Roger Diez: NASCAR pulls into Sonoma for weekend

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

Lightning delay and exploding brake rotors at Gateway, Mercedes leapfrogs Aston Martin and Ferrari in Spain, and less than expected carnage on the streets of Detroit were all features of last weekend’s racing.

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The closing laps of the NASCAR Cup race at Gateway was the Kyle and Kyle show, as Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson battled for the lead on restart after restart. Larson’s car was junk in the early going, but the crew adjusted and got him up front when it counted. Alas, on the final overtime restart the car gave up and slid back to fourth as Busch took the checker to become the second three-time winner of the season.

This weekend both the Cup and Xfinity series make their closest visit to us, the 2.5-mile Sonoma road course. Only five of the 36 Cup entries have won there, with Daniel Suarez last year’s winner. Martin Truex Jr. leads the pack with three Sonoma victories, most recently in 2020, while Busch has two wins there. Larson and Kevin Harvick have each won once.

Larson is again the favorite to win, but this time he shares 9-2 odds with road course ace Tyler Reddick. Chase Elliott, back from a one-race suspension, is 11-2, teammate William Byron is 17-2, and Busch shares 9-1 odds with Ross Chastain. Chevrolets have won 13 times at Sonoma, Fords eight, and Toyotas six.

Xfinity qualifying airs on FS1 at noon Saturday and the DoorDash 250 at 5 p.m. Cup qualifying airs on FS2 at 3 p.m. Saturday with the Toyota/SaveMart 350 on Fox on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

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The Mercedes Formula 1 team made up ground on the season at Barcelona last Sunday with a double podium. Lewis Hamilton took second and George Russell charged from 12th on the grid to third.

Perhaps the photos they got at Monaco of the underside of Sergio Perez’s Red Bull gave them some clues to improve their ground effects application. The result moved Mercedes ahead of Aston Martin to second in the constructors’ championship standings, although 135 points behind Red Bull. And Hamilton and Russell are now fourth and fifth respectively in the drivers’ points battle. Formula 1 is off this weekend but will race in Canada on June 18.

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The NTT IndyCar series returned to the streets of downtown Detroit last weekend after 30 years of racing on nearby Belle Isle. The old CART series last raced in Detroit proper in 1992.

Practice and qualifying demonstrated the perils of racing on a tight street circuit circumscribed by unforgiving concrete walls, but the race itself featured relatively few crashes. Alex Palou put on a driving demonstration in his Chip Ganassi Racing Honda-powered car, showing superb car control and a turn of speed no one could match. Behind him Arrow McLaren teammates Felix Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi fought for position. Will Power brought his Team Penske Chevy home second with Rosenqvist third.

The series’ next race is next weekend at Road America.

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Finally, this weekend is the 100th anniversary of the first 24 Hours of Lemans, and NASCAR will be there with the Garage 56 project, a highly-modified Gen 7 Cup car from the Hendrick stable. Jimmie Johnson, ex-F1 pilot Jensen Button and sports car ace Mike Rockenfeller will drive.

Although it is running as the sole entry in an exhibition category, the car has already exceeded expectations. Its fast test session lap of 3:53.761 was two seconds faster than the GTE cars. The team also won the pit stop competition using a floor jack, competing against teams with pneumatic air jack systems.

Motor Trend TV will televise the entire 24 hours of the race beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday.

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