Fuel & Tires: Busch breaks winless drought; Newgarden leads IndyCar points
Here's some quick thoughts following a pretty exciting weekend of racing.
NASCAR MONSTER ENERGY CUP SERIES
Kyle Busch won the Overton's 400 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, one of only two remaining tracks where Busch had never won a points race. The other track is Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Busch won the All-Star race in May, but has never won either points race held at the track.
The win broke a 36-race winless streak for Busch and was Toyota's 100th win in the Monster Energy Cup Series. It was Busch's 39th career Cup Series win and his 176th win overall between NASCAR's top three series.
There are five races to go before the Cup Championship Playoffs start at Chicagoland Motor Speedway on Sept. 17. The playoffs will start with 16 drivers, 13 of which are already in by virtue of a win this season. The three drivers currently in on points are Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth.
The series next heads to the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen International road course for the I Love New York 355 at The Glen next Sunday.
Target announced last week that it won't be renew its sponsorship on Kyle Larson's No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in 2018. This follows Target's withdrawal from the Verizon IndyCar Series following the 2016 season as primary sponsor for Ganassi driver Scott Dixon.
Larson currently sits second in points with two wins and seven runner-up finishes in 21 races this season. I can't imagine Target could be unhappy with the results and exposure Larson has given them this season, but it's a sign of the times for longtime sponsors exiting motorsports.
Penske to three cars
Team Penske announced last week it will expand to three cars in 2018 with Ryan Blaney joining the team to drive the No. 12 Ford. Blaney, 23, won the June race at Pocono while driving for Wood Brothers Racing. The No. 12 car has not competed full-time for Penske since 2010.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
Josef Newgarden proved that he's a force to be reckoned with by winning Sunday's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. It was Newgarden's second-straight win and third of the season, which moved him into the points lead. Newgarden's Penske teammate Will Power came home second and hometown favorite Graham Rahal finished third.
As this is Newgarden's first season driving for Roger Penske, I was going to compare Newgarden's freshman success to his predecessors, but Racer.com's Robin Miller did a much better job at it. While Penske certainly took a gamble in signing Newgarden to replace proven winner Juan Pablo Montoya prior to this season, nothing that Penske does is by luck and Newgarden is paying dividends this season.
With four races to go, the championship is still anybody's for the taking. Only 52 points separate the top five drivers, four of which are the Penske teammates. Newgarden is seven points ahead of teammate Helio Castroneves, who sits one point ahead of four-time champion Dixon. Remaining Penske drivers Simon Pagenaud and Power round out the top five.
The series is off for the next couple weeks before heading to Pocono Raceway for the ABC Supply 500 on Sunday, Aug. 20.
Sebastien Bourdais returned to the track Monday to test at Mid-Ohio, ten weeks after a horrifying crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway while attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais broke his pelvis and suffered other internal injuries but was adamant about getting back in the car before the end of the season.
If Bourdais can prove that his injuries are no hindrance to him inside the car Monday, he will return to competition at Watkins Glen on Sept. 3 and Sonoma Raceway on Sept. 17 for the last two rounds of the season. Considering the severity of his crash, the recovery that Bourdais has experienced is nothing short of remarkable.
Silly season heating up
The silly season rumors are heating up in IndyCar, with Andretti Autosport's possible move to Chevrolet engines for the 2018 season the biggest domino yet to fall. As Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett explain, once that decision is made public, there could be much movement for several drivers to be at new teams come next season.
At the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, Sebastian Vettel won for the fourth time this season to extend his points lead before the month-long summer break. Kimi Raikkonen made it a Ferrari one-two finish while Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas finished third.
Bottas' teammate Lewis Hamilton came home fourth and now sits 14 points behind Vettel. During the race, Bottas allowed Hamilton by in order to try and get past the Ferrari duo. Hamilton later gave the spot back after it was evident that he wouldn't be able to catch Raikkonen.
The Red Bull team certainly had to clear the air following the race after Max Verstappen took out teammate Daniel Ricciardo on the first lap. Verstappen went wide on the exit of turn two, smashing into Ricciardo and ending Ricciardo's day. Verstappen was given a ten-second penalty for avoidable contact and ended up finishing fifth.
With nine races remaining this season, there is still plenty of time for anything to happen. Bottas is third in points, 19 behind Hamilton while Ricciardo sits 52 points behind Bottas and Raikkonen is one point further behind.
Following the summer break, F1 heads to the world-famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday, Aug. 27.
Dave von Falkenstein is a digital content coordinator for The Gazette and an auto racing fan. Follow him on Twitter at @achtungvon or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.