Speedway Digest Staff
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It appears Pato O’Ward’s time may be here.
Mexican driver O’Ward was pegged as a rising young star of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after finishing fourth in the series standings in 2020, and he opened the 2021 season Saturday by winning the NTT P1 Award for the pole position for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park.
O’Ward led the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1 minute, 5.8479 seconds in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. It was the second pole of his career, with the first coming last July for the second race at Road America. He will attempt to earn his first INDYCAR victory in the 90-lap race, with live coverage starting at 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
"I feel like I have earned by spot in the sport to challenge for podiums and wins,” O’Ward said. “Man, we’ve been working so hard in the offseason, and we’re clicking. Everyone in the team is working well together, and I knew exactly what I needed to get the time out of the reds (Firestone alternate tires), especially. We just had to maintain pace on blacks (Firestone primary tires) because I thought we were pretty strong.
“We did that, and we’re starting on pole. It feels good. These guys deserve it. We’ve got a race to win tomorrow.”
2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Alexander Rossi will start on the front row with O’Ward after his top lap of 1:05.9177 in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda. Alex Palou started his tenure with Chip Ganassi Racing by qualifying third – the top Ganassi driver – at 1:06.0538 in the No. 10 SEGI.TV Honda.
2018 Indy 500 winner and 2014 series champion Will Power will start fourth at 1:06.1186 in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet. Reigning and six-time series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Scott Dixon was fifth at 1:06.3976 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda, while Marcus Ericsson was the third Ganassi driver in the Firestone Fast Six by qualifying sixth at 1:06.4102 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean was the top-qualifying rookie, seventh, on his 35th birthday. His time of 1:05.7643 in the second round of qualifying fell just short of earning a spot in the Firestone Fast Six in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda.
Other rookie qualifiers were three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, 12th in the No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, 21st in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
O’Ward was even quicker during the second round of qualifying than during the Firestone Fast Six, as he ripped off a track-record lap of 1:05.5019 to lead his group. A repave of the 17-turn, 2.3-mile circuit since the series last competed at the picturesque circuit in 2019, along with continued development of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES car and Firestone tires, helped numerous drivers obliterate the previous record of 1:06.6001 set by Sebastien Bourdais in qualifying in 2016.
Rossi and Palou foreshadowed their strong performances in the Firestone Fast Six during practice. Palou was quickest in the first practice, while Rossi paced the second practice.
Track action starts at 11:30 a.m. (ET) Sunday with a 30-minute warm-up session (live on Peacock).
NTT IndyCar Series PR
Raphael Lessard is comfortable on relatively short oval tracks like Richmond Raceway. From fifth on the grid, everything was in place for a result at the front of the field, driving the #24 Canac Silverado prepared by GMS Racing.
Raphael Lessard fought successfully in the top-5 over the first 50 laps of the race and in the top-10 during the first 180 laps, collecting precious bonus points in the first two segments by finishing both of them in 7th place. Following the caution period on lap 187, several incidents occurred: an error in the pits dropped Raphael Lessard to the middle of the field, and a driver he was trying to pass caused an incident that forced him to enter the pits in order to straighten the left side fenders. In the end, Raphael Lessard crossed the finish line in 23rd place.
The Race As Seen by the Driver (extracts)
"I was confident in my Canac truck at the start of the race. We believed that a top-5 or better finish was well within reach, especially with the great set-up the team was improving on during the stops. The truck was even running better and better in the longer segments.
We stopped late in the race to fit new tires in anticipation of overtaking rivals who had stopped early. Everything was going well until a team mistake in the pits cost me positions. We started from 21st position and then a competitor damaged the left side of my truck. It was a frustrating end to the race," said the unhappy driver of the #24 Canac Silverado.
Raphael Lessard and the NCWTS
After five (5) races in NASCAR trucks in 2019, Raphael Lessard competed in all 23 races of the NCWTS in 2020, his first full season at that level. His first 10 races of 2020 served him well as he worked hard with a professional team, and against seasoned drivers.
