Chase Elliott roars from 6th to the win in final 2 laps at Darlington (VIDEO)

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After his final pit stop of the night saw him drop from second to sixth, it appeared Chase Elliott’s bid for victory in his first race at Darlington Raceway was over.

But the 18-year-old dynamo was far from finished.

Coming off a restart with two laps to go in the VFW/Sport Clips Help A Hero 200, the Nationwide Series rookie raced all the way to second heading for the white flag and then overtook Elliott Sadler on the final lap to earn a stunning win on one of NASCAR’s most difficult tracks.

Sadler got loose off of Turn 2 and saved it, but that opened the door for Elliott to get next to him down the backstretch before pulling off the race-winning pass in Turn 3.

“That last restart was crazy,” said Elliott, who claimed his inaugural Nationwide win just last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. “I didn’t know what to expect starting sixth and I knew those guys on two tires were going to be a little slow than those on four.

“But it happened to work out. Our lane went and [Sadler] got a little loose on 2. I was able to get to the outside and that was where I wanted to be anyways. Unbelievable. I can’t thank these guys enough…”

Starting second, he ran behind pole sitter Kyle Busch for the first 33 laps before hunting him down for the point. He would then dominate the middle stanza of the race until a caution came out for a spinning Regan Smith on Lap 88.

The subsequent pit stops saw Busch, coming from the first stall out of the pits, leap from fifth to the lead while Elliott did the reverse and fell from the lead to fifth.

Off a restart with 48 laps left, Elliott rose up to challenge Kyle Larson for second and the two young lions made contact with one another in the process. They were able to somehow avoid crashing, but the battle enabled Busch to pull away.

Elliott finally took second with 39 to go after Larson had another brush with the wall, but now had to cut into a gap of almost three seconds to Busch.

The deficit dwindled a bit as Busch fought with a loose condition and lapped traffic, but Elliott was still about a second and a half behind until Tanner Berryhill was spun out by Larson with seven laps left to trigger the caution.

Busch brought the leaders to the pits, where he dropped to third after taking four tires while Sadler and Larson took just two to gain first and second on the track.

As for Elliott, he took four tires in what appeared to be an ill-fated stop. But as it turned out, he had one more surge left in him.

When it was all over, Elliott had once again turned the heads of the Sprint Cup elite. While racing for JR Motorsports, he is a Hendrick Motorsports development driver – and the Hendrick gang was definitely impressed.

His car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., praised Elliott and his work in post-race:

And Earnhardt’s HMS teammates also chimed in as well:

Matt Kenseth took third behind Sadler, with Busch fading to fourth and Joey Logano coming home fifth.

Elliott also extended his lead in the Nationwide Series championship to an unofficial margin of 13 points over Smith, who recovered from his earlier spin to finish eighth.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES – DARLINGTON RACEWAY
Unofficial Results
1. Chase Elliott, led 52 laps
2. Elliott Sadler, led 3 laps
3. Matt Kenseth
4. Kyle Busch, led 84 laps
5. Joey Logano
6. Kyle Larson, led 2 laps
7. Kevin Harvick, led 5 laps
8. Regan Smith
9. Trevor Bayne
10. Ty Dillon
11. Brian Scott
12. Landon Cassill
13. Ryan Reed
14. J.J. Yeley
15. Josh Wise
16. Mike Bliss
17. Mike Wallace
18. Dakoda Armstorng
19. Kevin Lepage
20. Jeffrey Earnhardt
21. Eric McClure
ONE LAP DOWN
22. Brendan Gaughan
23. Dylan Kwasniewski
TWO LAPS DOWN
24. Carlos Contreras
THREE LAPS DOWN
25. James Buescher
26. Joey Gase
27. Tanner Berryhill
FOUR LAPS DOWN
28. Todd Bodine
SIX LAPS DOWN
29. Derrike Cope
30. Tommy Joe Martins
31. Jeremy Clements, 10 laps down
32. Cale Conley, 11 laps down
33. Mike Harmon, 11 laps down
34. Chris Buescher, 28 laps down

35. David Starr, Lap 67, Accident
36. Matt Carter, Lap 30, Rear Gear
37. Ryan Sieg, Lap 16, Accident
38. Matt Dibenedetto, Lap 7, Overheating
39. Jeff Green, Lap 6, Brakes
40. Blake Koch, Lap 2, Vibration

Red Bull GRC: Switched-up field seeks to topple Speed, VW, Andretti

Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross kicks off its season this week from Memphis, a new event on the calendar and the series’ fourth different kickoff site in as many years. It also starts a month earlier than the past, with Barbados (mid-May, 2014) Ft. Lauderdale (late May 2015) and Phoenix (third week of May 2016) having been the curtain-raisers in the past few years.

