Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Hope everyone had a great week. Here are the weekend’s top racing headlines.

1. The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Truck Series return to Michigan this weekend. One element of Sunday’s Cup Series race worth noting is the aero package. Like Indianapolis, Michigan will feature a high-drag package. At Indianapolis, several drivers voiced frustration with their inability to pass. Although Michigan does feature a different layout, the concern over a lack of passing throughout Sunday’s race does remain. Whether those concerns will be validated, we will not find out until this weekend.

2. The NASCAR Xfinity Series will be in Mid-Ohio. This is the second of three races in four weeks on road courses. The race presents an opportunity for last year’s Mid-Ohio winner Chris Buescher to extend his points lead, particularly without any Cup drivers to compete against. Buescher will however have to contend with road course aces like Boris Said and Alex Tagliani, and Xfinity Series regulars like Ty Dillon and Brian Scott.

3. The NASCAR world lost a legend earlier this week. Buddy Baker passed away after a battle with lung cancer. Baker won 19 races, including the 1980 Daytona 500. He was also the first person to go over 200 MPH on a closed course. Younger fans like me will remember Baker as a broadcaster with CBS and TNN. Baker’s legacy will be that of a great driver and an even greater person off the track.

Have a great weekend and see you soon.

Top 10 Tuesday: American Racing Manufacturers

Spencer Neff

Michigan International Speedway, located 72 miles from Detroit, is often refered to as Ford and General Motors’ backyard. In honor of this weekend’s NASCAR races, here is a look at the top American manufacturers in racing history.

10. Miller: Harold Miller’s cars won the Indianapolis 500 nine time and engines built by Miller won another three times from 1923 to 1928, his cars made up more than 80 percent of the field.

9. Marmon: Marmon’s biggest taste of racing fame came in 1911, when engineer Ray Haroun came out of retirement and won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in the company’s Wasp. 22 years later, the company ceased operations.

8. Pontiac: The now-defunct manufacturer enjoyed its greatest success at the end of the 20th century. Pontiac won six straight NHRA Manufuacturers from 1996-2001 and won the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup title with Bobby Labonte. In 2003, the company left NASCAR and in 2010, ceased all production.

7. Plymouth: One of Dodge’s sister companies, Plymouth helped usher in one of the msot stunning cars in the 1970s. in order to lure Richard Petty from Ford in 1970, Plymouth created the Superbird. Petty won several races that year, before cars with its design would begin getting phased out by NASCAR due to safety concerns.

6. Oldsmobile: In addition to its 1955 NASCAR Manufacturers title, the former General Motors subsidiary also dominated the early years of the Indy Racing League. From 1997 to 2001, Oldsmobile won every Indianapolis 500 and all but one series championship. Oldsmobile’s racing history also boasts 12 straight NHRA Manufacturers Cups from 1984 to 1995.

5. Buick: Another General Motors team, Buick was famous for its fast cars during Indianapolis 500 time trials. In the 1980s, the team won multiple Manufacturers crowns in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In the 1990s, Buick’s racing program would become phased out in favor other GM makes.

4. Hudson: An early pioneer in NASCAR, Hudson won the first three manufacturers championships from 1952-54 with drivers such as Herb Thomas and Dick Rathmann. After the season, Hudson was merged into American Motors Corporation.

3. Dodge: In the 1970s, the third of the Big Three automakers reached its heyday. Dodge won two manufacturers championships in 1970 and 1975. A brief return from 2001 to 2012 ended with a championship via Brad Keselowski and Team Penske. Dodge still enjoys a great deal of success racing Pro Stock in the NHRA.

2. Ford: The manufacturer that started it all. From its win in the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt to Joey Logano’s Daytona 500 win in February, the blue oval has an impressive racing resume to match its production car history.

1. Chevrolet: Though Chevrolet may not have been around as long as Ford, it’s history and versatility in racing is impressive nonetheless. Chevrolet has won titles in everything from stock cars to funny car dragsters. In the -past year, the bowtie brigade has won the Indianapolis 500, IndyCar title, NASCAR Sprint Cup title, NHRA Pro Stock championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans GT class crown.

