(Photo by Alan Marler for Chevrolet)

Earnhardt finishes third, regains points lead at Martinsville, laments Letarte’s tenure drawing shorter

Leave a comment

With so much emphasis on Kurt Busch winning and Jimmie Johnson finishing second in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was practically a forgotten man.

As it turned out, though, Earnhardt had a strong day.

Not only did he finish third in the race, he regained the points lead in the Sprint Cup Series standings, knocking Carl Edwards off the top spot after just a one-week reign.

Since winning the season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt has now led the series after four of the first six races.

“We ran third today because we got great teammates that understand how to get around here and put good cars on the track, and we lean on that,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been a great experience seeing it happen, and I’m sure that one of us would have loved to have won that race for Rick.”

Earnhardt was like teammates Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne, wanting to win Sunday, which would have been the 220th Sprint Cup race win for Hendrick Motorsports, its 22nd at Martinsville and would have successfully marked the 30th anniversary of HMS’s first-ever NASCAR win on April 29, 1984 at Martinsville.

Likewise, Earnhardt continues to chase his first win at Martinsville, still not having reached victory lane in 29 career starts there – or earning Martinsville’s unique prize to race winners of a grandfather’s clock.

“We’ll get more opportunities to win more races and I’m just frustrated I’ve been chasing the clock here for so long,” Earnhardt said. “Hopefully one of these days it’ll work out.”

Like Johnson said after the race, Earnhardt also gave it all he had in the closing laps, but still came up short.

“I was losing my car pretty fast there the last five laps, so I didn’t have anything else to get there,” Earnhardt said. “I got a couple lapped guys gave me the outside instead of the inside. That cost me a little time and maybe some wear and tire on my tires. I thought when we passed the 22 (Joey Logano), we might be able to roll up there and get in the middle of the race for that win, but no, those guys’ cars, they were pretty good.”

Interestingly, crew chief Steve Letarte apologized to Earnhardt in the final 40 laps for constantly reminding him to be patient and take it easy as the race closed in on the finish.

While Earnhardt appreciated Letarte’s concern, it also seemed to hit him yet again that this will be Letarte’s last season as his crew chief. Letarte will leave Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports at the end of this season to become an analyst on NASCAR on NBC telecasts next season.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s exactly what ran through my mind when he said that, when he was saying I’m probably getting on your nerves,” Earnhardt said. “I’m thinking, man, I’m just going to bring it on because I’ll be missing this next year. There’s nobody like him. I don’t expect the next guy to come in there and mimic him or be like him. We’ll work that out and communicate like we need to communicate going forward.

“But yeah, he does a great job of keeping my mind focused on the tasks. There’s several different things you’re doing in the car during a run, and you can easily get yourself carried away and race a guy and forget taking care of your car and taking care of your left-rear tire. It’s easy to get swept up in the competition of things, and (Letarte’s) good at sort of cheerleading you along the way and running the show. He does a good job on top of the box.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

NHRA Countdown battle tightens: Langdon, Beckman, Laughlin, Savoie win at St. Louis

Sunday's NHRA winners near St. Louis (from left): Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
(Photo and videos courtesy of NHRA)
Leave a comment

With two races down and now just four remaining, the 2016 NHRA Countdown to the Championship is shaping up to be one of the closest battles in the playoffs’ 10-year history.

Not only did teams tighten the bolts on their respective rides this weekend, the points standings tightened up considerably with the results of Sunday’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

Sunday’s winners were: Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), “Fast Jack” Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Here’s recaps of how each pro category played out:

In Top Fuel, Langdon earned his third victory of the season and jumped to fourth in the standings, less than 80 points behind series leader and defending series champion Antron Brown.

Langdon (3.798 seconds at 323.66 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate and eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher (3.783 seconds at 317.49 mph) in the final round to take the event victory.

It was Langdon’s 14th career win in Top Fuel and his first at Gateway. The biggest key for the 2013 Top Fuel world champion was beating Brown in the first round Sunday, followed up by wins over Doug Kalitta and No. 1 qualifier Richie Crampton before facing Schumacher.

“We didn’t really have a dominant car in qualifying, but we just kept picking away at it,” said Langdon, whose other wins thus far this season came at Bristol, Tenn., and Norwalk, Ohio. “That’s what we’ve been doing since we got those two victories (earlier this year). The car has just responded well.

“All in all, this was a great team effort. The whole team did a great job and gave me a great racecar today.”

Despite his early exit, Brown remains the points leader in Top Fuel, but saw his lead shrink over second-ranked Kalitta to just 13 points.