He learned more advanced driving techniques from these experienced drivers as well as from his spotter: learning new track quickly without a pre-race test or qualifying session, watching their driving trajectories and test new ones for himself as the track changes over the course of the race, managing downforce and turbulence, overtaking more effectively and protecting your position in the race, adapting to handling defects and adjusting his driving during a run, communicating effectively with the team during a run to describe any problems, managing front/rear braking distribution during a run, managing tire wear to optimize their performance at the end of the race and working in unison with team members during a pit stop.
The effects of this learning were clearly visible over the second half of the 2020 season, as Raphael Lessard caught and worked his way to the leaders several times to put himself in a position to win, as he did at Talladega, and accumulating four top-5 and seven top-10 finishes over the course of the season.
Raphael Lessard career highlights
Right from his start on the track at age 11, Raphael Lessard has raced throughout the Eastern Canada and then on to the United States, establishing a solid reputation as a driver to watch along the way.
In 2020, the young Beauceron decided to leap into professional racing and competed in all 23 races of the NCWTS series (formerly the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Trucks Series). In 28 starts (five in 2019) in NCWTS trucks, Raphael Lessard has won one race, finished four times in the top-5 (two podiums), and nine times in the top-10, giving him an average finish of 14.5.
In 2019, Raphael Lessard led 83 race laps, finished twice in the top-5 and three times in the top-10 in three starts in the ARCA Menards Series. He earned a win, a top five and two top10 finishes in the NASCAR Pinty's series. His NASCAR Pinty's series win came on his home track, Autodrome Chaudière in Vallée-Jonction (Quebec, Canada), on June 29, after leading 153 of 300 laps on the way to an emotional win.
He also won two important Super Late Model Series races in 2018, including the U.S. National Short Track Championship at Bristol Motor Speedway in May, and the ARCA/CRA Super Series Red Bud 400 race at Anderson Speedway in July.
In 2016, Raphael Lessard won the CARS Tour Super Late Model Championship after recording four wins, one pole, leading 157 laps and finishing with eight top-five and nine top-ten finishes out of 10 races.
It was a tough task but Peyton Sellers staged a pair of torrid rallies to sweep Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR Late Model Twin 75s at South Boston Speedway.
The five-time South Boston Speedway NASCAR track champion powered his way through the field from his fifth-place starting spot, grabbed the lead from rookie Jacob Borst of Elon, North Carolina on lap 12 and edged Borst by 1.315 seconds to win the first of the pair of 75-lap NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model Stock Car Division races.
Mike Looney of Catawba, North Carolina, the 2019 NASCAR national runner-up, finished third with Chris Johnson of Mechanicsville, Virginia and Stuart Crews of Long Island, Virginia rounding out the top five finishers.
Sellers started ninth in the nightcap as a result of the top nine finishers of the opener being inverted for the start of the second race. The Danville, Virginia resident took the lead from Mark Wertz of Chesapeake, Virginia on the eighth circuit and appeared to be headed to a comfortable win.
A caution flag on lap 41 closed up the field and set up an intense battle between Sellers and Looney to decide the outcome. The pair made contact as they battled for the lead, with Looney edging in front on lap 42 before Sellers rallied to reclaim the lead on lap 50. Sellers held on for the final 26 laps, crossing the finish line .341-second ahead Looney to complete the sweep of the twinbill and run his early-season win total at South Boston Speedway to four.
Aaron Donnelly of Stafford, Virginia finished third with Wertz and Borst completing the top five finishers
“Any time you can win at your home track is a huge relief,” Sellers said, “but when you can beat this caliber of cars it’s a huge feather in your cap. The competition level is always at a premium here at South Boston Speedway because this place is truly one of the hardest short tracks in the world to get around and get your car worked out around.
“There are a lot of good cars here right now, a lot of young guys with fast racecars,” Sellers continued.
“They are not easy (to beat). When we have a guy like Mike Looney come in and compete with us, we’ve got to bring our “A” game.”
Looney’s third-place and runner-up efforts were his best career finishes at South Boston Speedway.
