Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

Here’s a look at some of your headlines for this weekend in motorsports.

1. NASCAR returns to Pocono with the Cup and Truck Series. One thing to keep an eye on is turn two, known as the tunnel turn. In June, many drivers lamented the bumps in the turn. Now the area has been paved and should be smoother. As far as drivers to watch, Kyle Busch tops the list. Busch has won three straight races and is close to breaking into the top 30 in points. Although Busch has not won at Pocono, he did win at Indianapolis last week, a track that shares some traits with Pocono in regard to length and banking.

2. IndyCar storms into its last month this weekend as they head to Mid-Ohio. Points leader Juan Pablo Montoya’s early exit and Graham Rahal’s top five has shrunk the former’s lead to 42, with three-time champion Scott Dixon not far behind. Dixon has been dominant at Mid-Ohio, so the points race could get even closer heading into the final two races.

3. The second leg of the NHRA’s Western Swing is this weekend, with the series in Sonoma. Several drivers are looking to break in and score a Wally, like Steve Torrence did in Top Fuel at Denver last week. Others like Denver Funny Car winner Jack Beckman are trying to close in on the points leader. The fight leading up to Labor Day in Indianapolis and the end of the regular season will be worth watching in all classes.

Have a great weekend and see you soon.

Top Ten Tuesday: American Road Courses

Spencer Neff

Hope everyone is having a great week. On Sunday, the IndyCar Series returns to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and next Sunday, the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series will make their second and final stop at a road course this year at Watkins Glen. In celebration, here is a look at the top purpose-built, natural terrain road courses in America:

10. Barber Motorsports Park: Opening in 2003 as a venue for motorcycle racing, Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park has become one of the more diverse venues in motorsports. The 2.38-mile has hosted several motorcycle races, but has become famous for its annual IndyCar event during the past seven years. The infield also pays homage to its roots, with a vintage museum that contains the largest motorcycle museum and largest collection of lotus cars in the world.

9. Lime Rock Park: One of the more iconic venues in non-endurance sports car racing. Connecticut’s Lime Rock was founded in 1957 by famed driving instructor Skip Barber. Despite its smaller, 1.5-mile layout, Lime Rock has become a beloved track by its fans. In 2009, it was even added to the U.S. National Register of historic Places.

8. Road Atlanta: Northeast Georgia’s Road Atlanta plays host to one of the most storied sports car races, Petit Le Mans. The 10-hour endurance event is contested each fall, in addition to the track’s annual AMA SuperBike events. Throughout its 45-year history, Road Atlanta has also boasted Indy Lights and the Xfinity (then Busch Series) races.

7. Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course: The undulating circuit was opened in 1962. Despite being shrunk from 2.4 miles to its current 2.258-mile configuration, the track has remained as one of the msot famous in racing. In 2012, the track ended its 49-year history of sports car racing. However, Mid-Ohio has added the Xfinity Series to go along with its annual IndyCar event.

6. Sonoma Raceway: One of several tracks on the list that boasts multiple layouts, the 47 year-old Sonoma Raceway is considered to be one of the premier destinations for road course racing in America. In addition to June’s NASCAR events and next month’s IndyCar Series finale, the NHRA will race on the drag strip adjacent to the main course this weekend.

5. Circuit of the Americas: One of the newer courses in motorsports, Austin Texas’ Circuit of the Americas has quickly established itself as one of the most popular road courses in the nation in its four-year history. The 3.427-mile venue has hosted everything from Formula One to racing events at last month’s X Games.

4. Laguna Seca: The 2.238-mile course in Northern California is another track that has its roots in sports car racing. Since 1957, the circuit has become synonymous with competitive racing, from IndyCar to MotoGP. The famous “Corkscrew” in turn eight has become one of the msot famous corners in all of racing.

3. Watkins Glen International: For over 65 years, the track in upstate New York has hosted everything from Formula 1 to Sports Cars. The track has been a fan favorite for many years and across multiple variations of the track’s layout, with the length ranging from its original 6.6-mile public road course in 1948 to the 2.45-mile short course used for stock cars. The Glen has been a historic venue for racing and continues on that legacy with exciting competition each year.

2. Road America: The behemoth 4.048-mile course in Wisconsin has been a favorite among racing fans across several disciplines since its opening 60 years ago. Whether it be open-wheel cars in its early days, to the sports cars and Xfinity Series it is known for hosting know, Road America is a premier spot for racing among fans and drivers.

