Matt Neal will be hoping for a record breaking fourth title
(Photo from: ww.btcc.net)
In this eight part series I will be looking at each of the eight drivers who have a mathematical chance of winning the 2016 British Touring Car Championship. The sixth instalment is all on three time champion Matt Neal.
Neal is one of five former champions aiming to win the 2016 season with Neal aiming to be the first person in BTCC history to win the title four times. To achieve this feat, he must overturn a 13 point gap to current leader Sam Tordoff.
Despite this being Neal’s 26th season in the BTCC he has shown no signs of slowing down, having finished in the top 5 of the championship in all but one season since 2002.
The early signs proved that 2016 could be Neal’s year, after finishing in the top 10 for all but one of the first six races which included two podiums at Brands Hatch and a maiden win of 2016 at Donington Park. This ensured that after the first two rounds Neal was leading the championship.
Onto Thruxton and Neal’s first retirement came in the first race of the day, where he suffered a front left puncture. However while trying to get back into the pits Josh Cook was unable to avoid the stricken Honda and clattered into the side of him who, while spinning, clipped Neal’s teammate Shedden leaving him skating down the pit straight. This meant that Neal started towards the rear of the field for race 2 in which he recovered to eleventh. A second in the final race of the day was consolation for a challenging weekend.
His first retirement of the season sparked an incredible run which saw him finish in the points for 17 consecutive races, 14 of those being in the top 10. Oulton Park was another strong round for Neal, as a ninth and a seventh in the first two races was followed by his second win of the season.
Following the summer break Neal struggled at croft as he only managed to scrape into the top 10 once in the second race of the day, at a circuit known to favour rear wheel drive. A twelfth, tenth and eleventh were his results from Yorkshire. Snetterton saw the Honda man return to form though with three strong showings in very frantic circumstances. After an eighth in the first race of the day he moved up to third in the second, which ended with a fantastic battle with Rob Collard for the final podium spot. Another tenth rounded out a strong days racing for Neal.
The next round was Knockhill, a circuit which has been kind to Neal over the years and this season was no different, as three top 10 finishes including a win in the second race of the day ensure he left Scotland second in the standings and only nine behind the lead.
Another three top 10 finishes as Rockingham in the next round ensured that Neal’s strong consistency throughout the season continued. Last time out at Silverstone saw Neal register only his second non score of the season, again caused by a left front puncture. Neal recovered to 15th in the second race and fifth in the third to set himself up for the final round of the season.
Neal has been in fantastic form all season, executing some wonderful overtakes on the brakes multiple times. Although there are two drivers ahead of the 49 year old Neal knows how to overcome deficits. It will be fascinating to see how he fairs come Sunday.
Formula 1 Legend Niki Lauda Dies at 70
Legendary Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda has passed away at the age of 70 years old, according to his family (h/t TMZ Sports).
“With deep sadness, we announce that our beloved Niki has peacefully passed away with his family on Monday.”
“His unique achievements as an athlete and entrepreneur are and will remain unforgettable, his tireless zest for action, his straightforwardness and his courage remain.”
“A role model and a benchmark for all of us, he was a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather away from the public, and he will be missed.”
Lauda is widely considered one of the greatest drivers in Formula 1 history and he reportedly passed away on Monday, nine months after he underwent lung transplant surgery.
While Lauda is known for wining the Formula 1 drivers’ championships back in 1975 and 1977 with Ferrari, and again winning the championship in 1984 with McLaren, he is perhaps best known for his crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix which saw his car crash and catch fire.
While he was badly burned during the crash, he amazingly returned to racing only 6 weeks later, making him a legend in the sport.
Lauda’s well-documented rivalry with British driver James Hunt was the plot basis for the movie ‘Rush’.
Grading 2018′s New Driver/ Team Pairings – Alex Bowman/ Hendrick Motorsports
Undeniably the apple of an entire nation’s eye for over two decades, Dale Earnhardt Jr poignantly announced in the spring of 2017 he would step away from driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season.
