Cheez-It 355 At The Glen

Allmendinger’s win was a positive on challenging weekend (VIDEO)

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At any other time, A.J. Allmendinger’s triumph on Sunday at Watkins Glen International would be hailed.

His win in the Cheez-It 355 was his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

It propelled him and his single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

And it came after an electrifying battle over the last two laps with Marcos Ambrose, a driver equally skilled as he is in road racing, if not more so.

Then there’s the comeback aspect.

In 2012, Allmendinger failed a drug test and subsequently lost his full-time Sprint Cup ride with Team Penske. That led to a 2013 season in which he kept jumping between stock cars and open-wheel, where he first rose to fame as an American star in the tail end of the Champ Car era.

He then decided that NASCAR was where he needed to be and signed up for a full-time return to Cup this year with the small JTG Daugherty outfit.

And now, with Sunday’s win, they’re all going to be fighting the giants – Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske, Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and the like – for a championship this fall.

Allmendinger’s won some big races in his career, including the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona after holding off sports car ace Allan McNish in a great duel.

But considering everything he’s gone through, which he dubbed vividly yesterday as “absolute hell,” this is the topper.

When you think about it, this story has everything. Sadly, it also has unfortunate timing.

The shocking sprint car incident on Saturday night that involved SHR co-owner Tony Stewart and took the life of young Kevin Ward Jr. has become the talk of the sports world.

As investigators continue to hunt for any bits of information that can help them reach a final say on the matter, many in the fan base and in the media community have already – and loudly – taken sides.

And through it all, Ward’s family and Stewart are all having to come to grips with the fact that this will be with them for the rest of their days, no matter the final judgment from the authorities.

It’s a difficult situation that will only get tougher in the days and weeks ahead. And right now, it’s casting a dark cloud over all of motorsports.

Some could compellingly argue that it’s overshadowing Allmendinger’s moment in the sun. Other winners this year – notably Aric Almirola at the July Daytona race and Brad Keselowski at Loudon a week later – were overshadowed by accidents, so Allmendinger joins that unfortunate club.

But that doesn’t really matter in this instance. As beautiful as Allmendinger’s win was to see, it means nothing compared to matters of life and death.

However, to his great credit, Allmendinger struck the right tone on the subject after taking the checkered flag.

“This NASCAR community as a whole, we’re a family, and when anything like that happens, it’s something that you don’t just kind of erase and you forget about,” he said.

“And all of our thoughts and prayers, and it may not seem like it, or I wish there was more to do, but it goes to the Ward family and what happened. It also goes to Tony because it’s not like he’s sitting there and forgetting about it. It’s a tough scenario.

“You just try to come together. That’s all you can do. You try to be thankful every day for the things that we have, the things that we’re able to share together, and you also know that there’s a lot less fortunate out there and there’s a lot of disasters, whether it’s in racing or not.”

Think of the Wards. Think of Stewart. Be thankful for what you’ve got and who you’ve got to share them with. Be mindful of those that are troubled.

Allmendinger’s victory may not get its proper due. But he still deserves our thanks for that much-needed dose of perspective, and for lifting our spirits on what was an otherwise dreary Sunday.

RC Enerson stars in first official day in Coyne’s No. 19 IndyCar

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – On Friday, 19-year-old rookie RC Enerson delivered arguably one of the most impressive debut days in an IndyCar in recent memory – if not ever.

With only one day of testing, Enerson took what he learned from his first day last week and translated it into some seriously impressive practice pace for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200.

Enerson went from 1.1042 seconds off the pace in the first 75-minute practice session in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 21st, all the way to within 0.5322 off in the second – all the way up to seventh in that session and second Honda in the field, only behind defending Honda Indy 200 race winner Graham Rahal.

That time in free practice two left Enerson a combined 10th on the day, again second among the Hondas only to Rahal.

It didn’t really surprise those who’ve followed his career in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires closely. However, it did wow the paddock at large.

It was fitting, perhaps, Enerson was behind Rahal and then was sat next to Scott Dixon in the day end press conference because Rahal also starred as a teenager in his first season in open-wheel – 2007 in Champ Car – while Dixon became IndyCar’s then-youngest winner at age 20 in his first season in CART in 2001… before Rahal beat that in 2008 at age 19.

“I grew up watching a lot of these guys race,” Enerson explained during the post-practice press conference. “My first Indy 500 was when I was three years old, and seeing these guys go around, and now I’m 19 years old and there’s a lot of the same guys still there.

“It’s kind of like I get to race with my idols, really,” he added, to a room full of laughter.

Dixon followed, “We must have had a good generation, I think.”

But putting aside the obvious “yeah, he’s young” line – trust me as the youngest full-time member in the IndyCar press corps I get that joke at least once per weekend – what Enerson did on Friday was take in a wealth of information the team was throwing at him and translate it into pace on paper.

“It was incredible. It’s completely different than anything I’ve driven, and coming from — every time I come here, I always tend to do alright, and it’s one of my favorite tracks,” he said.

