Pole position (22 wins); second-place (13 wins).

· Five of the 106 (4.7%) races have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.

· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started was 38th, by Elliott Sadler; in 2001.

· Richard Petty leads the series in runner-up finishes at Bristol with 10; Kevin Harvick and Terry Labonte lead all active drivers with four each.

· Darrell Waltrip and Richard Petty lead the series in top-five finishes at Bristol with 26 each. Terry Labonte leads the series among active drivers with 19 followed by Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin (16).

· Richard Petty has 37 top-10 finishes, more than any other driver. Terry Labonte leads the series among active drivers in top-10 finishes with 33; followed by Jeff Gordon with 23.

· Kyle Busch leads the series (active drivers) in average finish at Bristol with a 9.889.

· Seven of the last nine races have ended with a Margin of Victory of less than a second at BMS.

· There has been three green-white-checkered finishes at Bristol – all three were the spring race: 2007 (500/504); 2008 (500/506); 2009 (500/503).

· Two of the 106 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Bristol Motor Speedway have been shortened due to weather conditions; the most recent was the event on 3/31/1996.

· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway three times; most recently August 25, 2012.

· Kurt Busch posted his first series career win at Bristol (2002), and Joey Logano won his first pole at Bristol (2010).

· All 15 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers who have won at Bristol Motor Speedway participated in at least two or more races before visiting Victory Lane – among the active winners Kurt Busch won in the fewest starts (third) at Bristol.

· Jeff Burton competed at Bristol Motor Speedway 28 times before winning (2008 spring race); the longest span of any the 15 active winners. Burton is the only active driver to have made 20 or more attempts before his first win at BMS. Kasey Kahne, who won in the spring of 2012 made 18 previous starts before his win at BMS.

· Bobby Labonte leads the series (active drivers) with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Bristol without visiting Victory Lane with 42.

· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Bristol was the 3/25/2007 race won by Kyle Busch with a MOV of 0.064 second.

· Two female drivers have made NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Bristol: Janet Guthrie and Danica Patrick.

· Four car numbers have produced eight or more Bristol NSCS wins: No. 11, 19 wins (most recent – Denny Hamlin, 2012); No. 2, 12 wins (Brad Keselowski, 2012); No. 17, 8 wins (Matt Kenseth, 2006); and No. 3, 8 wins (Dale Earnhardt Sr., 1999)

NASCAR in Tennessee
· There have been 167 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Tennessee: 106 at Bristol Motor Speedway, 42 at Nashville Speedway, 12 at Smokey Mountain Raceway in Maryville, 2 at Chattanooga International Raceway, and 2 at Tennessee-Carolina Speedway in Newport.

· 104 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Tennessee.

· 14 drivers from Tennessee have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series.

  • Darrell Waltrip (84 Cup, 13 Nationwide)
  • Sterling Marlin (10 Cup, 2 Nationwide)
  • Bobby Hamilton (4 Cup, 1 Nationwide, 10 Truck)
  • Joe Lee Johnson (2 Cup)
  • Trevor Bayne (1 Cup, 2 Nationwide)
  • Paul Lewis (1 Cup)
  • Bobby Hamilton Jr. (5 Nationwide)
  • Jeff Purvis (4 Nationwide)
  • L.D. Ottinger (3 Nationwide)
  • Mike Alexander (2 Nationwide)
  • Casey Atwood (2 Nationwide)
  • Brad Teague (1 Nationwide)
  • Chad Chaffin (2 Truck)
  • John King (1 Truck)

Kimball, Chilton quiet but solid at Road America

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While Scott Dixon scored victory for Chip Ganassi Racing, two of the team’s other drivers enjoyed quietly solid days at the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America.

Charlie Kimball, in need of a strong finish after being stricken with bad luck so far in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, scored his best finish of the year with a fine run to sixth place. While he was never a part of the battle for victory, he was “best of the rest” for most of the day and enjoyed a solid, mistake-free run.

“Overall a really solid day for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team,” Kimball said afterward. Though he admitted tire management in the race’s third stint hampered his efforts, he was more than pleased with the end result.

“That third stint, I don’t think I managed the Firestone alternates as well as some of the guys around me,” Kimball revealed. “You saw that with (Will Power) with a better in and out lap. That was disappointing, because I think we could have maybe had a shot at a top five. Overall though, to fight off some competitors for that last stint after the final yellow felt good and it felt good to bring it home in sixth for the guys. Kind of a semi-trouble free weekend and pretty happy with it.”

Teammate Max Chilton, too, scored a solid ten finish, the Briton finishing ninth. However, unlike Kimball, Chilton lamented not being able to finish higher on a circuit where he feels very comfortable.

Max Chilton during qualifying for the Kohler Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s not how we wanted it, especially after how quick we were (in the morning warmup),” said Chilton, who started seventh and was second fastest in the morning warmup. Like Kimball, he struggled with tire management, and an untimely caution when he was on the primary black tires put paid to his chances of a better finish.

“Something just wasn’t working for us. On a set of reds, we were struggling massively and then we went to the blacks, which would’ve been alright, but then the safety car came out and everyone else had longer life on the reds and I was struggling again.”

With the Kohler Grand Prix in the books, Chilton currently sits 11th in the championship, three points behind tenth-place Ed Jones, while Kimball remains 18th, 72 points outside the top ten.

Mahindra to give M4Electro Formula E car public debut at Goodwood

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Mahindra Racing will debut its new car for the fourth Formula E season, the M4Electro, at the famous Goodwood Festival of Speed later this week as part of a bid to beat the existing open-wheel electric record for the hillclimb.

As part of its preparations for season four of Formula E, set to start in Hong Kong at the beginning of December, Mahindra has already hit the track with the M4Electro in private testing.

Full-season drivers Felix Rosenqvist and Nick Heidfeld have both completed running in the car, while Indian actress Gul Panag has also taken part in a test.

Heidfeld will give the M4Electro its first public outing at Goodwood and look to become the first driver to hold two records at the hillclimb.

The German driver holds the overall hillclimb record of 41.6 seconds at Goodwood, set back in 1999 in a McLaren MP4/13 Formula 1 car.

“We’re excited to bring Nick and the M4Electro to Goodwood in a bid to set the fastest open-wheel electric record on the hillclimb,” Mahindra team boss Dilbagh Gill said.

“We are always looking to push the boundaries as a team and we couldn’t think of a better way to introduce the season four challenger to fans and automotive enthusiasts alike than at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.”

Qualcomm named title partner for New York Formula E race

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FIA Formula E has announced that technology company Qualcomm will be the title partner for the upcoming New York City ePrix as the all-electric series gears up to hit the United States in three weeks’ time.

New York City will play host to its first motorsport event in Red Hook on July 15-16, acting as the penultimate round of Formula E’s third season.

Qualcomm has been a key partner for Formula E since the series’ inception in 2014, and will now act as the New York race’s title partner after acquiring the naming rights, as announced on Monday. The event will be formally called the ‘Qualcomm New York City ePrix’.

“As one of our founding partners – and now for the first time a race title partner for one of the most anticipated races of the season – Qualcomm Technologies’ continued support and commitment to Formula E has been instrumental,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said.

“We share many of the same values in the field of innovation and technology transfer, which we’ve already seen with unique wireless charging concepts.

“I’m looking forward to making history in New York by bringing Formula E to the Big Apple for the first time – it’s going to be an unmissable event.”

Derek Aberle, president of Qualcomm Incorporated, added: “Qualcomm inventions enable widespread innovation, just as motorsport fuels the evolution of the automotive industry.

“Formula E, including this Qualcomm ePrix race in New York City, is a great testbed for our automotive breakthroughs such as wireless electric vehicle charging.

“We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Formula E to promote the benefits of the latest vehicle technologies as cars become more connected, autonomous and electric.”

DiZinno: Dixon toppling Penske highlights nice Road America encore

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The sequel is often harder to duplicate than the original, so the second year of the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America was always going to be a test case to prove last year’s “oh my goodness, IndyCar at Road America is back!!” vibe wasn’t a one-off.

Similar to the Indianapolis 500, while 2016 was always going to be a special event, the 2017 event matched it in awesomeness, even with a slight reduction in crowd.

With that as a backdrop, here’s some takeaways from the weekend:

DIXON SLAYS PENSKE’S QUARTET

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Because IndyCar often dwells so much on its history – which often serves as a crutch for IndyCar’s future – it is sometimes hard to appreciate the history being made as we speak.

In Scott Dixon’s latest historic act, winning his 41st career race to move within one of Michael Andretti for third on IndyCar’s all-time win list, he singlehandedly toppled the Team Penske quartet in the process.

A well-timed caution for him and being on the right tires – Dixon had Firestone red alternates on while combatant Josef Newgarden was on the black primaries – paid dividends. Dixon promptly delivered one of the overtakes of the season following the Lap 31 restart, basically taking Newgarden’s earlier around-the-outside pass for the lead at Turn 1 of Helio Castroneves and saying “hey, I can do this too.”

The combination of the strategy with Mike Hull, in his 25th anniversary weekend with Ganassi, and Dixon’s pace on track delivered an overdue first win of the year. It was such a big win, and extended his points lead to 34 in the process, he even did donuts after the race.

“He’s a calm person. I can get pretty worked up at some points throughout the races,” Dixon said. “It’s nice to have that sort of level-head person on the stand to extract the most out of everybody that’s on there.

“His knowledge and experience that he’s had, you know, in racing, I don’t know how long he’s been in racing, it’s got to be a long time if he’s been at one team for 25 years, we win and lose as a team. All but one race victory has been with this team. Mike’s a very large instrumental piece of, you know, Chip’s team and the success that they’ve had.

“It’s very gratifying. They looked pretty disappointed. It was nice to get a victory. As far as road courses go, this was going to be one of the more difficult ones for us because of the long straights and the drag that we have.”

The win also came after Dixon missed the morning warmup owing to a fuel pump issue, but the team got it resolved.

Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate good deadpan but Dixon nailed that after the race, too.

“I did not fix it, which is a good thing, because we probably wouldn’t have started the race!” he laughed.

PENSKE’S LOST CHANCE

Helio Castroneves led early at Road America. Photo: IndyCar

Between a disappointed Josef Newgarden, a dehydrated Helio Castroneves, a seemingly invisible Simon Pagenaud and an occasionally erratic Will Power, Team Penske’s dominant weekend ended without first place when it mattered most.

Newgarden looked the best of the bunch while Castroneves lost out on strategy – he pitted too early in the final sequence – while Pagenaud and Power faded from contention. Power got one penalty assessed and ordered to give up one position to Pagenaud for a move earlier in the race and ultimately finished behind him, on a day when “the incident involving Car 12 and Car XX” was said repeatedly. Pagenaud, as has been his strength this year, banked another solid top-five finish without generating major headlines to do so.

A TRIO OF UNDER-THE-RADAR GOOD DAYS

In sixth, seventh and ninth, Charlie Kimball, Ed Jones and Max Chilton got needed results. Kimball’s penchant for poor luck finally turned as he hoped it would going into the weekend. Jones, again, continued to overachieve for Dale Coyne Racing – this time wearing a Walter Payton Chicago Bears tribute helmet and having overcome a major piece of debris hitting his left front wing. Chilton fell to ninth from seventh but banked his fourth top-10 finish in the last six races. For a driver who only had two all of last year, that’s moving in the right direction.

GOOD CROWD ONCE AGAIN

Thanks to Chevrolet for a pre-race ride in one of its event cars, driven by USF2000 regular Ayla Agren – Road America is a big Chevrolet track – I had a good view of the crowd in the final moments before this year’s race kicked off. Between the grandstands and hillsides, there were plenty of fans and just as many campers.

It’d be hard to call this year’s race day crowd as big as last year’s but even if it was down slightly, it was still very good.

MAZDA MOTORSPORTS MANIA

Eight of the additional races this weekend were from the Andersen Promotions operated and INDYCAR sanctioned, Mazda-powered series. With all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires here for two races each, plus two Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires races on the docket, fans and paddock observers had a chance to witness a festival of “driving matters” on display at RA.

They were largely entertaining. Saturday’s second Pro Mazda race nearly witnessed Victor Franzoni complete a last-to-first comeback, and end disappointed after being beat by sparring partner Anthony Martin. Just like in USF2000 last year when Martin and Parker Thompson battled for the title, it will be hard to see one of them lost the title. Both Indy Lights races had huge margin of victories and surprising Carlin drivers winning (Matheus Leist and Zachary Claman De Melo) but great action throughout the field. Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser continues to drive like a champion-in-waiting; his race craft has grown by leaps and bounds in the last two years. And in USF2000, Rinus VeeKay delivered on his season-long potential with the only weekend sweep in a dream weekend for Augie Pabst’s Pabst Racing time. The likable young Dutchman, who is still only 16, was able to celebrate with both his own and with Pabst’s family this weekend. Teammates Calvin Ming and Lucas Kohl also scored podiums.

