Kyle Larson is back! The young NASCAR star became the fourth different winner in the NASCAR Cup series this season, earning a place in the playoff field. Larson proved that Rick Hendrick’s decision to give him a second chance was certainly well-founded, and I predict it won’t be the only win this season for the driver of the No. 5 Chevy. Larson led 103 of 267 laps and won stage two. Brad Keselowski won the first stage and finished second in both stage two and the race, giving him pole position for Sunday’s Phoenix race. Larson will start alongside.
Neither Larson nor Keselowski have ever won at Phoenix, but there are seven drivers in the field who have. Kevin Harvick is the most prolific Phoenix winner with nine victories. His most recent win was three years ago, just prior to the track’s reconfiguration, but he won five of six Phoenix outings from 2012 to 2015 with four in a row and swept the two races in 2006 as well. Chase Elliott is the most recent Phoenix winner, taking the championship race there last fall. Kyle Busch has three Phoenix wins while Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman have two each and Kurt Busch won 16 years ago in 2005. The oddsmakers pick 2020 champion Elliott at 5-1 to win Sunday with a three-way tie at 6-1 between Harvick, Keselowski, and Hamlin. Logano and Kyle Busch are 8-1, Larson 10-1, Martin Truex Jr. 12-1, and Ryan Blaney 14-1. The odds fall off pretty rapidly after that, but my dark horse pick is Chris Buescher at 150-1. The Cup race coverage begins Sunday on FOX at 12:30 p.m. with the Xfinity race airing today at 2:30 p.m. on FS1.
Friday was the first day of the Formula 1 three-day preseason test. In a departure from previous years, it is the only test weekend, and the venue has been moved from the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain to Bahrain. On the minus side, it’s only half the test days allowed in previous years, but on the plus side the first race of the season will be in Bahrain, giving the teams the opportunity to tune their cars to the circuit. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen posted yesterday’s fast time of 1:30.674, also running the most laps of all, 138. An afternoon sandstorm reduced grip, but under the lights in the evening speeds picked up significantly. Lando Norris was second fastest, just two tenths off Verstappen’s pace. Mercedes never got up to speed with Valtteri Bottas only turning six laps with a gearbox issue and Lewis Hamilton not able to get the car to hook up. Hamilton’s time was 10th fastest with Bottas slowest in 17th. Esteban Ocon took his Alpine (formerly Renault) to third fastest and Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point) was fourth quick. Stroll’s teammate Sebastian Vettel had a disappointing day finishing in 13th, nearly two seconds slower than Stroll and almost three seconds off Verstappen’s fast time. Carlos Sainz, in his first drive with Ferrari, was fifth, 1.3 seconds faster than teammate Charles Leclerc in 11th. Yuki Tsunoda in his Honda-powered Alpha Tauri was ninth, the quickest, of the three rookies in the field. The two other rookies, Haas pilots Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher, were well down the order in 15th and 16th respectively, four and five seconds off the pace.
With the first race of the season just two weeks away, it appears that several teams have some work to do and only two more days to do it in.