“We were really close with this new car,” Looney remarked at the end of the afternoon.
“We just got outrun. It was good racing. It was a couple of old veterans beating and banging like youngsters again. Second wasn’t what I was looking for, but I had a good time.”
The veteran racer said the opportunity he had to make a run at Sellers after the lap 41 restart in the second 75-lap race was his best shot at getting the win.
“That’s all we had,” Looney remarked.
“I got a good jump and got around him on the outside, pinched him down pretty good. I got around him and we made a race out of it. I think the cars were nearly equal. He made one less mistake than I did.”
The nightcap was a highly competitive race with four lead changes among four drivers. Sellers led twice for a total of 60 laps. There were two lead changes among three drivers in the first 75-lap race, with Sellers leading a total of 64 laps.
Drew Dawson Scores First Career Limited Sportsman Win
It has been a long two years for Limited Sportsman Division competitor Drew Dawson, but he finally broke the ice, winning Saturday’s 50-lap Limited Sportsman Division race at South Boston Speedway.
The Nathalie, Virginia resident sped past J.D. Eversole of North Chesterfield, Virginia on lap 32 and held on the rest of the way to score his first career victory in the division. He edged Jason Myers of Hurt, Virginia by .963-second to claim the win.
“Words can’t explain how much this win means to me,” Dawson said.
“Just to be able to get my family, my dad, my crew chief, brothers, friends and all in Victory Lane means the world to me. I can’t thank my sponsors enough. I thank my dad. He puts a whole lot of work into this car to get it where it has been.”
Myers passed Eversole with five laps to go to take the runner-up spot, leaving Eversole to settle for a third-place finish. Pole winner Daniel Moss of Danville, Virginia finished fourth after electing to start at the rear of the field to collect passing points in an attempt to boost his points total and Mark Cook of Bridgewater, Virginia completed the top five finishers.
Nathan Crews Wins Third Straight In Pure Stock Division
Nathan Crews of Long Island, Virginia continued his early-season success, scoring his third straight win in Saturday’s 30-lap Budweiser Pure Stock Division race.
Crews took the lead from Johnny Layne of Halifax, Virginia on the 16th lap and edged Layne by .465-second in taking the win.
Bruce Mayo of Halifax, Virginia finished third with Justin Dawson of Nathalie, Virginia finishing fourth and Jimmy Wade of Halifax, Virginia finishing fifth.
The race was slowed by five caution periods.
Jared Dawson Takes Hornets Division Win
Jared Dawson of Nathalie, Virginia earned his first win of the season in Saturday’s 15-lap Budweiser Hornets Division race.
Dawson took the lead from Kevin Currin of Chase City, Virginia on the fifth lap and led the rest of the way to pick up the win.
Steven Layne of Nathalie, Virginia took the runner-up spot with Josh Dawson of Halifax, Virginia, winner of the first two races of the season, finishing third. Dillon Davis of Nathalie, Virginia finished fourth and Andrea Ruotolo of South Boston, Virginia rounded out the top five finishers.
Sauls, Butcher Take Wins In Southern Ground Pounders Vintage Racing Club Race
Dwight “Cowboy” Sauls of Apex, North Carolina won in the Modified Division and Greg Butcher of Mocksville, North Carolina won in the Sportsman Division in Saturday’s 25-lap combined race for the competitors of the Southern Ground Pounders Vintage Racing Club.
Barry Dalton of Danville, Virginia took the runner-up spot in the Modified Division with Jeff Amaral of Davidson, North Carolina finishing third.
Bobby Griffin of Eden, North Carolina took the runner-up spot in the Sportsman Division with Bobby Wallace of Concord, North Carolina finishing third.
Next Race At South Boston Speedway
South Boston Speedway will hold its first night race of the 2021 season on Saturday, May 1 with the running of the NASCAR Late Model 100 racing program.
A 100-lap race for the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model Stock Car Division will headline the five-race card. The night’s action will include twin 25-lap races for the Limited Sportsman Division, a 30-lap race for the Budweiser Pure Stock Division and a 15-lap race for the Budweiser Hornets Division.
