Menard gets his first pole in 10 years at Chicagoland

Cup Practice-5148

Paul Menard makes a lap during practice at Chicagoland Speedway Saturday. Menard will sit on the pole for Sunday’s Overtons 400. Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

JOLIET, Ill. — Paul Menard won the Busch Pole for Sunday’s Overtons 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, his first pole in 10 years.

Menard has one other pole to his credit in the Cup Series, which came at Daytona in 2008.

Menard turned a speed of 180.012 mph to capture the pole late in the final round, beating out quasi-teammate Ryan Blaney, who posted second. Menard runs for the Wood Brothers with support from Team Penske.

Menard said he was happy about his laps across all three rounds of qualifying.

“All three of them were solid,” he said. “I couldn’t make a lap in practice in qualifying trim, I was so loose. The first round, I drove it in like I wanted to drive it in. … I drove it in and it stuck. Got to the gas and it stuck.”

When asked about it being 10 years since his last pole, Menard said he’d lost track of time.

“It’s been 10 years?” he asked.

He was then told it would be 10 years next weekend at Daytona.

“So it’s been nine years, and 51 weeks,” Menard said. “I’ve never been a really good qualifier in these cars, I have a couple poles in Xfinity. I don’t put a real big emphasis on it.”

Menard was coming off an eighth-place finish in the Xfinity Series just prior to qualifying, one in which several drivers had issues due to the extreme heat. Menard said he was OK, but had to change his clothes a few times.

“I think I’m on my fourth or fifth pair of underwear. My third firesuit,” he said. “I went back to my hauler and drank some pickle juice.”

When asked about the benefits of pickle juice, Menard said it replenishes the body’s salt.

“I haven’t drank pickle juice in a while, but I thought today was a good day to do it,” he said.

Chase Elliott qualified third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.

There was still one unknown Saturday though after qualifying was completed, and that involved tech inspection. Because of the enhanced weekend schedule this weekend at Chicagoland, NASCAR did not require teams to pass through pre-qualifying inspection, though teams were allowed to go through voluntarily. Instead, all teams will have to pass a post-qualifying tech inspection. Penalties will be issued each time a team does not pass inspection, according to NASCAR.

Of what many have coined “the big three,” Martin Truex Jr. will have the best starting spot after qualifying 12th. Kevin Harvick was bumped out of the final round at the very last second and will start 13th, while Kyle Busch qualified 18th. Kyle Larson, who won Saturday’s Xfinity race, qualified 20th.

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Larson comes from the rear to win Xfinity race at Chicagoland

NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton's 300

Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 ENEOS Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton’s 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 30, 2018 in Joliet, Illinois. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

CHICAGO, Ill. — It was an eventful Saturday in the Xfinity Series for Cup Series regular Kyle Larson — he won the pole for Saturday’s Overtons 300 at Chicagoland. His team then had to change tires before the race, sending him to the back of the field. But Larson was able to work his way through the field to take the win Saturday.

“We had a right front tire going down at the end of qualifying,” Larson said after the race. “Goodyear gave us one fresh tire on the right front, and that made us really lose on the first run. I took my time getting to the front. I thought I would get there a little quicker than I did, but even when I ran the top it was really sketchy.”

“We got in the wall just barely a few times,” Larson said, adding that team owner Chip Ganassi gets “anxiety” when he runs the car on the top line like that. “We were able to keep the right side somewhat clean.”

Larson said the long run was key to the victory.

“Once we got a long run in and we got to the top I knew I’d eat them up,” he said. “I’m surprised they didn’t fight me very hard. But it was nice to not have to race hard and make a mistake or anything.”

Larson was able to work his way through the field to finish the first stage in sixth place. He then won the second stage. On the last restart with 84 laps to go, Kevin Harvick jumped out to the lead. But Larson, who had a better long-run car all day, was able to jump out to the lead.

