Weekend wrap: NASCAR’s Saturday night fight in Charlotte; Hamilton rules in Russia

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For the first time in six months, it was Kevin Harvick’s turn to make the donuts. Photo: Getty Images.

“Uh oh.”

One can’t help but wonder if that was what the Sprint Cup garage was thinking at the end of Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kevin Harvick, perhaps the fastest driver in the field throughout this NASCAR season and indisputably the most snake-bit, finally returned to Victory Lane.

No getting caught in freak accidents. No mechanical failures on his No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet. No slow stops from his pit crew.

And with his third win of the season – his first since the Southern 500 at Darlington in April – no more worrying about next weekend’s elimination race at Talladega.

Harvick has expressed his share of frustrations over the numerous problems that he has encountered, but in the second half of the season, he’s taken to keeping the team’s spirits up.

His main message, paraphrased: Don’t worry about the luck. It’ll turn. We’ve got everything else and when the luck does turn in our favor, we’ll be contenders.

“I tell [crew chief Rodney Childers] this every week at lunch, Monday when we get back and we’ve had something crazy happen,” Harvick said late Saturday night. “You get back, and I’m like, ‘Bottom line is we have a fast car and we can win every race. We’ll just keep working on everything and try to get it all worked out.’

“And hopefully by the end of the year, you have everything worked out and you can race for a championship and be in position to race for that championship at Homestead.

“But when you have fast cars, everything else takes care of itself eventually. Bad luck can’t haunt you forever.”

Harvick will have some added confidence going into the Eliminator Round, but this Charlotte win has to be a huge boost for his 4 crew that have been trying to keep their heads up as one winning performance after another went by the boards throughout the summer.

And as far as their Chase rivals are concerned, you can’t help but think they’re in trouble now that the sleeping giant has been awakened at last.

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Just one part of Brad Keselowski’s post-race outing at Charlotte. Photo: Getty Images.

Saturday’s race at Charlotte was an important one for Brad Keselowski, who was in a deep points hole on the Chase Grid after crashing in the Contender Round opener at Kansas.

But instead of making headlines for a win that would erase his Kansas wreck, he made them for being at the center of a post-race fracas that involved him:

1) Trying to spin Denny Hamlin on the cool-down lap;

2) Running into Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart on pit road;

3) Having Stewart back into him and smash up his No. 2 Team Penske Ford (see above);

4) Causing Hamlin to need to be restrained from going after him;

and 5) Getting sorta-tackled from behind by Kenseth in the hauler lot [Insert reference to childhood memories of WWE Raw and WCW Monday Nitro here].

So now we wait. Obviously, NASCAR has to do something. “Boys, have at it” and the ability to self-police is nice, but there are limits.

Keselowski certainly appears to have breached those limits. But what can the sanctioning body do about him, especially considering that he’s still a part of this post-season (albeit barely; he’s 19 points behind the cutoff with one race to go in the Contender Round)?

What we know is this: Talladega, the second elimination race of the Chase, was already shaping up to be a compelling race on its own. And now it’s gotten even more compelling.

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Mercedes is on top. And so’s the man in the middle. Photo: AP.

A 1-2 finish for Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix at Sochi enabled Mercedes to clinch the 2014 Formula One Constructor’s Championship.

So with that big piece of hardware secured, now Hamilton and Rosberg can fight it out, straight-up, for the World Driver’s Championship…Except there may not be much of a fight coming.

Hamilton’s win on Sunday was his fourth consecutive triumph, the second time he’s rattled off four in a row this F1 season. And it was a straightforward victory too thanks to Rosberg, who locked up the tires going into the first turn, gave up the lead to Hamilton after cutting said corner, and then had to pit for new tires.

The rest of his race was about getting that set of rubber to the end – never mind hunting down Hamilton, who has effectively seized momentum as the United States Grand Prix in Austin looms on Halloween weekend. Meanwhile, Rosberg is going to need to deliver a Texas-sized statement there if he wants any hope of a comeback.

But casting a pall over the entire proceedings in Russia was the absence of Jules Bianchi, who remains at last update critical but stable following his horrendous crash in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Bianchi’s Marussia team rebuilt the Frenchman’s car, but kept it in their garage and sent out Max Chilton as its sole representative for Sunday’s race. Unfortunately, a wheel problem knocked Chilton out just nine laps in.

Hamilton would dedicate his victory to Bianchi and his family, saying that “it will make a very small difference, for sure, but every bit of positive energy hopefully will help.”

MORE: Rosberg disappointed to lose ground on HamiltonAlonso rules out racing with Merc engine in 2015Kobayashi told to stop car by CaterhamBottas on the podium againMerc boss delighted with Constructor’s titleMcLaren gets a good points haulHome driver Kvyat has disappointing day.

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”