Grandstand gates open at 5:30 p.m. and the first race will get the green flag at 7 p.m.
Advance adult general admission tickets for Saturday’s race are priced at $10 each and may be purchased online on South Boston Speedway’s website www.southbostonspeedway.com through Friday night, April 30. Adult general admission tickets at the gate on race day are priced at $15 each. Kids ages 12 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult.
South Boston Speedway is participating in the Advance Auto Parts My Track Challenge, a contest for NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series tracks. Fans have the opportunity to vote for their favorite NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series track through Tuesday, April 27 and can vote up to three times a day. When fans cast their vote they will be entered to win NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series prizes. Votes for South Boston Speedway can be cast at https://bit.ly/VoteForSoBo.
The latest news and updates about South Boston Speedway and its racing events can be found on the South Boston Speedway website and on the speedway’s social media channels.
The long awaited INDYCAR season opener kicked off on Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park which welcomed Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) and Jack Harvey for the first time since their 2019 debut.
Harvey opened the 2021 INDYCAR season with a promising eleventh place qualifying result after posting a 1:05.863-second lap for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3:00pm ET, NBC/SiriusXM Ch. 205).
Several changes greeted the INDYCAR field since its previous visit to the Alabama circuit, with Saturday’s sessions marking the first time that the aero screen-equipped Indy Cars have run on the repaved circuit. The first day of running saw record-breaking lap times and delivered a field that was tighter than ever.
Returning for just the second time in his INDYCAR career, Harvey wheeled the No. 60 AutoNation / SiriusXM Honda through two opening practice sessions ahead of the late afternoon qualifying on Saturday.
The MSR team made big improvements following the first practice which saw Harvey find an additional seven-tenths of a second ahead of qualifying.
On Saturday Harvey advanced to the Fast 12, and bested his previous qualifying run to start Sunday’s 90 lap race in 11th (1:05.863-seconds).
“It’s so great to be back at Barber, this track is a perfect way to kick off the INDYCAR season,” said Harvey. “I thought we had an okay day, but it wasn’t as smooth as I would have hoped for. We worked through a couple things during practice and were feeling hopeful going into qualifying. Overall 11th is a good starting position for the race. Tomorrow we just want to see the No. 60 AutoNation / Sirius Honda go as far forward as possible.”
Coverage of Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix will begin at 3:00pm ET on NBC. IndyCar Radio will also broadcast live coverage on SiriusXM Ch. 205.
A top-10 finish for Derek Kraus slipped away due to a cut tire in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway on Saturday.
His eventual 15th-place finish was a disappointment for the 19-year-old driver and his McAnally-Hilgemann Racing team because it did not reflect his performance and the speed of their No. 19 IncredibleBank Toyota Tundra.
Kraus, who started 29th on the grid, had charged his way through the field and was up to eighth near the midway point of the race – when he spun out with a cut left rear tire just after a restart. Although he recovered to get back on the lead lap and battle his way back into the top 10, he had nothing for his competition in the final laps – because his team had to put on their fresh tires when he spun.
On a positive note, the early charge by Kraus put him in position to gain some stage points, with him finishing ninth in each of the two stages. He had battled his way up to 16th in the first 15 laps and made his way into the top 10 by Lap 58.
Derek Kraus – Thoughts about the race
It looked like you had a fast Toyota and were going to the front.
“Our Tundra had a lot of long-run speed and we made a lot of gains with the truck throughout the day. We definitely had better speed than where we finished. We had to put one of our sets of tires on early, so we were behind on the tire strategy. Overall, we were able to get stage points in both stages. We just needed some luck.”
John Hunter Nemechek earned his second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in the last four races and had to hold off his boss Kyle Busch to do so Saturday afternoon. Nemechek scored the victory by a slim .307-seconds over Busch in the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.
Nemechek, 23, led a race best 114 of the 250 laps in his No. 4 KBM Toyota, reclaiming the lead for good with 17 laps remaining after racing back from a late race pit stop. Busch, who has 12 wins overall at Richmond – six in the NASCAR Cup Series and six in the Xfinity Series – was pushing for his first truck series win at the three-quarter mile track.