“It’s got this thing about it that it fits the driving style really well, and I’m just excited to be here, and this is probably — it’s probably the best track to make my debut at.”

Enerson, as he told me prior to his race debut last week, noted the difference in the step up from the Cooper tires he used throughout his Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires career versus the Firestones now.

Enerson was really good at learning tire conservation there since there are no pit stops. But he noted the change in grip level on the Firestones, especially since the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is one of the highest grip tracks on the calendar.

“These ones tend to — after the first couple laps where you get your fast time, they tend to not fall off very much and you can keep your speeds up, and it’s amazing. It’s a completely different experience, and it’s challenging,” he explained.

On the tire note, where Enerson will have to learn, and learn quickly, is once he gets his first crack at the Firestone red alternates for qualifying later on Saturday, provided the session is dry.

“With the reds, we don’t get to see them. I’ve never driven on them, so the first time I’m going to get to see them is qualifying,” he said.

“So that’s what I think is the biggest thing for the rookies, I guess, is they don’t get to see those until it’s when it counts, so it’s hard to extract all that not knowing going into it, and I think that’s what comes with the experienced drivers where they’re able to know how much grip they’re actually going to gain to be able to push it to the max right off the bat.”

Still though, his debut impressed many in the IndyCar paddock.

Teammate Conor Daly in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda told IndyCar Radio of Enerson, “We have RC here this weekend, and he’s new – but he’s doing a great job.”

Daly’s engineer Michael Cannon, himself a key talent evaluator in his long career in the sport, told me Enerson has “taken like a duck to water” to an IndyCar and is handling everything the team is throwing at him with aplomb.

And Dixon, arguably one of the best drivers of his generation? He knows what it’s like to “wow” people when you’re the new kid on the block, as he did some 15 years ago.

“I think it’s great to see young talent coming through. It’s part of the sport. It’s part of what we need to see,” he said.

“We’ve had a good influx of recent, and it’s pretty cool in the fact that we have a series that, okay, so there’s some bigger teams and some more teams that have done better jobs, but in layman’s terms, you pretty much have the similar equipment. So it’s nice that you can come, and if you’re good you can get close.

“The only hard part with rookies now is the testing program. At least this year was a little more open. It was good that RC had the opportunity to test here last week, but still, you’re competing against guys that have been coming here for years and they’ve had a ton of test days.

“It’s so close right now that you’re looking for hundredths and tenths of a second to make the difference.”

Grosjean set for five-place grid drop in Germany after gearbox change

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean is set to receive a five-place grid penalty for this weekend’s German Grand Prix after a gearbox change on Saturday morning.

Grosjean has led the new Haas Formula 1 operation’s charge in its debut season, scoring all 28 of its championship points thus far.

The Frenchman arrived in Germany hopeful of ending Haas’ difficult run of form, the team having recorded just one top-10 finish in the past seven races.

However, his challenge looks set to become all the more daunting after Haas was forced to change the gearbox on his VF-16 car during FP3.

FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his report that Grosjean’s existing gearbox had not completed the six consecutive events required before a change is permitted, prompting the matter to be referred to the stewards.

Grosjean will therefore drop five places on the grid from wherever he qualifies later today at Hockenheim.

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Hamilton called before stewards over unsafe release in Germany FP3

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain drives the 4 Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton has been called before the Formula 1 race stewards over a possible unsafe release in the pit lane during final practice for the German Grand Prix.

Hamilton was released into the fast lane by his Mercedes team at the start of FP3, forcing the oncoming Romain Grosjean to hit the brakes and stop.

The stewards confirmed in a short statement issued on Saturday morning midway through the session that the Briton was to reported to the stewards at 12:30pm local time.

The incident could spell trouble for Hamilton given he has already received two reprimands so far this season, with a third resulting in a 10-place grid penalty.

Hamilton told NBCSN earlier this week that he expects to start last in either Belgium or Italy as a result of an inevitable engine penalty, but if the stewards hit him with a reprimand, it could add another challenge to his title bid.

Hamilton received his first reprimand in Bahrain for reversing a few inches in the pit lane, and hsi second for not adhering to race control’s instructions after running wide at Turn 2, failing to take to the left of a bollard laid out.

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

Track limits extended at Turn 1 ahead of German GP qualifying

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain drives the 4 Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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FIA Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has informed teams that track limits have been extended to the outside edge out the curb at Turn 1 ahead of Saturday’s running for the German Grand Prix.

Whiting sent a note to all teams after first practice on Friday saying that a three-strike rule would be in play at Turn 1 after drivers exceeded track limits 93 times in the space of the session.

However, after a meeting with the drivers on Friday night, this rule has been tweaked to allow drivers to run to the outside of the curb at Turn 1.

“Based upon our observations of the way in which the new curb on the exit of Turn 12 is used, and the comments made in the meeting yesterday evening, we feel that the usable track limit at Turn 1 should be the outer edge of the curb, i.e. the edge furthest from the track,” Whiting’s note read.

“The performance of any driver going beyond this point, with any part of the car, will be examined in order to establish whether or not an advantage was gained by exceeding this limit.”

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET.