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Johnson Equals The Intimidator’s Career Win Tally With Thrilling Atlanta Victory
The second race of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was a drastically different affair compared to the Daytona 500 opener won by Denny Hamlin. Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500 was the season’s first use of new low-downforce aerodynamic rules on the stock cars. Differences in car handling and the aged surface of the oval track contributed to a very active race with plenty of competitive passing. Despite vehicles being less stable than in previously years, the 39-car field was slowed by only three cautions with the first coming out on lap 211.
Ceasing on an advantage through short-pitting in a late stint to vault over the race-dominating vehicle of Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr, the #48 Lowes Chevrolet piloted by Jimmie Johnson held an advantage of more than five seconds before a lap-324 caution resulting from a spinning #31 car of Ryan Newman. A solid final restart by Johnson and a weak launch of Kevin Harvick decided the victory in favor of Hendrick Motorsports’ now 76-time racing-winning driver. Achieving a career victory milestone set by the late Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson quickly realized the significance of the win. Explaining how not being able to race against the driver famously called “The Intimidator” has left a big void in his racing career, Johnson commented in post-race “So to tie him today, for myself personally, it gives me a little something -- it's a little bit of attachment to the great Dale Earnhardt and something I'm very proud of.”
After a sluggish performance in the season-opening Daytona 500, Hendrick Motorsports appears back on top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with three of their four drivers finishing in the top-10. Just before a multi-car wreck concluded racing at Atlanta, Dale Earnhardt Jr and the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS nosed ahead of Kyle Busch to take the runner-up spot for a Hendrick Motorsports 1-2 finish. Rookie driver for the #24 Chevrolet Chase Elliott crossed the line in eighth place at a track considered his family’s home soil.
Kyle Busch claimed the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 500's pole in qualifying, his time was disallowed due to a measurement after the session. In Sunday’s 500-mile race, the #18 Toyota Camry climbed back to the front. Kyle finished one spot ahead of his brother Kurt Busch in the #41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. The team’s best chance at victory in Atlanta, Kevin Harvick would cross the finish line sixth. Only 12 cars finished on the lead lap after 500 miles but every car was registered as running despite a race-ending caution resulting in damaged vehicles including the #43 Smithfield Ford driven by Aric Almirola and David Ragan’s #23 Toyota. Despite major impacts, both drivers were unhurt.
Phoenix Rises to Welcome IndyCar Series Pre-Season Test
An open test (so-called the Test in the West) at the Phoenix International Raceway concluded on the 27th of February ahead of the Verizon IndyCar’s April 2nd race. Providing drivers and teams a chance to observe the performance of a major open wheel race car on the one-mile oval after a 19-year absence, the open test also served as an open house for fans in the area.
While a crowd enjoyed in free festivities to create buzz ahead of the IndyCar event, the business on the track saw the shares in Team Penske and Chevrolet surge on the time sheets. In the final practice speeds, Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud were at the top. Castoneves’ 190.894-mile per hour lap in the fourth practice session of the Test in the West was the overall quickest. Posting a 190.747-mile per hour speed in practice session three, Pagenaud completed the most testing laps in his #22 car with 337. While Simon Pagenaud ran the most laps, teammate Will Power recorded the fewest with just 117 laps in the #12 car.
Also showing time chart prowess in the Test in the West was the Ed Carpenter Racing team pair who was third and fourth behind the Team Penske duo. Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter both posted times well inside the 190-mile per hour speed threshold. Andretti Autosport driver Macro Andretti finishes the test at Phoenix as the fastest Honda-powered race car with a fifth fastest overall time. Canada’s James Hinchcliffe was 16th fastest on the final time sheet following the Test in the West logging 310 laps and a top speed of 188.085 miles per hour.
History and Upsets Highline NHRA’s CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals
The second event of the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series saw the tour arrive at Phoenix’s Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park for the CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals.
In Top Fuel, Leah Pritchett has become a first-time overall winner in the category driving the Quaker State dragster for Bob Vandergriff. The 27-year-old Pritchett beat out Brittany Force in a narrow final round victory. The matching of Force and Pritchett in Top Fuel was the first all-female final round in the drag racing category since 1982.
The Funny Car finals were a showdown of veterans as 66-year-old John Force faced off against 55-year-old Tim Wilkerson. With a stable 3.937-second final run at 320.43 miles per hour in a Ford Mustang was more than enough to beat John Force’s Chevrolet Camaro who struggled to find traction in the final round. Wilkerson’s effort was deemed impressive after he outran the CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals top qualifier in Funny Car Ron Capps.
A 14-car showing for the Pro Stock cars ended with Jason Line prevailing edging out Chris McGaha. Despite McGaha running a faster time down the track, driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro’s advantage came with a better reaction time.
Atlanta Becomes Kyle Busch’s Latest Xfinity Series Conquest
Kyle Busch won his 77th event in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with a commanding run in his #18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Atlanta Motor Speedway’s The Heads Up Georgia 250 saw Busch lead 119 of the races 163 laps. While the performance alone is proof of the 30-year-old driver’s dominance of the series in recent years, the victory can be highlighted in statistics. Among active tracks in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Atlanta Motor Speedway had been one of the few remaining tracks Kyle Busch had not previously won on in the tour. Only Las Vegas and Watkins Glen are current race tracks where the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has not visited victory lane in the Xfinity Series.
A 29-lap green flag run at the end of the race did see a potential rival to Busch’s Atlanta victory emerge from the ENEOS Chevrolet driven by Kyle Larson. Larson finished second between the winning #18 Toyota and the third place #20 Toyota both belonging to Joe Gibbs Racing. The second-most laps led by a competitor in the Heads Up Georgia 250 were achieved by Brad Keselowski’s #22 Ford Mustang. He finished in sixth place in the Discount Tire-sponsored vehicle of Penske Racing. Despite winning the last three NASCAR Xfinity Series races on the 1.54-mile Atlanta surface, Kevin Harvick was not a major factor in the 2016 event due to an overheating problem on his #88 Chevrolet Camaro. He finished in 12th place and was one lap down.
Nemechek Survives Bruising Late Stages in Truck Series Race
The complexion of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ Great Clips 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway shifted in the last 17 laps. In late race accidents, frontrunners of the race Matt Crafton and Christopher Bell (who would combine to lead all but 12 of the race’s 130 laps) were gradually eliminated through late crashes. Escaping through the multi-vehicle wreck that claimed Matt Crafton’s #88 Toyota Tundra, John Hunter Nemechek rolled through the last laps of the truck to win his first victory of the season. The 18-year-old driver of the unsponsored #8 Chevrolet celebrated his victory with father and team owner Joe Nemechek.
Cameron Hayley in the #13 Toyota Tundra came in a close second place crossing the line 0.305 seconds behind Nemechek’s Chevrolet. The Red Horse Racing Toyota of Timothy Peters, the #19 Ford owned by Brad Keselowski driven by Daniel Hemric and Grant Enfinger in the #33 Chevrolet rounded out the top-five.
Runner-Up Finish Career-Best Canada’s Hayley
John Hunter Nemechek’s required the strength to overcome 19-year-old ThorSport Racing’s Cameron Hayley in the final stage of the Great Clips 200. The sophomore driver has something to prove in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and was in primary pouncing position for a his first career in a major NASCAR touring series. The second-place result in the #13 Toyota does become Hayley’s best career finish in the truck series.