1. Sebring International Raceway: Now in its sixth iteration as a 3.74-mile road course, the Florida track has hosted the 12 Hours of Sebring since 1952 and the race has become one of the most iconic endurance racing events in the world. In addition, the circuit also hosts IndyCar testing in the preseason and hosted Formula 1 in 1959.

Enjoy the rest of your week and see you soon.

Sunday Night Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Hope everyone had a great weekend. Here are some thoughts on a jam-packed weekend in racing:

1. Kyle Busch held off Joey Logano to complete the weekend sweep at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although I may have been skeptical of his place in the chase, he has more than proven his place. Now with four wins, Busch is less than 40 points away from the top 30 cutoff. The only major question aside from the cutoff, is if Busch can capture that elusive Sprint Cup Championship.

2. Sebastian Vettel won for the second time this season at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Vettel pulled away while the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg experienced issues. Hamilton and Rosberg finished sixth and eighth, with Hamilton extending his points lead to 21 points.

Vettel, the only non-Mercedes driver to win this season, is 42 points back. After the three-week break, it will be interesting to see if Vettel can keep the hot streak going. Another headline to watch will be if Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen can find similar success. Raikkonen was running second before a generator failure ended his day.

3. The NHRA started their Western Swing in Denver today. The professional class winners included Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader Eddie Kraweic, as well as Countdown contenders Steve Torrence, Larry Morgan and Jack Beckman, who currently sits third in points. Next week is Sonoma, and with the cutoff for the Countdown at Indianapolis nearly a month away, the time to make a move is now.

Have a great week and see you soon.

Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Hope everyone had a great week. Some big races are this weekend, so here is a look at some stories to watch.

1. NASCAR’s annual trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is this weekend. This year, high-drag packages have introudced, including a larger spoiler. The package, which will also be utilized at Michigan, has many hoping that more drafting will be in effect for the race. The past few years, racing at the historic venue has been lacking in action. The speedway’s long straightaways do lend itself to drafting, so more passing may be an expected an undoubtedly welcome addition to Sunday’s race.

2. Formula 1 returns to Hungary before a three-week break. Three weeks ago, Lewis Hamilton won at Silverstone in Britain to extend his points lead over teammate Nico Rosberg. After this weekend, there will be another three-week break leading into Belgium. If Rosberg is to catch Hamilton, he needs to start putting up more wins quick.

3. The NHRA has begun their three-week Western Swing in Denver this weekend. One hot topic is the dominance of Don Schumacher Racing. DSR is 1-2 in Top Fuel points and 1-2-3 in Funny Car. The biggest threat to the dominance is typically John Force Racing, but the four-car team does not have a driver within 200 points of the lead in either series. The Swing has often been a good spring board to a championship run and that is certainly the hope in the Force camp.

Have a great weekend and see you soon.

Top 10 Tuesday: Jeff Gordon at the Brickyard

Spencer Neff

Hope everyone is having a great week.

The biggest headline among the drivers for this weekend will undoubtedly be Jeff Gordon, who will be making his 21st and final start at the Indianapolis motor Speedway on Sunday.

Gordon, who is the one of just two drivers (Bobby Labonte) to start every Brickyard 400, is the only driver win five times in any racing discipline on the oval. In January, he announced that 2015 will be his final season. In tribute to his last season, here is a look at the four-time Cup Champion’s greatest moments at the historic track.

10. 2006: First win as co-owner- For thirteen years, Gordon had been the only driver at Hendrick Motorsports to conquer the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 2006, that all changed. Jimmie Johnson, driving a car that had Gordon listed as its owner, passed then-teammate Kyle Busch with ten to go for first win at the track.

Johnson would win three more times in the next six years and all but one of those was accompanied by a series championship. Despite breaking a tie with Johnson in 2014, Gordon and his teammate have remained the sport’s greatest drivers of the past few decades.

9. 2003: Gordon and Montoya Swap Rides- After the 2003 season, Gordon and Montoya (at the time in Formula One and three years removed from an Indianapolis 500 victory), swapped rides at Indianapolis. Gordon drove around the infield road course in Montoya’s Williams Formula 1 machine, and Montoya drove in Gordon’s 24 car. Montoya would make the switch to NASCAR in 2006 and in 2015, after switching back to IndyCar, won his second Indianapolis 500(a race where Gordon drove the pace car).