In Funny Car, Beckman avenged early first-round exits in the previous two races – Indianapolis and Charlotte – and lived up to his nickname indeed.

Having qualified No. 2, Beckman (3.928 seconds at 324.51 mph) defeated fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Joe Johnson (4.185 seconds at 231.40 mph) to capture the Funny Car class win.

It was Beckman’s 24th career win, his second win of 2016 (also won at Chicago) and his second career win at Gateway. He is seeking his second Funny Car world championship in the last five seasons, having done so in 2012.

Beckman made a huge jump up in the standings after the win, going from eighth coming into this weekend’s race to third place, now just 70 points behind series leader Ron Capps.

Aiding in that big points jump for Beckman were quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Charlotte winner and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force and Capps, respectively.

“Our team was in a slump and we did what was incredibly difficult with the way our car was acting unpredictably,” Beckman said. “I’m not quite sure what changed, but I think I had a good outing as a driver today, the guys tuned smart and we turned on the win-light every time.”

Johnson, who has one win thus far in 2016 (Bristol, Tennessee), made his fourth final round of the season. In doing so, he jumped to No. 2 in the points, now just 48 points behind Capps.

In Pro Stock, Laughlin – who did not qualify for the Countdown – earned his first career victory in the class.

Laughlin (6.611 seconds at 208.68 mph) defeated Bo Butner (6.637 seconds at 209.26 mph) in the final round. The way it turned out, no matter who won would have been a first-time winner, as Butner has reached the final round five times this season and six overall in his career, but has yet to reach victory lane.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Laughlin said. “It’s not even real at this point. This has got to be a dream. The whole day has been a blur.

“Took it one round at a time and ended up coming up to the final. I was a little nervous but took a couple deep breaths and told myself, ‘It’s just like any other round, just go up there and do your deal.’ As soon as I let the clutch out, I knew my crew chief gave me a good car.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Savoie (6.933 seconds at 189.36 mph) defeated Angelle Sampey, who fouled at the starting line when she red-lighted.

Savoie, a Louisiana alligator farmer, earned his first win of the season (in four final round appearances), the fifth of his career and his second at St. Louis. He also jumped up to fourth in the PSM point standings.

“You go to the finals four times and win one, but out here the competition is so strong and it takes a little bit of luck,” Savoie said. “We got some luck in the finals. Losing hurts so bad, but winning feels so good. My team is a great team. Our bike is really consistent and we’ve had some issues, but today was our day.”

Even though she lost in the final round, Sampey still received a consolation prize of sorts, moving up to second in the PSM point standings.

