Roger Diez: NASCAR crowns champions this weekend

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

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The NASCAR season is down to the final races, and champions will be crowned in all three divisions at Phoenix this weekend.
The final four contenders in each division were decided last weekend at Martinsville, with over a dozen cautions in each race along with contention and hard feelings. Denny Hamlin was so incensed after eventual winner Alex Bowman put him in the wall that he interrupted Bowman’s victory celebration with his car and a double one-finger racing salute. He then called Bowman a “hack” in his post-race interview. Black Bowman T-shirts with a large purple “HACK” on the front are now available for $24.99. And Kyle Busch used a slur for developmentally challenged people in an interview about his battle with Kevin Harvick, resulting in NASCAR requiring him to complete sensitivity training before allowing him to race in 2022. Ah, short-track racing!
Three of the four contenders for the NASCAR Cup title have won at Phoenix recently. Truex won the spring race this year, Elliott won last fall on his way to the championship, and Hamlin took the fall win in 2019. Kyle Larson is the only one of the four without a Phoenix victory, yet he’s the odds-on favorite at 7-4. Elliott is 7-2, Hamlin 4-1, and Truex 9-2.
Kyle Busch, with Phoenix wins in 2018 and 2019, is the highest-ranked non-championship contender at 16-1. If Sunday’s race is anything like recent title rounds, the team that makes the fewest mistakes will end up the winner. But none of the four needs to win the race to take the championship. They just have to beat the other three.
The Cup race airs on NBC beginning at 11:30 a.m. Sunday with the Xfinity championship race Saturday at 5 p.m. on NBCSN. And in a departure from recent practice all three series will practice and qualify prior to the race. This means that the four championship contenders will not necessarily start the race from the front two rows. Cup qualifying airs Saturday on CNBC at 4 p.m. with Xfinity qualification on the NBC Sports App at 11:30. Camping World Trucks qualified and raced Friday.
Although NASCAR’s season ends this weekend, Formula 1 has another month to go. Sunday is the Gran Premio de la Cuidad De Mexico, airing on ABC at 9:30 a.m. with qualifying Saturday at 1 p.m. on ESPN News.
Mexico is the first of a three-week string of races with Brazil and Qatar to follow. The high-altitude circuit favors the Honda powerplant, giving Red Bull a theoretical advantage over rival Mercedes. But the track’s 7,350-foot altitude presents other challenges as well. The turbos must work harder to produce enough power, causing concern about reliability. Aerodynamics are also an issue, with less downforce and also less drag. This means higher straightaway speeds but less grip in corners.
And as the season winds down, there is a very real chance that we will see a new F1 champion crowned this year. Max Verstappen is currently 12 points ahead of seven-time champ Lewis Hamilton and his Red Bull team has momentum. But there is still a maximum of 133 points on the table for the season (25 for each win, one for fast lap in each race, and three to win the Saturday sprint race in Brazil). It appears that Red Bull has the slightly better car at this point in the season, but Hamilton has won seven championships and has that experience over Verstappen. The next five races should be very interesting.


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