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

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).