NNS: Tagliani roars from 23rd to second in last two laps

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Alex Tagliani will have to keep waiting for his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory.

But his performance in the final two laps of today’s Gardner Denver 200 has to be considered proof that it will come.

Tagliani took the lead from Sam Hornish Jr. on Lap 29 and stayed out under caution with 13 laps left to keep it. But that meant the former IndyCar racer would have to save fuel in order to see the checkered flag.

He was able to hold the point off of the restart with 10 laps to go, but with two laps left in regulation, Justin Marks slowed and then stopped just off course to bring out the yellow. A short time later, Tagliani came to a stop near the entrance to pit road – bone dry.

But after getting pushed to the pits, Tagliani got a splash of fuel and four fresh slick tires for the final dash on a Road America course that had dried out considerably after earlier rains.

With nothing to lose, Tagliani took the Green-White-Checkered restart in 23rd place and proceeded to rip through the field in a stellar display of driving.

In the final few corners, Tagliani out-muscled Chase Elliott for third place at Canada Corner and then charged under Kevin O’Connell for second in the last turn.

But the Canadian’s furious attempt to reel in Brendan Gaughan was unsuccessful, as Gaughan beat him to the stripe by eight-tenths.

Another lap – maybe, another half-lap – and Tagliani would have pulled off one for the ages. Instead, he’ll have to settle for his second Nationwide Series runner-up (Montreal, 2011).

“It was pretty intense,” Tagliani said to reporters. “The wet [surface] was tricky, but obviously we were good. Maybe I threw a bad spell on myself because I said it was impossible that I was going to win this race, like something’s going to happen, and then on the white flag, something happened.

To his credit, however, he took the near-miss in stride.

“It’s what it is,” he said. “It’s not in the cards. You have to be quick, you have to have a good car and it has to be in the cards, and if it’s not, you just have to take whatever comes to you.

“I just have to call [team owner] Roger [Penske] and apologize for a couple of scratches on the car.”

Not everyone was happy with Tagliani’s charge in the final two laps. Elliott showed his displeasure over their meeting in Canada Corner by ramming the side of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

When they returned to the pits, TV cameras spotted Elliott talking with Tagliani while the latter was still in his cockpit. The conversation ended with a handshake, but Elliott was still annoyed.

“He just didn’t show us a lot of respect,” said Elliott, who faded to fourth after claiming the lead early from Gaughan in the G-W-C attempt. “I understand those guys are racing for the owner’s championship too.

“I just hate to see those road race guys come in and just [race] you off the track like that, down there in Canada Corner or whatever [turn] number that is.”

But Elliott may have to face the same situation again later this summer. Tagliani is slated to drive the No. 22 Penske car in August at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And if Tagliani’s in position to win there, you can be assured that he’ll cut no slack for Elliott or anybody else.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”