After green flag pit stops and an attempt by Brandon Jones to stretch the fuel in hopes of a caution, Larson reassumed the lead where he stayed until the checkered flag, finishing eight seconds ahead of Harvick in second. Cole Custer finished third, Daniel Suarez in fourth and Daniel Hemric in fifth.

The win was Larson’s 10th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and his second for the season.

Harvick acknowledged after the race that his car was better on the shorter run.

“The handling was great on the last stop, probably better than it was the stop before,” Harvick said. “We were just a 1-25 (lap car), and not a 25-50.”

Suarez, drinking a Coca-Cola after the race, wouldn’t go so far as to complain about the heat, while several other drivers were headed to the infield care center for IVs.

“It was warm,” Suarez said. “It was warm for sure.”

Larson said he wasn’t concerned about dealing with the heat again Sunday in the Cup race, saying he tends to struggle more on Saturdays with the heat than on Sundays.

“Even if Sunday’s hotter than Saturday, I always seem to be fine in the Cup race,” he said.

He said he feels like the driver cooling system in the Cup car works better than in the Xfinity car, and he even questioned today whether the one in his car was working.

“I felt like it wasn’t working today,” he said. “I did turn it off once to see if it was working and it was working, it just wasn’t working very well.”

He said he might consider getting an IV tonight to prepare for Sunday’s Cup race, but that he’s not a big fan of needles, so he’ll have to think about it.

Whether he will be able to sneak a win Sunday and sweep the Xfinity and Cup races, Larson said it will depend how the day plays out.

“I mean, I think there’s a decent opportunity,” he said. “Cup races are so hard to win. I feel like this race will be won around the bottom. The Xfinity cars are easier to run around the top.”

He said he feels like the preferred line Sunday will be around the bottom of the track on both ends, which is where Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick run so well.

“I think we have a top-five car,” Larson said.

Chase Elliott went to the care center after the race for fluids and was treated and released.

“I feel a lot better now,” Elliott said. “Those IVs make you feel like a million bucks. Just really hot this afternoon. Those cars always seem a bit hotter than the Cup cars.”

Kyle Larson grabs pole for Chicagoland Xfinity race

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Kyle Larson turns a lap during final practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Friday evening at Chicagoland Speedway. Larson qualified on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. Eric Young/TheSuperSpeedway

JOLIET, Ill. — Kyle Larson set the fastest time in the final round of qualifying at Chicagoland Speedway Saturday to take the pole for the Overtons 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

Larson set a fast time of 31.071 for a speed of 173.796 mph to capture the pole position. It was only Larson’s fourth pole in the Xfinity series.

Tyler Reddick made a late run in the final round to jump to second place with a speed of 173.438 to join Larson on the front row. Austin Cindric, Daniel Suarez and Paul Menard close out the top five.

Cole Custer made it to the final round of qualifying, but after a tire went flat during the break NASCAR announced he would have to start at the rear of the field after changing the tire before the race.

The Overtons 300 is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. central time, 3:30 p.m. eastern, Saturday afternoon.

Moffitt wins at Chicagoland as Nemechek runs out of gas on last lap

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Overton's 225

Brett Moffitt, driver of the #16 Fr8Auctions.com Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Overton’s 225 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 29, 2018 in Joliet, Illinois. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

CHICAGO, Ill. — Tuesday Brett Moffitt wasn’t sure he would be racing at Chicagoland Speedway. Tonight he was in victory lane.

Moffitt made a last-lap pass on John Hunter Nemechek when Nemechek ran out of gas in turn one on the last lap, taking the checkered flag and earning his third victory of the season and the fourth of his career.

“I don’t see a weakness in our team at all,” Moffitt said after the race. “Everyone is so motivated. Everyone has had to deal with what’s been a little bit of a distraction, I think once we fix that part we’re only going to get better to better.

Moffitt said there are currently three races the team is working to secure sponsorship at, including Bristol and Eldora. Crew Chief Scott Zipadelli said the team considered coming to Chicago and starting and parking if sponsorship couldn’t be secured, since Moffitt has qualified for the playoffs with what was two wins, now three after tonight.

“We have discussed many scenarios,” he said. “That was probably the least favorable one. At the end of the day, we probably would.”

“Gratefully, we didn’t have to make the decision because Fr8Auctions came on late Tuesday afternoon,” he continued. “I hope we don’t have to have that conversation again.”

So does the team have what it takes to win the title this season?

“Hell yeah,” Moffit said.

Hattori Racing is not one of the highest-funded teams in the garage, and Moffit said it is definitely coming to the track with a chip on its shoulder as it competes with the higher-funded entries.

“We’re a little team,” he said. “We don’t have the most stuff. We are the lone JGR Mark Conquest engine, so we’re the only true Toyota out there. To go out there week in and week out, I think there was maybe one race this season that I felt we didn’t have a race-winning truck.”

“I think we work together very, very well,” Moffitt said. “We do have a chip on our shoulder and we’re trying to prove something, and I think we’re going to.”

Nemechek coasted across the finish line for a seventh-place finish. He led a race-high 64 laps. Moffit led five times for 17 laps. Noah Gragson, who wound up fourth place, led 42 laps on the day, and Dalton Sargeant led 24.

Johnny Sauter came home with a third-place finish, extending his points lead to 65 points over Gragson.

Sauter said his truck was good on the short run, and he thought he’d have a good chance to make a run in the last run when the caution came out on lap 122. But Sauter’s jack broke on the pitstop, miring him back in traffic and forcing him to race back through the field for the third-place finish.

“The last pit stop the jack broke so we lost track position,” Sauter said. “We were good on short runs. I was looking forward to the last run.”

Sauter said despite his four wins so far this season, his GMS racing team has not changed its strategy much.

“Right now we just continue to go to the race track like we would,” he said. “Maybe we had a little different stuff in the back that we probably wouldn’t have run if it was the Playoffs.”

There were 17 lead changes among six drivers in the race, and six cautions for 29 laps.

Scannable Document on Jun 29, 2018 at 11_00_03 PM

Gragson captures pole for trucks at Chicago

JOLIET, Ill. — Noah Gragson captured the pole for the 10th annual Overtons 225 at Chicagoland Speedway Friday.

Gragson piloted his number 18 Safelite Toyota to a lap of 30.834 seconds for an average speed of 175.131 miles per hour.

It was Gragson’s sixth pole of his career and the third of the season. It was his first pole at Chicagoland Speedway.

Dalton Sargeant took the top spot with the second-to-last run in the final round of qualifying, just seconds before Gragson knocked him to second. Sargeant will start outside the front row, his fourth top-10 starting position of the year and first at Chicagoland.

John Hunter Nemechek, Todd Gilliland and Stewart Friesen rounded out the top five.

The Overtons 225 is scheduled for 8 p.m. local time, 9 p.m. Eastern time, Friday night.

Scannable Document on Jun 29, 2018 at 5_51_48 PM

Fun outweighs the danger for Larson and Bell racing sprint cars

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Fox Sports’ Vince Welch speaks to the media with Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

Last Sunday morning the racing world mourned the death of World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Cars driver Jason Johnson, who died from injuries suffered in a crash at an event the night before in Wisconsin.

This weekend, NASCAR drivers Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell appeared in the Chicagoland Speedway media center with Fox Sports’ Vince Welch to talk to the media about being involved in the upcoming Fox broadcast of the Eldora Dirt Derby. Both drivers spend much of their off time racing sprint cars around the country, and they were asked why they still do it despite the recent injuries and fatalities that have come from the sport.

“I think bottom line is just because we love it,” Bell said. “You know, you could get hit by a car walking down the sidewalk, you know? It’s just unfortunate.”

Bell pointed out that racing is dangerous no matter the series.

