American Le Mans: Audi R10 team spots field two laps and still wins
Perhaps you've heard the story about the household-name driver who was in handcuffs and shackles in a Miami courtroom one day on a tax-evasion rap, then in Victory Lane at Road Atlanta the next day. That was the headlining story from Petit Le Mans.
But Helio Castroneves' LMP2 class win for Penske Racing (with IndyCar teammate Ryan Briscoe as co-driver) had nothing on the LMP1 and overall winner, which turned in as unique a victory as the American Le Mans Series has ever seen.
Dindo Capello and Allan McNish had won the 10-hour, 1,000-mile endurance race the last two years, and set out for a third win Saturday with Emanuele Pirro in their Audi R10 TDI machine. They were the favorites, along with the class championship-clinched Audi of Lucas Luhr and Marco Werner.
Yet before the green flag fell, McNish was in the fence after a bizarre grid-formation lap crash. He drove the mangled Audi back to the pits, where his crew and the Luhr-Werner crew feverishly worked to get it back in a race that started without them.
By the time it was road-worthy again, the field had two laps complete. But Petit Le Mans is an endurance race and the Audis have been fantastic all season, a recipe for a comeback after a disastrous start.
And come back they did, winning by 4.5 seconds over the Peugeot 908 HDi team of Christian Klien, Stephane Sarrazin and Nic Minassian.
"It was more than a good race," Pirro said. "Allan would not have been happy with a normal win. He had to crash the car to make it extraordinary. With team strategy and the yellows, we were able to bring the car back. It was a real treat and I was pleased to share the car on this day. It really was a dream race, and a lot of people deserve this [win]."
The drama wasn't over after the car was fixed -- Capello had issues with his seat insert and the engine ran hot as the temperature rose during the afternoon in his stint.
"Sometimes you need luck," Capello said. "I didn't think [Saturday] afternoon when it got so hot that we had a chance."
The car stayed cool enough to make it to sundown, where the Audi crew made two late stops, one for fuel and one for tires. McNish, driving the final stint, also pitted during a late caution for full service, and the fresh tires helped the Scot hold off the Peugeot to seal an amazing day.
"This race belongs to the team," McNish said. "To get 16-17 people from both crews on that and get it repaired when I thought we were out [at the start], they did something I didn't think was possible. No one in our team does the work to finish second. There's no question in my mind that when we got in the position at the end that I was going to do everything I could do to win this race."
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
World of Outlaws: Schatz inches closer to title
There are some nights when it's impossible to imagine anyone but Donny Schatz winning the WoO title anytime soon. One of those nights was Saturday at Princeton (Minn.) Speedway.
The two-time defending champion took another step toward a three-peat with a dominating effort on the quarter-mile track, leading all 40 laps in his 15th A-feature win of the year. Schatz, in his first season for Tony Stewart Racing, started second but beat polesitter Sam Hafertepe Jr. into the first turn and was uncatchable the rest of the way. Even with a two-lap shootout at the end set up by a late caution, he pulled away to a two-second win.
Schatz has finished in the top 10 in 54 of 57 A-feature events, and the win extended his points lead to 123 over Jason Meyers with seven events remaining.
"We're trying to win a championship here, but we are also testing for next year," Schatz said. "We're doing some different things, package-wise. Maybe that is something that has hurt us in the last couple of weeks and maybe it's what helped us win here tonight. That's all part of the game. We're finishing this year, but also looking ahead to next year. That's the fun part."
Atlantics: Swede steals championship
Markus Niemela needed help to win the Atlantic Championship title Friday at Road Atlanta. The gap to leader Jonathan Bomarito wasn't massive -- 10 points -- but Jonathan Summerton was in between and the Swedish driver had to beat them both but also hope they didn't finish immediately behind him.
It couldn't have played out any better for the Brooks Associates Racing No. 8, as Bomarito retired early in the 35-lap event, Summerton crashed shortly after a restart with four laps to go and Niemela, for good measure, went from second to first on the same restart to cruise to victory under caution.
"I've been racing for 19 years, and I'm 24 years old now, and I've been kind of looking for one race where I don't have to explain anything," Niemela said. "I can just go after the race and say, 'I won the race and I won the championship.' I don't have to make any excuses or explain anything I did. This is just sweet and simple, really. The car was good, I was good, and everything just fell in the right place."
MotoGP: Stoner defends home turf
The opportunity to defend his 2007 MotoGP title ended two weeks ago at Japan, but Casey Stoner could still defend an Australian Grand Prix victory of a year ago for his countrymen. Mission accomplished Sunday.
Stoner, second in points, won from the pole on his Ducati, beating Valentino Rossi. The Italian sealed his sixth MotoGP championship in Japan behind a fifth consecutive race win, but he couldn't land a sixth straight win on the Fiat Yamaha.
"To be World Champion last year and in running for second this year is great. If we can challenge for the title again next year, it will be fantastic," Stoner said. "If not, for now, the home victory is something that we can be happy with."
Native Kentuckian Nicky Hayden almost made it a 1-2 finish with his future teammate, but Rossi passed Hayden on the final lap to take the runner-up spot. Hayden settled for third, his second podium in three starts.
Weekend spotlight on: ARCA
Both Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took their lumps at Talladega, but Speed managed to add 20 points to his lead by finishing 23rd -- not great, but five spots ahead of Stenhouse.
The margin between the top two is 85 points for Sunday's finale at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway, and Speed can clinch the title by finishing 13th or better. He hopes it's the cap to a busy weekend.
Speed is entered in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but he'll have to earn his spot in qualifying Friday. If successful, he'll qualify his Eddie Sharp Racing Toyota on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET in Toledo, then board a helicopter to take him to a nearby airport where a Charlotte-bound plane will be waiting. He would compete that night in the Red Bull Racing Team Toyota and then fly back to Toledo on Sunday morning in time for the 2 p.m. race.
Should Speed and Stenhouse both find trouble on the half-mile Toledo oval, keep an eye on Justin Allgaier. The Penske Racing development driver is 105 points back, but is coming off a series-leading fifth win at Talladega, where he beat 18-year-old Joey Logano.