8. 2015: Driving the Pace Car-Despite making his name in stock cars, Gordon’s career started out in open-wheels in Indiana. A few months after announcing his retirement from full-time driving, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made Gordon the honorary pace car driver for the 99th Indianapolis 500. Gordon led the field to the green flag before going back to Charlotte for the Coke 600 on May 24.

7. 1996: Back-to-Back Poles- After his first pole at the track in 1995, Gordon repeated his success the following year. However, the race would not be so kind to Gordon. A crash early in the race relegated him to 37th in the final running order. Ernie Irvan would win the pole the following years, and the two are still the only drivers to win consecutive pole positions at the track.

6. 1995: First IMS Pole- A year after winning the inaugural Brickyard 400, Gordon returned and took the pole for the race. After leading 35 laps, Gordon finished sixth to Dale Earnhardt. Earnhardt, whose contrasting personality sparked an on-track rivalry in Gordon’s early years, joked he was the first man to win the Brickyard 400.

5. 2004: Gordon Breaks Slump- 2002 and 2003 were two very unfruitful years in Jeff Gordon’s illustrious carer. 2004 marked a bounce-back, including a record-tying fourth winner at the Brickyard. The 24 team dominated, leading 124 laps and holding off 1999 winner Dale Jarrett to take the win, one of five that year for the eventual third-place driver in the championship.

4. 2001: Third Brickyard Win and Fourth Championship: Despite the race’s first running on a Sunday, the dominance of the 24 car remained. Gordon led the final 25 laps and cruised to victory. In November, Gordon won his fourth Cup title in eight years, capping one of the most dominant eras in the sport’s history. Gordon’s victory also marked the fourth year in a row that the Brickyard winner won the Cup title.

3. 1998: Gordon Wins His Second- 1998 was a historic season on many fronts. As NASCAR celebrated its 50th anniversary, Gordon was on his way to a third championship in four years. The 1998 championship run included a run for the record books. Gordon tied the modern-era record with 13 wins that season, including a second win at Indianapolis (first two-time winner). Gordon did so in dominating fashion, leading 97 of 160 laps.

2. 2014-Gordon’s Historic Fifth: Until last year, the only driver to win five times at the Indianapolis motor Speedway was Michael Schumacher. Schumacher won five times when Formula ran on the track’s infield road course in an eight-year span (2000-2007). After battling with Kevin Harvick, Gordon pulled away for his record-breaking fifth win on the oval and first in ten years.

1. 1994- Gordon Takes the Inaugural: After 85 years as an exclusively open-wheel track for the Indianapolis 500. With the first running of the Brickyard 400. After Ernie Irvan cut a tire late in the race, Gordon, who grew up in nearby Pittsboro, took the lead and went on to win his second career race, having won the Coke 600 at Charlotte that May.

See You Soon

Sunday Night Quick Takes

Spencer Neff
Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

Hope everyone had a great weekend.

1. Kyle Busch pulled away late to win at New Hampshire on Sunday, his third win in eight races since coming back from a broken leg and broken foot in February at Daytona. Despite missing the first 11 races, Busch has made the case for his presence in the Chase and is less than 60 points from getting into the top 30 as mandated by NASCAR. After seeing how much a new rules package helped last week at Kentucky, it may be time for NASCAR to make some changes for the short tracks.

Many fans and others in the sport always say that not every race can be exciting, but I think it is time some changes be made to inject some excitement into the racing. The short tracks have not had the same level of intensity as they once did and it is time for NASCAR to look into some remedies.

2. Ryan Hunter-Reay won at Iowa on Saturday night for his third win in four races at the track. It was a 1-2-34 finish for American drivers, with Josef Newgarden, Sage Karam and Graham Rahal rounding out the top four. Aside from Hunter-Reay shaking off a rough start to the year, another headline was the struggles for Team Penske and Ganassi.

The powerhouses had just one of each of their drivers in the top 10. The struggles for Penske and Ganassi allowed for Graham Rahal to move into second in points. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver is just 42 points behind points leader Juan Pablo Montoya with three races to go (and double points at the August 30 finale in Sonoma).

3. I am sure many of you who are racing fans have heard by now, but I did want to address the death of Jules Bianchi. Bianchi, who was injured in a tragic collision with a crane at the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, passed away Friday night after spending over nine months in a coma. Ever since the death of Dan Wheldon, there has been an ongoing debate about closed cockpits.

