NASCAR made the right call to cut short Coke Zero 400

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NASCAR officials are likely going to come under criticism for calling the Coke Zero 400 after 112 of the scheduled 160 laps Sunday afternoon at Daytona.

They’re also going to likely draw some raised eyebrows that Aric Almirola, the driver of the legendary No. 43 Ford of Richard Petty Motorsports, won his first career Sprint Cup race in an albeit rain-shortened fashion, on the same weekend that Petty won the 200th and final race of his Hall of Fame career. I already can see the conspiracy theories flying that the race was fixed to reward Petty and his team, which obviously hasn’t won a lot since Petty’s last triumph 30 years ago.

But to all those who will criticize the sanctioning body, claiming the trigger to call the race was pulled too soon, or to raise the possibility that the result was less than earned by Almirola, it’s easy to understand your emotion — but not your logic.

Almirola just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that’s why he came away with the win. It would have been the same set of circumstances if Brian Vickers (who finished runner-up) had been in the lead, or third-place finisher Kurt Busch, who led the most laps in the race.

No matter who won Sunday’s race, critics would have been their oftentimes illogical selves.

But  logic is why NASCAR officials chose to end the race when they did. After two major wrecks plus two rain delays, not to mention Saturday being postponed to Sunday, as well as all other parts of the weekend that were affected by the wet stuff, NASCAR did the right thing to cut short Sunday’s event. There’s no two ways about it.

Sure, fans want to see a full race, particularly those who were at DIS in-person. They all likely spent several hundreds of dollars not only for their race tickets, but also for transportation and lodging. Many came long distances to see a race end not even three-quarters of the way through the promised and promoted length.

But NASCAR was left with a no-win situation. When the rain came down heavy after the event was redflagged for the third time within only a relatively few hours, one look at the weather radar made it very clear: this race was not going to get done anytime soon.

In fact, with thunderstorms forecast at more than 60 percent chance for the remainder of Sunday afternoon and into Sunday evening, NASCAR was left with little option but to end the race when it did because had the race eventually resumed, it likely wouldn’t have been until Monday.

And even then, more rain was forecast.

NASCAR can control a lot within its domain, but weather isn’t one of those things. And unfortunately, rain is oftentimes the nature of the beast in east-central Florida in early July. It is one of the most unpredictable things there is. One minute, the skies look clear; the next minute, it’s deluge city. I can vouch for that first-hand. I looked at the National Weather Service radar just before the start of the race and after a small cell, it appeared as if the race would be high and dry once the track was dried.

Unfortunately, the weather radar was also fooled. In virtually the time it took to turn your eyes away from the radar and then back again to the screen, the conditions can — and usually do, as in this case — change. What looked like high and dry one minute became the promise of another deluge in the following minutes.

Had the weather eventually broke and the skies stopped raining, and had NASCAR tried to wait it out and dry the track, can anyone — particularly critics of NASCAR’s calling the race early — been able to assure us that there wouldn’t have been more carnage at Daytona? Would we have seen another 25-car wreck, as we saw 14 laps prior to the race being called (not to mention the 15-car wreck right after Lap 21)?

We all know how unpredictable Daytona and restrictor plate racing can be. Given what the field had already gone through, the odds were pretty likely that we’d see even more wrecks in what would have been the waning 48 laps (God forbid if we would have had a green-white-checker finish that had extended the race past its scheduled 160 laps). After all, this is Daytona, where all hell breaks lose typically in the final five to 10 laps.

I completely understand fans’ concerns that they want to see the amount of racing they paid for. They want 160 laps (or more, if there was a GWC). I’m sure many may left Daytona feeling cheated or gipped for not seeing a complete race.

But NASCAR had to do what was best for the drivers, the racetrack and yes, the fans. How many of those same fans had to leave to be back at work on Monday? How many would have to drive 100, 200 or more miles to get back home? Would it be wise to have the majority of those fans drive through the middle of the night — and likely through more thunderstorms to come — than to simply call it a reasonable day, a reasonable finish and to move on?

How quickly have many of you forgotten that NASCAR waited out nearly 6 1/2 hours of rain delay to complete the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February? NASCAR said it would make every effort it could to get that race in, and that’s just what the sanctioning body did.

It was the same case Sunday, but the odds and the elements were simply stacked too far in Mother Nature’s favor to try and finish a full race. Sure, the rain will end eventually — maybe by Tuesday or Wednesday (I’m being a little facetious here, of course).

NASCAR made the only call it could — and it was the right call.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Leah Pritchett has quickest run in NHRA history at 3.640 seconds

Photo courtesy Don Schumacher Racing
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BRAINERD, Minn. (AP) Leah Pritchett had the quickest run in NHRA history with 3.640-second pass at 330.63 mph Friday night at Brainerd International Speedway in Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals qualifying.

She broke her own Top Fuel record of 3.658 set in Arizona in February.

“We’ve looked forward to this night session for a long time,” Pritchett said. “Knowing that Brainerd, this track, this surface, the conditions and what NHRA is able to do to it, lays down the ground work for us to pull out the most power possible. That’s what this team did. They have been working tirelessly at finding small amounts of power here, there and everywhere and to be able to put it on the track tonight was incredible.”

Robert Hight broke the Funny Car time record with a 3.793 at 338.00 in a Chevrolet Camaro SS, the first run in the 3.7s in Funny Car history. He set the speed record of 339.87 last month at Sonoma Raceway.