MX-5 Cup? Two photo finishes showcased that series’ racing at this track like few others on the calendar. Patrick Gallagher and Nathanial Sparks each used last lap, last turn moves to net their wins.

PWC’S POPULAR WINNERS… 

Elkhart Lake, WI – Jun 23, 2017: The Pirelli World Challenge racers take to the track on Pirelli tires during the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix at Road America presented by VP Racing Fuels at the Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI.

Panoz winning a sports car race is cool. As Ian James said on Saturday, few have given as much to sports car racing in North America, and for that matter the world, what Don Panoz has. So seeing Panoz’s latest wild GT creation tame Road America for a double win with James driving was not just a highlight for the driver, but also the Tom Milner-led team, who’ve been through a lot over the years with either uncompetitive or unreliable past cars.

A Panoz sports car was last a winner with the old Esperante GT2 in 2006, its Le Mans class win that year the car’s ultimate highlight. And with James’ weekend sweep, it continued PWC GTS’ crazy run of different drivers, teams and manufacturers sweeping the weekend – now five different drivers, teams and manufacturers in as many weekends, over 10 races. Yet it’s the one driver who hasn’t won, Lawson Aschenbach in the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R, who still leads the points.

GT saw the perfect balance of Fong and Long on top. Adderly Fong took his first PWC win in his No. 88 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3 on Saturday while Patrick Long rebounded in his No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R on Sunday. The two were second in the races they didn’t win, with Cadillac splitting its two drivers – Michael Cooper and Johnny O’Connell – in third.

… BALANCED BY WEEKEND SCHEDULE ANGST

The good news this weekend was that there was a lot of action on track. The bad news for competitors in certain paddocks was that that “lot of action” meant awkward or bad track times. Pirelli World Challenge, in particular, had a brutal weekend schedule that may threaten the combination of PWC and IndyCar on the same weekend going forward for 2018 and beyond, IndyCar having been confirmed for June 23-24 here next year.

PWC already lost its Touring Car classes from the weekend compared to 2016 going in, with MX-5 as the replacement. A handful of invitational TC cars were added to the GTS races. The majority of PWC sessions were held Thursday with the GT and GTS/TC classes only having one session each on Friday, a qualifying and a race apiece on Saturday, and a second race apiece on Sunday.

Several competitors voiced their displeasure over this this weekend, and it was the latest sign of PWC’s growing pains as it works to evolve into a marquee, standalone series beyond being an excellent supporting act on IndyCar weekends. The fact for the second time this year that Sunday’s second GT race was not shown on a live web stream despite being advertised as such did not help matters, either, as a same day delay TV broadcast did occur for a smaller audience.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

  • The first murmurs of IndyCar silly season started to emerge this weekend with an AutoWeek report that hinted Andretti Autosport could be on the move from Honda to Chevrolet next season. While it would not be a surprise to see team and manufacturer movement next year – and there are whispers of multiple teams doing just that – it would be a surprise to see that starting so soon. Several drivers could do with improved results too in the coming races as contracts start to get looked at for 2018.
  • Robert Wickens handled his abnormal situation as well as he could. The Canadian had to deal with wondering whether he’d get to keep racing into the weekend after substituting for Mikhail Aleshin on Friday at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. It’d be nice to see Wickens earn a proper opportunity for a full weekend later this year, and it’s worth noting the DTM calendar and IndyCar’s remaining road and street course races don’t have any clashes…
  • Birthday weekends at race tracks are amazing, but exhausting. The amount of kind words and gestures were overwhelming though this weekend, as was what I think was a joint operation between INDYCAR, Road America and several media colleagues to surprise me with a cake in the media center on Friday evening was very flattering. I’m not sure where the “LaVern” came from, but the #BlameTony hashtag – a running joke going six years on – was a fun touch. Thanks to all.
  • It was also fun to call Sunday’s second Indy Lights race from the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network booth. Seeing the behind-the-scenes operation of how radio works as the crew puts everything together is like an orchestra. Coincidentally, IndyCar Radio regular Jake Query led NBCSN’s Indy Lights coverage this weekend, as Kevin Lee gets to call additional Verizon IndyCar Series races as lead announcer and host.

The Verizon IndyCar Series is off until Iowa; Pirelli World Challenge races next at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires is split between its next races at Iowa (Indy Lights, USF2000) and Mid-Ohio (Pro Mazda) and MX-5 resumes next in Toronto.