“We’re race car drivers,” he said. “Racing’s not a safe sport, unfortunately. NASCAR has done a great job making it a lot safer and so have sprint cars — they’ve come a long way too, and you know, if you think about the pure numbers of what’s going on, you have 36 Cup races a year, and in the sprint car world you would have 90 Outlaw races a year. You have 60 All-Star races a year and hundreds and hundreds of local races a year, so there’s just a lot more sprint car racing going on. But I think the bottom line is just we love it.”

Larson agreed that the love of racing sprint cars trumped any inherent danger involved in racing the cars. He added that he puts it out of his mind when he gets behind the wheel.

“I don’t think about the bad stuff that could happen when I’m strapping into a race car,” he said. “I just love sprint car racing so much. I love racing so much. It’s just a drug and I don’t think about the negative things. I just enjoy doing it and think if you were to ever think about the negatives, that is where stuff can go wrong.”

Larson said one place NASCAR has really helped in the safety department is with the tracks that the top three series race on.

“I think that comes down to the series, whether it’s the World of Outlaws or All Stars or USAC or whatever could do a better job of not necessarily demanding that the tracks become safer, but I feel like sprint cars a lot of times people look at them being unsafe race cars,” Larson said. “But NASCAR stuff, they have made the tracks a lot safer, which has made the race cars seem a lot safer, which the race cars are a lot safer than they were a decade and a half ago. I think they have made just as many improvements to the race tracks as they have the race cars.”

“Where I think, sprint cars, we have continued to somewhat make the race cars safer with tethers and straps and safety bars and stuff like that, but I don’t really feel like we have done a whole lot to make the track safer,” Larson continued. “The tracks that have become safer, I feel like, are the tracks where they’ve had issues at. I think you look at Volusia, cars flipping into the crowd, and then you come back a year later and they’ve got an amazing catch fence. I just wish the tracks would be a little more proactive or the series to be more proactive in making sure that the facilities they are going to are safer.”

Sprint car racing is on the docket in Chicago this weekend too, as Tony Stewart’s Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions sprint cars will race at the neighboring Dirt Oval at Route 66. Stewart is scheduled to race in the event.

Both Larson and Bell said they will do something special for Johnson this weekend. Larson will run the commemorative logo that the World of Outlaws sent out last week. Bell said he will do something as well.

Eric’s Take: Let’s not get too crazy with road courses

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 24, 2018 in Sonoma, California. Robert Reiners/Getty Images

Road courses are the new short track in NASCAR.

That’s what everyone was saying before the 2017 season. After a number of excellent road course races at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, as well as in the other series at places like Road America and Mosport, NASCAR fans have been clamoring for more road courses.

And NASCAR seems eager to give them to fans, evidenced by the fact that we have taken an oval race at Charlotte Motor Speedway this season and turned it into a road course race with the first “Roval” race.

And the talk is consistently heating up about more. Could we add a Cup race at Road America? Could NASCAR go to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin? What about running the road course at Indianapolis, Pocono, even Daytona? What about running a street course somewhere? How can we have more road courses in NASCAR?

Whoa, whoa, whoa, pump the breaks for a second. Are we getting a little ahead of ourselves? We have no idea how the Roval is going to go, yet people are clamouring for more Rovals. And if you look at the last three Cup races at road courses, they haven’t been that good.

Here’s the thing — one of the things that made road course racing so good was the fact that not a lot of the drivers were very good at it. But with the new emphasis on winning over the last few seasons, the drivers have spent more time preparing, and the top guys are just as good at the road course races as they are at the mile and a half races. Don’t you think that’s going to become even more the case if we add more road course races?

Right now the big focus in NASCAR, if you’re a team that wants to win a lot of races and win a championship, is the 1.5-mile tracks. That’s the majority of the schedule. But if you add more road courses, you will increase the focus on those tracks too, and thus the drivers will get even better at them. More preparation, unfortunately, does not usually equal better racing in NASCAR.

Not only that, I personally think the stage format has ruined road course racing. Look, I’m a giant fan of stage racing. I’ve loved it since it was announced. I think it works 32 out of 36 Cup race weekends. But there’s four places it doesn’t — the two road course and the two restrictor plate races.

