Nationwide at Mid-Ohio is wide open with few Cup stars

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The NASCAR Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend is a true wild card event for the Nationwide Series. There’s a few interesting storylines to note going into the series’ first race on the 2.258-mile permanent road course.

  • Someone other than Brad Keselowski will win. Hardly a bold prediction but with the Sprint Cup Series at Michigan this weekend, the 2012 Cup champion won’t have a chance to continue his Nationwide interloping and capture a fifth straight win on Saturday. He got it done at Watkins Glen over teammate Sam Hornish Jr. As at Road America in June, the door is largely open for Nationwide Series regulars.
  • That someone needs to be Sam Hornish Jr. I get the consistency is fine for the championship but Sam Hornish Jr. has left way too many points on the table finishing second to Penske Racing Cup drivers this year. He’s done it in three of the last four races, and those 10-12 points lost are crucial in a championship race where right now, the top five are covered by only 18 points. Hornish is one of the few with Mid-Ohio race experience from IndyCar, albeit six years ago in 2007, and he finished 14th.
  • Dillon’s double dilemma. It’s hard to imagine Austin Dillon maintaining his slim three-point lead over Hornish after the weekend ends. Dillon has taken on a double duty role with filling in for Tony Stewart at Michigan, all while still trying to focus on his Nationwide commitments at Mid-Ohio. If he misses Nationwide qualifying and starts at the rear of the field, he’ll have seriously impacted his title chances as he’ll need a bit of a miracle to make it through the field. Regan Smith (-5), Elliott Sadler (-12) and Brian Vickers (-18) are within striking distance.
  • ‘Dinger leads the “ringers.” If the concept of “road course ringer” has petered out in Sprint Cup, it’s still alive and active in Nationwide, and an early favorite going into the weekend is AJ Allmendinger. He won at Road America and remains focused on getting another win for Roger Penske, who’s stuck with him in various part-time opportunities all season.
  • “Bumper cars” likely. Road America’s Nationwide race has been traditionally clean for the first 30-35 of 50 laps, before all hell breaks loose in the last 15. With two great braking points and passing opportunities at Mid-Ohio, into the Keyhole (Turn 2) and after the longest straight at Turn 4, there’s bound to be at least one accordion effect collision during the race.

UPDATE (5:45 p.m. ET): Author oversight here, as I failed to note Marcos Ambrose in my initial look through of the Nationwide entry list at Mid-Ohio this weekend. Apologies for that. My MST colleague Chris Estrada has a post here on the other double duty drivers this weekend.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”