Once the initial shock value wore off, reality set in. Who could possibly fill the shoes of the sport’s most popular driver? Dale Jr’s lasting impression on legions of fans young and old is unparalleled. Ultimately the conundrum of the century would centre around who might fill the gargantuan shoes little E would leave behind.
Dale Jr’s departure from Hendrick Motorsports left one the sport’s most coveted rides up for grabs. Immediately the rumour mill was set ablaze with potential candidates loyal Dale Jr supporters fancied. Following three months of intense speculation, Rick Hendrick would reveal Dale Jr’s replacement in late July 2017.
Next man up for the #88 team a tall lanky fella from Tucson Arizona. Chances are y’all probably remember him as the kid that subbed for Dale Jr while he recovered from concussion-like symptoms that kept him from the seat of the Nationwide Chevrolet in the fall of 2016.
Certainly no stranger to the Monster Energy Cup Series (Made 81 Career starts from 2014-2016), Alex Bowman makes his triumphed return as a full time driver on the circuit for the first time in nearly two years. Driving the #88 car for Hendrick Motorsports axiomatically elevates Bowman from enchanting underdog to proverbial impact player. No longer a low man on the totem pole expeditious results at HMS would give credence to an emerging young star hoping for a rebirth following past failures with BK Racing & Tommy Baldwin Racing.
Thrust into a precarious position at the age of 21, Alex Bowman exhibited incredible poise in the face of adversity. Visibly Alex was not equipped for the competitive environment that cup racing bestowed upon him back in 2014. One quality season (2013 – 2 top 5’s, 6 top 10’s 2 poles, 11th in the driver standings) in the Xfinity Series cannot enumerate impending success on the other side.
Instead of licking his wounds Bowman bided his time wisely eventually earning the opportunity to sub for Dale Jr in the fall of 2016. What could have easily morphed into catastrophic gaffe #3 for Bowman positively altered his career saving him from infinite anonymity.
In the 10 races (2016) Alex piloted the #88 car he made quite an accounting for himself (3 top 10’s, 1 pole) earning the respect and confidence of both Mr. Hendrick and Dale Jr.
The simple formula for success in 2018 relies squarely on the shoulders of Alexander Bowman.
Bowman’s familiarity with crew chief Greg Ives and the entire #88 team perpetuates some of the chemistry established back in 2016. A contingent of smart fans out there including myself firmly believe Alex Bowman was on his way to capturing the checked flag at his home track(Phoenix) in November of 2016. On this day Bowman dazzled, starting the race from the pole ultimately leading 194 laps on his way to a career best 6th place finish.
Even though the former self-proclaimed bad luck Bowman left the desert without the checked flag, indisputably he walked away a winner. Bowman’s courageous showing converted the cynics into believers. Without this fine performance in the bag Bowman could have found himself easily lost in the shuffle never to be heard from again.
Perseverance spearheaded the rise of Bowman mania. The whimsical wave of momentum Bowman’s been on since that race at Phoenix spilled over into 2017. Bowman turned heads in February finishing third in the Clash at Daytona, once again piloting the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet. He would also capture his first career Xfinity Series victory at Charlotte in the fall of 2017 driving for Chip Ganassi.
Perceptibly this young buck is completely equipped for the fate that awaits him once the green flag drops on the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series at Daytona in February.
Rick Hendrick has all the confidence in the world in Bowman’s capabilities. Mr. H could have taken the high road and hired an established veteran driver, instead trusting Bowman’s youthful exuberance lets the entire racing world know he’s committed for the long haul.
Alex Bowman has the credentials to resuscitate Rick Hendrick’s anaemic #88 team from the ashes. Fresh blood can unite an entire nation of fans that are starving for a breath of fresh air.
Don’t Be Dale Jr, Be Alex Bowman. That’s paramount.
