Weekend wrap-up: Was first Chase elimination race an exciting one?

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One day after NASCAR staged its inaugural elimination race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Dover International Speedway, I’m still not sure how to really judge it.

With four drivers set to be knocked out of championship contention, I suppose I was expecting Sunday’s AAA 400 to play out with a certain level of intensity.

Considering that Dover’s “Monster Mile” is essentially a bigger, high-speed version of Bristol Motor Speedway, I was also expecting to see at least some Chasers’ championship hopes end in a multi-car pileup.

Instead, the Challenger Round finale turned out to be a relatively clean affair.

And outside of the late race give-and-take of the final Chase advance position between Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne, there didn’t seem to be a lot of extra drama with the first of three elimination races in the post-season.

Those who had a solid points cushion going into Dover were able to maintain it. One of those drivers, Jeff Gordon (pictured), didn’t even bother with points and won the race to punch his ticket to the Contender Round.

Of course, the next set of three races has its cut race at Talladega Superspeedway, where pure, dumb luck can often override skill and set-up. As Jimmie Johnson touched on yesterday, woe to the drivers that enter NASCAR’s biggest track needing a win to stay alive in the Chase.

With that in mind, perhaps the intensity will perk up these next two races at Kansas and Charlotte as drivers do whatever it takes to grab a victory and avoid that ‘Dega dilemma.

MORE: Jeff Gordon claims first Dover victory since 2001The Chasers that survived the bubbleAnd the Chasers that didn’tKevin Harvick tripped up again by flat tire.

Stewart opens up: On Friday, Tony Stewart gave his first interview since being cleared by a grand jury of criminal charges stemming from his involvement in a fatal sprint car accident last month.

That interview was an exclusive for the Associated Press. This morning, Stewart held a full press conference and detailed what he’s had to go through since playing a role in the crash that killed 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr.

Ever since the tragedy took place, people from inside and outside the racing world have formed their own opinions and voiced them – sometimes, very loudly – about it.

Some have said Stewart did nothing wrong. Others have said he’s a cold-blooded murderer.

But as the three-time NASCAR champion noted today, it’s worthless to pick sides – especially if you don’t have all the facts.

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion and we know that,” he said. “But everybody – and I’ve seen this for the last seven weeks now – everybody has made their decision and picked their side off of 100 percent of the information they got. Which is about 10 percent of all the information that’s truly out there.

“We all do it. Our society does it. We do it every day. Whatever we see on the news, we make our decision as people about what we see. But I don’t think any of us, every day about whatever topic is we’re trying to come to a conclusion about, ever get all the facts. You understand why people think the way they do.

“But I think more than not, I don’t think people realize that there’s more information out there than what we all get on a daily basis, about whatever it is.”

In the end, nothing we say will be able to erase the memories of Aug. 9, bring Ward back to this world, and relieve his family and Stewart of their grief.

All we can do is continue to pray for the Ward family in their time of sorrow – and hope that Stewart can somehow, someway find peace.

MORE: Stewart appreciates support as he searches for normalcyThe healing power of racingWard’s aunt speaks out.

Big move in IndyCar: Simon Pagenaud, one of the best pound-for-pound drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, has now joined up with Team Penske.

With this decision, Roger Penske now has an incredibly formidable foursome of drivers.

He’s got the series champion, Will Power, coming off the biggest breakthrough of his career. He has a pair of former Indianapolis 500 champions in Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya.

And now, he has Pagenaud, who elevated the smaller Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team to a regular contender for wins in his tenure there. He’s been in the hunt for championships in each of the last two seasons, and now has the elite ride he deserves.

You have to think that Penske, after finally returning to the top of the IndyCar mountain for the first time since 2006, has now taken the advantage over “Big 3” rivals Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport for the time being.

Meanwhile, with Pagenaud’s future finally known, the IndyCar silly season can truly begin.

Next up on the list of notable free agents is James Hinchcliffe, who’s raced with Andretti Autosport for the last three seasons.

One wonders if Michael Andretti is now pushing even harder to keep Hinchcliffe in his stable after today’s news – and if SPM is doing the same in order to take “The Mayor” for their side.

MORE: The strong get stronger as Pagenaud joins Penske

Another title twist in GRC: Red Bull Global Rallycross now has perhaps its most unlikely championship leader of the 2014 season.

The race for the title took yet another twist Saturday in Seattle, as Supercar rookie Joni Wiman’s fourth podium finish of the season and Ken Block’s disastrous final enabled the former to take the points lead from the latter.

Going into the Nov. 5 season finale on the Las Vegas Strip, Wiman holds a 12-point advantage over Block – who had an 18-point lead on Wiman before this weekend.

“It looked a bit bad in the first half of the season, but we worked hard and never gave up in the second half of the season, and that’s been really good,” Wiman said after finishing second to Sverre Isachsen in the Emerald City.

“It’s amazing to lead the championship. I’m happy now, and I want to go. It feels amazing to be here. Of course I want to win a race, but another time. It was an amazing track—when we go out there the adrenaline started to rush, and I think it was the best track of the season. I really enjoyed it.”

With his third consecutive podium in the last eight days (he had a double-podium weekend in Los Angeles), Wiman’s found consistency at the right time. Meanwhile, Block had his run of five consecutive podium finishes snapped at the worst time.

Now he joins fellow ex-points leaders Nelson Piquet Jr. (finished fourth; -28 points behind Wiman) and Scott Speed (finished sixth; -29 points behind Wiman) in the chasing pack behind Wiman, last year’s GRC Lites champion.

It’s a shame we have to wait more than a month for the conclusion to this compelling battle, but something tells me the GRC faithful will be rewarded with a jackpot of a season finale in Vegas.

MORE: Isachsen reigns in Seattle; Wiman takes points lead

Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah,  good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”