Craig Murto: NASCAR not only racing action

Craig Murto

Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman earned their way into the final race of the NASCAR Chase with their performances at Phoenix last weekend, but NASCAR wasn’t the only racing people enjoyed.

Donny Schatz, Darrell Lanigan and Billy Decker were crowned champions in front of a standing-room-only crowd Saturday night at The Dirt Track at Charlotte at the eighth annual World of Outlaws World Finals.

Brian Brown was Saturday night’s winner in the Sprint Cars, his first World of Outlaws victory. Jimmy Owens won in dirt Late Model competition and Danny Johnson was the DIRT Modified winner.

Fans from 48 states, seven Canadian provinces, Australia, England, the Netherlands and New Zealand packed the grandstands for the third night of the World Finals on the four-tenths-mile clay oval, according to a news release. The three-day event brings together the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series, the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and the Super DIRTcar Series Big-Block Modifieds, to end their seasons and crown their respective champions. It is a favorite with grassroots dirt racing fans.

Pavement Late Model fans enjoyed the Autumn Classic at North Carolina’s Southern National Motorsports Park. The 200-lap NASCAR Late Model Stock Car special offered $10,000 to the winner and attracted 31 of the best Late Models in the mid-Atlantic, Virginia and the Carolinas.

Top drivers such as two-time NASCAR Weekly Racing Series champion Lee Pulliam, pole sitter Nick Smith, Jamie Caudill, former ASA National Tour competitor Greg Edwards and former Old Dominion Speedway track champion Mike Darne were in the stout field of competitors.

In the end, however, it was relatively unknown 15-year-old racer Brayton Haws who saved enough tire to pull ahead of the field and grab the biggest victory of his young career. In second was Todd Gilliland, son of NASCAR racer David Gilliland and grandson of West Coast racing legend Butch Gilliland, who impressed the racing community in May when the 13-year-old won his first Late Model feature at Ace Speedway in North Carolina.

Formula One competed in the Brazilian Grand Prix, where it came as no surprise that a Mercedes dominated the weekend. What may have surprised some is that it was Nico Rosberg who dominated every practice session, sat on the pole and won the race. His Teammate Lewis Hamilton was second, and Brazilian racer Felipe Massa thrilled the crowd by bringing his Williams home third.

The F1 circus has one more race on the calendar, that at Abu Dhabi on Nov. 23. The winner of the race receives double points — a gimmicky move not very popular with competitors or fans alike.

Current rules award first place 25 points, and second place 18 points. Hamilton leads Rosberg in the standings 334 to 317. Anything can happen in racing, but assuming Mercedes pulls off another one-two finish, it’ll be the driver who wins the race that wins the title.

Nothing is as gimmicky as the current NASCAR system, but at the same time nothing has engineered as much excitement or stress for the drivers at the end of the season.

Ryan Newman made an aggressive last-lap pass of Kyle Larson in order to earn his way into the final four, yet fans have been criticizing Newman for the move. He did his job as a race car driver. He had one move he could make that would either earn him a spot in the title chase or make him another also-ran. Ironically, under a new point system designed to reward winning, Newman has a chance of becoming the first NASCAR Cup champion to earn the title without a single race victory all season.

It is telling that Larson didn’t complain much about the way he was raced by Newman on that final lap. The young man knows he’d race the same way in the same situation.

Harvick appears to be the favorite for the title now, as analysts size up the four remaining competitors. And he may go out and dominate, just as he did at Phoenix.

But just as this new Chase format brings out the best in teams and drivers, it also creates stress that breeds mistakes. Anything can happen and probably will. All we know for certain is that at Homestead, Fla., NASCAR will crown a first-time Cup Series champion.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.