Roger Diez: Busch continues to show he’s a triple threat
It’s easy to list last week’s three NASCAR touring series race winners at Bristol – Kyle Busch. It’s the second time Busch has scored the hat trick at the high-banked half mile, the first coming in 2010. Up and coming phenom Erik Jones, who will be Busch’s teammate next season, sat on the pole for last Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series race and led 260 of the 500 laps, but was unable to catch Busch at the end. Busch’s win moves him to second in the point standings, 101 behind leader Martin Truex Jr. and just five points ahead of third place Kyle Larson. Busch is also second in playoff points with 20 to Truex’s 35 and Larson’s 18. Fourteen drivers have now qualified for the playoffs with one or more wins, and all are now locked in. With only two more regular season races to go and two playoff berths open, no winner can be knocked out. So Joey Logano’s encumbered win means he has to take a clean victory at Darlington or Richmond to make the playoffs. The series has a bye this weekend, with the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington coming up next weekend.
With the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series taking its final weekend break of the season, the Xfinity series takes center stage with a rare Sunday race. It will air on NBC, not the NBC Sports Network cable channel, so the few folks who still get their TV over the air will be able to watch. The race is at the four-mile Road America road course, and there’s always lots of action. Oddly enough, there are no Cup drivers or well-known road course ringers on the 42-car entry list.
The Verizon IndyCar series was back in action last Sunday at Pocono Raceway. With a 90-foot wide front straightaway, cars were going seven and eight wide at the start and the restarts. The Honda-powered Andretti Autosport teams seemed to have the early advantage, but at the checker it was Penske Chevrolet-powered cars finishing one-two. Will Power took the win, his third on the season, ahead of teammate Josef Newgarden, who also has three victories. Newgarden is the points leader and appears to be on his way to his first IndyCar championship. However, four-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon is only 18 points in arrears, and is always considered a contender. This weekend the series is at the repaved, refurbished Gateway track in St. Louis. After testing there on Aug. 3, Helio Castroneves pronounced the track “smooth as a baby’s butt.” Indy cars last ran at Gateway in 2003, when Castroneves became the seventh driver to win there. The track is unusual in it’s not a true oval, but egg-shaped with a much tighter radius in turns one and two than in three and four. Getting a good compromise setup for both ends of the track will be the key to going fast there. It’s the final oval race of the 2017 IndyCar season, with the final two races at Watkins Glen Sept. 3 and Sonoma Sept. 17.
Formula One is back this weekend, racing at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium after their four-week summer hiatus. The season-long seesaw battle between Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton for the drivers’ championship will resume in earnest Sunday. The race will mark Hamilton’s 200th start in Formula One, and he would like nothing more than to mark the occasion with a victory. Mercedes will have to give him a car equal to the Ferrari, which dominated the last race in Hungary. Both drivers have posted two wins at Spa, Vettel in 2011 and 2013, and Hamilton in 2010 and 2015. Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen has won at Spa four times, Felipe Massa of Williams in 2009 (in a Ferrari), and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in 2014.
Before Sunday’s race, in a tribute to the man who won the most races at Spa (6) and in Formula 1 (91), Michael Schumacher, his 18-year-old son, Mick, will mark the 25th anniversary of his father’s first F1 victory with a demonstration drive in Michael’s winning Benneton B194.