The KBM truck team has now won four consecutive races – two for Nemechek (Las Vegas also), Busch (Atlanta) and Martin Truex Jr. (Bristol).
For a while it looked like KBM may earn a sweep – with Nemechek, Busch and teammate Chandler Smith running 1-2-3 in the waning laps, but Tyler Ankrum got around Smith with a handful of laps remaining to take third place. Smith held on for fourth place – the 19-year old’s best finish of the season.
Former series champion Johnny Sauter finished fifth, followed by Todd Gilliland, Ben Rhodes and last year’s Richmond winner Grant Enfinger. Sam Mayer and Austin Hill rounded out the Top-10. Reigning series champion Sheldon Creed was 11th.
The victory for Nemechek comes just three weeks after his wife gave birth to their first child, daughter Aspen, and they were trackside in the family motorhome for Nemechek’s first win as a dad.
"It’s a never give up attitude," a smiling Nemechek said after the race. "I just can’t thank Kyle, everyone at Toyota and all our great partners. It’s pretty cool to be able to come out and here do what we did. We had a really fast truck and I’m super proud of all my guys and thankful for them."
The race featured two very different halves. Defending winner Enfinger led 71 of the first 73 laps and earned the Stage 1 victory – his first of the year – in a clean opening to the event. The first caution was the stage break.
Busch’s team got his truck out first from that opening stage caution period, but Nemechek took the lead from his team owner on a restart at lap 100 and held it for most of the duration of the event. Nemechek won Stage 2, finishing just ahead of Enfinger and claiming his series best sixth stage win.
Nemechek had to really earn the top position from there on out – holding off the field again and again and again. There were seven cautions in the last 110 laps of the race.
Matt Crafton and his ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter – along with Smith - gambled not to pit late on a caution with 55 laps remaining in the race. Nemechek and Busch and most of the frontrunners opted to pit. The KBM teammates restarted ninth and 10th with Nemechek reclaiming the lead with 17 laps to go.
Busch made a run at Nemechek after getting around Smith, but was ultimately unable to get close enough to attempt a winning pass.
"It’s awesome," Busch said of his truck team’s streak. "I joked with John Hunter at the beginning of the year that if you win one and then I win one and you win one and then I win one – it would be pretty good to go back and forth.
"I didn’t think he was serious, but so far that’s kind of the way it’s going so I guess I get Kansas (win)."
The two-win tally equals the second-generation NASCAR driver’s season best – and this is only the sixth race of 2021. Nemechek now holds a 20-point advantage over fellow two-race winner Rhodes in the championship standings with the next race set for May 1 at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
It did not take long for the reigning champ to put his mark on 2021 with Austin Cindric taking the win in overtime at Daytona. With just two laps to get it done Cindric was able to beat Moffitt and Burton back to the line.
“Obviously, coming off a lot of momentum winning that championship last year, but nothing is guaranteed and keep working hard. What a really fast Verizon 5G Ford Mustang. Unbelievable effort by everyone at Team Penske.” Said Cindric
Moffitt with his second-place finish was able to give himself and Our Motorsports a career best finish in second after finishing in fifth last year at Talladega. Followed up by the young Harrison Burton and cousin Jeb Burton right behind him in fourth, AJ Allmendinger who is returning to racing full-time in 2021 rounded out the top-5.
Jr. Motorsports didn’t have the best of days with all their cars ending up in the trash heap in the closing laps Justin Allgaier was tied up in an incident with Josh Berry, Ty Dillon and others. Meanwhile earlier in the race Annett and Gragson has their own struggles to end up wrecked while coming to pit road.
By the end of the day nearly half the field was involved in an incident and sitting in the garage typical of these high speed chess matches.
With rain in the area in the previous days and the ballfield-soaked Jones, Roper and Labbe all wrecking NASCAR red-flagged the race to setup the two lap dash to the end.