The NASCAR Cup playoff field is now set. Chris Buescher took his third win of the season as teammate and team owner Brad Keselowski pushed Buescher across the finish line at Daytona last Saturday night.
The race also had one of the scariest crashes in recent years. Ryan Preece’s Ford went airborne in a series of barrel rolls. But in a tribute to the safety of the Gen 7 car, Preece exited the car under his own power. He was released from a local hospital after overnight observation. Thirty cars finished, 25 on the lead lap and nine out of the race due to accidents.
The race also settled the regular season championship in favor of Martin Truex Jr., who finished two places ahead of Denny Hamlin. And Bubba Wallace’s points total locked him into the playoffs.
Heading into the first race of the Round of 16 at Darlington, Truex and Willam Byron are tied at 2,036 points for the playoff lead, well ahead of last seed Wallace’s 2,000 point total. The cars at the tail end of the points tally are unlikely to point their way into the Round of 12, so they will probably need a win to advance.
Eight drivers in the 36-car field for Darlington have won there. Hamlin leads the pack with four wins, Harvick has three, Truex and Eric Jones two each, and one-time winners are Byron, Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch. Byron won earlier this season at Darlington with Jones and Logano both winning last year.
Cup qualifying airs at 10:20 a.m. Saturday with the Xfinity race at 12:30 p.m. Sunday’s Cookout Southern 400 broadcast begins at 3 p.m. All will air on USA.
Rain canceled NTT IndyCar activities at Word Wide Technology last Saturday, postponing qualifying to race day morning.
Josef Newgarden, favored to win his fourth straight race at World Wide Technology Raceway, led the early laps but was caught out by an untimely caution period. He later hit the wall and retired, putting an end to his championship hopes. Scott Dixon stretched fuel and tire life to near-impossible limits, and went on to win, closing to within 73 points of teammate Alex Palou. So the championship is down to two contenders with a pair of races to go, but in either case it will be a title for Chip Ganassi Racing.
This weekend the series visits Portland International Raceway for the fifth time since the series returned to the venue in 2018. Dixon always runs well at Portland but has yet to score a win there. Previous winners include Palou, Scott McLaughlin, Will Power, and Takuma Sato.
Qualifying airs Saturday on Peacock at 12:30 p.m. with the race on NBC at noon Sunday.
They say the more things change, the more they remain the same. But in Formula One, nothing changes as Red Bull and Max Verstappen continue to win races. Last Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix was Verstappen’s ninth win in a row in a season where Red Bull is the only team to have won.
Strategy complicated by weather characterized last Sunday’s race. Teams switched back and forth between dry tires, intermediates, and full wets depending on track conditions at the moment. It rained so hard late in the race that officials red-flagged it, wiping out Verstappen’s 22-second lead. The race resumed with seven laps to go, and Max built up a 3.74 second margin by the checkered flag. Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin and Pierre Gasly’s Alpine finished second and third. It was Gasly’s first podium finish of the season.
This weekend Monza hosts the Italian Grand Prix with qualifying at 7 a.m. Saturday on ESPN2 and the race on ESPN on Sunday.