Roger Diez: First NASCAR playoff proves trouble for some

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

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The NASCAR Cup Southern 500, the first race of the playoffs, featured trouble for several of the contenders. Nobody locked into Round of 12 as non-playoff qualifier Erik Jones took his second career win and the first victory for Richard Petty’s team in many years.
Regular season champion and point leader Chase Elliott was out early, finishing last and dropping to 14th in the standings. Kyle Busch had an engine failure after dominating, Kevin Harvick’s car went up in flames, and two of the Hendrick cars had mysterious engine issues but finished.
Joey Logano leads the standings going into Kansas on Sunday with William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, and Tyler Reddick the top five and Daniel Suarez on the bubble for transfer to the next round.
The most recent NASCAR Cup winner at Kansas was Kurt Busch earlier this year, but he is out of the title chase, still recovering from his Pocono crash. Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch both won last year, Logano and Hamlin in 2020, Hamlin and Brad Keselowski in 2019, Elliott and Harvick in 2018, and Martin Truex Jr. swept both 2017 races.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the favorites at 6-1, Larson is 7-1, and Elliott and Truex share 9-1 odds. Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, and Ryan Blaney are all at 12-1 with Logano and Byron at 14-1 and Harvick 16-1. Bubba Wallace is the highest-ranked non-playoff driver at 18-2.
USA will air the Xfinity race at noon Saturday with the Kansas Lottery 300 for the Cup cars at the same time Sunday.
Max Verstappen won the Dutch Grand Prix for the second year in a row after a botched strategy by Mercedes denied Lewis Hamilton the possibility of his first 2022 win. On used medium tires with the rest of the front-runners on new softs. Hamilton’s teammate George Russell finished second. It was his first runner-up finish this season and the third for Mercedes.
The series moves to Monza this weekend for the Italian Grand Prix with Verstappen 109 points ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull 135 points to the good over Ferrari in the constructors’ point race.
Qualifying airs Saturday at 7 a.m. on ESPN News and the race at 6 a.m. on ESPN2 on Sunday.
Portland’s NTT IndyCar series race last Sunday was a Penske 1-2 and the championship race is down to just four drivers. Will Power’s second-place finish to teammate Scott McLaughlin has him in the points lead by 20 over teammate Josef Newgarden and Ganassi driver Scott Dixon going into Sunday’s season finale at Laguna Seca.
There are 50 points on the line for the win, 40 for second, 35 for third, 32 for fourth, with two points deducted for each position through 10th. After that, one point is deducted for every position through 25th. Five points are awarded for 25th through 33rd. There is also one point awarded for pole, one for leading a lap, and two for the most laps led, totaling 54 points for a perfect weekend.
So Power has to finish third to ensure the series championship if Newgarden or Dixon scores maximum points. There are too many other permutations to detail here. You can watch qualifying on Peacock at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday’s race on NBC.
In Formula 1 silly season, F2 star and Alpine reserve driver Oscar Piastri will take the seat at McLaren vacated by Daniel Ricciardo. The junior Red Bull team, Alpha Tauri, has named IndyCar driver Brian Herta to drive for them in 2023 provided he can secure a Super License. If that happens, Pierre Gasly will be on the short list to move to Alpine, replacing Fernando Alonso.


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