When you know when the cautions will come at a road course race, it completely changes your strategy. And because the races on road courses aren’t that long to begin with, it really only gives one point in the race to allow drivers to shift that strategy, and that’s during the final stage. So essentially, the goal in a road course race is to survive the first two stages and race in the last.

The same is true for restrictor plate races. I could go deeper into that, but that’s for another day, because the focus is on the road courses now.

I think NASCAR needs to look at removing the stage racing from road courses. I don’t think they will, but I think they should.

Lastly, street courses. No thank you. NASCAR has no business running on a temporary street course.

I went to my first street course race ever earlier this year when I covered the IndyCar race at Belle Isle in Detroit. It was neat, sure, but IndyCar doesn’t draw the people that NASCAR does. At a street race, everything is temporary — the stands, the buildings, everything. That’s not going to work for NASCAR with the number of fans, and even teams, that go to a race weekend.

Secondly, you worry about attendance now, street course racing is not designed for the live, in-person viewer. It all depends on the track, but generally you can only see a very small portion of the track, and the rest you watch on a big TV screen. Because the stands are temporary, they are small and dispersed around the track. Prime viewing is difficult to find.

Not to mention, because stock cars are heavy, they’re hard to stop, making the tight confines and turns of a street course a major challenge, and not in a good way. Not only that, but the temporary walls that only give a little bit when an IndyCar hits them will move a whole lot more when a 6,500-pound stock car hits them.

In closing, I like road course racing. Aside from the last three Cup races, road course racing has been pretty good. But let’s not ruin it by adding too many to the schedule. NASCAR is an oval series, and it should stay that way. Let’s work on what’s broken — improving racing on the 1.5-mile tracks — and run our couple of road course races a year to mix things up, not add any more.

Podcast #66 — Truex snookers Harvick for victory

Recap: Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma

  • Martin Truex Jr. gets the win again
  • Harvick had the dominant car, but Truex’s crew pulls the fast one on them.
  • Allmendinger blows up with competitive car

News Items:

Preview: Overtons 400 from Chicagoland Speedway

  • Picks
    • Eric: Kyle Larson
    • James: Chase Elliott

Dark Horse

    • James: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
    • Eric: Jamie McMurray
  • Coverage incoming
  • Shoutouts if any
    • Plug the fantasy league
    • Plug Patreon

Close show

  • Where can we be found on social media?
  • James @jameskuch on Twitter
  • Eric @Eric8199 on Twitter
  • The SuperSpeedway @TSuperspeedway on Twitter
  • Facebook @ TheSuperSpeedway

For more of the podcast:

  • Website address: www.thesuperspeedway.com
  • Podcasts will be found on there as well.
  • Find us on iTunes, Google Play and Soundcloud

Podcast #65 — Iowa Speedway needs a Cup race

Show Notes:

Recap: Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity races at Iowa

  • Good races both days
  • Trucks: Noah Gragson tries the Carl Edwards video game move for the win.
  • Xfinity: Allgaier leads a ton of laps but holds off charges for the win

News Items:

New segment: Do we care?

  • This is a segment we will try to do every week on the podcast. We’ll take something a bunch of people are talking about or something not many people are talking about and discuss whether we care about it and whether the fans should care about it.
  • During this weekend’s races at Iowa, Fox saved money by not having their main broadcasters travel to the event. Instead, they announced the race from a studio in Charlotte. The pit reporters were at the track, but Vince Welch, Adam Alexander, Michael Waltrip, etc., were not there for the race.
    • Do we care?

