Alex Tagliani will have to keep waiting for his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory.
But his performance in the final two laps of today’s Gardner Denver 200 has to be considered proof that it will come.
Tagliani took the lead from Sam Hornish Jr. on Lap 29 and stayed out under caution with 13 laps left to keep it. But that meant the former IndyCar racer would have to save fuel in order to see the checkered flag.
He was able to hold the point off of the restart with 10 laps to go, but with two laps left in regulation, Justin Marks slowed and then stopped just off course to bring out the yellow. A short time later, Tagliani came to a stop near the entrance to pit road – bone dry.
But after getting pushed to the pits, Tagliani got a splash of fuel and four fresh slick tires for the final dash on a Road America course that had dried out considerably after earlier rains.
With nothing to lose, Tagliani took the Green-White-Checkered restart in 23rd place and proceeded to rip through the field in a stellar display of driving.
In the final few corners, Tagliani out-muscled Chase Elliott for third place at Canada Corner and then charged under Kevin O’Connell for second in the last turn.
Another lap – maybe, another half-lap – and Tagliani would have pulled off one for the ages. Instead, he’ll have to settle for his second Nationwide Series runner-up (Montreal, 2011).
“It was pretty intense,” Tagliani said to reporters. “The wet [surface] was tricky, but obviously we were good. Maybe I threw a bad spell on myself because I said it was impossible that I was going to win this race, like something’s going to happen, and then on the white flag, something happened.
To his credit, however, he took the near-miss in stride.
“It’s what it is,” he said. “It’s not in the cards. You have to be quick, you have to have a good car and it has to be in the cards, and if it’s not, you just have to take whatever comes to you.
“I just have to call [team owner] Roger [Penske] and apologize for a couple of scratches on the car.”
Not everyone was happy with Tagliani’s charge in the final two laps. Elliott showed his displeasure over their meeting in Canada Corner by ramming the side of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
When they returned to the pits, TV cameras spotted Elliott talking with Tagliani while the latter was still in his cockpit. The conversation ended with a handshake, but Elliott was still annoyed.
“He just didn’t show us a lot of respect,” said Elliott, who faded to fourth after claiming the lead early from Gaughan in the G-W-C attempt. “I understand those guys are racing for the owner’s championship too.
“I just hate to see those road race guys come in and just [race] you off the track like that, down there in Canada Corner or whatever [turn] number that is.”
But Elliott may have to face the same situation again later this summer. Tagliani is slated to drive the No. 22 Penske car in August at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
And if Tagliani’s in position to win there, you can be assured that he’ll cut no slack for Elliott or anybody else.
It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.
Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.
Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.
However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.
As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.
And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”
Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.
A Journey Into the Unknown?
Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.
And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.
“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.
That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.
Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth
Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.
Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.
Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.
With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.
Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil
It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.
And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.
As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.
“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”
Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.
“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”
Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.
“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”
Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.