Roger Diez: One playoff berth left for NASCAR Cup

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

The end of last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race seemed like an instant replay of the final laps of Saturday’s Infinity contest. Same winner, same second place driver in a breakaway from the rest of the field.
But events leading up to the nearly identical finishes were quite different. Kyle Larson called his Saturday win a “gift” as the two lead cars took each other out, while he wrested Sunday’s victory from teammate Chase Elliot with an aggressive turn one pass on a late restart. A.J. Allmendinger kept Larson honest, chasing him home both days.
Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen ran as high as eighth on Sunday before being punted into a tire barrier on lap 44 and retiring. And a start on a wet track made Sunday’s early laps especially interesting. The battle for the final playoff position on points is still between Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., who is 25 points behind.
That final playoff berth will be awarded at the end of Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. Should there be a new winner, Blaney and Truex will be out of the playoffs unless one of them is that new winner. Blaney won last year’s 400 while Truex is winless on the 2.5 mile superspeedway.
Other drivers who have won the 400 but are winless in 2022 are Justin Haley (2019), Eric Jones (2018), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017), Brad Keselowski (2016), and Aric Almirola (2014). But Daytona is a wild card, which means that a dark horse like 2021 Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell could be standing in victory lane. The race airs Saturday at 4:30 p.m. on NBC.
The NTT IndyCar series wound up their oval season last Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway, and the points battle is the tightest in years going into the final two races. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden took his fourth win of the season and is now only three points behind teammate and points leader Will Power. Power’s pole at WWT was his 67th, tying him with racing legend Mario Andretti for the most poles in Indy car history.
Other contenders for the 2022 title include Scott Dixon, just 14 points out of the lead, Marcus Ericsson, 17 points in arrears, and Alex Palou, 43 points back. Second-place WWT finisher Scott McLaughlin and Pato O’Ward both have a mathematical shot at the championship but will need a lot of luck to make it happen. The next race is at Portland International Raceway on Sept. 4.
Formula 1 ends its summer hiatus this weekend, returning to action at the 4.35 mile, extremely fast Spa Francorchamps track in Belgium. Formula 1 cars lap the circuit at an average speed of over 140 mph. Weather is often a factor, with parts of the track dry while rain pours in other sections. Overall, a formidable challenge.
There has not been a repeat winner at Spa in the last four seasons. Max Verstappen won last year, Lewis Hamilton the year before, Charles Leclerc in 2019, and Sebastian Vettel in 2018. Hamilton has the most wins there among active drivers with four, Vettel has three, and Daniel Ricciardo joins Verstappen and Leclerc with one each.
Sunday’s race will indicate whether Ferrari or Mercedes have produced upgrades over the past month that will derail Verstappen and the Red Bull juggernaut. Qualifying airs Saturday at 7 a.m. with the race at 6 a.m. Sunday, both on ESPN2.
And in silly season news, Daniel Ricciardo is leaving McLaren at the end of the season, rumored to be talking to Alpine and Haas about a 2023 ride.


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