Alex Bowman has an entire nation on his side. So watcha gonna do when Bowmanmania runs wild on you?
Final grade – B
Photo courtesy of Autoweek
Recap of the Go Bowling 400
For the second time in as many races at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr flexed his muscle and totally outclassed his comrades leading 104 laps of the scheduled 267 run on Saturday night.
Positive karma was certainly on the side of NASCAR’s resident Jersey boy on Saturday night as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the closing laps of the race. After letting one slip away at Kansas last season there’s no way Truex Jr would be denied on this night. Once Martin finally cleared Ryan Blaney who arguably had the fastest car of the evening on lap 249 there was no going back. The race was in the bag despite a few late restarts that Turex Jr ultimately controlled down the final stretch.
Saturday night’s victory was the seventh since 2015 for the powerhouse combination of Martin Truex Jr and Furniture Row Racing. Who are clearly primed for another deep playoff run once the chase starts in the fall of 2017.
While the Furniture Row Racing team celebrated in the winner’s circle the entire NASCAR community was overcome with deep despondency. Overshadowing Furniture Row’s jubilation was one of the most vicious wrecks in recent memory. On lap 201 Joey Logano’s car got loose and sent Danica Patrick hard into the wall in turn 1, in the process collection an oncoming Aric Almirola. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver would take the hardest lick of the three drivers involved in the wreckage.
After several tense moments Almirola with the assistance of the Kansas Speedway safety crew would be cut from his car, and air lifted to a local medical facility. Richard Petty Motorsports released a statement early Sunday morning that Aric Almirola suffered a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra. He returned home to North Carolina Sunday and his driving status at this time has yet to be determined.
As for Danica Patrick, Saturday night’s carnage was the cherry on top of a melted sundae that is the queen of speeds hellacious 2017 campaign.
Heading into next weekend’s Coca Cola 600, Danica Patrick sits 33rd in the driver standings, making this the worst start to her five year Monster Energy cup career.
Danica’s slow start has many speculating 2017 could indeed be the final year we see the popular driver turns laps on Sunday afternoons.
One of these weekends Ryan Blaney is going to put it all together and capture his first career Monster Energy Cup series victory. If it weren’t for bad luck Ryan Blaney would have no luck at all in 2017. With that being said the second generation driver put some of the bad karma behind him at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night. Ryan Blaney looked untouchable for a better part of Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 before Martin Turex Jr passed him and put of bow on the race.
Moral victories don’t count however bringing home a 4th place finish after several weeks of unfortunate misfires is a step in the right direction for the Wood Bros and young Ryan Blaney.
Momentum breathes confidence.
Despite the fact Blaney should have scored 3 victories by my account this season, putting these failures in the back of the ol memory bank makes this guy one of the most intriguing drivers to keep an eye on as the summer months roll on.
Although Ricky Stenhouse Jr failed in his bid to go back to back fresh of the heels of his first career cup win, he and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Trevor Bayne continue their meteoric rise to the top of the heap in the Monster Energy cup series.
The Roush Fenway Racing drivers finished 10th & 11th respectively in Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400. If the chase stared today both drivers would be firmly in the thick of the title picture.
While Stenhouse Jr is working on a career year ( 1 win, 3 top 5’s, 5 top 10’s, 1 pole) though the first 11 races, his teammate Trevor Bayne continues his vast improvement finishing inside the top 20 in 8 of the 11 races run this season.
Daniel Suarez is one incredible driver. Is he not?
The 2016 Xfinity series champion continues his march towards the winners circle just 11 races into his cup series career.
Suarez tied his career best finish of 7th on Saturday night.
In a time when Joe Gibbs Racing looks completely out of sync, Daniel Suarez represents a beacon of hope for an organization in desperate need of a pick me up.
Despite being unexpectedly trust into the role as driver of the #19 Toyota weeks before the Daytona 500 and working with two different crew chiefs this season Suarez has completely shattered all expectations while looking like a seasoned pro instead of a green horn.
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