Under-the-radar Homestead subplot: Newman goes for RCR’s first title in 20 years, versus ex-RCR driver Harvick

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The immediate reaction to Ryan Newman’s move on Kyle Larson on the final lap of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway was one of “wow,” and “I can’t believe he did that.”

It has moved Newman into the championship finale as one of four drivers with a shot to become a first-time series champion.

And additionally, it’s opened up another subplot: Newman, trying to deliver Richard Childress his first Cup title in 20 years, will be going against Kevin Harvick, Childress’ driver from 2001 through 2013, who came close on many occasions but was never able to deliver Childress a title. Of course Harvick now drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman’s old team.

It’s really a fascinating prospect. Newman has been in the crosshairs all Chase long as the underdog, particularly given the fact he has failed to win a race and scored only four top-five finishes. Yet he’s been entirely consistent throughout the year, played the system to his advantage, and given Childress a driver with a shot at the title courtesy of a move Childress’ legendary driver, the late Dale Earnhardt, would have been proud of.

Newman’s aggression to Larson was definitely a case of “rattling his cage” – as Earnhardt famously did to Terry Labonte at Bristol in 1999 – even if he didn’t describe it as such. Yet aggression isn’t the word you would use to describe Newman’s season on the whole.

So it’s that juxtaposition that leaves Newman – a driver who won eight races in 2003 yet finished sixth in the points to a one-win Matt Kenseth, a season that served as the catalyst for the Chase in the first place – now standing at the precipice of a title, on the strength of a winless season.

And in doing so, he’d deliver Childress his first title since Earnhardt won his seventh in 1994. Earnhardt came close to an eighth in 2000; Harvick came close on several occasions but never bettered third in the points.

Childress, ironically, actually has a shot to win his second straight NASCAR driver’s championship with a winless driver. Grandson Austin Dillon achieved the feat in the Nationwide Series a year ago, which marked the first time in any of NASCAR’s three top divisions (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Truck Series) such a result had occurred.

Not that Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin aren’t intriguing storylines, or potential champions, but to see one of NASCAR’s legendary owners have this driver be the guy with a shot to end a 20-year drought, and have to beat the guy who came close to ending it any of the last 13 years for RCR is definitely going to be fun to watch.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.