Craig Murto

Craig Murto

Briar Bauman scored the American Flat Track championship Sept. 21 with a gutsy performance on the mile track in Shakopee.

The 24 year-old from Salinas, California, found himself in the air fence early on after he got caught up in a five-rider accident that damaged his motorcycle and brought out the first of two red flags. His crew thrashed on the factory Indian FTR750 to make repairs, and Bauman restarted the scheduled 25-lap race at the rear of the field.

But as Bauman charged his way back through the pack, another multi-rider crash and red forced the race to be shortened to 15 laps, leaving Bauman even less time to race back to the front.

At the age of 8, Bauman received a motorcycle as a Christmas present. In 2011 the high-school sophomore first competed in Flat Track competition, like other great riders from California such as Doug Chandler and the late Ricky Graham, both in the Hall of Fame. Channeling the grit and determination of both, Bauman raced his way to third, his 14th podium of the year, as defending champion Jared Mees scored his seventh win of the season.

Mees and Bauman are teammates on the factory Indians, and Mees – who now has to give up the No. 1 plate to Bauman – shared his victory lap with the newly-crowned American Flat Track champion.

Minnesota played a role in NASCAR’s Weekly Racing Series national championship, as the title eventually went to pavement Late Model racer Jacob Goede. Right up until the end there were three Virginia drivers in the mix, led by the eventual second-place finisher Mike Looney. NASCAR allowed Looney to drive the pace car when the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series competed at Richmond.

One of the biggest late-season surprises was the IndyCar finale at Laguna Seca. The racing was competitive and well-received. A good crowd was on hand to watch Josef Newgarden win his second IndyCar title in three years.

Schedules are set for 2020, but Newgarden drove some exhibition laps around the infield road course at Charlotte, fueling speculation that as early as 2021 we could see a doubleheader with the IndyCars and Cup cars, much like we sometimes see the IndyCar series run events with the NASCAR Trucks as a support division.

There has been some talk about eliminating live pit stops in both the Gander Outdoor Truck Series and the Xfinity Series.

For the Truck Series it would be a return to its roots. In the early days of the series, there was a halfway break, and during that time race teams performed their service. It worked well, as it allowed “local” racers the chance to compete affordably on a national stage, as they only had to bring a skeleton crew. Many would welcome a return to the affordability, but can any series actually move in reverse?

And if they eliminate live pit stops in the Xfinity Series, where do the pit road crew members who want to hone their race-day skills and become good enough to work in the Cup Series learn their craft? And what would the elimination of live pit stops mean for stage racing, or strategy?

Perhaps the best news nobody saw coming was Matt DiBenedetto’s new ride for 2020 as he signed a one-year deal to drive for the famous Wood Bros. after Paul Menard announced his retirement from full-time driving.

Unless Menard can pull out a win during the playoffs, DiBenedetto has the opportunity to give the world-famous team from Virginia its 100th victory.

The Wood Bros. are aligned with Team Penske, so DiBenedetto will be in top-notch equipment. If he continues to perform as well as he has this season, DiBenedetto should be able to make the playoffs in 2020.

Currently DiBenedetto drives the No. 95 for Leavine Family Racing, aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. But the team is running last year’s cars, yet still finds a way to beat the Gibbs cars. It’s been announced that Christopher Bell will move up from the Xfinity Series and jump into the 95 in 2020, and the equipment will be upgraded to the same cars as the other Gibbs teams.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.