Paul Menard benefits from Joey Logano’s misfortune, wins Nationwide race at Michigan

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Sprint Cup regular Paul Menard earned his second career Nationwide Series victory (and first since 2006), capturing Saturday’s Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International.

“Man, it’s good to be back to victory lane,” Menard told ESPN after the race. “Win No. 2 and I think we finished second or third a ton the last couple years, so this feels good.”

Menard led just 18 of the event’s 125 laps, but the big story of his win was being in the right place at the right time.

With five laps to go, race-leader Joey Logano was forced to pit after suffering a flat right rear tire, costing him the win and allowing Menard to assume the lead, holding on for the checkered flag.

“I ran over something at some point, it pretty much sucks,” said Logano, who finished 16th. “We had a real good Ford the whole race. … I hate giving them away like that, you know. To look for the silver lining, we had a fast race car and we should have won the race. You win some this way, and you lose some this way, and today we lost one that way.

“That’s racing for you. Sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield.”

Menard, who has one career Sprint Cup win (2011 Indianapolis), could empathize with Logano’s frustration, as he has been in that spot a few times himself.

“I was trying to run him down, we were catching up just a little bit, but I wasn’t going to get him,” Menard said of Logano. “I thought that the best car was going to finish second again. We had this happen to us a couple of times last year. … The best car won today. … I hate to wish bad luck on Joey, but we’ll take it.”

Sam Hornish Jr. finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (making his final appearance on the Nationwide circuit this season), pole-sitter Kyle Busch and Brian Scott in fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Chase Elliott, Regan Smith, Kyle Larson, Ty Dillon and Chris Buescher.

With less than 25 laps, Elliott Sadler was running second when a large piece of debris became wedged in the front end of his Toyota. Sadler tried to get behind Earnhardt to hopefully suck the debris off the grill, but it didn’t work.

As a result, Sadler was forced to pit to remove the debris, which was causing his motor to be on the verge of overheating, and went from second-place to 23rd upon exiting pit road, albeit still on the lead lap.

The only significant wreck in the race occurred on Lap 80 when Trevor Bayne and Dylan Kwasniewski got together. It appeared Kwasniewski’s car wiggled and then slid up into Bayne, putting both of their cars into the wall.

Kwasniewski, who turned 19 two weeks ago, continues to struggle in his rookie season on the Nationwide series circuit. He’s managed just one top-10 finish in 13 starts, and Saturday is now his third DNF in 2014.

Regan Smith continued to hold on to his lead in the season standings, increasing his edge to 14 points over second-ranked Elliott Sadler (unofficial points standings are listed below Saturday’s race finishing order).

The series moves to Road America in Wisconsin next Saturday, followed by Kentucky Speedway on June 27, Daytona on July 4, New Hampshire on July 12 and Chicagoland on July 19.

 

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Here’s the finishing order for Saturday’s Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International Speedway:

1 Paul Menard

2 Sam Hornish Jr.

3 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

4 Kyle Busch

5 Brian Scott

6 Chase Elliott

7 Regan Smith

8 Kyle Larson

9 Ty Dillon

10 Chris Buescher

 

11 Ryan Reed

12 Ross Chastain

13 Ryan Sieg

14 Landon Cassill

15 James Buescher

16 Joey Logano

17 Elliott Sadler

18 Mike Bliss

19 Dakoda Armstrong

20 Jeremy Clements

 

21 JJ Yeley

22 Brendan Gaughan

23 Jeff Green

24 Blake Koch

25 Jeffrey Earnhardt

26 Josh Wise

27 Joey Gase

28 Mike Harmon

29 Ryan Ellis

30 Trevor Bayne

 

31 Dylan Kwasniewski

32 Harrison Rhodes

33 Jamie Dick

34 Carl Long

35 Derrike Cope

36 Tanner Berryhill

37 Matt Carter

38 Tommy Joe Martins

39 Kevin Lepage

40 Tim Schendel

 

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Unofficial Nationwide Series points standings after Saturday’s Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International Speedway:

1 Regan Smith

2 Elliott Sadler -14

3 Chase Elliott -20

4 Ty Dillon -35

5 Trevor Bayne -50

6 Brian Scott -55

7 Brendan Gaughan -122

8 Chris Buescher -123

9 James Buescher -124

10 Ryan Reed -152

 

11 Landon Cassill -153

12 Dylan Kwasniewski -169

13 Dakoda Armstrong -171

14 Mike Bliss -175

15 Jeremy Clements -225

16 Jeffrey Earnhardt -240

17 JJ Yeley -249

18 Joey Gase -264

19 Ryan Sieg -280

20 Eric McClure -282

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Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”