The next race, which will take the Countdown to its midpoint, will be this coming weekend’s (Sept. 29-Oct. 2) Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Shawn Langdon; 2.  Tony Schumacher; 3.  J.R. Todd; 4.  Richie Crampton; 5.  Pat Dakin; 6.  Doug Kalitta; 7.  Leah Pritchett; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Clay Millican; 10.  Antron Brown; 11.  Kebin Kinsley; 12.  Steve Torrence; 13.  Wayne Newby; 14.  Kyle Wurtzel; 15.  Terry McMillen; 16.  Chris Karamesines.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Jack Beckman; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3.  Tim Wilkerson; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Robert Hight; 6. Matt Hagan; 7.  John Force; 8.  Courtney Force; 9.  Alexis DeJoria; 10.  Del Worsham; 11.  Brian Stewart; 12.  Dale Creasy Jr.; 13.  Chad Head; 14.  Cruz Pedregon; 15.  John Hale; 16.  John Bojec.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Alex Laughlin; 2.  Bo Butner; 3.  Shane Gray; 4.  Jason Line; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6.  Vincent Nobile; 7.  Chris McGaha; 8.  Drew Skillman; 9.  Allen Johnson; 10.  Jeg Coughlin; 11.  Aaron Strong; 12.  Deric Kramer; 13.  Erica Enders; 14.  Alan Prusiensky; 15.  Mark Hogan; 16.  Dave River.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Jerry Savoie; 2.  Angelle Sampey; 3.  Chip Ellis; 4.  Cory Reed; 5.  Matt Smith; 6.  Hector Arana; 7.  Eddie Krawiec; 8.  Andrew Hines; 9.  Hector Arana Jr; 10.  LE Tonglet; 11.  Steve Johnson; 12.  Jim Underdahl; 13.  Angie Smith; 14.  Karen Stoffer; 15.  Melissa Surber; 16.  Joe DeSantis.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Shawn Langdon, 3.798 seconds, 323.66 mph  def. Tony Schumacher, 3.783 seconds, 317.49 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.928, 324.51  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.611, 208.68  def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.933, 189.36  def. Angelle Sampey, Buell, Foul – Red Light.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.756, 324.44 def. Clay Millican, 3.760, 327.82; Leah Pritchett, 4.009, 282.95 def. Wayne Newby, 4.977, 159.40; Tony Schumacher, 3.785, 322.96 def. Chris Karamesines, Foul – Red Light; Richie Crampton, 3.810, 322.81 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.909, 302.96; Doug Kalitta, 3.751, 328.22 def. Terry McMillen, 6.426, 105.64; J.R. Todd, 3.818, 320.28 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 5.595, 119.26; Shawn Langdon, 3.771, 325.53 def. Antron Brown, 3.774, 320.20; Pat Dakin, 3.779, 324.98 def. Steve Torrence, 4.405, 186.28; QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.767, 321.42 def. Pritchett, 4.183, 215.55; Todd, 3.798, 319.22 def. Dakin, 3.827, 316.90; Crampton, 3.783, 322.42 def. Force, 4.515, 200.11; Langdon, 3.782, 322.27 def. Kalitta, 3.861, 310.91; SEMIFINALS — Langdon, 3.784, 322.27 def. Crampton, 3.844, 317.79; Schumacher, 3.757, 326.71 def. Todd, 3.802, 322.04; FINAL — Langdon, 3.798, 323.66 def. Schumacher, 3.783, 317.49.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.909, 327.66 def. John Hale, Dodge Charger, 11.042, 70.12; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.042, 309.27 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.076, 298.93; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.944, 320.74 def. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, Broke; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.984, 318.32 def. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 4.024, 316.45; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.934, 327.43 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 8.729, 86.18; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.953, 323.27 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.575, 183.72; John Force, Camaro, 3.958, 327.43 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.989, 320.28; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.940, 321.65 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.985, 323.35; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.930, 322.42 def. Hight, 3.938, 325.37; Wilkerson, 3.928, 316.52 def. Hagan, 3.948, 326.40; Capps, 3.976, 320.05 def. C. Force, 4.100, 257.73; Beckman, 3.978, 318.17 def. J. Force, 3.961, 324.83; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.954, 319.60 def. Capps, 4.112, 285.71; Johnson Jr., 3.937, 323.04 def. Wilkerson, 3.993, 283.97; FINAL — Beckman, 3.928, 324.51 def. Johnson Jr., 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.646, 208.49 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.82; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.632, 208.46 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.667, 206.70; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.609, 209.43 def. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.699, 206.35; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.641, 208.75 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.684, 206.57; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.627, 209.49 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.769, 203.98; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.619, 208.91 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.966, 198.06; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.625, 209.01 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.806, 202.06; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.635, 209.23 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.696, 205.98; QUARTERFINALS — Laughlin, 6.643, 208.59 def. Nobile, 6.655, 208.33; Butner, 6.656, 208.52 def. McGaha, 6.664, 207.56; Gray, 6.629, 209.01 def. Skillman, 6.676, 208.07; Line, 6.637, 208.49 def. Anderson, 6.645, 208.39; SEMIFINALS — Butner, 6.678, 207.75 def. Line, 6.627, 208.78; Laughlin, 6.634, 208.75 def. Gray, 6.623, 209.10; FINAL — Laughlin, 6.611, 208.68 def. Butner, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.887, 194.77 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.926, 191.16; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.948, 194.35 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.977, 192.19; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.890, 194.66 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.933, 194.07; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.873, 194.52 def. Angie Smith, 6.971, 189.98; Cory Reed, Buell, 6.873, 194.24 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.911, 193.79; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.911, 193.49 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.908, 194.52; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.890, 192.19 def. Joe DeSantis, Suzuki, 7.236, 179.92; Matt Smith, 6.940, 192.22 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.889, 194.60 def. M. Smith, 6.897, 191.81; Ellis, 6.895, 194.30 def. Hines, 6.941, 191.73; Reed, 6.921, 192.47 def. Krawiec, 6.925, 191.65; Sampey, 6.882, 195.08 def. Arana, 6.916, 193.96; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.922, 193.68 def. Reed, 7.022, 189.26; Sampey, 6.873, 194.94 def. Ellis, 6.884, 193.93; FINAL — Savoie, 6.933, 189.36 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,258; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,245; 3.  Tony Schumacher, 2,204; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 2,181; 5.  Brittany Force, 2,167; 6.  Steve Torrence, 2,161; 7.  J.R. Todd, 2,152; 8.  Richie Crampton, 2,127; 9.  Leah Pritchett, 2,107; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,084.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 2,273; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,225; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,203; 4.  John Force, 2,199; 5.  Del Worsham, 2,189; 6.  Matt Hagan, 2,177; 7.  Robert Hight, 2,159; 8.  Courtney Force, 2,149; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,144; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,068.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line, 2,310; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,247; 3.  Bo Butner, 2,223; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 2,185; 5.  Shane Gray, 2,167; 6.  Chris McGaha, 2,135; 7.  Allen Johnson, 2,127; 8.  Drew Skillman, 2,126; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 2,084; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,052.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,260; 2.  Angelle Sampey, 2,258; 3.  Chip Ellis, 2,243; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 2,218; 5.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,184; 6.  LE Tonglet, 2,138; 7.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,115; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,107; 9.  Cory Reed, 2,105; 10.  Matt Smith, 2,096.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

