Roger Diez: NASCAR returns to the track after week off

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

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Max Verstappen and Red Bull advanced their respective championship point leads last Sunday in the Grand Prix du Canada. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz kept Verstappen honest, closing to within tenths of a second in the final laps, and Lewis Hamilton took his Mercedes to third, matching his only other podium performance of the season.
Verstappen’s point lead is now 46 over teammate Sergio Perez, who retired due to mechanical problems Sunday. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is just three points back of Perez, and Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate George Russell is another 14 points in arrears.
Red Bull leads Ferrari by 76 points in the constructor standings with Mercedes another 50 points behind and everyone else barely showing up on the charts. The next race is the British Grand Prix on July 3.
Last Saturday night the first Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) win of 2022 went to an ecstatic Helio Castroneves, who celebrated with his signature fence climb. There was less beating and banging than I had anticipated, but I expect to see a more physical race Saturday as the series takes to South Boston Speedway in Virginia. The race will air on CBS at 5 p.m.
The NASCAR Cup series had Father’s Day weekend off, the last break in the season.
My math was a little off last week, in that I mentioned 20 more regular season races. In fact there are 10, at the end of which the regular season champion will be determined. Currently Chase Elliott is on top of the regular season points at 536, followed by Ross Chastain with 520, Ryan Blaney at 511, Joey Logano with 506, and Martin Truex Jr. at 481. Neither Blaney nor Truex have won a race this season.
Last season was the first race for the Cup teams at the Nashville Superspeedway and Kyle Larson is the only Cup driver who knows the way to the winner’s circle there. As defending winner he’s the favorite Sunday at opening odds of 5-1. The other Kyle, Busch, is at 7-1, Chastain at 8-1, and Elliott 9-1. Blaney, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano share 10-1 odds, Truex is 12-1, William Byron14-1, and Christopher Bell 16-1. My dark horse pick is Chris Buescher who finished a strong second place at Sonoma and goes off at 125-1.
This weekend the coverage of NASCAR Cup and Xfinity races switches from FOX to the NBC family of networks. Saturday Xfinity qualifies at 9 a.m. and races at 12:30 p.m. while the Cup cars qualify at 10 a.m., all on the USA Network. Sunday’s Ally 400 Cup race airs on NBC at 2 p.m.
Finally, we say goodbye to Bruton Smith, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 95. Smith was the founder of Speedway Motorsports and owner of no fewer than 14 major racetracks. Smith was one of the sport’s true visionaries, transforming his tracks into showplaces. Charlotte Motor Speedway was his pride and joy, but he also made mind-boggling improvements to others such as Bristol, Las Vegas, and Sonoma.
I personally experienced the transformation of the latter two, having participated in events there both before and after Bruton’s acquisition. Sonoma was the largest construction project in the world for the Caterpillar Tractor company at the time, and the track still operated while it was underway. Smith hired Humpy Wheeler, perhaps the greatest showman racing has known, he lighted tracks for night racing, and competed head-to-head with NASCAR and the France family for race dates. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2016.
His passing leaves a void in our sport. Godspeed, Mr. Smith.


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