Many fans and people in the sport have expressed their displeasure with the idea and I don’t know how viable a retractable bubble (sort of combining a closed cockpit with the roof flaps utilized in NASCAR) would be. Regardless, the open-wheel series do need to look into giving the drivers as much cockpit protection as possible. Racing can never be completely void of danger. We do however, owe it to the drivers, teams and fans to be as proactive in implementing safety measures as we possibly can.

Have a great week and see you soon

Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Hope everyone had a great weeekend, here are your top headlines for this weekend in racing.

1. NASCAR returns to the flat, one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Cup and Xfinity Series’ first race on a short track in almost three months. In March, the series ran at Martinsville, which despite the disparity in length, does feature some similar qualities to New Hampshire. In that race, Denny Hamlin held off Brad Keselowski to win and was one of three Joe Gibbs Racing cars in the tip five. Teammate Carl Edwards won pole, so Joe Gibbs Racing may be the team to beat.

Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano won the races at New Hampshire last year and were competitive at Martinsville, so expect them to be in the mix as well.

2. IndyCar will have its second straight race on a short track, this time at the .875-mile Iowa Speedway. Last week, Josef Newgarden dominated early and the Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing driver has had some good runs at Iowa in the past, as has Tony Kanaan for Chip Ganassi Racing. Look for Newgarden to be a threat for his series-leading third win and for Kanaan to contend for his first checkered flag of the year.

Have a great weekend and see you soon.

Sunday Night Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Hope everyone had a great weekend. Here are some quick thoughts on the weekend in racing.

1. The much-anticipated debut of the new rules package for the Cup Series made its debut in Kentucky Saturday night. Despite a race that was dominated by the teams of Joe Gibbs (including winner Kyle Busch) and Penske racing, who swept the top six, the action was some of the best in the track’s five years of Cup Racing and some of the most competitive on an intermediate track in a while. Even though there can still be some improvements, this weekend was very promising for NASCAR and for the race at Darlington (September 6), where this package will also be used.

2. Sunday’s IndyCar event at the Milwaukee Mile was won in dominating fashion by Sebastian Bourdais, Bourdais’ first win on an oval in nine years and his 34th career(passing Al Unser Jr. for seventh all-time.). The racing on Sunday was very good, but as is the case for many events with IndyCar, there was another concern.

3. Although Milwaukee is the oldest operating track in the world and has been operated very successfully by Andretti Sports Marketing the past few years, drawing a big crowd does seem to be a challenge. Over the past three years, the track has seen its race fall on three different dates and this year fell during the late afternoon. Having a late afternoon start for a Saturday race would be fine.

The series and track promoters do need to consider that many fans work the next day. Having a race end after 7:00 local time with work looming the next day may just be asking a little too much. If the series does return (rumor has it Road America may be coming back and potentially replace Milwaukee). Although I would like to see both, IndyCar and the track’s staff need to fix the kinks in order for the Milwaukee Mile to succeed in 2016 and beyond.

Have a great week and see you soon.

Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Another jam-packed weekend of racing is on tap, so here’s a look at the headlines.

1. The Cup Series heads into Kentucky tomorrow night with a new, lower downforce aero package set to debut. Among the changes are a shorter spoiler (down from 6 inches to 3.5), smaller overhang for the front splitter and a 25-inch radiator pan (was 38 inches), which will take away about 1000 pounds of downforce. The major concern for NASCAR and the race teams is that rain has plagued on-track activities this week.

After having Wednesday’s session and a huge chunk of the weekend’s track time cancelled because of the weather, Saturday’s race will be even tougher. With three additional races set to feature the new aero package, tomorrow night will be a huge barometer to see if the changes improve competition.

2. Last night in the Truck Series, David Gilliland collided with Ben Kennedy. The contact sent Kennedy into the wall, even hitting the catch fence and riding along the SAFER barrier. Thankfully, Kennedy walked away from the crash. After two crashes that saw vehicles into the catch fence, it is important to note just how much all the safety precautions have helped the drivers, crews and fans stay safer. However, having these types of crashes this close together is something NASCAR needs to look into trying to remedy as best they can.

3. Following a week off, the IndyCar Series will return to the Milwaukee Mile. Although this is the 12th race of the season, it is the first on a short oval and therefore,the first with the new aero kits. There has not been much in the way of testing and practice on short ovals with the new body kits so predicting how the race will go may be tough.

One driver to watch out for is Will Power. The reigning series champion won last year at the Mile and was competitive last year. This year’s racing on ovals has been exciting, now the hope for many is that the competition will transfer to the short ovals.

