It was a good weekend for any race car driver with an “x” in their name.
Alex Bowman won the Richmond NASCAR Cup race, Alex Palou took his first IndyCar victory at Barber Motorsports Park, and the Imola F1 race win went to Max Verstappen.
Bowman became the eighth different Cup winner on the season, Palou leads the IndyCar points, and Verstappen is only one point behind seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the F1 title chase.
At Richmond, Denny Hamlin once again led the most laps, 207 of 400, but had victory snatched away in the final 10 circuits. Hamlin won the first two stages and has amassed the highest points total by far, but the checkered flag still eludes him. He will get another chance Sunday at Talladega, which is always a wild card.
Hamlin won last fall’s Talladega outing, his second of two wins at NASCAR’s longest track. But the Penske stable is strong at ‘Dega, winning 10 of the last 24 races among the team’s three drivers.
Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers with five wins, Joey Logano has three, and Ryan Blaney two out of the last three races there. In all nine active drivers are in the Talladega win column with 17 victories among them. But there are two things for sure about Talladega – there will be a “big one,” and anybody can win.
The race will air on FOX at 11 a.m. with ARCA at 11 a.m. Saturday on FS1 followed by the Xfinity series on FOX at 1 p.m.
Verstappen won the Imola F1 race in wet/dry conditions with a 22-second margin as both Mercedes drivers had issues involving Williams driver George Russell. Russell, who may have hurt his chances to join Mercedes next season, was being passed by Lewis Hamilton when Lewis, on the wet line, slid off track and had to reverse through a gravel trap, losing a lap.
Then Russell was overtaking Valtteri Bottas when they had a massive crash, bringing out the red flag for track cleanup. Each driver blamed the other, but the stewards determined it was a combination of factors with no fault, or in NASCAR parlance, “just one o’ them racin’ deals.”
Continuing the NASCAR theme, Hamilton got the “lucky dog” and got his lap back, charging from ninth to second at the end and setting fastest lap on the way. That fast lap put him in one point ahead of Verstappen in the drivers’ championship.
McLaren’s Lando Norris took third, nursing a set of soft tires to finish ahead of the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
The next race will be on March 3 in Portugal, where the Red Bull/Mercedes battle will continue.
The NTT IndyCar series kicked off its 2021 season last Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park with 24 cars taking the green flag. A first-lap accident put two drivers out and two more laps down after making repairs, but the rest of the race was relatively accident-free.
The win went to Spanish driver Alex Palou in his second IndyCar season and his first drive for Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou battled fellow sophomore driver and polesitter Pato O’Ward and veterans Will Power and Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon to take the win. O’Ward finished fourth behind Power and Dixon.
Jimmie Johnson’s debut in another Ganassi entry was less than spectacular, starting 21st and finishing 19th. But Johnson avoided the lap one melee and recovered from a spin, learning a lot in the process. Look for him to improve steadily this season.
The series is back in action this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg with tape-delayed qualifying Saturday at 7 p.m. and the race on NBC at 9 a.m. Sunday.