Roger Diez: NASCAR has a little trouble with the dirt

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

Last Sunday was the opening race of the Formula 1 season, but the NASCAR dirt race at Bristol was postponed until Monday due to heavy rains. This weekend things are quiet so race teams and fans can enjoy the Easter holiday with family and friends.
It was not an ideal weekend for the first NASCAR Cup dirt race since 1970. Dust was an issue in Friday’s practice, and tire wear (particularly the right rear) was more severe than anticipated. Kudos to NASCAR for recognizing the safety issue and modifying the race format to allow more pit stops for tire changes.
Saturday’s qualifying heats were rained out and an attempt to run the Camping World Truck series race on a wet track was abandoned after one lap when nobody except the leader could see due to mud-covered windshields. Sunday was a washout (literally) with heavy rains and flooding, but Monday saw conventional wisdom confounded when the “dirt experts” failed to perform as expected.
With little dirt experience, Martin Truex Jr. dominated the Truck race, running away from the field. He was also strong in the early stages of the Cup race, but the win went to Joey Logano who became the seventh different winner in seven races. Denny Hamlin harried Logano in the final stage but slipped to third on the final lap in overtime, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed him for second. And Daniel Suarez, who had never even seen a dirt track before last weekend, led 58 laps and finished fourth. Logano was guest commentator for the Truck race, just like Ryan Blaney was for the Xfinity race at Atlanta the previous week. Both went on to win the following Cup race, and I’m betting that applications for the guest analyst position will take a big surge next weekend.
The Formula 1 season opener in Bahrain was entertaining, with the battle for the lead going right down to the wire. Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes prevailed over the Red Bull of Max Verstappen after Verstappen had to give back the lead after exceeding track limits to make what would have been the winning pass.
But Red Bull served notice in Bahrain that Mercedes would not have an easy time of it this season. Verstappen’s new teammate Sergio Perez finished fifth after starting dead last from the pit lane, while McLaren veteran Lando Norris was fourth behind Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas. Charles Leclerc was the first Ferrari to finish, taking sixth ahead of McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo, who moved to the team this season.
Rookie Yuki Tsunoda brought his Alpha Tauri home in the points in ninth place. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel had a less than stellar outing in his first drive with the Aston Martin team, failing to advance in qualifying and finishing the race in a disappointing 15th place, a lap down. Teammate Lance Stroll finished in 10th, the last points-paying position. With a first and third and fastest lap points for Bottas, Mercedes leads the constructors’ standings with 41 points to Red Bull’s 28. McLaren has 18 and Ferrari 12.
McLaren team boss Zak Brown gave Ricciardo an extra incentive to do well this season. Presenting Ricciardo with a diecast model of Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 1984 Wrangler Chevy, Brown sweetened the pot by promising a test drive in the real thing if and when Ricciardo scored his first podium finish for McLaren.
The iconic Earnhardt car is part of Brown’s racecar collection. The offer of a test drive in it is a huge motivating factor for Ricciardo, who was a huge Earnhardt fan as a youngster growing up in Australia.


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