“I could tell it was running fast and I saw the 3.79 on the scoreboard,” Hight said. “It’s just something you dream about. There are so many things that have to happen and work together for it all to come together. It’s not that easy. This is a big milestone. To be part of a milestone as a driver, this was big for me.”

Tanner Gray topped the Pro Stock field, and Hector Arana Jr. was the fastest in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Gray had a 6.607 at 208.617 in a Chevrolet Camaro, and Arana had a 6.879 at 194.24 on a Buell.

Back racing after F1 test, Norris dominates Zandvoort F3 opener

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McLaren younster Lando Norris made an emphatic return to racing action after the summer break by dominating the opening race of the FIA European Formula 3 weekend at Zandvoort, taking his sixth win of the season.

Norris, 17, moved up to F3 for 2017 after winning two Formula Renault titles last year, as well as linking up with McLaren’s junior program.

The Briton impressed during his maiden Formula 1 test in Hungary at the end of last month, and carried the momentum through to Zandvoort by taking pole position for Carlin for the first race of the weekend.

Norris retained his lead at the start and only came under pressure following a safety car period, with Swedish youngster Joel Eriksson running close for the lead.

Norris was able to create a gap and pull away, completing a wire-to-wire win with almost nine seconds in hand over the pack for his sixth win of the season.

The result sees Norris move to within eight points of championship leader Maximillian Günther, the German finishing third on Saturday at Zandvoort.

Carpenter, Jones crash as Hunter-Reay leads Pocono practice

Photo: IndyCar
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LONG POND, Pa. – The Saturday morning practice for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway saw Honda jump to the fore, though a pair of incidents forced stoppages near the end.

Ryan Hunter-Reay topped the time charts with a quick lap of 219.268 mph, turned in the second half of the session. Hunter-Reay led Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, the best of the Chevrolet runners, the Frenchman turning a best lap of 219.211 mph.

Tony Kanaan was third for Chip Ganassi Racing, with Hunter-Reay’s teammate Marco Andretti in fourth after leading most of the session. Kanaan’s teammate Scott Dixon completed the top five, while sixth-place Takuma Sato and seventh-place Alexander Rossi made it four Andretti Autosport cars in the top ten.

The morning practice saw three stoppages. The first was only for a quick track inspection, but the next two were for crashes.

The first was for Ed Carpenter. Carpenter’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet broke loose exiting turn three 3 and smacked the outside wall with the left side. Carpenter climbed out unhurt, but the car sustained heavy damage. However, the team immediately began repairing the car ahead of qualifying this afternoon.

The other incident was for Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones. Jones’ No. 19 Honda spun in the middle of turn 2, but only sustained minor damage to the front nose, which brushed the outside wall during the spin.

Both Carpenter and Jones were checked, cleared, and released from the infield care center. Times are below. Qualifying for Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

NHRA: Hight uncorks first 3.70 Funny Car run in history in Brainerd

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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Last night, Robert Hight and the John Force Racing team took an even bigger step in their recent run of form with a new record elapsed time in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series history for the Funny Car class.

With a 3.793-second pass at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota, Hight became the first Funny Car driver in history to run a pass under 3.80 seconds in the class’ history.

The full team release is below.

Auto Club of Southern California driver Robert Hight is getting pretty good at making history.

Two races ago, the Chevrolet Camaro SS driver set the national speed record of 339.87 mph at Sonoma, Calif.

On Friday at Brainerd International Raceway, Hight again went to new heights. The John Force Racing driver became the first in Funny Car to run under the 3.8-second mark, making a pass of 3.793 seconds at 338.00 mph to earn the provisional No. 1 spot for the NHRA Nationals on Friday night.

“It’s something you dream about,” Hight said. “There are so many things that have to happen, and so many people that have to work together for it to happen. It’s just not that easy. We’ve been on runs before that you think that, if it’d finished, it would have run in the .70s.

“To be the first – that’s history. This is a big milestone. It’s going to be a long time before we get into the 3.60s. To be a part of a milestone – I’ve been on John’s teams when he’s cracked barriers, but never done it as a driver – so this is big for me and the whole team. We’re ecstatic.”

Hight and his Auto Club team, led by crew chief Jimmy Prock and co-crew chief Chris Cunningham, have been on fire recently. Hight won in Denver and Seattle, earned No. 1 qualifiers in three of the last four races, qualified in the top three in each of the last nine races and now has set the national record for elapsed time and speed.

Hight sat in the No. 2 spot after the first session Friday with a run of 3.844 seconds at 335.07 mph but figured the “Prock Rocket” could go even quicker – and it certainly did.

“I could tell it was running fast,” Hight said. “The clutch disc was boiling, and that’s the way Jimmy runs it. That’s how he wants to wear the clutch. It was hard to see, but I did see the 3.79 on the scoreboard, because we shut off at 1,000 feet, I had the chutes out, and I glanced up there but I didn’t know the speed.”

Hight led a solid 1-3-4 effort for JFR, as PEAK Coolant & Motor Oil driver John Force was No. 3 with a run of 3.852 seconds at 334.15 mph and Advance Auto Parts driver Courtney Force was No. 4 with a pass of 3.863 seconds at 335.98 mph.

Brittany Force was No. 2 in Top Fuel, making a brilliant run of 3.685 seconds at a track-record speed of 333.16 mph. That speed was matched the third-best in NHRA history.

JFR now owns six of the nine fastest speeds in Funny Car history, as well as three of the six quickest elapsed times in Funny Car history.

Additionally, JFR Funny Cars own 12 of the 21 track records for elapsed time.