Ryan Blaney passes Kyle Busch on final restart, hangs on to win Nationwide race at Bristol

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Ryan Blaney caused a late-race crash that took out Kyle Larson and Dylan Kwasniewski, and then rallied off the final restart following a subsequent caution to steal away the win from Kyle Busch in Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The younger Busch brother was looking to set Nationwide Series history, hoping to earn a fourth consecutive win at BMS.

But the 20-year-old Blaney got a great restart with six laps to go while Busch appeared to have the rear of his car up in the air after being hit from behind by Regan Smith. That allowed Blaney to get a bit of a lead coming to the green flag and he never looked back.

“I have to apologize to Kyle Larson,” Blaney said of the earlier wreck. “I got loose and I’m real sorry about that.”

As for his duel with Busch in the closing laps, Blaney, who led just seven laps in the event, added, “Kyle didn’t go on that last restart. He said his tires were jacked up. … I was just driving my guts out (that he wouldn’t be caught by Busch).”

Busch tried to close the gap and came within about a car length of catching Blaney with two laps to go, but the Team Penske driver was not to be denied, earning his second career NNS win in 24 series starts (he also won in Sept. 2013 at Kentucky Speedway).

Needless to say, Busch was not happy afterward. TV replays showed Regan Smith got into the back end of Busch’s Toyota and lifted it up

“My rear tires weren’t on the ground and I couldn’t go anywhere,” a dejected Busch told ESPN.

It’s understandable that Busch would be miffed. He started from the pole, dominated the 300-lap event by leading 161 laps, only to fall short.

Later in the BMS media center, Busch expounded on his frustration at both losing the race and the potential record.

“(In the latter third of the race) I couldn’t get by (Kyle) Larson on a single-lane race track – it’s pathetic,” Busch said. “But you know, once I did get a position on him, kinda sorta, I just – you gotta try to move the guy out of the way, so I forced him high and got clear of him. And then that was gonna be the race until the last restart, when my rear tires weren’t on the race track and I couldn’t accelerate forward.”

“… The 22 was, I don’t know, 5 mph faster than me going to the first double-yellow stripe. And I didn’t go, because I didn’t want to go. But everybody behind me is trying to go because they’re following the 22. I’m trying to wait for him to stop so I can go by the single red mark on the wall. It’s stupid. NASCAR doesn’t police it and so everybody keeps jacking around on it and you know – one of these days, I’m just gonna lock all four down and stack the whole field up.”

When asked how many more laps he might have needed to potentially catch Blaney, Busch became miffed once again.

“I don’t know if I could have,” he said. “It’s a single-lane race track. You can’t (expletive) pass here. It’s pathetic.”

Chase Elliott finished third, followed by Ty Dillon and Smith, who had words with Dillon after the race.

“I just don’t like the way he (Dillon) raced all night,” Smith told ESPN. “He ran into me three or four times all night. Everybody else out there is able to give room and he doesn’t. He said he got tight. That seems to always be the excuse, when you get tight, you lift off the gas pedal. Next time I run him over, I’m going to get tight, too.”

Dillon countered Smith’s claims by saying he had to be aggressive.

“We just got a little too tight,” Dillon said. “It’s Bristol, man. That’s why I was upset. We were going for all we can. Nobody got tore up. It’s racing. I had a lot of fun. … I’m not going to give anybody anything when I’m trying to run for the championship.”

Brendan Gaughan finished sixth followed by Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, James Buescher and Chris Buescher.

Larson appeared to be the best chance of catching Busch, but was involved in a wreck 20 laps from the finish with Ryan Blaney and Larson’s Turner Scott Motorsports teammate, Dylan Kwasniewski, suffering heavy rear damage. The other cars suffered less severe damage.

“We went in side-by-side into (turn) one,” Larson said about battling for position with Blaney. “I thought he was going to chase me up the track and instead he sent me into the wall. This really sucks.”

Blaney went up heading into a turn and took out Larson. Blaney accepted the blame for the incident, saying over his team radio, “Sorry, I got loose. I’m sorry.”

When told about Blaney’s apology, Larson seemed understanding.

“Ryan’s a good kid,” Larson said. “I know it wasn’t on purpose. This is Bristol. It’s short track racing.”

Championship contender Elliott Sadler was collected in a spin by Timmy Hill on Lap 184. While his crew tried to repair the damage several times while keeping Sadler on the lead lap, he eventually went one lap down to the leaders.

Then, just moments afterward, Sadler wrecked into the outside retaining wall. His team got him back out onto the track, only to be involved in another wreck on Lap 264.

Sadler’s struggles put a serious dent in his title hopes, not to mention dropping him from third to fourth, and from 11 points back to 28 points in arrears to series leader Elliott in the Nationwide Series standings.

Smith remains in second place while Dillon passed Sadler and into third place.

Rain threatened to shorten the scheduled 300 laps near the end of the event, but stayed away long enough to get the entire race in.

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Matheus Leist scores pole for Indy Lights’ Freedom 100

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INDIANAPOLIS – Persistent rain threatened to halted all track activity Thursday for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, before efforts to dry the track came good later on Friday.

But once qualifying occurred, Matheus Leist secured the pole for the marquee race of the Indy Lights season, Friday’s Freedom 100 (live, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Freedom 100 has a knack for throwing up surprise polesitters – Ethan Ringel and Ken Losch immediately come to mind – and Leist, the Brazilian rookie in his first-ever oval start, now joins that list.

Leist, driver of the No. 26 Carlin Dallara IL-15 Mazda, looked a promising prospect after posting the first official lap over 200 mph in series history, a tow-assisted lap of 201.032 mph (44.7690 seconds), and also the best no-tow speed of 199.354.

He backed up with laps of 199.268 and 199.128, respectively, for a new two-lap record of 199.198 mph. The previous mark was held by Ringel, in the first year of the new car in 2015, at 197.684 mph.

Despite seven other drivers that took their shot to beat him, none did. Colton Herta came the closest with a two-lap average of 198.648 in the No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing entry.

Two more of Herta’s Andretti Autosport teammates posted excellent qualifying runs. Dalton Kellett, who was third here last year in what stands as his best Indy Lights finish to date, will roll off from the same position in his teal-and-white No. 28 car, while rookie Ryan Norman will start alongside in the No. 48 Andretti Autosport entry, keeping up his strong weekend.

Zachary Claman De Melo completed the top five in the second of four Carlin entries, while Aaron Telitz upheld Belardi Auto Racing’s honor with sixth on the grid.

While Herta enters Friday’s race third in points, 18 behind the top two, neither Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) nor Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport), had good qualifying runs.

With speeds of 196.058 (Kaiser) and 195.661 (Jamin), they’ll roll off from positions 11 and 13 in the 14-car field.

Here are your qualifying speeds and provisional starting lineup for Friday.

Prior to qualifying, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway crew got the track dry in time for a 20-minute practice, which Leist also led.

As you can see below, drivers spent the rain delay trying to make due of things.

The points standings heading into tomorrow’s race are below:

1. 18-Kyle Kaiser, 139
2. 27-Nico Jamin, 126
3. 98-Colton Herta, 121
4. 22-Neil Alberico, 103
5. 9-Aaron Telitz, 97
6. 26-Matheus Leist, 89
7. 5-Santiago Urrutia, 87
8. 13-Zachary Claman De Melo, 87
9. 51-Shelby Blackstock, 80
10. 31-Nicolas Dapero, 75
11. 48-Ryan Norman, 71
12. 28-Dalton Kellett, 64
13. 2-Juan Piedrahita, 55
14. 11-Garth Rickards, 54

Hinchcliffe will donate brain to study race-related concussions to help safety of sport

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INDIANAPOLIS – James Hinchcliffe is well known throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series for his sense of humor.

He’s the kind of guy that keeps not just his own team loose, but also does the same for other teams and fans.

Even when he’s talking about a serious topic, he can usually be counted on interjecting at least one or two great one-liners.

Hinchcliffe was in his usual form during Thursday’s Indianapolis 500 Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But while he joked at times, the underlying message he tried to get across was very serious and very poignant to all forms of motorsports.

Namely, concussions and concussion research.