Race coverage is on NBC network on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

With the trip down South the first step in the 12-race championship, it again provides a first look at whether anyone can topple Scott Speed and Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, as the two-time champion looks for a three-peat in his latest iteration of a Beetle GRC beast.

Most of the field is switched; at least one driver or team per entry is different for all teams this year, with the exception of Andretti.

Here’s the tentative field breakdown (field may be subject to change and extra additions):

Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, Volkswagen Beetle GRC

34-Tanner Foust
41-Scott Speed

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” will be the mantra here, as Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross and Scott Speed seek their third straight title. Teammate Tanner Foust arguably had the better 2016 season – he won four races to Speed’s three – but lost the championship in a tough dynamic in the Los Angeles doubleheader, his weekend delayed a bit with the need to run an LCQ and thus losing track position if he’d make the final.

Speed’s enjoyed his time in GRC to this point, as he recounted in his first NBCSports.com blog of 2017, and has become one of the series’ marquee faces. While a three-peat would be good for him, it remains to be seen whether that is in the best interest of the series. Nonetheless, anything less than another round of victories and title contention from Red Bull GRC’s dynamic duo would be a surprise, and a disappointment.

Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE, Honda Civic Coupe

16-Oliver Eriksson (R)
24-Mitchell DeJong (R)
93-Sebastian Eriksson

Red Bull GRC’s version of “Name that Eriksson” sees the unrelated pair of Swedes, Oliver and Sebastian Eriksson, racing for the Andreas Eriksson-led team whose success is world renowned in rallycross – except last year. In a rare off year for OMSE, the team spent more time dialing in the setup of it early before contending on outright pace. They got there by the end of the year but despite preliminary wins, never won a main event.

That should well change this year with Sebastian Eriksson the undisputed team leader in now his third season. Having two hungry young chargers alongside in past GRC Lites champions Oliver Eriksson and DeJong, the latter of whom has one Supercars weekend under his belt at Los Angeles last year, will only serve to push this team forward.

Subaru Rally Team USA, Subaru WRX-STi

18-Patrik Sandell
55-Chris Atkinson

Two lackluster years and only a handful of decent results have forced a major course reset at Subaru, and one which should see them back on proper race win-contending form throughout the 2017 season. If the enhancements from the team weren’t coming, particularly with a new car, it’s likely they wouldn’t have convinced Patrik Sandell to have left Bryan Herta Rallysport, where he overachieved and won races each of the last two seasons.

Sandell’s an ace and past Subaru World Rally Championship driver Chris Atkinson brought a degree of pace to this program that was lacking previously when he came in for the final events of 2016. The Australian figures to be a frontrunner as well.

Loenbro Motorsports, Ford Fiesta

00-Steve Arpin

A change in ownership and branding sees the former Chip Ganassi Rallycross program, which popped up before 2015 and did a two-year entry, now under the Loenbro Motorsports umbrella albeit with nearly all the same staff and crew intact. It is a big step for the company and for driver Steve Arpin, the likable Canadian who now lives in Minnesota, to strike out on their own. Arpin won his first Supercars final last year but may find the sledding tougher against the factory efforts and other privateer teams.

Bryan Herta Rallysport, Ford Fiesta

2-Cabot Bigham (R)

For a second straight year, Bryan Herta will have the fun situation where his name and team are separate in Red Bull GRC from Michael Andretti’s even though the two work together in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In Bigham, Herta’s found a potential diamond in the rough. The Northern California native took a surprise, but well-judged, win in last year’s GRC Lites season and has found the necessary budget to come up to the next level. “The Big Ham” will need to get his feet wet the first couple events but should start playing with the big dogs as the season progresses.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Ford Fiesta

14-Austin Dyne

After striking out on his own last year with AD Racing, a year after running under the Herta tent, series CEO Colin Dyne’s son Austin will now work with another IndyCar outfit in RLL Racing, which makes its Red Bull GRC debut this year. The deep field has made it harder for Dyne to stand out – he has just three final round top-five finishes in the last two years – but with the RLL preparation behind him, it should see the series veteran improve this year.

John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

Photo: Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.