NASCAR drivers try to survive and advance |

NASCAR drivers try to survive and advance

Roger Diez

Happy Nevada Day everyone! I know there are eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers who are happy, but probably not because it’s Nevada Day. No, they’re happy to have advanced to the round of eight in the NASCAR playoffs. They will be racing at Martinsville on Sunday to stay alive in the championship hunt. The “Big Three” of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. are of course included, as are Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, and Aric Almirola. Not advancing are Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, and Alex Bowman. Larson came from the back in the Kansas cutoff race and finished third, but needed a win to advance.

So all four Stewart-Haas Racing Fords are in the round of eight while Logano is the lone Penske Ford driver to advance. Truex and the younger Busch represent Toyota and Elliott is the only Chevy driver to make it this far. Heading into Sunday’s race, the Big Three and Elliott are above the cutoff line for the championship round. Busch and Harvick have enough carryover points that they’re almost guaranteed a spot in the final, while Truex is also in pretty good shape. What could throw a wrench into that is if three of the drivers currently below the cut line were to win in this round. The most likely to do that is Bowyer, who won the Martinsville spring race this year. If that happens, it looks like either Busch or Harvick would take the fourth spot in the final. Of course, drivers from outside the top eight could also win, and for every one of those a Big Three driver locks in. The permutations are endless, and my head is starting to hurt.

Is anybody besides me old enough to remember when the NASCAR season just ran regular races, and whomever had the most points at the end of the season was the champion? Although a lot of folks, particularly those new to the sport, are tolerant of NASCAR’s endless tweaking of the playoff rules, many aren’t. I don’t have any hard evidence of this, but I think that part of NASCAR’s decline in attendance and ratings is due to traditionalists who are fed up with the “new-fangled ideas” dropping out. Or dying off, which is also an issue. NASCAR’s attempt to appeal to younger fans hasn’t been as successful as they had hoped. At the risk of offending Millennials, I don’t think they have the attention span to watch a four-hour race.

There was another championship up for grabs last Sunday, but it was not to be. Lewis Hamilton, lead driver for Mercedes, finished third, just one position ahead of No. 1 Ferrari pilot Sebastian Vettel, not enough points to finish it off. Ferrari’s second driver, Kimi Raikkonen, drove a masterful race, proving why he’s a former World Champion. It was Kimi’s 21st F1 victory and his first win since the season opener in Australia in 2013. Raikkonen once famously radioed to his team, “Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing,” and he proved it on Sunday. Unfortunately, he’ll be leaving Ferrari for 2019 and driving for Sauber. The new team usually runs at the back end of the field, so Kimi may not win again. But he’s always entertaining to watch.

This weekend the Formula One circus visits the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City for the Mexican Grand Prix. Since racing resumed there in 2015, both Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull pilot Max Verstappen have posted victories. Hamilton needs only to finish seventh or better to become the 2018 F1 drivers’ champion, a feat he can probably accomplish while half asleep.