Justin Allgaeir wins NASCAR Xfiinity race at Mid-Ohio
By CRAIG MERZ
Saturday, August 11
LEXINGTON, Ohio (AP) — Justin Allgaier used fresh tires to pass rookie Austin Cindric with four laps left and win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Allgaier used the sixth restart of the race to squeeze by Cindric on Turn 1, then held off his challenge on the 72nd lap for his third series win of the year. He also won at Dover and Iowa for JR Motorsport.
He was seventh for the last restart on Lap 69 but had used the caution to replace all four tires.
“We needed to get up front,” Allgaier said. “We know the last restart was going to be pivotal.”
Cindric, the pole-sitter for Team Penske, finished 2.05 seconds back after leading 59 of the 75 laps on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course.
“It’s NASCAR racing. We knew there would be a late-race restart,” Cindric said. “Great driver on new tires, great restart. We finished second. It’s frustrating. This place means a lot to me. We just came up short.”
Daniel Hemric was third, followed by Matt Tifft and Ryan Truex. Series leader Christopher Bell was 11th.
“Justin did a great job moving through traffic,” Hemric said. “When you have new tires at some point during the run it tends to equal but he did a good job getting as far in front as he did.
“I was sitting there watching (Allgaier and Cindric) go at it. It was a heck of a race from my viewpoint.”
Cindric built a seven-second lead before the fifth caution on the 60th lap. Cole Custer rubbed tires with Tyler Reddick, spinning him and causing a rear right flat tire for Reddick, who could not get his car off the course.
Custer also spun Allgaier during the same incident and Allgaier dropped to eighth with laps and hopes of winning quickly fading.
“I really thought that was as far as we could get,” he said.
Allgaier won the 20-lap first stage after Cindric led the first 17 laps before pitting, yielding the lead to him. Cindric won the second stage, also 20 laps.
He is the grandson of the late Jim Trueman, who once owned the track and was the car owner when Bobby Rahal won the 1986 Indianapolis 500. Trueman, the founder of Red Roof Inn, died of cancer 11 days later. Cindric’s mother was Trueman’s daughter and his father is the president of Team Penske.
Allgaier moved up to fifth in the series standings with 751 points, 20 behind Bell. “We’re still pushing. I don’t know if we can get to first,” Allgaier said.
The race got off to an auspicious start when Dylan Murcott went into the tire barriers at Turn 4 on the first lap to bring out the yellow flag. He did not record a lap.
Former IndyCar driver Katherine Legge, 38, made her debut in NASCAR and was running in the top 15 before blowing an engine on Lap 65 in the first of a planned two races in the JD Motorsports Chevrolet this year. Legge finished 30th. She will also run the road course at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, on Aug. 25.
Tifft was third finishing third in the 2017 race following brain surgery in 2016. He’s from Hinckley, Ohio, 65 miles northeast of Lexington. Tiff. The driver of the Fanatics/Cleveland Indians Chevrolet threw out the first pitch at an Indians’ game on Thursday. … Truex drives for Matt Kaulig RaceTeam. Kaulig was a backup quarterback at Akron from 1992-95.
“When I was a kid I would to two races. I would go to Indy 500 and I would go to Mid-Ohio and hang out by the fence. This place I obviously have pretty special memories here.” — Cindric.
Bristol, Tennessee, on Friday. Kyle Busch was the 2017 winner.
Sabates thinks France unfairly blamed for NASCAR’s downturn
By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
Tuesday, August 7
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — One of NASCAR’s longtime team owners believes Brian France has been unfairly blamed for the downturn in the series.
France has taken a leave absence as chairman and CEO of NASCAR following his Sunday night arrest on charges of driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of oxycodone. He’s held the position since 2003 and made radical changes to the racing product that have coincided with a steep decline in NASCAR’s attendance and television ratings.
Felix Sabates has had at least partial ownership of a top-level NASCAR team since 1989. He defended France to The Associated Press on Tuesday as “the most loyal friend anyone can have” and said the entire industry shoulders blame for NASCAR’s slide.
“I think NASCAR, owners and drivers need to get on the same page to reverse the trend, and everyone has to share in the responsibility,” Sabates said, citing operating costs that have skyrocketed in the last two decades.
Sabates said France deserves to be welcomed back into NASCAR whenever he’s ready. Sabates was a close friend of the late Bill France Jr. and has known his son, Brian, for more than three decades.
