Aaron's 312

Elliott Sadler heads back to Victory Lane in Nationwide at Talladega

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Elliott Sadler successfully held off the swarm in the final three laps to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway for his first NNS triumph in almost two years.

In the final dash to the checkers, Sadler was pushed on the bottom by David Ragan while Chris Buescher and Regan Smith hooked up on the outside.

That was how they looked as they crossed the stripe side-by-side at the white flag, but in the end, Sadler was finally able to clear Buescher and lead the pack home in a clean finish.

“We just got on the inside line and we just had to make some good moves, and the sea kind of opened up for us,” Sadler said to ESPN. “It means a lot to me to get these guys in Victory Lane. I disappointed them last year when I wasn’t able to do it.

“To do it at Talladega – everybody’s always asking [me] about flippin’ at Talladega. [Darn it], man, we’ve won one at Talladega, so this feels a lot better.”

The stage was set for a wild finish with 10 laps remaining, when Chad Boat was spun hard into the inside backstretch wall to bring out the caution flag.

David Starr had been able to get in front of JR Motorsports’ trio of drivers (Smith, Elliott and Kasey Kahne) in the short green run that began with 14 to go, but lost the lead to Elliott right before the race went yellow for Boat’s wreck.

Elliott would lead the field to the restart with six laps to go, but quickly fell back on the outside. Then, as the field went into Turn 3, Elliott Sadler and Ryan Blaney made contact while fighting for the lead.

Blaney skidded into the outside wall then came back down into Elliott, who in turn sent Jeremy Clements hard into the wall. Kahne and Ryan Sieg were also impacted by the incident, which triggered a red flag period of just over nine minutes.

When the cars got rolling again under yellow, Sadler was now leading ahead of Buescher, Ragan, Smith and Starr. The green came back with three to go, and Sadler was forced to play some great defense before finally earning a hard-earned W.

“Under the red flag, I was playing all these scenarios in my head – really on how many races I’ve lost in the last couple of laps by not making the right decision,” Sadler said.

“But we just stayed to the bottom and stuck to our guns. David Ragan did a good job pushing us and we were just able to hold those guys off at the end.”

Today’s race proved to be a war of attrition, as the Sadler-Blaney incident was just one of several crashes that kept crossing out potential winners.

On Lap 45, James Buescher was tagged by Blaney in Turn 3 and spun to the bottom, where he ended up hitting Darrell Wallace Jr. and Dylan Kwasniewski.

Wallace was especially frustrated, declaring flatly “I hate plate racing.”

“I’m gonna be the Debbie Downer here,” said Wallace, a regular in the Camping World Truck Series. “I’m not looking forward to Talladega for the Truck race. That’s just the way it goes.”

Then on Lap 62, Brian Scott – who had won the pole just hours earlier for tomorrow’s Sprint Cup main event – was caught in an eight-car pileup that began after he was spun by Trevor Bayne in Turn 3.

Scott’s teammates at Richard Childress Racing, Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan, were also involved in the crash (Gaughan was knocked out of the race along with Scott, while Dillon kept going and finished 15th).

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT TALLADEGA
Aaron’s 312 – Unofficial Results
1. Elliott Sadler, led 40 laps
2. Chris Buescher, led 1 lap
3. Regan Smith, led 20 laps
4. David Ragan
5. Sam Hornish Jr.
6. Joe Nemechek
7. J.J. Yeley, led 1 lap
8. Landon Cassill
9. David Starr, led 5 laps
10. Trevor Bayne
11. Joey Gase, led 1 lap
12. Mike Bliss
13. John Wes Townley
14. Tommy Joe Martins
15. Ty Dillon, led 3 laps
16. Jeffrey Earnhardt
17. Eric McClure
18. Dakoda Armstrong
19. Chase Elliott, led 3 laps
20. Ryan Sieg
21. Ryan Blaney, one lap down, led 2 laps
22. Kasey Kahne, Lap 111, Accident
23. Jeremy Clements, led 1 lap, Lap 111, Accident
24. Ryan Reed, Lap 108, Running, led 29 laps
25. Chad Boat, Lap 107, Accident
26. Josh Wise, Lap 91, Engine
27. Jamie Dick, Lap 87, Running
28. Mike Harmon, Lap 86, Accident
29. James Buescher, Lap 86, Running
30. Kyle Larson, Lap 78, Running
31. Darrell Wallace Jr., Lap 74, Running
32. Robert Richardson Jr., Lap 63, Engine
33. Brian Scott, Lap 61, Accident
34. Brendan Gaughan, Lap 61, Accident
35. Dylan Kwasniewski, Lap 43, Accident
36. Bobby Gerhart, Lap 31, Engine
37. Carl Long, Lap 14, Electrical
38. Jeff Green, Lap 4, Vibration
39. Matt DiBenedetto, Lap 3, Vibration
40. Blake Koch, Lap 1, Vibration

