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Car FYI's Revved Up Weekend Review: September 17-September 19, 2021

Photo Credit: Logan Riely/Getty Images


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NASCAR Cup Series: Kyle Larson Prevails in Heated Late Race Battle at Bristol


The conclusion of the opening three-race round on the road to deciding the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship has playoff contenders as well as the rest of a 38-car field converging on the concrete 0.533 short oval of Bristol Motor Speedway for a 500-lap Saturday night affair. Ahead of the green flag for the Bristol’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, only 3 of the eligible 16 drivers had their places in the 12-spot second round of the 2021 Cup Series playoffs secured.


Having already gained entry into the second round of the playoffs, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson won the opening two stages of the short track race. Drivers such as Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney would mathematically clinch their spots into the next round as the final stage of the Bristol race commenced for a 240-lap dash to the checkered flag. Hamlin’s quest for a second win in three races was foiled with almost 100 laps remaining when contact between his #11 FedEx Toyota Camry and Kyle Larson’s #5 Chevrolet Camaro caused a cut tire. In addition to the Hendrick Motorsports cars driven by Larson and Chase Elliott at the front late in the 500-lap event, the Stewart-Haas Racing #4 Subway Delivery Ford of Kevin Harvick was also battling for the lead. Still winless this season, the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion seized the chance for taking a victory in 2021 when he closed on then-leader Elliott’s #9 Hooters Chevrolet navigating through lapped traffic with 35 laps remaining. Harvick’s car made contact with Elliott through turn 3 and turn 4 as the #4 shot to the top spot. Within a lap, Chase Elliott needed to make an unscheduled pit stop for a cut tire.


Though Elliott was out of contention for the win finishing three laps down, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion would still influence the battle for victory. Coming out of the pits in front of Kevin Harvick’s #4 machine, the #9 Chevrolet remained ahead of the leader. With the pace to stay in front of Harvick, Elliott interfered enough that his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson was able to make a successful charge on take the lead with 3 laps to go. Holding off an aggravated Harvick, Kyle Larson took the win at Bristol Motor Speedway. While Larson celebrated his sixth win of the season, the runner-up Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott would have a pair of heated debates. Following an initial confrontation that was broken up when it almost became a shoving match, the two met several minutes later in one of the Hendrick Motorsports’ team haulers.


The top-seven finishers of the Bass Pro Shop NRA Night Race were all title contenders. Delivering much-needed top five results at Bristol, William Byron (3rd place) and Alex Bowman (5th place) join Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Despite tire problems late for Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell, all four Joe Gibbs Racing cars also advance into the next round of the championship chase.

     

Title contender entering the night, Aric Almirola struggled late on the short track to wind up three points short of advancing. Other drivers who have been eliminated from the playoff hunt includes Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch and Michael McDonnell.  



NTT IndyCar Series: The Herta Name Triumphant at Laguna Sega Once Again


The second to last event on the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca welcomed a field of 27 cars for a weekend on its twisty 2.238-mile track layout. Arriving at the California race course, the narrowing drivers’ championship has the young Spanish driver Alex Palou back in prime title-contending fashion with his #10 Chip Ganassi Racing team regaining his lead on Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward after the Portland round. Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson also entered the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey with a mathematical chance at the 2021 IndyCar Series crown.


While the championship was a headline story ahead of Sunday’s 95-lap event, the dominating narrative of the race was Colton Herta. The driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport car took the pole and remained at the front for all but 4 laps. Herta was able to enjoy a comfortable lead on the field thanks to only a single caution period. This lone full course yellow occurred on the second lap when front row starter Alexander Rossi’s #27 car made contact with Herta’s machine. Enduring a dismal 2021 season, Rossi remained in the race at Laguna Seca but finished two laps down in 25th place. Only Takuma Sato failed to finish the event parking his #30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing after 83 laps.


As Colton Herta led the march around Laguna Seca, Alex Palou steadily held the second place spot. One of the few drivers who made moves through the field was Romain Grosjean. Pitting for the last time on lap 72, Grosjean came out of the pits in seventh place. With fresher tires and a courageous charge from the Frenchman, the #51 car climbed his way up the grid. Capturing fifth place on lap 80, Romain Grosjean took third place from Graham Rahal by the 84th lap. Grosjean made a push towards the top-two positions but his march slowed shortly after passing the lapped #48 car of Jimmie Johnson. Driving for Chip Ganassi Racing (teammate to Alex Palou), Johnson was advised to make the former Formula 1 pilot fight to get by. Making a late braking dive into Laguna Seca’s famous Corkscrew session, Grosjean’s #51 machine made contact the side of Johnson’s #48 car. Finishing third, Romain Grosjean was the only driver other than the driver of the #26 car to lead in the afternoon race.


With a dominating performance where he only surrendered the lead on pit stops, Colton Herta enjoyed his second win on a track where his father Bryan also found success on through the late 1990s. As the enthusiastic 21-year-old Herta celebrated his fifth career IndyCar Series win, 24-year-old Alex Palou grabbed a valuable runner-up result that extends his lead in the drivers’ standings to 35 points over Pato O’Ward. The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series finale will take place on September 26th on the Streets of Long Beach.

  



NASCAR Xfinity Series: A Wreck and Win for Allmendinger


The NASCAR Xfinity Series’ regular season finale, the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway was a prelude to the start of a 12-driver title fight that will end after seven events with a champion crowned at Phoenix Raceway. Though the contenders for the 2021 edition of the Xfinity Series playoffs were established before the running of Friday night’s race, the top spot of the regular season standings remained in play as Penske Racing’s Austin Cindric and Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger were in a tight fight for what would be an additional 15 points to the victor.


With 11 lead changes among 7 leaders, the Food City 300 was led prominently in the opening half by the #7 BRANDT Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier and the #18 Poppy Bank Toyota of Daniel Hemric who both grabbed stage wins. Austin Cindric guided his #22 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang to the top spot in the third and final stage of the Bristol race and was in prime position to leave the track with a sizable advantage for the start of the playoffs. However, with three laps remaining in the scheduled distance of the Xfinity event, a caution flew when the #7 Chevrolet of Allgaier made contact with his JR Motorsports teammate Sam Mayer’s #8 car while fighting for the second place spot. Following the race, Allgaier quickly confronted Mayer to reconcile with the younger driver.


In an overtime race to the checkered flag, the remaining laps of the event were worthy of the reputation of the high-profile short track. Choosing the low line for the double-file restart, Allmendinger positioned himself alongside Austin Cindric while Justin Allgaier lined-up behind the #22 car. When the green flag flew for the final run, Cindric held an initial edge but Allmendinger was able to keep his #16 Chevrolet Camaro underneath the Ford. Through turn 4, the #16 car and the #22 machine collided opening the low line on the race track to Allgaier. Three-wide coming to the white flag, the #7 and #22 cars went into the first turn side-by-side. As Allgaier and Cindric rubbed each other through turn 1 and turn 2, A.J. Allmendinger ducked under two cars pushing himself into the lead. While the #7 Chevrolet was removed from the fight for the lead with contact between him and the #98 Ford of Riley Herbst, Cindric remained in pursuit of Allmendinger and made a final push for the win coming through turn four. Placing his #22 Ford under the #16 machine coming to the finish line, the top two runners made impact and both slid sideways. A.J. Allmendinger edged-out Austin Cindric to win the Food City 300 as his #16 Barger Precast Chevrolet was wrecked by contact with the inner retaining wall and several other cars.


After being cleared by the medical officials following the crash, Allmendinger celebrated his fourth NASCAR Xfinity Series race in 2021 as well as the crown of being the regular season’s points leader entering the playoffs. With the commencement of the playoffs taking place at Las Vegas, Austin Cindric and A.J. Allmendinger lead the reseeded standings tied on points. Riley Herbst finished third at Bristol Motor Speedway with Justin Allgaier and Brandon Jones rounded out the top five.



NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Chandler Smith Wins First Career Truck Win at Bristol


In a race shaken up by 11 cautions for 85 laps (including a pair of brief red flags), the one constant for much of the Thursday night’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway was Sheldon Creed at the front of the field. The #2 Liftkits4less.com Chevrolet Silverado spent 189 laps in the top spot capturing the first and second stage wins. However, despite the dominance, the winner of the previous two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series would not be victorious in this outing.


With the field bunched-up during the race’s 11th caution period resulting from a six-vehicle crash that included the #16 AISIN Toyota of Austin Hill and the #1 Toter/Engine Ice Ford of Hailie Deegan, a last restart put Sheldon Creed alongside the Kyle Busch Motorsports-owned #18 Toyota driven by rookie Chandler Smith for a final six-lap run to the checkered flag. Racing side-by-side for two laps, the #2 truck slid out of the short track’s groove with four laps remaining leading out of the second turn allowing the third place running #4 truck of John Hunter Nemechek briefly hold the top spot. Nemechek was passed by his corporate teammate Smith approaching the start/finish line and would hold on to the position to win the UNOH 200. The 19-year-old competitor’s official entrance into the truck series’ list of winners comes at a crucial time as the driver comfortably secures his spot in the next round of the playoffs.


Grant Enfinger and his #98 Ford found a way around John Hunter Nemechek’s Toyota for the runner-up position. Canadian Stewart Friesen finished in fourth place obtaining one of the eight spots in the next elimination round of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The championship hunts for Austin Hill and Todd Gilliland ended with the completion of the Thursday night event.

 


NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series: DeWalt NHRA Carolina Nationals


Sunday’s eliminations at zMax Dragway in Charlotte, North Carolina was one of the more emotionally complex events the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series competed in for 2021.


During the second round of eliminations for the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, a match between teammates Joey Gladstone and Cory Reed ended with a scary crash. After Gladstone won the tight match, Reed’s motorcycle crept beyond the center line on the drag strip. Despite Reed’s best efforts to correct the powerful bike, he cut in front of Gladstone’s motorcycle with the wheelie bar assembly of Cory Reed’s motorcycle catching the front of his opponent. Reed was thrown off his motorcycle and landed hard on the retaining wall hard. Awake and alert, the injured Cory Reed was a great concern among all the competitors but eliminations continued for Pro Stock Motorcycle. Urged on by his teammate, Joey Gladstone remained and progressed to the final round where he met Angelle Sampey. Launching off the line with a significant advantage as Gladstone’s 0.030-second reaction time beat out Sampey’s uncharacteristically awful 0.113-second time off the line, the kill switch to the leading bike disconnected cutting power to the Reed Motorsports Suzuki. Angelle Sampey took the class victory with the thoughts of Cory Reed and of her hometown affected by Hurricane Ida on her mind.


The DeWalt NHRA Carolina Nationals’s Top Fuel finals featured an underdog victory by Josh Hart overcoming the Monster Energy dragster of Brittany Force. In a bizarre semi-final round prior, Force was initially eliminated in her close match against Steve Torrence when the win light for the Capco Racing dragster turned on first. However, NHRA officials reviewed the finish and recognized the Brittany Force had won the round. In the finals, Hart’s 0.044-second reaction time was enough to fend off the faster machine of his competitor taking his second career NHRA Top Fuel win after recently celebrating his 38th birthday.


It was a veteran affair in the finals for the Funny Car category as 60-year-old Tim Wilkerson went to battle against 57-year-old two-time class champion Cruz Pedregon. The match was an exceptionally tight battle down the drag strip with Wilkerson’s Ford Shelby Mustang claiming a slight edge starting tree. Wilkerson was victorious 3.927-second ET compared to Pedregon’s 3.947-second ET.


The Pro Stock car class at the DeWalt NHRA Carolina Nationals came down to a finals with Greg Anderson in one line and Kyle Koretsky in the other. The advantage off the line went to Anderson with a stout 0.006-second reaction countering Koretsky’s 0.011-second time. However, Kyle Koretsky’s Lucas Oil-sponsored machine roared ahead to take the category’s honours for the first time in his career.

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