NASCAR’s “road course ringers” largely struggle at the Glen

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Regular MotorSportsTalk readers might remember my attempt at forecasting how NASCAR’s “road course ringers” would fare at Sonoma, and suffice to say, it didn’t go so well.

But as occasionally a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while, so too does a pick of mine come good. My “Charlie Kimball as IndyCar’s Mid-Ohio sleeper” pick blossomed nicely.

Either way, here’s a recap rather than a forecast of how the “road course ringers” did Sprint Cup’s second and last road course race of 2013. It’s become a lot harder for these one-off drivers to come in and score a result as easily as they used to.

  • Max Papis got the call in the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet and did a respectable job, finishing 15th after starting 29th.
  • Boris Said (No. 32 Fas Lane Racing Ford, 22nd) and Sprint Cup debutante Owen Kelly (No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, 24th) scored top-25 finishes, which is far from great, but OK given how far most of the full-season drivers have come on road courses.
  • Alex Kennedy ended 29th in the No. 19 Humphrey Smith Toyota, that car’s best result in quite a while, with Ron Fellows only 35th in the No. 33 Circle Sport Chevrolet. Only positives there are the cars coming home in one piece.
  • Victor Gonzalez Jr. (No. 36 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet) and Tomy Drissi (No. 87 NEMCO Chevrolet) were caught up in a Lap 39 accident. Rough day.

April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994