Hinchcliffe went so far as to say that when he passes away, he’s ready to donate his brain to science so it can be studied, particularly for some of the impacts and resulting concussions he’s endured throughout his racing career.

“Oh yeah, 100 percent, absolutely, it’s a done deal,” Hinchcliffe replied when asked if he’d ever consider donating his brain.

He then added with a whimsy but serious reality, “If it can help, if it can be put to use, I’ve got no need for it at that point. Absolutely, I’d donate it to the cause.”

Hinchcliffe said he’s studied the topic of racing-related concussions in all forms of motorsports, particularly IndyCar and NASCAR.

The Canadian driver, who sat on the pole for last year’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, said he’s thought on occasions about the ramifications of concussions upon race car drivers.

But it was NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion that forced him to sit out the entire second half of last season that greatly increased the attention of a number of drivers across all forms of motorsports.

“Honestly, I think most guys would be in a similar situation,” Hinchcliffe said. “Dale’s (Earnhardt’s) situation, I think that was something that a lot of guys had never been asked.

“But as soon as it was brought up, it was a no-brainer.”

Hinchcliffe then grew embarrassed when he realized his verbal faux pas and apologized, but his message was still on-point.

“It’s a very easy decision for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “If we can do something now, especially with something we don’t need anymore (after dying) and it’s going to help benefit the future safety of our sport, then it’s an easy call.”

Hinchcliffe starts 17th in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for Sunday’s race, a year after qualifying for the pole position.

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Vice President Mike Pence confirms Indy 500 visit

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INDIANAPOLIS – Vice President Mike Pence, the former Gov. of Indiana, will be “back home again” this weekend for the Indianapolis 500.

The slight difference, of course, is that his main residence is now in Washington, D.C. since the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January.

Pence is a longtime fan and visitor of the race, so while he confirmed he’ll attend on Thursday, it will not be in any official capacity.

“The Vice President is a Hoosier, grew up here, and tweeted some photos. He will be here as a fan. There will be no official role for him at the Indianapolis 500,” said Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles on Thursday.

Rumors percolated on Wednesday he’d be in attendance. On Wednesday, Boles said IMS was in the process of preparing for Pence’s arrival from security and operational protocols.

“We have heard, as have all of you, that there is a possibility the Vice President of United States,” Boles said Wednesday. “We are not in position yet to confirm or deny yet; however I can tell you we are preparing for it. As soon as we know, we hope to know by end of the day tomorrow, we’ll have another one of these briefings.”

Indeed they have on Thursday. The only major change announced was that there will be no pedestrian traffic at Gate 4.

“The Turn 2 suites, just South of those suites is what we call Gate 4. Gate 4 will be closed to pedestrian traffic beginning tomorrow,” Boles said.

Vettel not counting Mercedes out of Monaco F1 pole fight

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to discount Mercedes from the fight for Formula 1 pole in Monaco this weekend despite the German marque’s quiet showing in Thursday’s practice sessions.

Vettel led Ferrari to the top of the timesheets in FP2 with the fastest-ever lap around the streets of Monaco, finishing almost half a second clear of the field.

Vettel’s F1 title rival Lewis Hamilton struggled through second practice, finishing over a second off the pace in eighth place for Mercedes as the team moved in the wrong direction on car setup.

Nevertheless, Vettel is refusing to discount Hamilton or teammate Valtteri Bottas from the fight for pole, believing Mercedes will find its feet again come Saturday’s qualifying session.

“I am not counting out Mercedes. They probably had a problem today, but I am sure they will be back to full force on Saturday,” Vettel said, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“It is Thursday so there is plenty of time for them to sort things out. My guess is that it will be very close – and that the five-tenths are not the reality.

“We have been able to put it together today and I am happy about that. It was a good start into the weekend. Now let’s let that sink in and see that we keep the tension until Sunday.”

Even with his own strong showing, Vettel is confident that more time can be found, particularly through the long runs that will prove critical in the race.

“The aim is to get faster. If it really works we will see,” Vettel said.

“What I can say right away that the single-lap pace is very promising, and how the long run will work is very difficult to predict, as you always run into traffic.

“My guess is that we still can get better in race trim. We will analyze every single corner and sector to see where we can find valuable time.”