Roger Diez: April Fools: Shocking development never happened
The racing world was shocked late Friday when NASCAR CEO Brian France announced Ford and Chevy are dropping out of NASCAR competition in 2018. Toyota will stay on, and will be joined by manufacturers Hyundai and Renault, with Fiat also expressing an interest. Honda, citing difficulties with their Formula 1 program, declined to participate. The engine formula for the series will be changed from 358 cubic in V8 pushrod engines to turbocharged overhead cam four and six four cylinder hybrid powerplants with a limit of 2000cc (122 cubic inches). Also, many of the sport’s famed oval tracks will no longer be used, dropped in favor of road and street courses. A number of drivers have vowed to leave the sport in protest, while several ex-Formula 1 drivers have expressed interest in joining the American stock car series. For further information on this shocking story, please refer to today’s date and admit that you’ve been had!
OK, now that we’ve had our April Fool fun, congratulations to Kyle Larson on his sweep of both the Xfinity and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup wins at Auto Club Speedway last weekend. It was his second victory in NASCAR’s top series, and I foresee many more in his future. Larson let the most laps on his way to victory and his overall win, combined with a first stage checker, extended his point lead to 29 counters over second place Chase Elliott. Two young guns at the top of the standings five races into the season, and no repeat winners yet. The 2017 season could very well turn out to be one for the record books.
From the high speeds and five-wide racing of a two-mile superspeedway, the series will race on their shortest track this weekend, the half-mile Martinsville “paper clip.” In what is becoming a pattern, the most prolific winner at Martinsville among active drivers is (surprise) Jimmie Johnson with nine trips to victory circle there. And another pattern that’s concerning to his competitors is his propensity for putting together back to back wins at Martinsville. He won the fall race in 2012 and the spring race in 2013; 2008 in the fall, 2009 in the spring; 2006 fall, and a sweep of both races in 2007. Johnson won last fall, so he’s primed to come home first on Sunday if the pattern holds. Denny Hamlin is the second-most successful active driver with five Martinsville wins, and for a four-year stretch from October 2006 to October 2010, Johnson and Hamlin were the only two drivers to win there. Kurt Busch has won twice at Martinsville, while his brother Kyle, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have one win apiece. Among non-winners, Kyle Larson comes in with some serious momentum, Chase Elliott has been strong this season, and the Penske Fords of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are serious threats. And let’s not forget Clint Bowyer, whose third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway shows he’s back in contention.
Formula One kicked off its 2017 season in Australia last Sunday, with a surprise result that indicates a more competitive series in 2017. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton took the pole with the fastest lap ever turned at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, a blazing 1:22.188. Hamilton took the lead at the start, but when he pitted for tires he came out behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who had qualified second. The Mercedes was unable to catch Vettel’s red machine, and that’s the way the race finished. The gauntlet has been thrown down, with the driving championship fight engaged between four-time champion Vettel and three time titleist Hamilton. The biggest disappointment of the race was the performance of Australian driver and crowd favorite Daniel Ricciardo, whose Red Bull car stopped on the reconnaissance lap, started from the pit lane two laps down, and eventually stopped on track with no power. The Red Bulls were fast, behind only the Mercedes and Ferraris in practice and qualifying, and Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen finished fifth behind those two teams.