“We need to find it in our hearts to forgive Brian for his mistakes,” Sabates said. “Whenever he finishes what he needs to do, we all at NASCAR need to welcome him back with open arms. There is a side of Brian most people don’t see. He is fun to be with, he knows as many funny jokes as his Daddy, he’s very charitable. He is a very simple person.”
Jim France, Brian’s uncle and the vice chairman and executive vice president of NASCAR, is now the interim chairman and CEO. NASCAR is privately owned and was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1948. Brian France replaced his father, Bill France Jr., who ran NASCAR for 31 years before turning leadership over to his son.
France was arrested Sunday night in the Hamptons section of New York’s Long Island, some 350 miles away from the Cup race in Watkins Glen. Chase Elliott, a future star of the series, won his first career Cup race in a dramatic finish on the road course, and NASCAR finally had some buzz to celebrate this week.
Not long after Elliott crossed the finish line, France was spotted blowing through a stop sign in Sag Harbor, according to police.
France, 56, spent the night in jail, was released Monday morning and announced his leave from NASCAR eight hours later. Police said that at the time he was pulled over, France struggled to keep his balance during field sobriety tests, and his eyes were red and glassy.
Tests showed his blood-alcohol content was 0.18, police said. The legal limit for driving in New York is 0.08. Officers found five oxycodone pills during a subsequent search, police said.
The impact the arrest had on NASCAR, which has been in desperate need of positive news, was immediate. Elliott’s feel-good win — his plane was greeted by several hundred supporters Sunday night when he returned home to Georgia — was pushed to the back burner as NASCAR executives huddled for a plan.
NASCAR has said nothing as of Tuesday beyond confirming that Brian France has taken a leave and Jim France has assumed his duties. A request by The Associated Press to speak to Jim France was not immediately answered.
Because NASCAR is privately owned and run in large part by Brian France, Jim France and Brian’s sister, Lesa France Kennedy, there is no clear indication of how hands-on Brian France was or what kind of void his absence will create. But many believe Jim France, the second son of NASCAR’s founder, can be a steadying hand in trying times for the series.
The sport was booming in popularity when Brian France replaced his father in 2003, and although many of his initiatives were progressive and needed in some form, staunch fans have vehemently rejected his vision. Brian France introduced a playoff system, overhauled the design of the series’ cars and pushed for diversity within the circuit’s predominantly white, male ranks.
But as viewership has declined, sponsors have pulled out of NASCAR and Brian France has not made himself available to the public. He has yet to address a May report that NASCAR is either for sale or the France family is looking to take on investors, but he called SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on July 25 and called talk of a sale “rumors.”
“The France family is locked and loaded in its dedication to NASCAR,” France said on the radio program. “We’re focused on ruling and managing NASCAR. There’s nothing to report on that. Rumors are always interesting, but they’re seldom right.”
In the same call, Brian France praised his uncle several times in lauding sports car series IMSA and NASCAR’s recent acquisition of ARCA, a low-level stock car series. Jim France runs IMSA and was the top supporter in the purchase of ARCA.
“My uncle has done an incredible job,” Brian France said. “He’s put his heart and soul into this thing and it pays off.”
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Chase wins his first race
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Like father, like son.
Mired in a confounding losing streak since the start of his NASCAR Cup career in 2016, Chase Elliott finally broke into the win column Sunday (Aug. 5), holding off road course ace Martin Truex Jr. at Watkins Glen.
The son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who also won his first Cup race on a road course (Riverside in 1983 in his 124th start), Chase celebrated a triumph he will cherish forever. Out of fuel after the finish, he was pushed to victory lane by the banged-up No. 48 Chevy of seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, a teammate and one of his staunchest supporters, as his father raced to join the celebration after spotting.
Toss in the raucous cheers of the sellout crowd and it doesn’t get much better than that.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” said Elliott, who has finished second eight times in Cup. “I was going to do a burnout, but I ran out of gas. Certainly glad that we were on the front end today.”
Elliott’s victory came in his 99th Cup start and was the 250th win for Hendrick Motorsports, breaking a 37-race losing streak for one of NASCAR’s signature teams. It also assured Elliott a spot in the playoffs as he became only the fifth driver to win a race outside of the “Big 3” of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Truex, who have combined to win 16 of 22 races.
