by David Vodden
Tony Pedregon traded his fire suit in for a microphone several years ago and is now one of the key figures in the FOX television broadcasts of NHRA racing. His brother, Cruz, has been, more or less, an “also-ran” since picking up his last funny car final win in 2018. That just changed. Cruz won in the NHRA top fuel funny car finale in Norwalk Ohio last weekend. It was unexpected but not a fluke. He beat top performer Bob Tasca in that race and brought the house down with his colorful, loud, underdog performance. “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes!” Not fair but fun when it happens.
Brittany Force also looked like a sure winner when she faced off against the unbeatable Steve Torrence in top fuel dragsters. Despite having the best speed and elapsed time at various times over the weekend, she lost. Erica Enders put her name back into the win column in Pro Stock competition adding to her record setting win tally as a lady racer. She defeated the current best team in Pro Stock competition, that of Greg Anderson. Finally, in pro-stock motorcycle the win went to another Wally-regular, Matt Smith who defeated Steve Johnson in the tank-slapping face-off. The fast-paced-show goes to Colorado on July 16-18.
Chip Ganassi Racing has been sold to Justin Marks and his people who presently run the #99 car with Daniel Suarez behind the wheel. Marks said that Suarez will stay with the team and only one of the current Ganassi cars will see action in 2022. Who will drive the car? Not saying. Currently Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain drive Ganassi cars.
NASCAR’s big weekend of four races in two days at the Pocono Raceway triangle was good. The truck race early Saturday saw John Hunter Nemechek defeat his boss and car owner Kyle Busch, for the win. Since both Toyota trucks are prepared in the Busch shops and have, they say, exactly the same performance equipment, one must conclude that the second generation Nemechek out drove Busch. Perhaps he did but do not tell Kyle Busch that! Last years champion Sheldon Creed was third followed by Tyler Ankrum and Austin Hill, also a former truck series champion. There were forty trucks in the field.
Later that same day lady luck had fun denying Kyle Larsen his sixth CUP win of the year and, once again, allowing Alex Bowman to pass him with one turn to go. The win was Bowman’ third of the year. In the closing laps Larsen and Bowman had a really good race for the lead. Larsen prevailed and was moving away as the white flag indicated three turns to go. Passing through the second turn, Larsen’s tire blew out. TV talkers said it was the right front. Later these same people said it was the left front. Small consolation except to help answer the why. I never heard any explanation for the tire failure. Larsen hit the wall as expected and banked off of it until he crossed the finish line in ninth place. Bowman was followed across the finish line by Kyle Busch, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Blaney to complete the top five.
On Sunday, the CUP drama centered around Kyle Busch once again. At about the middle of the race he encountered transmission troubles that ended with his car locked in fourth gear. This resulted in slow pit stops and the use of the cars clutch to get up to speed while starting in fourth gear. If you have ever had to do this you know that the process involves slipping the clutch. He did this several times to get going. In the end, the delays on pit road and the stops he had to make caused him to have more gas than most which he used to pass Willian Byron and Denny Hamlin. Both of them had to pit for more gas with a few laps to go handing the win to Busch. Out of nowhere Kyle Larsen finished second making his weekend an “almost win” in the first race and a second in the second. He has been finishing first and second since mid-spring in the series and has now closed to within four points of Denny Hamlin for the regular season point championship. That championship win awards fifteen bonus points to the driver that can be used in the playoffs. There were 38 Cup cars present.
Earlier Sunday the Xfinity race saw Austin Cindric demonstrate what one can do with the best car and team at the Xfinity level. It was not a run-away but it really did not look to be in doubt to me. Cindric has four wins and lots of bonus points. The wonder kid, Ty Gibbs, finished second and might have been a challenger but he was not. Following Gibbs was Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson and A. J. Almendinger. There were 39 Xfinity cars in the race.
One of the reasons that a strong pre-playoff season does not guarantee a championship in the end is that the official champion has to won one race, the last one. In 2020 dominant performances by Hamlin and Kevin Harvick in the CUP series fell by the wayside as Chase Elliott won the title after just barely getting into the final four. One race win is what it takes. Nemechek, Cindric and Larsen all qualify as dominant drivers in their class who have to win that last race to be the champion. Will they?
Formula One driver Max Verstappen won again over Lewis Hamilton in Austria with Valtteri Bottas third. Sound familiar? The problem is. To the extent that as Hamilton was dominant in previous years, Verstappen and Red Bull are this year. It would be nice if they each won after a thrilling battle and a last lap pass based on extreme bravery or intelligence. Someday, maybe.
Larsen finished third Monday night at the Pennsylvania Speedweek event at Lincoln Speedway. NASCAR driver Christopher Bell got fifth in this race. Justin Peck won. The next night Larsen won the feature at Grandview Speedway, also in Pennsylvania. Larsen raced Wednesday too where he won again over a stellar field after starting seventh. He left the All Star sprint cars in Pennsylvania and drove his bus to Road America where he will compete tomorrow on the four-mile road course there with the rest of the NASCAR CUP contingent.
This weekend there will be races at most local tracks in Northern California with Fireworks shows added at some tracks as a bonus. Marysville ran last night. Orland Raceway races tonight and Silver Dollar Speedway runs Sunday night with a big 4th of July aerial show. If you want to know anything about local racing just Google the track name followed by “Schedule”. You may need to add the year to be sure you get the right information.