VIDEO: Recapping Formula E’s electric second season

Leave a comment

With the new Formula E campaign just two weeks away, the series has released a video recapping its electric second season as Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi battled for top honors.

Traveling all over the world from Beijing to London via Long Beach and Mexico (among others), Formula E continued to go to strength-to-strength in its second season.

The title fight is documented in this video, featuring interviews with the protagonists and many of the other drivers on the grid through last season.

The new Formula E season starts on October 9 in Hong Kong before finishing next summer in New York City, the latter’s race being launched earlier this week in Brooklyn.

Heineken would like to see Formula 1 race in Vietnam

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 09:  Heineken announces global partnership with Formula One Management. Gianluca Di Tondo, Senior Director Global Heineken Brand talks in the press conference during previews to the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2016 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty IMages
1 Comment

Heineken senior global brand director Gianluca di Tondo would like to see Formula 1 stage a race in Vietnam as part of its expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dutch beer company Heineken was announced as a new global partner for F1 over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, with its branding being visible in Montreal and at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month.

Heineken is looking to emulate its relationship with Europe’s premier soccer competition, the UEFA Champions League, in F1 through greater interaction with fans and special events.

One such event took place at Monza when a group of F1 drivers took on a Heineken all-star team in a game of soccer on the main straight of the track.

Following the takeover of F1 by American company Liberty Media Corporation, many believe an expansion of the calendar to include new markets is on the cards in the future.

“This is really touching on an important issue for us,” di Tondo said of the F1 calendar in an interview with the official F1 website.

“Heineken is super-strong in Europe – we were ‘born’ in Europe and are a European brand – but the playground for the future is Asia Pacific.

“Asia Pacific is a strategic area for us and having seven races around this area is fantastic, and the passion for Formula 1 in Asia is tangible.

“If there is program to double up in the US that, of course, is very interesting for us as the US is our biggest market. If you take it as a single market, it is still our biggest one.

“In the US it is easier to activate things that become popular – and we are open for discussions to make Formula 1 even more popular together.”

Di Tondo was asked which race he would add to the calendar if he had the choice.

“That is very simple – it is again in Asia: Vietnam,” he said.

“We are very present in Vietnam through a local partner and they were our guests in Monza and they were over the moon.

“So why not have a race in Ho Chi Minh City?”

Vandoorne: No extra pressure at McLaren despite chance of Button comeback

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 13:  Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium driving the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during F1 testing at Silverstone Circuit on July 13, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
Leave a comment

Stoffel Vandoorne believes that he will face no extra pressure during his debut Formula 1 season despite there being a chance Jenson Button will return to a McLaren seat for 2018.

McLaren announced over the Italian Grand Prix weekend that Vandoorne would be stepping up to a full-time seat for the 2017 season after spending the past year in a reserve role.

The Belgian will partner Fernando Alonso following Jenson Button’s decision to take a year out from F1 in 2017.

However, should both the driver and team be willing, Button is able to return to a McLaren seat for 2018, appearing to put pressure on Vandoorne should he not perform. The 2015 GP2 Series champion does not see it this way, though.

“No, I don’t see that situation as extra pressure. I have a long-term deal with McLaren,” Vandoorne told the official F1 website.

“Hopefully we soon will be able to get back to the competitive level where McLaren used to be.

“In terms of next year, yes it is a special structure, but I think it is one of the best. Myself and Fernando are going to race, and then it is good to keep Jenson as well.

“He is the most experienced driver in F1 now and he will be involved with the team, be it in the simulator or coming to a few races.”

“I am fully thinking about the opportunity that I get – there is no room for non-issues. I want to succeed and am very much looking forward to that.”