STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Blog and photo by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda —
The 2014 racing season has come to an end.
For me, it started back in late April at Evergreen Raceway Park with their opening weekend and closed last Saturday at Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey with Turkey Derby XLI.
NASCAR, IndyCar, and short-track racing were all on the docket during the season. I experienced a few new things as well, including a trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway and seeing the World of Outlaws and NHRA in Pennsylvania.
It’s hard to pick out the best moments, but after looking over all of my race weekends, I narrowed it down to five.
5. Ranger Makes it Four-in-a-Row at New Jersey Motorsports Park
Canadian driver Andrew Ranger took a liking to New Jersey Motorsports Park, winning his in ARCA debut there in May 2011. The success only continued, as Ranger won the next two events there.
The 2014 Great Railing Weekend of Thunder once again saw his No. 53 Robert Torriere-owned Dodge in the garage for a shot at four-in-a-row. ARCA cars weren’t the only ones on track, with Trans-Am, Pirelli World Challenge and SCCA Pro-IT cars also taking their shots at Thunderbolt Raceway. However, Ranger once again proved he had the car to beat in the ARCA event, being nearly two seconds faster than second-place Justin Boston in qualifying.
But Sunday’s race wasn’t given to Ranger, as Boston took the lead on the initial starts.
A first lap caution was a blessing for Ranger, who had a tire go down and brought his car to pit road for service. From there on out, it was all offense for the Canadian driver. Ranger took his time getting to the lead, settling in right behind Boston for a number of laps.
Once the No. 25 car slipped on lap 53, Ranger was out in front for good, leading the final 14 laps for his fourth straight victory at the New Jersey track. Fellow road racer Brian Wong came home runner-up for Venturini Motorsports and 17-year-old Matt Tifft finished third to complete the podium.
4. A First Time for Everything: World of Outlaws at Williams Grove
2014 marked a year of many firsts for me in the racing world, including a trip to see the World of Outlaws at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Add that it was Steve Kinser’s final season on the tour, and it made the temptation to go even stronger.
It was the first of two nights at the dirt track and Kinser nearly won his heat race in his Tony Stewart Racing machine. While he made it into the A-main, the same couldn’t be said for his son, Kraig, who failed to make the main feature.
Joey Saldana started on pole and drove away from the rest of the field in the first half, until encountering lap traffic and feeling heat from Williams Grove regular Brent Marks. A crash involving Cody Darrah and Kerry Madsen brought out the caution and bunched everyone up. Pennsylvania Posse driver Greg Hodnett got around Marks and then wrestled the lead from Saldana with 10 laps to go.
Hodnett held off Marks in the final laps for a popular score — his first World of Outlaws win on the 2014 season. The Posse took the weekend when Lance Dewease won the next night at Williams Grove.
3. Austin Dillon Scores Truck Victory for Yuengling
The Yuengling Brewing Co. played a major part for Richard Childress Racing, serving as a sponsor for rookie Ty Dillon in the Nationwide Series in 2014. It was also announced they would sponsor Austin Dillon in the Truck Series race at Pocono Raceway in August.
With only a few Cup drivers entered in the race, the No. 3 truck emerged as one of the early favorites. Kyle Larson was back in the No. 32 truck for Turner Scott Motorsports after hitting the wall a number of times (we all lost track of exactly how many) at Eldora the week before. Larson’s speed at Pocono showed once again, after he claimed the pole for Sunday’s Cup race after his ARCA win there back in June.
The Sprint Cup rookie made it two-for-two on the weekend by also winning the truck pole for the Pocono Mountains 150. The No. 32 truck showed it was the one to beat, but electrical issues plagued Larson and cost him a shot at adding another win at Pocono.
The race had an extra 10 laps than in year’s past, when it was a 50-lap contest. Instead of being a one-stop race, pit strategy shuffled the field around and Clint Bowyer in the No. 05 Toyota, subbing for an injured John Wes Townley, found himself out in front. However, Bowyer couldn’t hold off the second-best truck on the day in the No. 3 of Austin Dillon.
Like Larson, the fellow Sprint Cup rookie also made an infrequent truck start and fought his way back to the front. A green-white-checkered finish set up the end of the race, and Dillon drove away from field to make it his first Truck Series win in over a year.
It was also the second straight week that a driver with the last name Dillon was in victory lane, with Ty picking up his first career Nationwide Series win at Indianapolis the week before.
2. Montoya returns to victory lane in IndyCar
IndyCar returned to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania for the second straight year, and this time with some changes. Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) switched from Honda to Chevrolet, while Andretti Autosport did the exact opposite.
Fuel mileage proved to be king in 2013, as CGR Hondas finished 1-2-3 in IndyCar’s return to Pocono Raceway. Marco Andretti dominated the event in his Chevrolet, but fuel problems sent him back to tenth in the final rundown.
This year, Penske power prevailed in qualifying Saturday, with Juan Pablo Montoya and eventual IndyCar champ Will Power qualifying first and second, respectively. The two traded the lead back-and-forth, but a hard-charging Tony Kanaan muscled his way past both drivers.
The first 158 laps went green, before Graham Rahal slapped the wall to bring out the first and only caution on the day. Kanaan pitted and his No. 10 CGR machine would be close on making it the rest of the way.
Once the race resumed, Montoya and Power were side-by-side for the first few laps. The Colombian driver made a move to Power’s outside, but then clipped off the left front wing-plate. The damage didn’t slow Montoya down, as almost everyone had to make a final pit stop.
Josef Newgarden took the lead and came in for his final stop, handing the lead back to Kanaan. The fuel didn’t live in the No. 10 car, and Kanaan pitted with just three laps to go.
It was smooth sailing from there for Montoya, as he took the checkered flag for his first IndyCar Series win in 14 years (since Gateway in Sept. of 2000).
1. Allmendinger claims first career Cup victory at the Glen
The start to a dark day on Sunday, August 10 ended with a battle between two of the best road-course drivers in NASCAR.
A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose worked and weaved their way through the 11-turn track at Watkins Glen International to find themselves in the hunt for the win. The two swapped the lead back-and-forth several times, before Allmendinger muscled his way past Ambrose going into Turn 10 and never looked back to score his first career Cup Series win in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
The turning point in the race was when Ambrose got loose coming off of Turn 11, coming to the white flag, losing all of his momentum and then having to battle with Kurt Busch in the final corners.
The Australian-born driver did score a win in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, but just fell short on Sunday of winning and sewing up his spot in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Allmendinger’s win made it the second straight year that a single-car team would be represented in the Chase.
Those are my top five moments, but I want to know what you think — if you’ve got a top moment from the 2014 racing season that you were in attendance for, share it with us in the comments section below! Just remember to keep it family-friendly.
It may be the offseason now, but remember — it’s only 77 days until the 2015 Daytona 500!