Truex ran second to Elliott for most of the final stage and began to steadily close as both drivers tried to save enough gas to reach the end of the 90-lap race. It was a two-car breakaway as the rest of the field was more than 11 seconds back.
Truex closed to the back bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy as his car bobbled slightly out of the first turn on the final lap around the 2.45-mile natural terrain layout. But Truex’s No. 78 Toyota skidded, Elliott regrouped and pulled away and Truex sputtered home, out of fuel.
“I just tried all I could to chase him down, and I got there with plenty of time,” Truex said. “It’s just every time I’d start putting together some good corners and get close enough to him to even think about making a move, I’d get sideways behind him. He did a good job of putting his car exactly where it needed to be and not making a mistake.”
Truex was bidding to become the first Cup driver to win three straight road races since Tony Stewart accomplished the feat just over a decade ago (2004-05). Kyle Busch finished third, 20 seconds behind, followed by Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, a triumvirate of Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. Pole-sitter Denny Hamlin finished 13th.
The race promised to turn into a fuel mileage race as the laps wound down, and nobody has been better with the strategy than Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. All three of Truex’s road course wins were won with strategy, including last year at The Glen and this year at Sonoma in California’s wine country.
“You feel satisfied,” Elliott said. “It’s a huge deal. It has not been an easy year. We were getting closer, closer, closer and finally got it done.”
Elliott won the race’s second stage and brought the crowd to its feet with a pass of Busch. Elliott pulled out to a half-second lead while Truex was fighting to get back to the front after a restart mired him in 12th.
Midway through the segment, the Big 3 were running in the top 10, but Elliott dominated and beat Busch by 1.3 seconds.
Busch’s day was ruined when Matt DiBenedetto brought out a caution just past the midpoint of the race. The fuel probe malfunctioned on the ensuing pit stop and the crew only got a few gallons into the No. 18 Toyota. That forced him to pit again, dropping him out of contention after dominating the opening segment.
“Every year we come here, we have a fast car and fail to execute, whether that’s just called bad luck or whatever,” Busch said. “Last year we had a lug nut get stuck in the caliper, this year we had fueling problems. It never ceases to amaze me.”
Other things to know about the Cup race at Watkins Glen on Sunday:
PLAYOFF FIGHT: Paul Menard was dealt a blow to his playoff chances before the race even started when his No. 21 Ford failed inspection Sunday morning and he was sent to the rear of the 37-car field. Menard entered the race tied for 16th in points with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who started 23rd. Stenhouse finished 16th, 12 spots ahead of Menard, and leads him by 10 points. The top 16 drivers make the 10-race playoffs, which start in mid-September, and only four races remain in the regular season.
COME ONE, COME ALL: Watkins Glen International announced that reserved grandstand tickets for the race sold out for the fourth consecutive year.
JOEY’S SHORT DAY: Joey Logano started on the third row and was gunning for his second Watkins Glen sweep. He won both the Xfinity and Cup races in 2015 and won the Xfinity race on Saturday. He lasted less than three laps on Sunday after sliding off course and then heading to the garage with a broken radiator, his day done.
UP NEXT: Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 12.
More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org
Mid Ohio race preview
LEXINGTON, Ohio (August 7, 2018) – The Buckeye State will have plenty of representation when the green flag falls on Rock N Roll Tequila 170 Presented by Amethyst Beverage on Saturday, August 11, at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.
Matt Tifft, a native of nearby Hinckley, Ohio, will be making his second start on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn permanent road course in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. On Thursday, he gets the honor to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Cleveland Indians game, then Tifft will race the No. 2 Fanatics / Cleveland Indians Chevrolet adorned with a special Indians livery design during the race weekend.
“Throwing out the first pitch at the Cleveland Indians game on August 9th is honestly like a dream come true for me. I grew up and Indians fan and have had season tickets for the past 15 years. Some of my best memories are from when my dad and I would go to every possible game we could,” said Tifft, racing for the legendary Richard Childress Racing. “I never thought I’d have the chance to do something like this. This experience will be really special to me and kind of nerve-wracking! I’ve never done anything like this before, and I want to do a good job for them. Then to have them riding along on the upper quarter panels of my No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro with me all weekend at my home track, it means a lot.”