CJ Wilson completes first test in Porsche GT3 Cup car

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Photo courtesy of CJ Wilson Racing
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CJ Wilson’s new career is officially underway, following his retirement from professional baseball and now having completed his first test last week at Texas World Speedway in his new 2017 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.

Wilson, who formally announced the news he’d be transitioning into racing full-time during Rolex 24 at Daytona race week, did a two-day test at the still active oval/road course combo track in College Station, Texas. Wilson tested one of the team’s Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports (the team runs two in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge) and then advanced into the Cup car.

Wilson got fairly close to teammate Marc Miller’s times during the test as he acclimated to both the Cup car and the Yokohama tires.

“It’s great to take another step towards my goals,” Wilson said. “We had a chance to burn through two sets of tires today and I made a lot of progress. Having Marc as my coach was incredibly helpful because we have a lot of faith in each other and communicate using the same terms. Having sat in driver debriefings for the past six years with the race team, I was able to take all the input logically and make progress each session.

“The only odd thing about the test is that nobody else was here, which was the first time I have ever been on a track completely alone, so when we did a race simulation I had to use my imagination. TWS is a really fast and bumpy track. Looking forward to getting back in the car in ten days and pick up where I left off.”

Miller added, “CJ did great job, but I expected as much. He is logical and methodical which makes him easy to help and that translated into a very quick progression along the learning curve. Like any professional athlete though he is never truly satisfied because he wants to be perfect. He took quickly to the new Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. It is confidence inspiring and such a capable platform so that suited him well in getting up to speed. Overall, it was a successful first outing and I look forward to working with CJ this season. I expect he will have a solid debut at Sebring. He better or I’m likely fired.”

A teaser of on-board footage is below, along with a couple other social posts from the test:

Danny Watts: ‘Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain’

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 22:  (l to r) Strakka Racing drivers Danny Watts, Nick Leventis and Jonny Kane pose during the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship Photo Call on March 22, 2013 at Potters Fields in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Watts (left) with Leventis and Kane in 2013. Photo: Getty Images
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Sports car veteran driver Danny Watts has announced his retirement from active competition, but is in the news for an entirely different reason on Monday.

The 37-year-old Brit has announced he’s gay, penning a first-person piece for the Huffington Post and also doing interviews with both Daily Sportscar and Autosport. The latter article features a well-written op-ed from author Matt Beer.

In the Huffington Post piece, Watts, an eight-time starter and 2010 LMP2 class winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, wrote that hiding his sexuality in the heavily white male heterosexual world of motorsport was simply becoming too much to keep under wraps.

“There isn’t any one moment that stands out in my mind as the moment I realized I would need to live in the closet if I wanted my motorsport career to go anywhere; it was just a general feeling I got,” Watts wrote.

“All the other guys in the paddock had girlfriends, so I got one to blend in. When that relationship ended, I got another one, and so I continued pretending to be straight for seventeen years.

“Staying hidden was nothing but torture and pain.

“I hope that there are a few people who are supportive. If the response I’ve had from the queer motorsport community thus far is any gauge, I feel hopeful that I’ll find a supportive group to start driving change for my queer siblings in the sport I love.”

Within the motorsports world, Watts’ name is best known to the sports car paddock, and he was a regular with the Strakka Racing team alongside co-drivers Jonny Kane and Nick Leventis. But he isn’t particularly known to the racing world at large.

This announcement comes as Watts has opted to call time on his full-time driving career and instead will focus on coaching for the future. It also represents one of the higher profile names in racing announcing his sexual orientation, which makes it newsworthy.

Despite some detractors (as you might expect), a number of other drivers and key motorsports figures have revealed their support for Watts, and why this news matters, on social media today:

Marino Franchitti returns to Mazda at Sebring

SEBRING, FL - MARCH 15:  Left to right, Marino Franchitti, Memo Rojas and Scott Pruett celebrate after winning the 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway on March 15, 2014 in Sebring, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
Franchitti (left) won at Sebring in 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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Marino Franchitti will make his return to a Mazda entry for next month’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be run March 18, as third driver in the team’s No. 70 Mazda RT24-P with Joel Miller and Tom Long.

The Scotsman competed in the team’s RX-8 and 6 models in the GT ranks but has been out of a drive since his role with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing last season in one of the team’s Ford GTs in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Franchitti replaces James Hinchcliffe, who was the third driver in the No. 70 car at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He’ll test for the team later this week at Sebring prior to the race run in the second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the year.

“A big part of those results are being with great teams and having great teammates. I’ve been fortunate in that regard,” said Franchitti, who co-drove to win overall at Sebring in 2014. “I love driving there, I always have since the first laps I did. It’s a proper old-school track. If you go over the limit, you crash, simple as that, rather than going onto some tarmac run-off like many tracks. I love the challenge of walking that tightrope. Of course, there’s the challenge of the bumps too, trying to get the car to handle over them and the beating the car and driver takes. There’s a reason people come from all over the world to endurance test their cars here, it’s the ultimate test of a vehicle and its durability.

No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA
No. 70 Mazda RT24-P. Photo courtesy of IMSA

“It’s so cool to be coming back into the Mazda family,” said Franchitti. “Like everyone else, I was blown away when I saw the first shots of the RT24-P and how incredible it looks, so there’s a lot of excitement at getting to drive it. I’m relieved I get a chance to test the car, as many times I’ve just jumped in and raced, so this is a bit of a luxury! Being a part of the development process of a car is something I’ve been lucky enough to do several times and it’s something I really love.”

Mazda Motorsports director John Doonan added, “He’s a proven winner there, and he’s been a part of the Mazda family for years. Just look at his record at Sebring! He has the experience that can really help our team. Because he’s driven with Mazda before, we know his personality is a great fit. That’s important to us, and it goes a long way in helping the team chemistry remain strong. He’s a great fit with Tom [Long] and Joel [Miller], just as Spencer Pigot has been great with Nunez and Bomarito.”

Pipo Derani set for IndyCar test with SPM at Sebring

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Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Pipo Derani has become a star in the sports car world the last couple years, courtesy of his drives primarily with Tequila Patron ESM.

Meanwhile for at least a day, the 23-year-old Brazilian will be returning to his open-wheel roots in a big way.

NBC Sports has learned Derani will test for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on March 1 in a rookie test for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Derani joins Mexican driver Luis Michael Dorrbecker, who will also make his test debut that day at that test at Sebring International Raceway’s 1.5-mile short course.

Derani raced a partial season in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series in 2014 with Team Pelfrey, before shifting to sports cars later that fall, starting with Murphy Prototypes.

Derani excelled with G-Drive in 2015 before his star turn with ESM last year. This year, his schedule grows even greater, as he’s been confirmed with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing for the first three races of the FIA World Endurance Championship season, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing the No. 67 Ford GT with Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell.

It’ll be interesting to see what Derani does on the Sebring short course in one of SPM’s Honda-powered entries. He’ll be back at Sebring a couple weeks after his IndyCar test, as he prepares to defend his win in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with ESM.