|Kenseth soaring into Chase after Bristol victory|
|Monday, August 26, 2013 12:24 AM|
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Matt Kenseth had old tires, a sputtering gas tank and Kasey Kahne in his rearview mirror in the closing laps of a race for the third time this season.
The result was the same as it was in Las Vegas, same as it was in Kansas.
Kenseth won again.
He held off Kahne on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway — the third time this season the two have gone 1-2 — to reclaim some of the momentum that had escaped Kenseth of late. A strong start to the season had given Kenseth three wins in his first 11 races with Joe Gibbs Racing; win number four came six weeks later. But he’d been in a slump of sorts heading into Bristol, with four finishes in the last six weeks of 15th or worse.
The strong start followed by a mini-slump has made the year feel very choppy for Kenseth, who now has a Sprint Cup Series best five victories.
“I think if you look at the beginning of the season, I think it was better than I ever could have dreamed of,” Kenseth said. “We were qualifying up front every week, we were leading tons of laps in position to win races. Sitting here in August, it feels like the year has been two years long with all the different things we’ve had happen to our race team.
“The last month and a half, two months has been, I hate to say reality check because I hope this is reality all the time, but we’ve struggled just a little bit more, haven’t quite had the speed. It’s been a little bit more of a struggle.”
It didn’t seem like a struggle Saturday night as Kenseth led a race-high 149 laps then held off Kahne over a white-knuckled push to the checkered flag.
Kahne first chased down Juan Pablo Montoya for second place, passing him with 17 laps to go before setting his sights on Kenseth. Although Kahne, winner of the spring race at Bristol, has two wins on the season, his place in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship field isn’t a lock and a win Saturday night would have cemented his berth.
So he stalked Kenseth, who inadvertently wrecked him at Watkins Glen earlier this month to send Kahne over the edge. It was the fourth time this season a JGR driver had wrecked Kahne — Kyle Busch was the villain three previous times — and Kahne posted on Twitter he was headed to JGR headquarters to speak to whomever would come outside.
Now with a chance to right all those wrongs in front of him, he stalked Kenseth for at least a dozen laps around Bristol.
Whatever happened was out of Kenseth’s control.
“It was all about the windshield. I never even looked back,” he added. “The thing is, you can’t race any different. If someone decides to run into the back of you or whatever, it’s going to happen. There wasn’t really anything I could do differently to guard against anything or change my line or take his away because there was only one lane where my car ran good, so I just really had to look out the windshield and try to hit the marks the best I could.
“There wasn’t a lot of extra room there, it was an intense race. Kasey has got a great reputation. He’s a really hard racer, really talented, and he’s also a really fair racer, as well. I was expecting it to be about like it was, but I really thought he was going to pass me. I thought he had a good enough car to get around me there and we had just enough to hang on.”
In the end, Kahne raced by the book, did nothing dirty and wound up second. He wasn’t very happy with himself, either.
“I was trying to get there,” added Kahne. “I would have wrecked probably both of us. It would have just been a wreck. I just tried to pass him as clean as I could and race him as hard as I could. I thought I had him at one point. I had a good run. I tried to slide across him but he just kept position. We were rubbing all the way down turn four. I just didn’t clear him. I just didn’t get it done and I’m upset with myself for not figuring out how to win because I clearly had a better car at the end of the race.”
It was Kenseth who got the win, plus the bonus points for Chase seeding, and as it stands now he’d be the top seed over 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson when the Chase begins Sept. 15 at Chicago. Even if Kahne had pulled out the win, Kenseth still would have felt pretty good about his championship chances based on his Bristol performance.
Power wins in Sonoma after late Dixon penalty
SONOMA, Calif. — Will Power won at Sonoma Raceway for the third time in four years Sunday, earning his first victory of the IndyCar season when he took advantage of a late penalty to Scott Dixon for injuring three members of Power’s pit crew.
Dixon led until he received a drive-through penalty with 15 laps to go for clipping a tire in the left hand of Power’s tire holder when Dixon left his pit directly behind Power’s Team Penske Chevrolet.
The tire holder went flying into another crew member and a third member was injured by an air gun. Dixon thought Power’s crew got in his way on purpose, leaving him angry and confused by IndyCar’s latest call against him.
“That’s probably the most blatant thing I’ve seen in a long time,” Dixon said. “You watch most pit guys, they try to get out of the way of other people, so that was a bit of a (classless) move, to be honest. … If that’s the way they want to try and win, that’s pretty bad.”
Dixon finished 15th and lost ground on overall IndyCar leader Helio Castroneves, who finished seventh.
Power scoffed at the notion any gamesmanship occurred in his first victory since early last season in Sao Paulo. He’s the only multiple IndyCar winner in Sonoma, where he’s been dominant since he broke his back in a crash in 2009.
