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Sports car stars shine in chaotic NASCAR Xfinity Mid-Ohio rain race

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In the first 20 NASCAR Xfinity Series races of the year, only five were won by Xfinity Series regulars – Erik Jones with three, and Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez with one apiece.

By contrast, Kyle Busch has more Xfinity wins than that this year by himself – seven in 12 starts.

Round 21 of the year though at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, one of three road course races for the series in the month of August (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America at the end of the month) presented an opportunity for those who don’t run in NASCAR full-time to wheel it and wheel it well with the absence of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars (Ryan Blaney was only Sprint Cup regular in the field).

And while it was a chaotic race with rain throwing a monkey wrench into the normal script, with some drivers and certainly tires that were lesser tested in rain conditions than others, it allowed a number of drivers with plenty of talent but rarely an opportunity to shine through.

Chief among them were race winner Justin Marks and seventh place finisher Andy Lally, both of whom are sports car veterans but who have also plied their trade off-and-on in NASCAR when they’ve had the opportunity.

Looking at Marks first, one of racing’s modern day renaissance men (besides racing, Marks also co-owns the Larson Marks Racing World of Outlaws team, and is also an investor, entrepreneur and owner of the Drylake Group) had his best shot to win a NASCAR race in his No. 42 Katerra Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

And he seized the moment in his 12th start of the year, and 25th of his Xfinity career. His win wasn’t just his first win of his career but it was also his first top-10 finish of the season; his prior best result this year was 11th at Talladega.

Marks led 43 laps in the rain – his first NASCAR Xfinity laps led – en route to the victory. He then dedicated the win to the late Bryan Clauson, a friend and fellow competitor he’d raced on short tracks around the country.

His sports car accolades primarily came in the GRAND-AM Rolex Series, where he has eight career wins, including the 2009 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Most recently, he’s driven Lamborghinis with Robby Benton’s Change Racing team. He raced in the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America series last year in an Lamborghini Huracán LP 620-2 Super Trofeo car and this year was part of the lineup along with Spencer Pumpelly, Corey Lewis and Kaz Grala in Benton’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut with the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 at Daytona.

Lally, 41, was the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie-of-the-year with TRG but has been a sports car star for the better part of 15 years and more than 200 starts. He’s won the Rolex 24 at Daytona in class five times, including this year in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS he shared with John Potter, Marco Seefried and Rene Rast.

In a one-off NASCAR outing though entered by Mario Gosselin – Gosselin graciously giving up the seat – Lally drove the popular “underdog” effort with support from Doug Peterson’s 3Dimensional group and with Jordan Taylor, a IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship ace for his dad Wayne’s team and Le Mans winner for Corvette Racing, gathering donations for Camp Boggy Creek to support the effort. Taylor’s equally epic/infamous mullet made a re-appearance on Lally’s No. 90 Chevrolet as a result.

Lally led three laps and notably came back from the low-20s to the lead despite getting clipped earlier in the race. But his greater effort came in the final 20-odd laps of the race when he essentially drove blind to the finish out the side window. Check out his Instagram post below:

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4 days ago, almost to the hour, I had zero idea I would be racing the #NASCAR #XfinitySeries at Mid Ohio. Now, back home and unpacking I have some great memories of a wild ride. Mario Gosselin & the guys did a great job on our #90 this weekend and it was fun to mix it up with the guys I watch every weekend. For those wondering why we faded, we lost the defogger on top of the wiper and when I passed the jet dryer in turn 13 it blew. Ton of water in the car onto the inside of the windshield. As soon as we went green it fogged the windshield so bad it may as well have been painted. I drove out the side window and my spotters Michelle and Jeff let me know when I got to a specific marker going into the turns so I knew when to start braking. Craziest feeling. A 7th place finish in what is probably my only NASCAR race of the season. Tune in to SiriusXM channel 90 at 12:30 if you want to hear more!

A post shared by Andy Lally (@andylallyracing) on

Looking down the order and others like Alon Day, who made a brief Indy Lights appearance in 2012, Australians Owen Kelly and Kenny Habul, sports car driver-turned-NASCAR driver Ryan Ellis and “I’ll seemingly race everything with four wheels on it” veteran Nelson Piquet Jr. also turned heads during the race. Ellis is working hard on making a NASCAR career but the others could aptly be considered “road course ringers,” a term that’s fallen out of the Sprint Cup arena but not Xfinity.

Marks and Lally were the standouts and what they did was showcase that if given an opportunity, they can star.

Plenty of others in the world of sports car racing could do likewise if given the chance.

It also made for a fun race to watch, knowing the outcome was in doubt until the end and without the likelihood of a Sprint Cup regular winning an Xfinity race.

Robert Wickens shares more positive strides toward recovery in new video

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Robert Wickens has made massive steps since sustaining a spinal cord injury in an Aug. 19, 2018 crash at Pocono Raceway.

Since the accident, Wickens publicly has shared his recovery, often uploading videos of his physical rehabilitation on Twitter.

In his most recent update on Wednesday, Wickens shared a video of him walking on a treadmill. Fellow NTT IndyCar Series competitor Tony Kannan, who competes in triathlons during his spare time, also was visible running on the treadmill behind Wickens.

“When I am @TonyKannan [sic] age, I hope to run as fast as him…” Wickens tweeted. “Today was a good day!”

Wickens, who will turn 31 on March 13, first made his return to the IndyCar paddock in last year’s season opener in St. Petersburg. Since then, he’s made a return to the driver’s seat, piloting a specialized Acura NSX prior to the start of last year’s IndyCar race in his hometown of Toronto.

In September, Wickens fulfilled a vow to his wife Karli, by standing with her during their wedding. The new husband and wife also danced together during their reception.

Should Wickens fully recover to resume racing, Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt has stated that the team’s No. 6 entry will be available for him to drive. Wickens continues to remain as a “driver coach and consultant” for the team.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter