As the racing season winds down, championship pictures are emerging. Four drivers were eliminated from the NASCAR Cup playoffs at Bristol, and the Laguna Seca race narrowed the IndyCar championship to three drivers. This weekend NASCAR is at Las Vegas, IndyCar finishes its season on the streets of Long Beach, and Formula 1 is back in action in Russia.
Bristol saw Kyle Larson win his sixth race of the 2021 NASCAR Cup season, while former champions Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick engaged in a heated post-race discussion. Elliott lost three laps late in the race, pitting for a flat tire caused by contact with Harvick. Elliott then ran interference for Larson as Harvick tried in vain to re-take the lead. After a pit road confrontation, the pair took the dispute to the privacy of a hauler for what was probably not an amicable conclusion.
The race also saw Mike McDowell, Kurt Busch, Tyler Reddick, and Aric Almirola eliminated from the playoffs.
Racing at Las Vegas on Sunday, Larson is top seed in the round of 12 and will start from the pole. The winner of the Vegas spring race this season, Larson is also the odds-on favorite to win at 11-4. Kyle Busch’s odds are 13-2, Denny Hamlin is at 7-1, and Martin Truex Jr. is 15-2. Elliott is 8-1, Harvick 10-1, with Joey Logano and William Byron at 12-1.
Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers at Las Vegas with three wins. Two-time winners are Logano, Truex, and Harvick. Larson and the Busch brothers have one win apiece, Kurt’s last fall and Kyle’s in 2009.
The race airs at 4 p.m., Sunday, with the Xfinity race at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, both on NBCSN.
Colton Herta dominated the IndyCar field at the twisty, 2.2-mile Laguna Seca road course last Sunday, but Formula 1 veteran Romain Grosjean made things exciting late in the race. He charged through the field after the last round of pit stops to take third behind Alex Palou.
Palou’s second place put him 35 points ahead of Pato O’Ward with Josef Newgarden a further 13 points back. Only these three have a mathematical chance to win the title.
The 2021 IndyCar season has been a battle of the young guns versus the veterans, and it may go down as a turning point in IndyCar with the youngsters dominating the old guard. Sunday’s season finale takes place on the streets of Long Beach, where Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi has won the last two races, 2018-19 (2020 canceled due to COVID). Penske’s Will Power is the only other two-time winner, in 2008 and 2012.
In all, seven active drivers have won at Long Beach, but none of them are favored for Sunday. That honor goes to Laguna Seca winner Herta, who is blindingly fast on street circuits. You can catch the 85-lap, 167.28 mile race Sunday starting at noon on NBCSN.
Formula 1, after a week off, is at the Sochi Olympic venue for the Russian Grand Prix. Since the series began racing at Sochi in 2014, a Mercedes has won every race, with Lewis Hamilton taking four of the seven and Valtteri Bottas winning two.
So, can we expect a surprise winner as we saw at Monza two weeks ago? Will Hamilton and Mercedes add to their unbroken streak? Will the top championship contenders, Hamilton and Max Verstappen, have yet another incident?
With rain predicted for the entire weekend, any of those outcomes is possible. The race will air on ESPN2 on Sunday at 4:55 a.m.
Finally, a second U.S. Formula 1 race has been confirmed. The Miami Grand Prix is scheduled for May 6-8, 2022.