This Week in Motorsports March 17

This Week in Motorsports March 17

by David Vodden.

Sports car racers from all over the west coast will be at Thunderhill Park today participating in a Sports Car Club of America “Majors” event on the three mile, fifteen-turn course there. The three-day meet ends on Sunday at 5pm when winners will be identified as qualifiers for the SCCA National Championships scheduled to take place in Virginia at the International Raceway there.  

Gates open at 8am each day with qualifying and racing filling the time before and after lunch at noon. Admission is free. Come see the cars up close and meet the friendly drivers whose passion is racing and who put their lives on the line to win each race. Thunderhill offers quality food service and a smattering of grandstands to watch from.  It is located just west of WalMart on Highway 162 past the canal.  Event tee shirts can also be purchased at the track.

NASCAR is in Atlanta this weekend with Trucks, Xfinity, and Cup cars. The track has been popular in recent years due to the worn-out surface that has now been repaved and changed. This weekend will be completely new for all who take to the 1.5-mile, D shaped oval course.

So far in 2022 there have been four different CUP winners in as many races with Austin Cindric winning at Daytona. Next up Kyle Larsen won at Fontana and then Alex Bowman won in Las Vegas. Last weekend Chase Briscoe beat Ross Chastain to the checkered flag in another upset in the eyes of the press.  It seems that anyone can win, as witness Cindric and Briscoe scoring their first victories at the top level of NASCAR competition. The Phoenix race saw Briscoe lead several times and pull away from Chastain on two late race restarts. He had the car to win.

Tyler Reddick, another relative newbie, took third with Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch following. The media has it that there is a changing of the guard going on and that the more experienced drivers will have their hands full just placing in the races. Not so fast. There are twenty-one season races to go and thirty-one more races if you add the runoffs. My guess is that Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and a few others will see the winner’s box before the 2022race season ends. I would also predict that there will be a full complement of sixteen winners qualified for the playoffs  this year thanks, in part, to the new race car that is at the root of the new winners and the great racing everyone is talking about.

The Xfinity race at Phoenix was won by Noah Gragson, the popular Dale Earnhardt Jr. driver who is famous for his fights and off-the-wall comments. His win followed a dominating performance. So far in 2022 Gragson has a third-place finish, two seconds and a first place. He enjoys a significant lead in the Xfinity point series after four races. Brandon Jones finished second at Phoenix followed by Josh Berry in the final podium position.

The third NASCAR group at Phoenix was not the truck series but the ARCA series that NASCAR still calls the ARCA series even though they now own that program. The winner was 16-year-old Taylor Gray whose victory was a small glimmer of joy after their transport driver, Steven Stotts, was killed in a highway accident earlier in the week. He was in route to the Las Vegas race with the David Gilliland Racing Ford that was used to win the race.

NHRA saw two unknowns face off in the top fuel dragster final. Tripp Tatum beat Doug Foley using speed over reaction time to get his first-ever Wally. Earlier Steve Torrence was eliminated by Justin Ashley while others were eliminated in a face-off format that got Brittany Force, Doug Kalitta and saw Leah Pruett not qualify. It was a strange day with a strange format that looked simple, but was confusing to the participants who were eliminated and not sure why. I do not think NHRA will do that again soon.

Car owner Matt Hagan redeemed Tony Stewart Racing by scoring in the top fuel funny car class. No doubt Tony was in the NHRA tower giving his version of why his wife and top fuel driver, Pruett, should not have been eliminated when Hagan stormed to the final win, the first for Tony Stewart Racing in NHRA.  Dallas Green won in Pro Stock and another lady racer, Karen Stoffer, won in Pro Stock Motorcycle. I am not sure why the ladies seem to prefer putting a massively powered motorcycle between their legs and risk certain death to win a trophy with a man on top.

Indy Cars are in Texas this weekend for their second meet of the year. The Texas oval track is super-fast and can provide some hair-raising drama. Scott McLaughlin won the first race of the year on the streets in Florida. It was his first for car and Indy Car series owner, Roger Penske. About twenty-eight cars are common in the starting field these days with more than half of those entered capable of winning. The series remains one of the fastest growing and globally interesting in America, partly as a result of the mix of drivers from America and just about everywhere else in the world. McLaughlin calls New Zealand home. Tune in in NBC or Peacock.

Formula One starts this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix .If you saw the NETFLIX special, “Drive to Survive”, you will watch with increased interest, the interaction between Red Bull chief Christian Horner and the Mercedes top dog, Toto Wolf. Their relationship was portrayed in the NETFLIX special as caustic at best. Last year the F-1 championship was impacted by many variables that had less to do with driving and more to do with officiating and alleged bias on the part of these people.  No matter the truth, the 2022, twenty-two race contest for the most prestige and money in auto racing will be interesting to watch to see if Mercedes will be vindicated or Red Bull will win on the track or if some new team or teams interfere with this personal battle at the top of world auto racing. ESPN is your medium to watch.

WoO is in California for a while now with Merced being the stop this weekend. Last weekend Kyle Larsen flew to Tulare to win for the twenty-fifth time in the World of Outlaws in a thriller that saw Donny Schatz execute a rare multiple flip and local drivers do well over other traveling  racers and the top point leaders in the WoO. Brad Sweet, Larsen’s brother-in-law, finished second.