Preview: Toyota/Save Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway

  • Picks
    • James: Kurt Busch
    • Eric: Clint Bowyer

Dark Horse

    • Eric: Daniel Suarez
    • James: Michael McDowell
  • Shoutouts if any
    • Plug the fantasy league
    • Plug Patreon

Close show

  • Where can we be found on social media?
  • James @jameskuch on Twitter
  • Eric @TSuperspeedway on Twitter
  • Facebook @ TheSuperSpeedway

For more of the podcast:

  • Website address: www.thesuperspeedway.com
  • Podcasts will be found on there as well.
  • Find us on iTunes, Google Play and Soundcloud

Eric’s Take: It’s time to run a Cup race at Iowa

NASCAR Xfinity Series Iowa 250 presented by Enogen

Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Ford, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Iowa 250 presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway on June 17, 2018 in Newton, Iowa. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about how to improve the on-track product in NASCAR, especially the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

And we’ve tried a number of experiments. We tried high-drag packages at Indianapolis and Michigan. That didn’t work. We tried low downforce at Kentucky, which ultimately became the package we have today. I think it’s safe to say that hasn’t worked.

And we tried the high-drag and restrictor plate package — some drivers are calling it the “snorkel package,” at the All Star race at Charlotte this year. While that package impressed in short, 20-lap runs, the verdict is still out on how it will react during a full race. We did get a sampling of it in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, however, as the same package was run at Pocono and Michigan the last couple of weeks after a successful debut at Indianapolis last year.

But the package stunk at Pocono, and while it produced close racing at MIS, a look at the finish the year before would tell you that the package there didn’t really need any tinkering. And while Indy was a huge improvement last year, there really wasn’t anything that could have been done to make the racing worse there. So any improvement would have been welcomed.

What I’m saying is the more we tinker with the aero package and restrictor plates and whatever else NASCAR decides to do, it’s just a band-aid. Putting PJ1 down in the turns is a band-aid.

And while I think that NASCAR spends too much time listening to the demands of the fans, I think one thing the fans have been screaming for lately needs to be listened to — we need more short tracks.

I don’t think anyone disagrees that short track racing is some of the best racing we get in NASCAR. But how do we increase that short track offering? North Wilkesboro isn’t coming back — it would probably be cheaper to build a new track than to resurrect that one, unfortunately. I don’t see a lot of tracks being built lately, and most facilities are tearing down stands rather than building them.

The argument that I heard against more short tracks is generally that there just aren’t any short tracks that could handle a Cup race.

But we saw one this weekend, and if you tuned into either the Camping World Truck Series race Saturday or the Xfinity Series race Sunday, you saw a great race — or two if you watched them both. Iowa Speedway was built with the help of a Hall of Fame NASCAR driver in Rusty Wallace. Wallace took one of his favorite tracks, Richmond, and built a bigger version of it — it is a 0.875-mile D-shaped oval with variable banking of 12 degrees to 14 degrees in the turns.

Let’s not ignore the fact that Iowa Speedway’s asphalt has also aged — the best ingredient for great racing — and the cars run all over it looking for grip. But this track has put on great shows since it was built.

Not only that, Iowa Speedway was built after the SAFER barrier revolution. So not only was it the first NASCAR track where the entire outer wall was fitted with “soft walls,” but there’s not even a concrete wall there. Every inch of wall at the track is SAFER barrier.

Sure there aren’t enough seats to hold a Cup race there — the track has half the seats of Richmond at only 30,000. But it wouldn’t take much to add to the seats that are there to increase capacity. How great would it be to see a NASCAR track increasing capacity?

I have not personally been to Iowa Speedway — I hope to make the trip next year — so maybe I’m speaking out of turn in saying the track could host the Cup Series with only a few modifications. But I know the intent when the track was built was to host larger series than the AA and AAA NASCAR “leagues,” and the track has hosted the Verizon IndyCar Series as well, though it doesn’t bring in the fans NASCAR does.

Either way, with NASCAR’s five-year agreement coming to a close soon with its current race tracks, I think the time is right to take a good hard look at adding Iowa Speedway to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, even if it means taking a date away from another track. This place could host some excellent Cup races, and might just be the thing the series needs to get fans back in front of their TV sets, or maybe even out to the race track.

Eric’s Take is a new series on The SuperSpeedway that will be featured each week.