Roger Diez: Changing of the NASCAR guard?

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

Last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix saw the fourth different winner of 2022 as Chase Briscoe scored his first Cup victory in just his second full season. At 27, he is also the fourth driver under 30 years of age to win this year, raising the question of whether this signals a changing of the guard in NASCAR’s premier series. In fact, both the second place Phoenix finisher Ross Chastain (29) and third place Tyler Reddick (26) are members of the young gun squad. It will be interesting to see what the season holds.
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This weekend NASCAR is at both an old and new track. Atlanta has been on the schedule since 1960 and in its most recent configuration since 1997, but drivers saw a very different track at Friday’s practice. The old abrasive pavement is now smoother, banking has been increased from 24 to 28 degrees, and track width in the turns is narrower by 15 feet, from 55 down to 40.
Given these changes, plus the Next Gen car, teams notebooks are only good for historical purposes. Teams will be using the superspeedway car specs used at Daytona and Talladega, with 510 horsepower and a seven-inch rear spoiler.
Only five drivers in the field have won at Atlanta. Kurt Busch won last fall, the most recent of his four victories. Kevin Harvick has three Atlanta wins, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch two each, and Denny Hamlin one win.
All three NASCAR touring series practiced Friday with Camping World Trucks qualifying at 7:30 Saturday and racing at 11:30. The Xfinity series qualifies at 8:30 and races at 2 p.m. while NASCAR Cup qualifies at 9:30 a.m. All the action airs on FS1. Fox will broadcast Sunday’s Cup race at noon.
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NASCAR is joined this week by the Formula 1 season opener, the NTT IndyCar series at Texas Motor Speedway, the 12 hours of Sebring. Formula 1 is racing in Bahrain where the final preseason testing of the year took place last week.
Reliability and handling issues continued in Friday practice, particularly ride height sensitivity and braking issues for Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. There were a few unaccustomed names at the top half of the time charts, including Fernando Alonso’s Alpine and both Haas cars. And Nico Hulkenberg got quickly up to speed in Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin as Vettel tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. Qualifying airs on ESPN News on Saturday at 7:55. The race will air Sunday at 7:55 on ESPN.
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NBC will broadcast the IndyCar race at Texas on Sunday beginning at 9:30 a.m. It’s the first oval race in the series for Jimmie Johnson, who has won seven times at Texas in a NASCAR Cup car. While not expecting a win, Johnson is confident of better results than his road and street course outings thus far. He said he believes a top ten or even a top five is possible.
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Coverage of the entire 12 hours of Sebring begins Saturday at 7 a.m. on Peacock, with USA also picking up coverage at noon and running until 7:30 p.m. The race this year will see crossover from the World Endurance Championship 1000 of Sebring, which ran Friday.
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Finally, I’m sad to announce the loss of yet another racing legend. Vic Elford passed away after a long battle with cancer at the age of 86. Elford was an all-around racer, competing in rallies, Formula 1, the Daytona 500, and endurance races, winning 24 hour races at Daytona and Lemans and the 12 hours of Sebring for Porsche. Goodbye, Quick Vic.

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