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

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.

MORE: Jeff Gordon finishes 2nd, boosts Eliminator Round hopesKahne holds final Eliminator spot by one pointJimmie Johnson faces end of title reignDale Jr.’s one last chanceA Chase without Junior, Jimmie, and Kes?McMurray, Ganassi still best among non-Chase competitors.

source: Getty Images
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.

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.

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
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It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway