CONCORD, N.C. – Brad Keselowski passed Penske Racing teammate Ryan Blaney with 14 laps to go and sailed on to victory in Friday night’s Drive for the Cure 300 Nationwide Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Overcoming tire issues, Keselowski earned his fourth win in the NNS this season, his 31st career NNS win and also his third NNS win in his career at CMS.
What’s more, Keselowski has now made nine starts in the NNS this season and has a finishing average of 1.9. His lowest finish in that nine-race stretch has been fourth.
“That was looking to be a long night, but we got it tuned in there,” Keselowski told ESPN in a post-race interview.
Later in the CMS media center, Keselowski added, “It was a night of adversity. We all got really nervous, then we lost a tire and I thought this was going to be a downward spiral, but my hat’s off to Jeremy (crew chief Jeremy Bullins) and the crew because they got us back in it.”
Fellow Sprint Cup regulars Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth finished second and third, respectively.
“Our competition was just better than us and beat us,” Busch said of Keselowski.
Added Kenseth, “It was okay, probably the most competitive we’ve been this year with me driving the No. 20. I wanted to win the race, but I was close.”
Blaney hung on to finish fourth, followed by Cup rookie Kyle Larson.
Sixth through 10th were Chris Buescher, Trevor Bayne, NNS points leader Chase Elliott, Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott.
“I’m disappointed with it, I really don’t like where we finished,” Elliott said. “We still have some work to do and hopefully we can find it by Texas.”
Regan Smith overcame early rear suspension problems to finish 11th.
“We’re not happy with 11th, but I think we can take a lot from it,” Smith said. “We had a race car that at times was capable of being up front. We lost some track position and earned some back.”
Alex Bowman was 12th, followed by Ryan Sieg, Dylan Kwasniewski, Ryan Reed, Brendan Gaughan, Landon Cassill, Mike Bliss, Dakoda Armstrong and David Starr.
Ross Chastain was 21st, followed by Jeremy Clements, Kevin Swindell, Corey LaJoie, Derrike Cope, Joey Gase, Jamie Dick, Chad Boat, Carlos Contreras and Ty Dillon.
Wrapping up the 40-driver field were James Buescher in 31st, followed by Eric McClure, Cale Conley, Timmy Hill, Jeff Green, Matt Dibenedetto, Tanner Berryhill, Will Kimmel III, JJ Yeley and Jeffrey Earnhardt.
The 200-lap race around the 1.5-mile fast track was marred by two big wrecks.
The first occurred on the opening lap, right after the green flag fell to start the race, and involved 12 cars.
No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.
For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.
Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.
Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.
“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”
The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).
With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s CXC Motion Pro II simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.
The full-motion simulator includes a motion system developed by drivers and engineers, hyrdaulic brakes and force-feedback steering system. Though at the high end for simulators available to the general public, it retails for much less than the seven-figure simulators used by auto manufacturers with race programs.
“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”
There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.
The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.
“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”
He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.
Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”
Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.
It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.
“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.
“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”
If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.
“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.
“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”