What happens when you gather up the IZOD IndyCar Series at Baltimore, MD for a street course battle on a sweltering Sunday afternoon on Labor Day weekend? A NASCAR race! And that's not an entirely bad thing at all...unless you want to see a good clean race. With the pressure of the title race mounting for several contending drivers and teams, as well as the brewing rivalry between Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon and Penske Racing's Will Power, it was like watching a pot of tea boil incessantly.
As for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers and teams, they tried their best to avoid wrecking each on restarts and ultimately, restarts would be the biggest predicament of their race weekend. Starting on the outside was essentially like standing on top of quicksand, relegating far back and in some cases, winding up with cars that resembled a Sunday showdown at Martinsville. Ultimately, it was a race that certainly shook up the Chase picture, as it set up a battle between two former Cup champions while also putting the defending winner in the biggest challenge thus far in his career.
So how exactly did all the racing action unfold for the elite open wheel and stock car series in America? We have it all summed up here on "TPF," and we'll start with Isabelle's recap of the Grand Prix of Baltimore right now!
Bumper Cars Need Not Apply at Baltimore
On Sunday, the Izod IndyCar Series visited Baltimore, Maryland. Just like at Sonoma, the action resembled bumper carts more than it did a race. Takuma Sato was out of the race early as was James Jakes, with a gearbox issue and a small fire respectively. On lap 13, the race went yellow after Ed Carpenter went into the tire wall and Luca Filippi’s car started to smoke.
The race stayed green until lap 41 when Stefan Wilson made contact with the wall in turn 7. Eight laps later, the field restarted only to go yellow again when Graham Rahal spun Scott Dixon in turn 1. The incident held up Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, and James Hinchcliffe.
Prior to the incident, Castroneves had been given a penalty for pit safety violations after accidentally hitting one of his own crew members. On lap 53, the race went green but returned to yellow after Scott Dixon went into the wall after hitting Will Power. Just four laps later on a restart, the field would undergo yet another yellow when Sebastien Bourdais spun after contact with Oriol Servia. Also caught up by the incident were Tristan Vautier, Sebastian Saavedra, EJ Viso, Charlie Kimball and Simona de Silvestro.
On lap 63, the final caution of the day came out when there was an accident involving Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe, Oriol Servia, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal, and Sebastien Bourdais. Simon Pagenaud went on to win (his second win in IndyCar) with Josef Newgarden in second (his first podium in IndyCar) and Sebastien Bourdais in third.
All the accidents and cautions are really getting to be too much. What could’ve been a relatively clean yet entertaining race returned to the “Wild West” action the race a week ago was. There was debris flying on the track, accidents and contact left and right, and cautions every 5-10 laps or so. I’m hoping they get back to where they were in the beginning of the season. I love the action, but not when it’s a five car pile-up every 10 laps in multiple straight races. Although, to be fair, it’s crunch time with only the double header in Houston and the season finale in Fontana remaining on the circuit. Some are feeling the pressure to get as many points as they can, whether it’s for the driver championship or the manufacturer championship.
Also, Scott Dixon needs to calm the temper down a little bit. I know he’s frustrated by the fact that these penalties are impeding his run for the championship, but come on. This week, he called Will Power a wanker, Tim Cindric a sh*t, and Beaux Barfield a moron who needs to be fired. If someone kept getting penalties at work and then came in and said that about people in his or her own workplace, what do you think would happen?
So why is Scott Dixon getting away with saying what he’s saying? I’m thinking there may be an additional penalty that’s needed that goes along with his off-track temper, such as a fine. Ganassi might be quietly talking to Dixon behind closed doors (one can hope), but let’s see how it goes in Houston. Now let’s go to Rob’s report on Atlanta for the NASCAR girl and boys!
Rowdy Time at Hotlanta
Following the somewhat tame Saturday night showdown at Bristol Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour hit up the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway for their Labor Day Sunday evening tradition known as the Advocare 500. Heading into the race, the primary storylines were on the Chase bubble racers, as drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Newman worked tremendously hard to make their bids into the playoffs. Additionally, Goodyear's new dual zone technology tire was a storyline that was heavily emphasized throughout the evening, perceived as a tire of the future for the NASCAR series.
Goodyear's new tire proved to be quite durable but still balanced enough where fresh rubber was the key to success on race day. Most pit stops were performed within a 45-50 lap window, as drivers opted to pit as early as possible to take advantage of the fresh rubber for fast initial lap times in a green flag run. That might have made all the difference for the drivers and teams who tried diligently to keep up with an ever changing racetrack that underwent dusk conditions to nighttime cool settings in a matter of three and a half hours.
As for the Chasers, Kurt Busch made himself become the envy of the NASCAR Sprint Cup field, racing wisely and aggressively en route to a fantastic fourth place effort. With his strong performance, he finds himself in control of his destiny. Simply put, he must finish six positions ahead of Jeff Gordon (who placed sixth), who sits 11th in the points race. If Busch can outperform the four-time series champion, he will be in the Chase. However, Gordon controls his destiny, as he can either make his way into the top-10 with a strong performance (or by finishing at least six spots ahead of Kurt Busch) or punch his way automatically as a Wild Card (at least) with a victory this Saturday night at Richmond, VA.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt, Logano, Biffle, Truex, and Newman performed solidly enough to keep themselves in contention for the Chase, with finishes of eighth, second, 15th, third, and fifth places respectively. However, it wasn't the most memorable night for Brad Keselowski, whose fast car's motor expired after 307 laps en route to a disappointing 35th position. The driver of the "Blue Deuce" now has his work cut out for him at Richmond, needing to finish far ahead enough of his Chase competitors to make the playoff field.
Ultimately, there was a race trophy to be won and Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch and his No. 18 M&M's Toyota team led 36 laps en route to their fourth win of the 2013 season. Starting ninth, "Rowdy" kept pace with the leaders all race long, adjusting to the changing track conditions and taking the top spot when it truly mattered. Clinching a Chase spot in the top-10, the 28-year-old Las Vegas, NV native could find himself in position to be within striking distance of the points lead by race one of the "playoffs" at Chicagoland Speedway.
In typical Kyle Busch fashion, he didn't disappoint with his post-race celebration, laying down some rubber during his burnout and saluting the crowd with his bow. Not to mention, he scored a perfect 10 with all of the nation's racing judges with his victorious kiss to his wife Samantha (a friend of TPF Nation!). Ultimately, it's a far different place for Kyle than in 2012, secured and in the Chase, not an outsider for the title race anymore.
To say the least, Richmond awaits all of the Cup drivers and teams for what will shape up to be the most action packed and exciting "regular season" race of 2013. Unless your driver's clinched a top-10 points spot, it's safe to say that a lot of pacing and nail biting will take place during the Federated Auto Parts 400 (Live at 7 PM EST on ESPN on ABC Sports). It's time to go all or nothing in the world of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing - time to step it up and be ready for the title fight or go home for the rights as "the best of the rest!"
Authors' Notes : The above that you've just read are the thoughts and opinions of Isabelle Beecy and Rob Tiongson, two budding motorsports jounalists who happened to be from neighboring cities in Massachusetts! If you'd like to tweet at us, Follow us now @indyfan1994 and @ThePodiumFinish! Also, the photo of Kyle Busch's victory at Atlanta is courtesy of good TPF friend Kristen Murphy, whose photos from Atlanta will be shared in upcoming TPF pieces. Thanks Kristen and thank you race fans for checking out our latest recap on the IndyCar and NASCAR circuits. Till next time!