Roger Diez: Early leads lead to early exits

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

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It didn’t pay to lead early last Sunday. Max Verstappen took the lead at the start of the British Grand Prix and finished in the turn nine tire barrier on lap one. Kyle Busch lasted until lap six at New Hampshire when a sudden rain squall put him into the turn one wall, ending his day. Controversy surrounded both incidents.
First, there was outrage over the contact between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton that ended Max’s day with a trip to the hospital (he was checked and released). It also caused a red flag while the barrier was repaired.
What many observers, including yours truly, saw as a racing incident was viewed very differently by the respective teams and fans of the two drivers involved. If you’re interested and have some time to spend, the internet is full of videos, analyses, and opinions on fault and appropriate penalties. Hamilton was assessed a 10 second penalty, served at his first pit stop after the red flag.
However some Verstappen fans called for more severe sanctions, stopping just short of beheading. Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer said on the broadcast, “If that wasn’t a racing incident, then nothing is,” and I tend to agree.
Hamilton went on to win, passing the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc three laps from the finish in the same corner where the incident with Max occurred. Leclerc held on for second with Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas third. Hamilton now trails Verstappen by only eight points in the drivers’ championship while Mercedes is just four points in arrears in the constructors’ title fight. The Hungarian Grand Prix is up next on Aug. 1.
A sudden rain squall and NASCAR officials’ slow response ended in chaos Sunday at Loudon’s turn one. Leader Kyle Busch, first one to encounter the wet track, and Martin Truex Jr. in second suffered the most damage. Busch was out of the race, but Truex was able to continue and amazingly finished 12th.
The race was cut short by eight laps due to encroaching darkness, and Aric Almirola took the checker ahead of a rapidly closing Christopher Bell. Almirola’s win shook up the playoff picture, as there are now just three spots still open and four races remaining in the regular season. Two of those races are on road courses, and one is at Daytona.
Almirola’s win was the first victory all season for Stewart-Haas Racing, and Kevin Harvick is the only other SHR driver currently in position to make the playoffs, 14th in points. The next two weeks are idle, as NBCSN will be airing the Tokyo Olympics.
Not only is the playoff picture changing, but silly season just got sillier.
Brad Keselowski is taking a minority ownership position in Roush-Fenway Racing and will drive their No. 6 Ford in 2022, putting Ryan Newman out. Matt Dibenedetto will not be in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford next season, with Harrison Burton taking the seat. Austin Cindric will now replace Keselowski in the No. 2 Penske Ford.
And who will join Daniel Suarez at Trackhouse in 2022 after Ganassi turns over the reins? Will Kurt Busch stay on, or will they bring in Newman or Dibenedetto, or promote an Xfinity pilot, perhaps Noah Gragson? And the 23XI team may be adding a second car for 2022, with no driver announced.
Finally, NASCAR Cup teams have begun taking delivery of Next Gen chassis to begin building cars for next season. There are now single suppliers for all the components except engines and composite bodies, which are unique to each manufacturer. So NASCAR has all but completed its transition to a spec series.


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