Three of IndyCar’s younger stars had nights to remember, if results to forget, in the MAVTV 500 season finale.
Simona de Silvestro, 25, posted her best career oval finish of eighth for KV Racing Technology. Meanwhile Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand were Honda’s last two bullets for the manufacturer’s championship, but potential race-winning efforts went away in the last 100 miles, and left Chevrolet to collect the title for the second straight year.
De Silvestro owed her eighth place, from 16th on the grid, more to the high attrition rate. Her No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva Chevrolet was one of six cars caught up in the Lap 111 crash, but she spun to avoid it and lost a handful of laps fixing the car. As it was good to go, she could collect laps and gain confidence on an oval.
“It was the longest race of my life!” she exhaled after the race. “You know 250 laps on a short oval go by quickly, usually. We started up OK but got caught up in the crash and the car was a little bit bent up. I spun to avoid it and yeah, it just kind of happened in front of us. But we kept going and finishing eighth was pretty crazy! We didn’t have the speed but we had the luck, which sometimes you need.”
Considering her checkered history with ovals, I think it’s fair to say she was due a bit of good luck. Her fifth consecutive top-10 finish carries her into the offseason a career-best 13th in points (was 24th last year) as she and her management team explore their options.
Kimball, 28, got another top-10 finish in P10, his 10th of 2013 in what was a career year for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver as he won his first race (Mid-Ohio) and finished ninth in points. But on this night, despite leading three times for 22 laps after starting fourth, a late-race engine failure cost him a shot at his first oval win.
“We were able to run up front and prove that the No. 83 Novo Log FlexPen car was quick,” said Kimball, who had a great battle with Helio Castroneves in the waning stages. “It was unfortunate to have a mechanical failure that close to the end. We had a good restart, the car was just getting better and better and we were in good shape for the end of the race.”
Hildebrand, 25, started 15th and ended 11th in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda with the same mechanical issue that happened at nearly the identical moment as Kimball’s. A free agent for 2014, Hildebrand did himself no harm for team owners seeking a potential shoe next year.
“We had issues with cooling all night and we ended with like 30 or 35 to go,” he said. “One of the sides of the car was getting super hot. The car was kind of slow for a little while but we were flat out, so weren’t losing that much ground. Then that restart, everything cooled down. It may have heated up, or just let go.
“But it was fun. We definitely could have finished top five. I know, I know it… it’s definitely a bummer (for Honda). It felt good to have a good run.”
With his third win of the season, Eli Tomac took the red plate from Ken Roczen at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Entering with a one-point deficit, Tomac left with a four-point advantage in the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross championship hunt.
Tomac has struggled with starts so far this season. Saturday, he was part of a four-rider separation on the opening lap. He slotted in behind Adam Cianciarulo and went to school on his teammate.
“Our starts were better,” Tomac told NBCSN after the race. “That was the key. We put ourselves in a position early so that we could go to battle and ride the way we’re supposed to ride.”
Tomac claimed his 30th career win as the riders behind swapped positions. Cianciarulo and Malcolm Stewart started out with top-five runs. Both had the podium in site before they faded and gave last year’s Big Three free reign at the front of the pack.
“Early on I was just following Adam,” Tomac said. “With these short lap times I knew we had a lot of laps under our belt tonight. So I kind of just settled tonight and then made the push just before halfway.
“And I thought I’ve go to go if I’m going to go. So I was able to switch up the sand there. That was really cool with the option. A good passing spot.”
Cooper Webb finished second. It is his fifth podium of the year, but he felt he could have challenged Tomac if he had gotten through traffic a little faster. Roosters from the sand section blinded him and forced a more cautious approach from on top of his KTM.
Roczen minimized his points loss with a third-place finish. It could have been much worse. At about the halfway point, Roczen fell. Luckily for him, Cianciarulo went down on the same lap and took much longer to right his bike, which allowed Roczen to hold onto a top-three spot. Roczen ended the race nearly 11 seconds behind Webb and 18 behind Tomac.
Last year’s Big Three all stood on the podium.
Speed has not been a problem for Cianciarulo. He has been fastest in qualification every week including Tampa, but he is still learning how to get to the finish without making mistakes.
Last week Cianciarulo lost the lead late at San Diego when Webb was able to study his line. This week Cianciarulo had the opportunity to study Tomac, but he refused to simply ride and gain experience.
