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Saturday Racing: Ben Rhodes on pole of Chevy Silverado 250, Dumoulin on Pinty’s pole, 10 straight for Robichon, `assault racin` not racing, NASCAR drivers say, plus Grant Enfinger, critics speak out, racing results

Written by Norris McDonald

Welcome to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and the Saturday Report. If you want to follow along, go to the bottom and read up. The latest news is near the top. Enjoy your day.

The headline event here this weekend is the Chevrolet Silverado 250, the first race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoff – or Chase for the Championship, as some of us prefer.

Other series on tap at Old Mosport this weekend include the NASCAR (Canada) Pinty’s Series, the Nisssan Micra Cup, the Canadian Touring Car Championship and the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Canada by Yokohama.

But first, Nicholas Latifi of Toronto finished eighth in today’s Formula 2 race at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. The race was won by Nick de Vries of Holland.

Mick Schumacher, son of you-know-who, won his third race in five starts Saturday in the FIA F3 series. You go, kid.

Justin Allgaier won the NASCAR Infiniti Series race Saturday at Road America in Wisconsin. Sports car racer, and sometimes Indy car driver, Katherine Legge, finished 14th in her first NASCAR start. Pretty good. The long-retired Bill Elliott (Awesome Bill from Dawsonville) finished 20th – in the 40-car field. Good for him. Austin Cindric, who won last year’s Camping World Truck Series race here at CTMP, was 37th.

Which brings us to Conor Daly. This is not funny. More than 30 years ago, his father, ex-F1 and IndyCar star Derek Daly, used an expression in conversation with a reporter that was used frequently at the time. It is not an expression that is acceptable today. It was not acceptable then, although used widely. Somehow, somewhere, this was reported in recent days. Conor Daly had not yet been born when this happened. As  a result, however, the sponsor of Conor Daly’s car in the Xfinity race in Wisconsin, Eli Lilly and Company of Indianapolis, withdrew its sponsorship of him on Friday, two days before the race. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this – if there was any. He drove anyway and was credited with a 31st-place finish. But he has been scarred, let there be no doubt. The sins of the father . . .

Meantime, Ben Rhodes won the pole for Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoff race Saturday.

Noah Gragson will go off second with Myatt Snider third. Snider is the only one of the top three who is not eligible to win the series championship.

Alex Tagliani is the only Canadian pilot in the Top 12 and he will go off tenth in the feature race that will go to the post Sunday afternoon at 2:30 Eastern.

The first qualifying session – it started  when it was raining but dried out as it unfolded – was dominated by veteran Matt Crafton, who led the Fast 12 by more than a second. He will go off fourth in Sunday’s feature.

Canadian Tagliani made it into the second round of qualifying but two others Canucks, D.J. Kennington and Stewart Friesen, missed out. Jason White, making his first start in the truck series, was never really in the running for the Fast 12.

Crafton was pumped by his own performance in the first session. He is not naturally a road racer and had never before driven a racing machine of any type at speed, on a road course, in the rain.

“That’s as much fun as you can have with your clothes on,” he said.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday, it was announced that the NASCAR Pinty’s Series qualifying session had been cancelled because of rain and the starting lineup was determined by times recorded during a dry practice session earlier Saturday.

L.P. Dumoulin of Trois-Rivieres, Que., is on the pole. Andrew Ranger of Roxton Pond, Que., will go off second. Tagliani of Montreal will start third. The race Sunday is scheduled to start at 11:05 a.m.

Speaking of the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama (go ahead and say that three times, quickly . . .), they held the first of their two weekend races on Saturday and – surprise! surprise! – Zachary Robichon of Ottawa won yet another race, which has to be his 100th straight (only kidding!). Counting four consecutive wins in the U.S. series, Robichon’s win at CTMP Saturday was his tenth straight. His teammate, Roman De Angelis of Windsor, finished second and Remo Ruscitti of Vancouver was third. This Canadian series will wind up the 2018 season with the second race of the weekend on Sunday.

The Nissan Micra Cup series ran off the first of its two weekend races Saturday and Normand Boyer of Sainte-Agathe, Que., was the winner, with Kevin King of Sherbrooke, Que., second and Olivier Bedard of Terrebonne, Que., third.  It was – to this point – the most exciting race of the weekend and they ran it in the rain. Bedard was looking to wrap up the series title but he will have to wait, either until tomorrow or the last race weekend of the year at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant the third weekend of September.

Grant Enfinger, who’s in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs, had just a couple of minutes to chat on Saturday afternoon.

He was busy talking with his crew about changes that needed to be made to his Ford F-150 pickup truck before heading out into the camping area to personally thank race fans who were spending the weekend at CTMP  and were using portable generators made by his sponsor, Champion Power Equipment.

Some GTA auto dealers see value in getting involved in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Photo by Norris McDonald

It’s a big weekend for Champion, with dealers and guests in attendance, and Enfinger is keen to do well for them. It was at this point that our conversation turned to sponsorship.

“It’s so difficult to find the money to race at this level,” he said. “I have business advisors who look for money, and the team (ThorSport Racing) does too, and between everybody we have enough. It’s for that reason, although I have ambitions, I don’t have any firm plans to go on to Xfinity or the Monster Energy Series. At the moment, I’m happy doing what I’m doing.