Matt Tifft missed most of the 2016 season after undergoing surgery to remove a glioma found on his brain when he was receiving treatment for a separate back injury. Racing in front of his friends and family in his home state makes it an even greater event for Tifft.
Tifft continued, “Every time I get in my No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro is special to me since recovering from my brain tumor surgery. The doctors initially had told me I would never drive again, so every race since coming back is special. Last year was my first time racing at Mid-Ohio despite growing up just 35 minutes away, and it was a special weekend for me. Having all my friends and family out at the track who supported me when I went through my fight with the brain tumor now supporting my racing career feels great. I really enjoyed this track last year and hope to have another great weekend there this year.”
Kaulig Racing, owned by Northeast Ohio entrepreneur Matt Kaulig who was born in Columbus, raised in Cincinnati, moved to Chicago, then was a star quarterback at the University of Akron, fields the No. 11 Chevrolet Camaro entry for Ryan Truex. Austin Cindric, a rookie driving the defending race winner No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, also has Mid-Ohio roots and is the grandson of Jim Trueman, the late former owner of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the 1980s.
Some of the NASCAR team crew members hailing from Ohio include:
Austin Dickey – Ashtabula, Ohio – Front Changer – No. 1 for Elliott Sadler
Chris Krieg – Colebrook, Ohio – Pit Coach – No. 1 for Elliott Sadler
Ryan Patton – Delphos, Ohio – Front Carrier – No. 35 for Joey Gase
Dan Collins – Columbus, Ohio – Hauler Driver – No. 42 for John Hunter Nemechek
Mike Harmon – Lima, Ohio – Crew Chief/Rear Changer – No. 74 for Mike Harmon
The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli will feature multiple drivers from Ohio including Ryan McManus (Westfield Center), David Pintaric (Canfield), Amy Ruman (Stow), and Aaron Quine (Medina) across the series two races. John Paul Sourthern Jr. from Westlake will compete in the three rounds of Formula 3 Americas Championship Powered by Honda on the weekend schedule.
Saturday, August 11th’s 75-lap Rock N Roll Tequila 170 Presented by Amethyst Beverage, Round 21 of 33 of the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series, will be televised live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET. MRN will also provide radio coverage throughout the event. Tickets are on sale at midohio.com to experience the race in person.
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course offers an exceptional value. General admission is $60 for the weekend, and a grandstand seat which includes general admission is just $65 ($5 additional for tickets purchased at the gate.). Reserved trackside motorhome spaces and camping are available. Children 12 and under are admitted free (not the grandstands) when accompanied by a ticketed adult, plus free parking is available. Visit midohio.com or call 419-884-4000, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. ET, to purchase tickets in advance.
ABOUT MID-OHIO SPORTS CAR COURSE
A comprehensive motorsports facility in Lexington, Ohio, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course sits on 330 acres and features a permanent road-racing circuit with two primary configurations: 2.4-mile, 15-turn or 2.258-mile, 13-turn layout. Located 60 miles north of Columbus and 75 miles south of Cleveland near Mansfield, the natural terrain road course is commonly referred to as the “Most Competitive in the U.S.” and annually hosts a diversity of locally, regionally and nationally sanctioned racing events for amateur, club and professional drivers and riders. It is also home to The Mid-Ohio School, featuring over 20 driving and riding courses, for teenagers to professional racers using Honda vehicles. Opened in 1962, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is owned and operated by Green Savoree Racing Promotions, just the facility’s third private ownership group in its history.
For more information, visit midohio.com, ‘like’ its Facebook page @MidOhioSportsCarCourse or follow updates on Twitter @Mid_Ohio and Instagram @officialmidohio.
Paraplegic race car driver scores 1st pro win, seeks more
By JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer
Friday, August 3
Michael Johnson’s big grin never seems to disappear because he is doing what he loves.
The smile sticks out as he drives the No. 54 Audi for JDC-Miller Motorsports in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. So does his other set of wheels — the wheelchair he uses when he’s not behind the wheel.
“I do it (racing) to get myself out of the wheelchair. It’s a big thing,” said Johnson, who is paralyzed from the waist down. “I’m a totally separate person (in the car). I don’t have to deal with any of the stresses in life. I can really just focus on what I’m really good at — driving a race car and having fun doing it.”
