Roger Diez: Bristol features short track — and tempers
April 21, 2017
Last Sunday's Formula One Bahrain race continued the fierce rivalry between the Mercedes and Ferrari teams, with the advantage going to Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel. However, the two Mercedes were hot on his heels and took the other two podium spots – second for Lewis Hamilton and third for first-time pole winner Valtteri Bottas. By virtue of his two wins, Vettel is now atop the point standings with 68 to Hamilton's 61. Bottas is a distant third with 38 points. The constructor points battle is much tighter, with Ferrari ahead by only three points, 102 to 99. Red Bull in third has amassed 47 points. If the early season races are any indication, this will be the most competitive F1 season in recent memory, with more exciting cars, faster lap times, and lots of passing. I can hardly wait until the Russian round of the championship next weekend.
All three of NASCAR's top touring series had Easter off, but both the Xfinity and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers are back in action at Bristol this weekend. Bristol is a short track known for short tempers brought on by lots of beating and banging, so we should see some exciting racing. Jimmy Spencer famously likened driving a stock car at Bristol to flying a jet fighter in a gymnasium. Looking at the previous win column at the half-mile track, the Busch brothers top the charts among active drivers with five wins each. However, it's been a while since either of them have visited Bristol's victory circle. Kyle's five wins came between March 2007 and March 2011, and Kurt's spanned the period from March 2002 to March 2006. More recent winners include four-time winner Matt Kenseth (April '15, August '13, '06, and '05), two-time victors Joey Logano (August '14 and August '15), Kevin Harvick (August '15, April '05), and Brad Keselowski (March '12, August '11). Kasey Kahne (March '13), Denny Hamlin (August '12), Jimmie Johnson (March '10), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (August '04) have one Bristol victory each.
Kyle Larson still leads the Cup point standings with 315 combined (87 stage 1 and 2 points). Chase Elliott is second with 298 (85 stage 1 and 2 points), and Brad Keselowski are only one point apart in third and fourth with 275 and 274 respectively. Keselowski's 82 stage 1 and 2 points top the 73 Martin Truex has amassed. Keselowski is also top playoff seed at the moment, courtesy of his two wins and 10 playoff points. If we don't have 16 drivers qualified for the playoffs with wins, there will be lots of different combinations of point scenarios going into the last regular-season race at Richmond, which is guaranteed to burn out Larry Mac's calculator.
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NASCAR has released the format for the All-Star Race coming up on May 20. It combines stage racing (sort of), with the race format of three 20-lap stages and a 10-lap shootout at the end. Winners of each stage will advance to the final, along with the seven other drivers with the best average finishing positions in the first three stages. The rest of the field will be eliminated from the final. Also, taking a page from F1 and IndyCar, each team will have one set of softer-compound "option" tires to use at any time. However, if a team puts those tires on for the final, it must start at the back of the field.
I wonder if maybe this option tire deal is a trial balloon NASCAR is floating with possible plans to incorporate it into regular-season racing in a year or two. After all, stage races and double-file restarts were originated in the All-Star race, and now are part of the regular show.
The Verizon IndyCar series is at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., this weekend, and F1 driver Fernando Alonso is scheduled to be on hand to meet the Andretti team and get acclimated to the series in preparation for the Indy 500. It will be the first race of 2017 on a natural road course and will air on NBC Sports Network.