Have a great weekend and see you soon.

Top 10 Tuesday: IndyCar at the Milwaukee Mile

Spencer Neff

Twitter: @NeffOnSports11

After NASCAR returned to one of their premier venues at Daytona last weekend, the IndyCar Series will do the same this weekend. The series is set to hit the famed Milwaukee Mile on Sunday. To celebrate the event at the world’s oldest operating motor speedway, here is a look at the most memorable IndyCar moments in the track’s 112-year history.

10. 1983-Sneva’s Controversial Win: Two weeks after his winning the Indianapolis 500, Tom Sneva became the seventh driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and the race at Milwaukee.

After crossing the finish line 10 seconds ahead of Al Unser, Sneva’s car was found to have an improper ground clearance on the side mount skirts. The win was given to Unser, but was awarded back to Sneva upon appeal two weeks later. 1983 was also the first time since 1946 Milwaukee hosted just a single IndyCar event. The track has done so ever year since, except when the race was cancelled in 2010.

9. 2004-Hunter-Reay Dominates: On a cold night in June, Ryan Hunter-Reay started on pole and led all 250 laps en route to a dominant victor at Milwaukee. Eight years later, Hunter-Reay would win again at the mile, this time during the day and in less dominating fashion, leading 84 of 225 laps and giving Chevrolet their first Milwaukee win since 1991.

8. 1993-Mansell’s First Oval Win: In 1993, IndyCar rookie and reigning Formula Champion Nigel Mansell had already proven he could translate his road and street course prowess to IndyCar, winning in his first start in the series at the Surfers Paradise circuit in Australia.

The question of how Mansell would do on a short oval remained. Mansell missed the race at Phoenix in April after a practice crash, the only short oval on the schedule before Milwaukee. Mansell started seventh and passed polesitter Raul Boesel to win his first oval race. Mansell’s last three wins in 1993 were all on on ovals (two short ovals), on his way to the 1993 IndyCar Championship.

7. 2003-Night Racing Debut: For the 2003 ChampCar Series race at Milwaukee, the cars would race at night. Temporary lighting was brought in for the race and for the next three races ChampCar ran their. Michel Jourdain Jr. won his first career race that night after eight years in open-wheel racing.

6. 1990- Little Al’s First Oval Win: By the time 1990 rolled around, Al Unser Jr. had been racing in the IndyCar Series for eight seasons and racked up 10 victories. None of them had been on an oval until the 1990 race at Milwaukee. With just two laps to go, Michael Andretti ran out of fuel and Unser Jr. drove by to take the win. Unser Jr. would win at the Milwaukee Mile just once more in 1994.

5. 1991- Andrettis Dominate: The Milwaukee Mile has been a special place for the Andretti Family, including Michael, who now runs the event with Andretti Sports Marketing. One of Michael’s biggest days as a driver came in 1991. After dominating the race, Michael led his cousin John and father Mario to the finish line in the first 1-2-3 for members of the same family. Michael’s brother Jeff finished 11th that day.

4. 1981-Mosley Storms from 25th to First: Driving for Dan Gurney, Mike Mosley started 25th in the 26-car field. Mosley worked his way through the field and won the race, making it the farthest back any winning driver has started in an IndyCar race. Mosley’s win also marked the final time a “Stock Block engine” won.

3. 1966-Mario Wins His First Pavement Race: Like many drivers of his era, Mario Andretti’s career began on the dirt tracks of America. In his sophomore season, Andretti finally proved himself on the paved tracks by winning at the Milwaukee Mile. For the next 28 years, Mario would go on to win numerous races across several racing disciplines and cement himself as one of the greatest drivers ever.

2. 1964-Foyt Closes Out Roadster Era: One year after Jimmy Clark began the front-engine era, AJ Foyt effectively closed it out. Foyt dominated and won, but the roadster would make an unexpected comeback a year later. In 1965, Foyt would tow his front-engine backup car from Springfield to Milwaukee. in that race, Foyt led 16 laps and finished second to Gordon Johncock, who won his first career race. The front-engine cars would race at Milwaukee until 1970, but would not score a single victory.

1. 1963-Clark Wins in a Rear-Engine Car: The early 1960s were a huge transitional period for the open-wheel cars. Among the many changes was the shift from front to rear-engine cars. In 1963, Jimmy Clark proved that rear-engines cars could compete. Clark took the victory at Milwaukee and so started the rear-engine era that has continued to this day.

Have a great day and see you soon.

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