“And I have a great sponsor in Champion.”

Enfinger, from Alabama, didn’t start racing till he got going in karts when he was 11. “My dad was a race fan and he would take me to the races at Talladega and that got me interested,” he said. “The fire really started when I got into karts.”

He started racing stock cars near his Gulf of Mexico home but moved to the ARCA national stock car circuit in 2005, eventually winning the ARCA championship. He started his first truck series race in 2010 but didn’t become a full-timer till this year, 2018.

As a result, he’s made 53 race starts over six years, recording one victory and 32 top tens. He’s won two poles along the way.

So far this season, he’s started 16 races and notched four top-five finishes and 12 top-10s.

In our interview, he repeated what he’d said earlier at a media conference with other truck drivers: that there should be more road races on the NASCAR schedule. He – and they – also wanted more short-track speedways and dirt tracks.

Enfinger pointed out that the biggest crowd so far this Monster Energy Cup season was several weeks ago at Watkins Glen and this weekend at CTMP will see the biggest crowd for a truck race.

“This is what the people want and this is what I think we should do – and I`m not a road-course racer. I love coming here, so it`s fun for the drivers and the fans.“

Enfinger was told that he was a late starter, only getting into karts at 11. “I’m 33 now, so I’m still late, he joked, “but you take things as they come, so I’m optimistic I’ll still be able to move up.”

Enfinger got married two years ago but his wife isn’t with him in Canada. “She has a hard time getting time off from work,” he said. “I think she’s made four races this year.”

Any kids yet? ”

No, we have a dog,” he concluded.

This race is in its sixth year and every year except one has seen bashin’ and crashin’ on the last lap. The first race saw Chase Elliott, now a star in the Monster Energy Cup Series, ram Ty Dillon out of the way to take the win. Two years ago, John Hunter Nemechek assaulted Cole Custer on the run to the checkers and a fight ensued. Last year, Cindric  flat-out bumped the leader off the track in order to win.

Canadian racing star Alex Tagliani will be doing double duty on Sunday, driving a stock car in the Pinty’s Series race and this truck in the Sunday afternoon headline event. Tag wants to win both races. Photo by Norris McDonald

A half-dozen of the NASCAR stars racing at Old Mosport this weekend said Saturday that, in their  opinion, what has happened in recent years isn’t racing – but that doesn’t mean they won’t employ the same tactics, if necessary, in order to win Sunday’s race.

Johnny Sauter, a veteran truck racer, said that he’d gone back and looked at video replays of the previous races and that, in his opinion, “that’s not really racing.” But he added that many times it’s been the result of inexperience.

“They’re 18-year-old kids doing that,” he said. “They probably didn’t know any better and since then,  they’ve probably had it pounded into their heads that you don’t do things like that. When I was growin`up, you got beat up because you didn`t do that kind of stuff.

“Ì don`t like to see it, but if it happens, it happens. But there`s bigger fish to fry. You have to look at the big picture. I`ve said things in the heat of the moment but then two days later I sit back and think I sounded kind of foolish to say things like that.“

All of the drivers –  Crafton, Enfinger, Ben Rhodes, Justin Haley, Sauter and Canadian Friesen – agreed that road racing fascinates them and that there should be more road races on the NASCAR schedule. They also wanted more short-track speedways and dirt tracks.

Retired Cup racer Jeff Burton, now an analyst on NASCAR race broadcasts, disagrees – a little. While he said he would like to see more of a variety, he cautioned against moving too quickly.

“Tracks that have partnered with NASCAR for years have quite an investment in NASCAR racing and you can’t just up and take a race away (in order to insert a road course, dirt track or short oval into the mix). There are ways, but I would expect it will be two or three years before anything significant happens, if then.”

Several regular readers wondered about my reaction to some criticism I received on Twitter about something I wrote the other day. This is what I told them.

I write a column of opinion. That`s my say. Readers then voice their opinion, either by writing me directly or taking to Twitter. That`s their say – and that`s the way it should be. If we all agreed on everything, I would find life kind of boring.  And I usually learn from my critics. I have an open mind and I would hope they do, too.

Lewis Hamilton will win the Grand Prix of Belgium from pole Sunday (I predict) with Sebastian Vettel second. Third will be a tossup, with either Kimi Raikkonen or Valtteri Bottas claiming it. The “new“ Force  India, now Canadian-owned, is having a good weekend. Drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon qualified third and fourth, beating not only the No. 2 Mercedes and Ferrari drivers but also both Red Bull drivers.

The Canadian Touring Car Championship (CTCC) conducted two races as of early Saturday afternoon. In Round 9, which went to the post Friday evening, Martin Harvey was the overall winner, finishing first in GT Cup in a Porsche GT3. Ethan Simioni was  first in GT Sport, driving an BMW M4 GT4 while Marc Raymond won the Super Touring class in a Porsche Cayman GT. Paul Joakim was first in Touring class, behind the wheel of a Mazda RX8.

In the second race Saturday morning, Mario Guerin finished first overall in the GT Cup class, driving a Ferrari 458. Malcolm Strachan won the GT Sport class in an Audi R8 GT4 LMS, Raymond repeated in Super Touring in his Cayman GT and Joakim won again in Touring class in the Mazda RX8.