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Racing Roundup: Pinty’s title down to the wire; Busch, Bell in NASCAR; who will pay Alonso millions to race in IndyCar? And farewell to Greg Hodnett

Norris McDonald
Written by Norris McDonald

As always seems to be the case, the 2018 NASCAR Pinty’s Series championship is going right down to the wire.

Next Saturday night at Jukasa Speedway, outside Hagersville, the gloves will be off and the national champion crowned at the conclusion of the 200-lap Pinty’s Fall Brawl. The race will get the green flag at or about 7:35 p.m.

The fight for the title will be between two Quebec drivers, L.P. Dumoulin of Trois-Rivieres and Alex Tagliani of Montreal. Dumoulin is a former champion while Tagliani, a veteran of IndyCar racing who now makes his living on the speedways of Canada, has never won the Pinty’s title.

Only four points separate them, with Dumoulin leading 288 to 284. Ontario drivers Cole Powell of Newmarket and D.J. Kennington of St. Thomas, with 469 points and 463, respectively, are in contention but it would take a total meltdown on the part of one or both of Dumoulin or Tagliani for either of the other two challengers to sneak through.

But, you never know.

The down-to-the-wire scenario comes as the result of the first out-of-country race the Pinty’s Series has ever contested, which took place Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., and was won by Kevin Lacroix, who dominated the Visit New Hampshire 100 en route to his 10th career win.

At one-mile in length, the Loudon oval was also the biggest speedway the series has ever raced on.

“It was one of those races when the car was so good you don’t have to push hard to get to the front” Lacroix said. “I’m super happy to get back to victory lane because it’s been a long time, I feel. I got two wins on the ovals and nothing on the road courses. It feels a little weird but I’m really happy to get here.”

Tagliani finished seventh and L.P. Dumoulin eighth, leaving Dumoulin’s lead over Tagliani at four points.

It only took the 29-year-old Lacroix 11 laps Saturday to power his No. 74 Bumper To Bumper/Total/Gates Dodge past polesitter Powell. It appeared to be smooth sailing until a midrace debris caution bunched the field up and gave Andrew Ranger a chance to attack.

Ranger stalked Lacroix from the restart all the way until a Lap 72 mechanical problem ended Ranger’s race. The race went caution-free to the end and Lacroix won by 5.3 seconds over Pete Shepherd III.

“It was a nice to get a good car after what we went through yesterday in practice.” Lacroix said. “I was really confident for the race and it really showed right away.”

Tagliani was disappointed with his seventh-place finish.

“Obviously, this seventh-place finish is not what we expected with the car we had in practice and qualifying,” he said. “I am quite disappointed with the results, but we did shave one point off the gap to the championship leader, which makes it up a bit.

“A technical glitch changed the outcome of our race as the car started to oversteer in the worse way, making it hard for me to drive it. After pitting to repair, we lost ground on the leaders when we returned to the track and could not make our way back to the front.

“Still, we are not giving up. We are highly motivated to end the season on a high note. We are heading to a track that I like for a championship showdown. I feel quite confident for the season finale. Maybe this is our time to finally finish on top.”

For Shepherd it was his best finish and first podium since the 2013 finale.

“We are really excited with this,” said Shepherd. “Our car didn’t seem to like grip so the longer it went on and the more these tires wore out, the more we felt this race was in our favour” Shepherd added. “At the end of the day we are happy where we finished and will take a runner up finish all day long.”

Donald Theetge, who ran the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at NHMS earlier this season, finished third. He was one of the four drivers who pitted for fuel under the second and final yellow of the race. Theetge mounted a charge to catch the leaders but would ultimately settle for his third podium and fifth top five of 2018.

Powell finished fourth, followed by Kennington.

Anthony Simone finished in the sixth spot, followed by Tagliani, Dumoulin, Armani Williams and Marc-Antoine Camirand.

The Visit New Hampshire 100 aired live on FansChoice.TV, TSN GO and TSN.ca. The race will also air on TSN2 Sunday, Sept. 30, at 12:30 p.m.

For complete details about the Pinty’s Fall Brawl at Jukasa, please go to the speedway’s website, jukasamotorspeedway.com. For up-do-date series standings, please click here; for Saturday`s results, please click here.

Meantime, Kyle Busch won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race Saturday night at Richmond, Va.

Kyle Busch had to start at the back but still won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Richmond, Va., Saturday night.

It was not a bad contest – if you don’t mind watching cars run around in circles, ad nauseum. For a race story, please click here.

And Friday night at the same speedway, the NASCAR Xfinity Series race was won by Christopher Bell (for story, please click here).

Bell, who cut his teeth in the midgets and the sprints before moving on to NASCAR, dedicated his victory to the late Greg Hodnett, and more about him down below.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. came out of retirement for this race and finished fourth.  For a time, it looked as if he could win it. Somebody should tell him, though, that the concussions can be as severe in Xfinity as they are in Cup (his reason for calling it a career in the first place).

One thing before moving on from NASCAR, Canadian native Brent Dewar is out as president of NASCAR and Steve Phelps, an American, will replace him on Oct. 1.

“As a life-long fan of NASCAR, the opportunity to provide league-wide leadership is something I am looking forward to,” Phelps said. “I am confident that the strong team of leaders here at NASCAR and across the industry will accelerate the necessary changes to grow the sport and engage our passionate fans.”

Phelps will oversee all competition and business operations and report to Chairman and CEO Jim France, who replaced his nephew in August following Brian France’s arrest for driving while intoxicated.

Phelps has been a NASCAR executive since 2005 and replaces Dewar as NASCAR tries to steady itself during a prolonged downturn. Attendance and television ratings have dropped, and teams are struggling to find serious sponsorship.

