Roger Diez: Chase still is wide open heading into today’s race | NevadaAppeal.com

Roger Diez: Chase still is wide open heading into today’s race

Roger Diez
For the Nevada Appeal

I had every intention of attending the two-day shootout at Reno-Fernley Raceway’s 3/8 mile clay oval last weekend, but a bout of pneumonia and a stay at Carson-Tahoe changed my plans. Wheelchair and gurney racing isn’t nearly as much fun.

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I did get to watch the NASCAR Sprint Cup race from Kansas while in the hospital, and Jimmie Johnson’s Chase recovery gave me hope for my own resurgence of health. A couple of races ago the pundits were all but writing the obituary for the 48 team’s chances for a sixth straight championship, but Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus are baaack! Charlotte Motor Speedway is one of Johnson’s strongest tracks, so he could very well regain the points lead tonight. Nobody is yet eliminated mathematically from the Chase, but at this point it looks as though there are only eight drivers with any likelihood of taking the 2011 title. They are separated by only 20 points, with Edwards in the lead, Harvick one point behind, Johnson minus four, Keselowski 11 back, Kenseth down 12, Kurt Busch 16 back, Tony Stewart 19 in arrears, and Kyle Bush 20 points behind. There’s a big gap to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in ninth at 43 points back, followed by Jeff Gordon at minus 47, Ryan Newman at minus 54, and Denny Hamlin bringing up the rear with a deficit of 79. The new point system is going to make it difficult if not impossible for the bottom nine to challenge for the title, and all of the top eight would have to have trouble for that to happen. This is shaping up to be one of the most exciting championship runs in NASCAR history.

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Not so exciting is the Formula 1 championship race, which is over with four races left to go. Barring a bizarre occurrence like the Red Bull team being disqualified from season points for some heretofore undiscovered infraction, Sebastian Vettel has won his second championship in a row. There’s not much drama in the constructor’s championship either, as both Red Bull cars would have to have four disastrous races in order for McLaren to overtake them. This weekend F1 is in Korea, where rain made last year’s race quite interesting. After a wet Friday practice, dry weather is forecast for qualifying and the race.

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However, Sunday’s IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has the biggest field of the season with 34 entries. Dario Franchitti has the points lead with 18 over challenger Will Power, but as the Kentucky race two weeks ago proved, nothing is certain. Power had the dominant car at Kentucky, but was involved in a pit-lane accident that was not his fault. Racing luck hasn’t gone Power’s way this season, even though he has dominated with eight poles and six victories compared with Franchitti’s two poles and four wins. However, Franchitti is already a three-time champion, winning in 2007, 2009, and 2010, missing the 2008 season while racing in NASCAR. His teammate Scott Dixon won the title that year, so the Target-Ganassi team is definitely on a roll.

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One added attraction at Las Vegas this year is the $5 million bonus that will be split by Dan Wheldon and a fan if Wheldon can win the race. Initially targeted at bringing in drivers from other forms of motorsport, the big prize was aimed at drivers like NASCAR’s Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch, daredevil Travis Pastrana, and others. In the end the only “non-regular” IndyCar driver eligible is Indy 500 winner Wheldon, who is also the test driver for the new 2012 Indy car chassis. The Las Vegas race also marks the end of Danica Patrick’s career in the series, where she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 and the first to win a race in the series. She will race in NASCAR’s Nationwide series full time next season, with selected Sprint Cup rides.

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Finally, the Drive for Diversity combine takes place next week at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia. Carson City’s Mackena Bell is one of the 24 drivers selected to take part, attempting to qualify for her third season in the program with Revolution Racing.