NASCAR: Belgium’s Kumpen takes Whelen Euro Series title at Le Mans

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This past weekend at Le Mans’ Bugatti Circuit, Anthony Kumpen of Belgium secured the 2014 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series title by one point over two-time and defending series champion Ander Vilarino of Spain.

Vilarino started the Le Mans Finals doubleheader on Saturday with an 11-point lead over Kumpen. That day’s race appeared to be won by Eddie Cheever III, but the son of the former Indy 500 champion was penalized 30 seconds for gaining positions while not respecting track limits – handing the victory over to Kumpen, who had finished second on track.

With Kumpen now first and Vilarino placing third, the Spaniard’s championship lead was cut to one point going into Sunday’s final battle.

Sunday started under the safety car due to wet track conditions, and pole sitter Vilarino picked up bonus points for leading the opening lap.

But when the green came out, Cheever raced to the lead and never looked back en route to victory and a measure of redemption for what occurred the day before.

While Cheever was cruising, Vilarino and Kumpen were left to duke it out for the title. But on the fifth lap, Vilarino not only lost second to Kumpen but, most critically, third as well to Frederic Gabillon of France.

The latter position swap proved to be the difference, as Kumpen’s second place finish gave him the slim edge he needed to dethrone fourth-place finisher Vilarino.

“It’s fantastic to win the championship in our first year with a new project,” said Kumpen. “I looked at NASCAR for all my life and now that NASCAR is in Europe, to be the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Champion is a dream come true.”

Kumpen, who drives the No. 24 car in the Euro Series, also got a shout-out on Twitter from another No. 24 – four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon:

Kumpen will now join the rest of the NASCAR touring series champions in being honored during a December ceremony in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.