I look at this two ways: Dewar wanted to make changes and NASCAR didn`t. Or Dewar wasn’t moving fast enough with the changes NASCAR felt were necessary. Whichever, what worked for NASCAR in the last century is no longer working and if it wants to survive, it will have to change. And fast.

A shorter schedule, shorter races and a more varied – road courses, a street course or two – schedule are what`s needed. Let`s see if Phelps can deliver, or if this is just a case of ensuring that NASCAR remains same old, same old.

In NHRA drag racing, Steve Torrence won the Top Fuel division for the second consecutive week Sunday at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals. Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were also winners in their respective categories.

Formula One is off this week so here are a few catch-up items.

The more I look at the (proposed) design of the 2021 F1 car, and look at the halo, the more it looks – to me – like the supermodified-type roll cage I have

The halo on the proposed 2021 Formula One car . . .

been advocating for years to protect drivers in Indy cars and F1 cars. Or, is it just my imagination? Ross Brawn used Ferrari to illustrate his vision; the super is the last one I owned, circa 1986.

Of course, we await news on IndyCar’s canopy, or halo, or . . .

. . . looks a lot like the roll cage on Norris McDonald’s last supermodified, circa 1986. Or does it? 

Here is some other F1 news that’s been hanging around.

Williams (and you really have to wonder where Sir Frank’s head is at) turned down an offer this summer from Mercedes for technological and driver help starting in 2019. Estaban Ocon would have been part of the deal, to replace Lance Stroll. Williams said no, we can look after ourselves. Sure.

Am I the only one who thinks Sebastian Vettel has lost interest? He has four world championships, he has a wife and kids and he can’t beat Lewis. I don’t think the fire is burning as brightly as it once did.

I don’t like the blue flags in road racing, particularly in F1. In oval-short-track racing, a blue flag means you have to hold your position so that if you’re about to be lapped by a faster car, they can go past you on the left or the right or wherever because they know you won’t be moving around. But they still have to pass you; you do not have to cede a position. The road-racing blue flag, which means “move over, you are about to be passed,” makes it too easy for the pursuing car – in my opinion.

Hancook Tires have served notice they would like the opportunity to bid on supplying F1 tires.

Remember Billy Monger? He was the British teen racer who had a horrible crash last year and had to have both lower limbs amputated. Well, he made his return to British F3 racing at Donington this weekend and won the pole. Holy cow.

Parker Thompson of Red Deer, Alta., was auditioning this weekend at Indianapolis for an Indy Lights ride in 2019 with Team Pelfrey. Cross fingers he makes the grade.

Harding Stenbrenner Racing will be a new team in the IndyCar Series starting in 2019. Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward will be the drivers. It’s great to see new teams and new drivers going into that series. The Star’s Mark Zwolinski  wrote a feature on Herta and young Steinbrenner back at the time of this year’s Honda Indy, so if you’re interested in reading about what makes two of this new team’s  principal’s tick, then please click here.

And, of course, the “Alonso-to-IndyCar” rumour just won’t go away.

Here’s something to chew on.

Fernando Alonso is paid millions and millions of dollars every year to drive racing cars. Millions. This is not a hobby; he does not race for fun. He is a professional who is paid millions.

When he did his one-off at Indy two years ago, it was in place of the Monaco Grand Prix. McLaren let him skip Monaco to race at Indy but, under his full-year contract with McLaren, he would have been paid millions.

This year, when he raced at Le Mans with Toyota, the Japanese manufacturer would have paid him millions to do it.

So, his contract is over with McLaren at the end of this year. He can do whatever he wants. So, the question is: who would – or who will – pay him millions of dollars to race in IndyCar? Millions, remember.

In the words of a former mayor of Toronto, “NOOOOoooo-body!”

I think Alonso would like to win the Indianapolis 500, to add to his curriculum vitae. So another one-off is possible. But for the reason outlined above, he is not likely to do a season.

This has not been a good year for motorsport safety. Yes, considering how many people are racing, and the incredible number of facilities, and the number of miles/kilometres raced, it’s way safer than it used to be but it’s still damn dangerous.

In addition to a number of drivers who died and their families refused authorization for police or other authorities to release their names, pro racing lost NHRA drag racer Randy Alexander in May, vintage racer Jeff Green in June, World of Outlaws sprint car star Jason Johnson, also in June, and this weekend another Outlaws sprint car star, Greg Hodnett.

The first I heard about Hodnett was a Tweet by Rico Abreu on Thursday night asking for prayers for the family but it was Friday before I found out what had happened, that he went into a wall at a Pennsylvania speedway Thursday night and died on contact. He was rookie-of-the-year with the Outlaws in the 1990s and won 20 features during his career, the last one at the Knoxville Nationals – a preliminary to the final – in August.

Ironically, Abreu had a crash Friday during hot-laps practice at the USAC Four-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway in Ohio and was taken to a local hospital where he was given a clean bill of health – but it was close.

And then, of course, there’s Robert Wickens.

I think we get lulled into a false sense of security about the dangers of motor racing. We all love it but, in the end, the penalty for making a mistake can be severe. You do not get “charged with an error” when things go wrong in racing. The late Peter Ryan famously said that he preferred racing to skiing because when it came to skiing, “all you can do is break your leg.” Unfortunately, he was right.

Every time somebody puts on a crash helmet and straps themselves into a missile, whether it’s an Indy car or a Formula 1600 car, you hope they know the risks and have prepared their family for the worst. When Dave MacDonald was killed at Indianapolis in 1964, his wife said, “What will I tell the children?” That’s what I mean when I say everybody has to know what they’re getting into. Yes, racing is a game, but it can be lethal.

nmcdonald@thestar.ca