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

Leave a comment

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

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.