Pre-Weekend Quick Takes

Spencer Neff

Hope everyone had a great. Here are some things to watch for in motorsports this weekend.

1. NASCAR returns to the road course in upstate New York at Watkins Glen. For some drivers, this may be there best and final chance left to win a race and secure a spot in the Chase. Drivers like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and defending race winner AJ Allmendinger are looking for their first win of 2015. Gordon was fastest in Friday Morning’s practice and Allmendinger won pole at Sonoma in June, so a 12th different winner may emerge on Sunday.

2. The third and final leg of the NHRA’s Western Swing takes place in Seattle this weekend. Funny Car driver Jack Beckman is the lone driver with a chance to sweep the swing (Eddie Kraweic won at Denver and Sonoma, but Pro Stock Motorcycle has the weekend off). Beckman has taken out more than 100 points of teammate Matt Hagan’s lead and is just 57 back. Beckman has a shot at history and if he can keep it up past the countdown, a shot at another title.

3. Before last week’s race in Mid-Ohio IndyCar President Derrick Walker announced he would leave his position at the end of the season. Walker’s announcement comes just about a month before the August 30 finale in Sonoma. Walker is the latest of a number executives in the sport to leave over the past handful of years.

Despite the stellar on-track racing, IndyCar has been severely hampered by a revolving door at the top. Those who seem to be doing good for the series have left with great frequency and some have even cited frustrations with IndyCar ownership. With great racing and a loyal following, IndyCar’s biggest obstacle has been its management. Many around the sport hope that those issues can be quelled fast.

Have a great weekend and see you soon.

Top 10 Tuesday: Drivers of the Northeast

Spencer Neff

With the Sprint Cup Series racing in Pennsylvania and New York in consecutive weeks, here is a look at the top drivers in racing who call the Northeast home.

10. Ricky Craven: Another driver to win in all three national series, Craven is originally from Newburgh, Maine. A runner-up in the former NASCAR Busch Series in 1993 and 1994, Craven won in the closest finish in Cup Series history at Darlington in 2003, when he edged Kurt Busch by .002 seconds for his last of two career victories in the series.

9. John Andretti: The cousin of Michael, John demonstrated impressive versatility throughout his career. Arguably the biggest achievement of the Pennsylvania driver’s career was winning for owner Cale Yarborough at the 1997 Pepsi 400, his first of two wins in the Cup Series.

8. Joey Logano: Entering NASCAR as one of its most heralded young guns, Connecticut’s Logano has won nine Sprint Cup Series races in his seven-year career, including this year’s Daytona 500. Logano also became the 26th driver to win a race in each of NASCAR’s three national series.

7. Randy LaJoie: Another driver who calls Connecticut home, LaJoie got hiss tart in what was known as the North Series. LaJoie worked his way up the proverbial ladder and won 15 races in the current NASCAR Xfinity Series, as well as two championships in 1996 and 1997.

6. Todd Bodine: The younger brother of Geoff and Brett, Todd made his name in the lower two of NASCAR’s national touring series. Bodine won 15 races in the current Xfinity Series, 22 in the Truck Series. Bodine was also the Truck Champion in 2006 and 2010.

5. Al Holbert: Holbert, who is a Pennsylvania native, was one of the most successful sports car drivers of his era. Holbert captured five IMSA GT titles and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times before his untimely death from a plane crash in 1988.

4. Geoff Bodine: The eldest of New York’s Bodine Brothers, Bodine won 18 Cup Series races, including the 1986 Daytona 500. Bodine now has made his name building bobsleds after his racing career.

3. Shirley Muldowney: Originally from Vermont, Muldowney began drag racing in 1958. Nearly a quarter-century later, she had three NHRA Top Fuel Championships. Muldowney helped pave the way for several women in the series and to this day is regarded as one of the sport’s legends.

2. Richie Evans: Although New York’s Evans did not reach success at the pinnacle of motorsport, his time in the modified series is as legendary as anyone’s in racing. Evans won nine consecutive championships before his death in a crash at Martinsville in 1985.

1. Michael Andretti: Although his dad Mario does boast the most impressive racing career in the family, Michael boasts 42 career IndyCar wins and was the 1991 series champion. Michael now is an IndyCar team owner and race promoter.

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

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