Ambrose earns 4th consecutive Watkins Glen Nationwide win

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Going into a critical race for his Chase hopes on Sunday, Marcos Ambrose got the one thing he needed to get today in the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.

Confidence.

Ambrose survived an early run-in with Kyle Busch that sent them both spinning off course, and then held off Busch in the final laps to claim his fourth consecutive Nationwide victory at the Glen.

Now comes the big one – Sunday’s Cheez-It 355, which Ambrose and his No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports team have targeted as their best opportunity to win and get into the Sprint Cup postseason.

“I’m just gonna enjoy today,” Ambrose said to ESPN. “Anytime you get in Victory Lane, it’s something special. I’d love to repeat, but there’s a lot of work to do tomorrow and I want to think about it, have a good night’s rest, and come and attack tomorrow.”

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski of Team Penske finished third and fourth, followed by Matt Kenseth in fifth place.

Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott was the top Nationwide regular in sixth place and also extended his lead in the championship to 12 points over Regan Smith.

Smith finished 17th after a tough day that saw him give up gobs of track position because of having to pit twice under green in the second half of the race – once for a loose right front wheel and again because of grille debris that was overheating his car.

On Lap 6 of today’s race, Busch appeared to try and go to the inside of Ambrose for third at the “bus stop” chicane. But instead, both car went sliding out of the Top 10.

Both of them earned some ground back by the time the first caution of the day came out at Lap 12 due to debris from an incident involving Kenny Habul and Trevor Bayne.

Ambrose was the first to come to the pits from seventh, leading drivers like Busch, Elliott, and Elliott Sadler in with him.

Pole sitter Keselowski led the field to the restart at Lap 16, but started the leaders’ first wave of stops by pitting on Lap 18. The cycle was still in progress when Bayne got into the back of Kevin O’Connell at the bus stop, sending O’Connell into the wall to trigger Caution No. 2.

By virtue of pitting under the first caution, James Buescher, J.J. Yeley, and Brennan Newberry were the Top 3 at the time of the caution. But when those three drivers chose to go in for service, Ambrose and Busch cycled to the top two spots in a quick recovery from their earlier incident.

Off the restart at Lap 31, Ambrose held the point while Logano passed Busch for 2nd and Kenseth did the same to Keselowski for fourth. Four laps later, Bayne got involved in another caution when he and J.J. Yeley made contact heading into Turn 6.

That turned Yeley into the outside wall, and after he parked his heavily damaged car near the entrance of Turn 7, he gestured to Bayne as he and the rest of the field rolled by under the yellow.

Ambrose continued to control the race after the restart at Lap 39, but the field was bunched up again by another debris yellow at the halfway point, Lap 41.

They set ’em loose at Lap 44, and Ambrose and Logano quickly pulled a gap to third-place Busch, while Keselowski and Kenseth battled for fourth.

On Lap 49, Ambrose abandoned the lead for his second stop, with Logano doing the same on Lap 50. As Logano came out of the pits, he and Ambrose went side-by-side through the esses before Ambrose was able to get in front of him.

During the cycle, Smith pitted on Lap 52 but had to return to the pits because the lug nuts on his right front wheel weren’t all tight. Smith, who entered the day down just two points in the NNS championship, fell all the way out of the Top 25 on the track.

Brendan Gaughan’s stop on Lap 57 moved Ambrose back to the top. Leading up to that, Ambrose had gotten away from Logano on the track and when Gaughan went in, the Aussie assumed an edge of almost three seconds.

That edge disappeared when Landon Cassill suffered an apparent tire failure and slowed in Turn 6 to bring out the caution. Drivers such as Bayne, Brian Scott, and Paul Menard decided to pit, but Ambrose, Logano and the other leaders stayed on track for the restart with 20 laps left.

With 19 to go, Keselowski and Busch battled for third place going into the bus stop. But Keselowski carried too much speed into the corner and went into the inside grass before coming back on course.

Keselowski dropped back to sixth but was able to earn two of the lost spots back in a short time. Behind them, Smith was marching toward the Top 10 after a superb restart but the aforementioned debris on his grille forced him to come in again.

But up front, Ambrose remained smooth, holding a steady lead of around 1.5 to two seconds over Logano until Busch took control of second with five to go.

Busch made progress in cutting Ambrose’s lead down to less than a second going into the final lap, but Ambrose was able to hold on.

NASCAR Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen – Unofficial Results

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.