Roger Diez: NASCAR racing can still be dangerous
May 19, 2017
There's a racing joke that goes, "Remember when racing was dangerous and sex was safe?" Last Saturday's Monster Energy Cup NASCAR Series race at Kansas Speedway demonstrated racing is still dangerous. When I first got into the sport many years ago, losing a few drivers every year was a tragic, yet accepted, part of the sport. Thankfully, safety measures have improved by several orders of magnitude since then, but racing is still an inherently risky endeavor. Aric Almirola learned that lesson last Saturday, and will be out of the car indefinitely. Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick escaped from the accident physically uninjured, but both suffered psychologically. A frustrated Patrick, running the best she has all season, was once again taken out through no fault of her own, and Keselowski's exploding brake disk now gives him reason to be suspicious of his equipment's reliability, never a good mental state to be in at 200 mph.
Aside from that, congratulations to Martin Truex Jr., whose move to Toyota seems to be working out as he's now the most recent two-time winner of the 2017 season. His Furniture Row team is a satellite Joe Gibbs Racing operation, which is ironic as the JGR team cars of Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Daniel Suarez have yet to score a victory in a points race this season. And they will have to wait another week before the Coke 600 at Charlotte, as this weekend is the non-points All-Star Race. More about that later.
Last weekend was a busy one. Besides NASCAR's Camping World Truck and Monster Energy Cup races at Charlotte, IndyCar and Formula One were also busy. Team Penske's Will Power won on the road course at Indy, possibly a good omen for the Indy 500 coming up May 28. And Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are back on top, winning in Spain over the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. Both of their teammates were out early, Kimi Raikkonen with crash damage and Valtteri Bottas with engine failure. This left the final spot on the podium to Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo. Hamilton narrowed the drivers' championship point gap to six, 98 to Vettel's 104. And Mercedes also pulled to within eight points of Ferrari in the constructors' championship, 153 to 161. No one else is even close in either of those two contests.
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This weekend is the NASCAR All-Star race, and one might ask who's eligible for the event. As they say, "it's complicated." Race winners in 2016 and 2017 are automatically included, as are former All-Star winners who are currently active Cup drivers. Drivers who aren't otherwise eligible will run in the Open, shortly before the All-Star race. Each Open stage winner will transfer to the big show, as will the "fan favorite" determined by a vote of the fans. The Open will consist of two 20-lap stages and a final 10-lap stage. The All-Star race will have one more 20-lap stage. However, only 10 drivers will contest the final 10 laps of the All-Star race – the winners of the first two stages and the drivers with the best overall average finish in those stages. And for the first time, teams will get an "option" tire which is a softer, and presumably faster, compound. They can use it at any time, but drivers opting to use it for the final stage will have to start at the back. The winner of the final stage will go home with a cool $1 million.
The All-Star race seems to be somewhat of a proving ground for NASCAR's new ideas. It was where the double-file restart and stage racing debuted. So does the future hold regular season NASCAR races with an option tire, ala IndyCar and Formula One? I wouldn't bet against it.
Saturday and Sunday we will see qualifying for next Sunday's Indy 500. With the late addition of 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier, the entry list has just 33 cars, a full field. It's good we have a full field for the race, but sad "bump day," one of the most dramatic events in motorsports, will be a bit of an anti-climax.