Roger Diez: Larson proves NASCAR is a team sport

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

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If anybody tries to tell you that racing is not a team sport, point them to Kyle Larson’s last pit stop at Phoenix on Sunday.
Prior to the final caution, Larson was running a distant fourth of the championship contenders with a car that wasn’t working well. His crew accomplished their second fastest stop of the season and got him out of the pits in the lead. And that was the race.
Larson acknowledged his crew in the post-race interviews, making it clear that it was as much their victory as his. It capped off a brilliant season with 10 wins, the regular season championship, and the Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew award. It was also the first step in a potential spot for Larson in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It was also exactly 25 years since the number 5 car won the Cup championship with Terry Labonte at the wheel.
Of course, Larson’s pit crew was aided by having the number one pit to work with, thanks to their driver qualifying on the pole. Yes, it was one of three races this season that featured a qualifying session.
According to Bob Pockrass, Fox Sports’ NASCAR reporter, most if not all races in 2022 will include practice and qualifying session. Given that they will be using the Next Gen car with no notebook on it at any track, this seems to be the prudent course to take.
Details have emerged about the NASCAR Cup season opener, the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Rather than just this year’s pole sitters and other qualifiers, 40 cars will start the event, which will run in a format familiar to anyone who’s been to a local short track race. Single car qualifying on Saturday will set the grids for four 10-car heats on Sunday with the top three finishers in each transferring to the main event. Then the top three finishers in each of two last-chance qualifying races will transfer to the main behind the first 16. The 23rd and final spot will go to the highest driver in points from 2021 who did not transfer through the heats of last chance races. Pretty much just like the Chili Bowl with 40 cars instead of 300.
The Formula 1 season still has four races to go with Brazil on tap this weekend. It is the third and final race of the season to utilize Sprint qualifying, so there will be a total of 29 available points if a driver can win the Sprint and Sunday’s race with the fastest lap.
Lewis Hamilton will need every one of those points if he is to have a chance to make history by scoring his eighth World Driving championship. Max Verstappen took the win in Mexico last Sunday, extending his drivers’ championship point lead to 19 and bringing the Red Bull team within one point of Mercedes in the constructor’s championship.
The latter is perhaps most important, because that is what determines the season’s payout to the teams. Figures are not released for this distribution, but it is estimated to be in the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.
Sprint qualifying will air on ESPN News at 11:30 a.m. Saturday with the race at 8:55 a.m. on ESPN2 Sunday.
Finally, F1 will double the number of sprint race weekends from three to six for 2022, with those six venues not yet determined. The format is valuable to promoters, because it increases both crowd size and broadcast audience to the Friday program with the addition of a qualifying session.


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