NHRA made right call to move Seattle final round to Brainerd, Indy

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If you attended Sunday’s final eliminations of the Protect The Harvest NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle, it’s understandable if some of you feel you didn’t get your full money’s worth.

All the build-up through the first three rounds of eliminations ended prematurely when the skies opened and rain washed out the final round for the three biggest professional classes: Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock.

Instead of watching the winners celebrate in victory lane, fans got an empty stage decked out in puddles.

Instead of cheering on their favorite driver to victory, a lot of fans likely left the track feeling as if they were shorted of the full experience by not seeing what they came for: the crowning of the event winners.

Instead of going home exhilarated and exuberant, many of them likely went home feeling like a glass half-empty.

Am I right?

As I much as I hate to disappoint you, the NHRA got it right when it decided to postpone the final round.

Even if the track could have been dried – provided the rain stopped – the final round likely wouldn’t have been completed until late in the evening, at best, far beyond the track’s 8:30 p.m. PT curfew (after all, the track wants to be good neighbors with all the homes and businesses around it).

And the NHRA also got it right when it decided not to resume racing at Pacific Raceways on Monday – weather permitting, of course.

Instead, we’ll see the final round for Top Fuel and Funny Car play out in two weeks not in Seattle, but about 1,600 miles away in Brainerd, Minnesota, prior to the start of the Lucas Oil Nationals.

And in a classic case of sportsmanship, Vincent Nobile, one of the two finalists in Pro Stock, agreed to postpone the Seattle final round to prior to the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend in suburban Indianapolis.

The reason? Nobile’s opponent in the final round at Seattle, Aaron Strong, runs for a small team that didn’t have Brainerd on its original race dance card.

In fact, this weekend’s race was only the ninth of Strong’s brief Pro Stock career. He hails from the nearby town of Auburn, Washington.

But because Strong will be at Indianapolis, he and Nobile agreed to settle the postponed Seattle final round there – like true gentlemen and a perfect example of the camaraderie found in NHRA racing.

Sure, the NHRA and the six remaining pro finalist teams could have returned to the Seattle track Monday. But who would have been around to watch?

Where would the fans that were there Sunday be? Probably at work or school or traveling back to where they came from.

If NHRA was lucky, it might have had only a couple hundred people in attendance on Monday in Seattle – and I’d be willing to bet a good chunk of those attendees would have been with the NHRA teams that were actually competing.

Plus, Pacific Raceways would likely have had to open at least some of its concession stands to allow fans the opportunity to purchase some creature comforts such as food, souvenirs and the like.

All for what would likely take a total of 18 seconds for all three combined rounds – if that.

While rare, it’s not unusual for NHRA to move a final round – sometimes even semifinals and finals – to another location.

For example, the final round of the Sept. 2014 event at Charlotte was rained out, prompting NHRA to complete the event the following week at the Texas Motorplex, south of Dallas.

The sanctioning body does everything it can to complete events at the site they’re originally scheduled for. For example, this year’s New England Nationals were postponed from Sunday, June 5, to the following day due to rain.

But that was a different case than Seattle, as all four rounds of New Hampshire’s Sunday’s eliminations were rained out. Folks that returned to New England Dragway the following day got the full day’s worth of racing.

Sure, those of you who attended Sunday’s eliminations – even those of you that watched the first three rounds on FOX – may have felt a little cheated that rain kept you from watching the finale.

I get that. But think about how the teams felt, as well. They also would have liked to see the entire card of racing completed.

But it was not to be – and we move on.

There is a bright side that came out of all this, though: Those who attend the upcoming races at Brainerd and Indianapolis will get a bonus by seeing not one, but two races decided at the same place and on the same weekend.

That is, if the weather chooses to cooperate this time.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.