Fuel & Tires: Wilson's death casts pall over IndyCar finale
NASCAR's Sprint Cup has an off-weekend while the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series go road racing and the reeling IndyCar Series heads to Sonoma with heavy hearts for its season finale.
INDYCAR CARRIES ON
While the Verizon IndyCar Series title fight is down to the season's final race this Sunday, it will surely take a somber tone.
In what can only be explained as a million-to-one completely freak accident, driver Justin Wilson was struck in the head by debris from another accident near the end of Sunday's ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. He was airlifted to an area hospital and was reported to be in a coma and in critical condition. It was announced Monday evening that Wilson had died of his injuries.
As one of the most popular and most likable drivers in the paddock, his death has seemingly affected everyone in the series as well as many outside of it. While I published a column Sunday about how racing and being a race fan come with a cost, I can't do justice to Wilson's career and personal life. For that, I recommend Tony DiZinno's excellent piece on Wilson as published on NBCSports' MotorsportsTalk website.
But, as they say, the show must go on.
Points leader Juan Pablo Montoya has a 34-point lead over Graham Rahal while Scott Dixon is only 13 points behind Rahal. Oh, and this Sunday's race will pay double points. That means there are actually six drivers mathematically eligible to win the championship, but I am putting my focus on Montoya and Rahal.
Montoya had a strong run at Pocono and I believe he has the momentum and experience to take the title. He's won at Sonoma Raceway in NASCAR and just needs a strong finish to close the deal. If Montoya finishes first or second, the title is his no matter where Rahal finishes.
However, with the profound loss that the drivers will be feeling this weekend, it wouldn't be out of the question for Rahal to dig deep and bring this championship home for his one-car team. That scenario would take a fair amount of bad luck for Montoya, who I think has already had his quota of misadventures this season. IndyCar.com offers a full run-down of the points possibilities.
I think it's going to be Montoya celebrating his first IndyCar title since winning the CART title in 1999. Ironically, that championship was marred by the death of driver Greg Moore in the season finale at Fontana. One of these days, Montoya will win a title that isn't overshadowed by the specter of death.
NASCAR'S JUNIOR SERIES GO ROAD RACING
Both the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series will hit road courses this weekend while Sprint Cup takes a rare weekend off before heading to Darlington Raceway next weekend.
The Xfinity Series will be at Road America in Elkhart Lake for the Road America 180. It is the sixth year in a row that the series will take to Wisconsin's beautiful four-mile racetrack. Those six races have yielded six different winners, so expect the unexpected.
While there aren't as many “road course ringers” in the field as there has been in years past, it will be fun to see many of these racers who are accustomed to only left-turns to navigate the tricky road course.
The Truck Series is heading north to the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport) in Ontario for the Chevrolet Silverado 250. It is the third year in a row for this race, which was very entertaining last year.
Former IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani, a native Canadian, is among the entries for this race. Tagliani last ran a NASCAR-sanctioned race in the Xfinity Series two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio Raceway and was on his way to victory when series regular Regan Smith bumped Tagliani out of the way on the next-to-last lap to win the race.
Unfortunately for everybody, Smith is not running in this weekend's truck race.
—Last Friday's races at Madison International Speedway saw Seymour's Ty Majeski win the Howie Lettow Memorial 50; Rockton's Jeremy Miller took the overall win in the Super Late Model Triple Crown Challenge; Oregon's Chester Ace and Markesan's Tommy Pecaro both picked up Super Truck feature wins; Sun Prarie's Jim Ronspiez won the 6Shooters feature; and Watertown's Nick Schmidt won the Bandits feature. This Friday will see twin feature races in the Late Model and Bandit divisions along with the Sportsman and Super Cup division and the School Bus Jump that was postponed by rain August 14. Gates open at 6 p.m. with racing at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 adults, $10 seniors, $8 students ages 12-17 and $5 kids ages 6-11. Get tickets here.
—Racing action at Rockford Speedway last Saturday included South Beloit's Michael Bilderback winning his second-consecutive Late Model feature; Machesney Park's Kelly Evink won the Short Tracker division feature; South Beloit's Dennis Smith Jr. won the Roadrunner feature; and Champaign's Patrick Bruns won the Midget feature. This Saturday will have Late Model, Sportsman, Road Runner and Super Cup division races. Gates open at 5 p.m. with racing at 7:05 p.m. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 students ages 12-17 and $5 kids ages 6-11. Get tickets here.
—Action last Saturday at Jefferson Speedway saw Lake Mills' Stephen Scheel win the Late Model feature while Edgerton's Casey Johnson won the Badgerland Challenge title, a three-part series held in conjunction with Madison International Speedway and Slinger Speedway. Other feature winners included Whitewater's Jay Kalbus in the Sportsman division; Edgerton's Mark English in the International division; Waterloo's Dustin Ward in the Hobby Stock division; Indianford's Kenny Storkson in the Road Warrior division; Madison's Jamie Kohn in the Bandits division; Allenton's Aaron Moyer in the Legends division; and Coloma's Colin Anthony Slife in the Bandoleros division. A full roster of racing is planned for Saturday with gates opening at 3 p.m., time trials at 5 p.m. and racing at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 adults, $8 seniors and students ages 12-15 and $4 kids ages 8-11.