“It reminds me of so many things that’s happened to us in the last three years, so we’ll take it,” Power said. “I would be very surprised (if it was intentional). I haven’t seen it. It’s not even worth commenting on. … I really thought we’d win before (now) but we just kept at it and worked hard and were fast all weekend.”
Justin Wilson was second and pole-winner Dario Franchitti was third — although the Scot was furious at race control, saying Power drove him off the track with no penalty. Castroneves finished behind Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Dixon’s brush with Power’s crew highlighted an uncommonly eventful race in Sonoma, a twisty road course that usually doesn’t allow much drama. With strong wind and dust all over the course, the race featured a record seven cautions for various collisions and stalls. Sebastian Saavedra crashed heavily into a barrier with four laps to go.
Andretti also drew the ire of Roger Penske for making contact with Penske driver Power late in the race. Penske charged over to Andretti’s car immediately after the race for an argument featuring wild gesticulations by both men until the normally taciturn Penske abruptly turned and walked away.
The decisive incident occurred when Dixon attempted to leave pit row while Power was parked right in front of him, deep in his own box. Power’s rear tire holder had the tire dangling from his left arm while Dixon attempted to get around him and the resulting contact sent two crew members sprawling while the tire bounced away.
“The guy turned his back and carried the tire into Dixon’s side,” Chip Ganassi Racing team manager Mike Hull said. “He walked into us, so if that sets the precedent, in the next race, that means somebody can walk into us with a tire in their hand.”
All three crew members revealed they were fine to continue after a bit of ice.
Dixon’s penalty dropped him 19 seconds behind Power into 21st and Power carefully maintained his lead for a victory on the same course where he was seriously injured four years ago, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
Dixon has been burned by IndyCar’s curious penalty decisions before. In Milwaukee last year, IndyCar acknowledged it looked at the wrong replay and got the decision wrong when it ordered Dixon to serve a drive-through penalty for jumping a restart.
Vettel wins Belgian GP to extend overall lead
SPA, Belgium — Sebastian Vettel overtook Lewis Hamilton on the first lap and comfortably held on to win the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday and extend his overall championship lead.
It was Vettel’s fifth win of the season, the second from three GPs, and 31st of his outstanding career.
Fernando Alonso drove brilliantly from ninth on the grid to take second place ahead of Hamilton and move back into second overall in the title race.
Speculation heading into Spa was of Hamilton emerging as the biggest threat to Vettel’s bid for a fourth straight title but within one minute, Vettel dismissed that talk with a slick passing move inside Hamilton’s left. The German was never troubled after that.
Vettel started from second on the grid after Hamilton secured his fourth straight pole position.
Vettel, who finished 16.8 seconds ahead of Alonso and nearly 30 ahead of Hamilton, pumped his right fist and then wagged his finger aloft — reminding everyone who really is No. 1 and admonishing those who had doubted him.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg finished fourth ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber.
Hamilton become the first Briton since Damon Hill in 1995 to win four straight poles and sat on the front row for the seventh consecutive race and eighth in nine.
Vettel has not secured a pole since winning the Canadian GP in June. But it made little difference. Within one minute he was in front as the much-anticipated rain around the Ardennes forest stayed away.
Although Hamilton made a good start and held his line at the first turn into La Source turn, Vettel moved into the slipstream of his Mercedes and surged past him down the Kemmel straight.
Alonso, meanwhile, looked like he was on a mission as he carved through the field, zooming past last year’s Spa winner Jenson Button and Rosberg to move into third.
After earning a 1-race ban for reckless driving at last year’s Spa GP, where his dangerous driving sent three drivers off the track at the first turn, Frenchman Romain Grosjean made a noticeably conservative start and seemed desperate to avoid even the slightest contact.
Shortly after, Sergio Perez was given a drive through penalty for forcing Grosjean wide.
Grosjean is trying to repair his reputation after several dangerous driving incidents last season.
Hamilton was the first of the front-runners to pit for new tires, followed by Alonso, but Vettel stayed out three laps longer than Hamilton — who was held up by traffic when he came out, enabling Alonso to move past him into second.
Halfway through the 44-lap circuit — the longest in F1 at 4.352 miles and the most difficult along with Monaco — Vettel led Alonso by more than eight seconds.
Kimi Raikkonen, second overall heading into the race, had to abandon on lap 26 with smoke coming from his front right brake, finishing the Finn’s remarkably consistent run of scoring points in 27 consecutive races.
Shortly after, Paul di Resta and Pastor Maldonado crashed into each other.
The nose of Maldonado’s Williams nudged into di Resta’s Force India, sending it spinning off the track. Maldonado was given a 10-second stop and go penalty.
Di Resta, the British driver who had high hopes after qualifying in an impressive fifth place, looked disconsolate as he trudged off, helmet in his hand and his race over.
Alonso pitted for the second time shortly after and Vettel made his second tire change a couple of minutes later.