Earlier this week, Cianciarulo told NBC Sports: “The adversity I’ve faced – the mistakes I’ve made – have all been basically caused because of not settling. Just trying to get the absolute most I can out of every race. I guess in a way you can look at that and say it was inexperience or a rookie being a rookie.”
Cianciarulo went from second at the midway point to ninth at the checkers.
Justin Barcia and Justin Hill rounded out the top five.
Stewart had one of his best runs of the season, but he faded in the closing laps. On the final trip around the track, he nipped Jason Anderson at the line.
250 EAST: Shane McElrath won the opening rounds of his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Both of those came at Anaheim in the 250 West division. Switching coasts did not make any difference. McElrath drew first blood in the series with a 3-second advantage over last year’s 250 East champion, Chase Sexton.
“Nobody outside of my wife and I really know what went into this year and what a hit we took last year mentally,” McElrath told NBCSN. “It was a struggle. Everybody goes through their down times, and I really had a lot of growing to do last year.”
Sexton got off to a bad start on the first lap. All the news wasn’t bad. After getting mired in the pack at the start, he picked his way through the field and settled into second about halfway through the main event. Sexton made up 8 seconds as the clock ticked but simply ran out of time.
“I didn’t execute my start like I needed to,” Sexton said. “You can’t come from fifth and expect to catch them by the end of the race.”
In his first race back after a year and a half with a broken back, Jeremy Martin stood tall on the last rung of the podium
Garrett Marchbanks and Jordan Smith rounded out the top five.
Heat 1: Eli Tomac is not known for his starts. It’s time to rethink that after Heat 1. Tomac bolted to a big lead on Lap 1. … Malcolm Stewart led the field to the first corner. He slid wide exiting the corner and slipped back several spots before charging back to second. … Cooper Webb backed up his win last week with a third-place finish. … Vince Friese finished ninth to grab the final transfer. | Heat 1 Results
Heat 2: Ken Roczen stalked Adam Cianciarulo until the rookie buried his front wheel in the sand section. That stalled his momentum and allowed Roczen to take the lead. It set up a huge battle for the final battle for the top spot as the two crossed under the checkers nose to tail … Roczen won over Cianciarulo. … Zach Osborne took the final rung of the podium. … Back after a two-year hiatus, Broc Tickle finished fourth. It was like he had never been off the bike. … On Lap 1 Blake Baggett jumped into the back of Jared Lesher. They collected Joshua Cartwright, who got pinned under his bike and limped off the track. Baggett recovered to finfish eighth. … Kyle Chisholm took the final transfer position in ninth. | Heat 2 Results
LCQ: Chad Reed had to go through the LCQ, but he qualified for his 255th 450 Main where he would finish 19th. … Kyle Cunningham provided a lot of drama as time was running off the clock, but missed a corner and settled for second. Ryan Breece finished third. … Making his first Main of the season, Adam Enticknap swapped positions with Daniel Herrlien throughout the race and nipped him at the end. | LCQ Results
Heat 1: Shane Mcelrath grabbed the lead early and held it throughout the heat. He won by 14 seconds, but much of that was because of mistakes by the second- and third-place riders. … Garrett Marchbanks had a quick off early in the race. He recovered to finish second. … Jordon Smith struggled in the sand. He went down early in the sand section, but he held position for a while. A second mistake in the sand allowed his teammate Marchbanks to pass him. … The final transfer position was a barnburner as Nick Gaines held off a determined charge by Hunter Sayles on the final lap. | Heat 1 Results
Heat 2: Chase Sexton told reporters before the race that he is determined to dominate. So far so good as he let the entire heat in route to the top spot on the podium. … Jeremy Martin settled into a comfortable spot four seconds back as the battle for third heated up. … Jo Shimoda held it for a while, but was eventually overrun by RJ Hampshire, who took the final rung of the podium … Shimoda faded to fifth. … The final transfer spot went to Cedric Soubeyras. … Joey Crown finished a respectable eighth and also transferred. | Heat 2 Results
LCQ: Jimmy Decotis made his move at the right time. With less than a minute on the clock, he caught and passed Curran Thurman. … Jimmy Decotis finished third. … The battle of the night was for the final transfer spot. Jalek Swoll made a dramatic pass in the final turn, but bogged down in the whoops and allowed Isaac Teasdale to catch him at the line in a photo finish. Teasdale took the final spot | LCQ Results