The native of Flint, Michigan, is one of a handful of disabled race car drivers competing worldwide at the top levels. One of his heroes, former open-wheel star Alex Zanardi, lost his lower legs in a crash in Germany nearly two decades ago. Now 51, Zanardi, a two-time CART champion who also drove in Formula One, returned to racing, won in world touring cars and is still driving .
Turns out the 25-year-old Johnson is good enough to win, too. Johnson and co-driver Stephen Simpson combined for their first win on July 21 at Lime Rock, Connecticut. It was their third straight podium of the season and another positive sign for Johnson in his recovery from a devastating crash.
“It’s been a fantastic evolution,” said Simpson, who’s helped coach Johnson for the past seven years. “We’ve gone on a long road together.”
Johnson won 14 national motorcycle championships by age 12 and was on the cusp of landing a deal for a permanent ride with a manufacturer when his budding career skidded to a dramatic halt on a dirt track in Canada in 2005. He was involved in a crash in Sarnia, Ontario, suffering a broken collarbone, broken left ankle, broken left leg, broken ribs and, worst of all, two fractured vertebrae in his back, which caused the paralysis.
The first thing out of his mouth was, “Don’t make me quit racing,” said his father, Tim, a former motorcycle racer.
Four rods and 15 screws were inserted in Michael’s back during an 11-hour operation. Johnson spent a couple of months in the hospital and another month at home in bed.
“It happens in racing, so I’m not going to dwell on it,” Johnson said. “That was 13 years ago. I’ve moved on.”
On Christmas Eve 2006, Johnson took a spin in a specially equipped go-kart with hand controls in the parking lot of his father’s phosphate coating business, which has allowed the family to help him pursue his dreams.
“It was a good feeling,” he said. “That’s when everything started.”
After getting clearance from his doctors, Johnson won a go-kart title and his career on four wheels began a rapid ascent.
IndyCar team owner Sam Schmidt, who also was paralyzed in a crash, advised Johnson to get involved with Skip Barber Racing. After lawyers approved his entry into the formula car series, Johnson ran a partial schedule in 2010 with modified hand controls. He competed in the entire summer series the next year, winning at Watkins Glen and twice at Elkhart Lake among seven podium finishes.
“It’s not a surprise,” Tim Johnson said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would have been a professional (motorcycle) champion. He had the passion and, more importantly, he had the work ethic to make it happen.”
Michael Johnson spent two seasons in USF2000 and two more in Pro Mazda as he chased an open-wheel ride with an eye on competing some day in the Indianapolis 500, a dream he still has.
Acquisition three years ago of a hand-controlled driving system produced by Guidosimplex of Italy gave Johnson an edge he needed. His steering wheel features two rings, one for the throttle, the other to brake, and paddle shifters allow him to grip the steering wheel to navigate the serious turns on the road courses used by the series.
“What he’s able to do is nothing short of amazing when you think he’s only operating with a third of the sensory perception that a normal person has when they’re sitting in the seat of a race car,” team engineer Cole Scrogham said.
The 10-race Continental Tire Challenge series — Johnson and Simpson compete in the street tuner class, where the cars can reach speeds of around 140 mph — is the foundation for grooming amateur drivers to compete and move up to IMSA’s WeatherTech Series. Teams are required to make a driver switch every race, and Johnson and Simpson are able to accomplish it in competitive times thanks to Johnson’s trainer Josh Gibbs, who pulls him from the car and carries him behind the wall on pit road.
There have been setbacks. Johnson has crashed twice in the past three years, most recently in practice for the IMSA season-opener at Daytona in January. He was second on the time sheets when his brake linkage snapped. The crash broke a leg.
Johnson, who underwent stem cell surgery in Portugal in 2009 in hopes of improving his chances of walking again, recovered and returned to race at Mid-Ohio in May after being cleared by series officials. Johnson responded by qualifying on the front row and leading a race for the first time.
“It’s amazing to see his resilience,” said Mikey Taylor, who drives in the series and has coached and spotted for Johnson in the past. “For sure, Michael still has a ways to go to be a professional like Stephen, but in the car he’s equally as good and holds his own. I definitely think he’s got a very strong career in sports cars … in the higher ranks.”
Johnson also has a passion for spreading his message.
“It’s a good feeling to know that I’m really one of only a select few that have gone this far,” he said. “I’m trying to help out as many people that are paralyzed in wheelchairs that I possibly can. Whatever challenges you’re having, don’t give up. There’s always something that can be done.”
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