Roger Diez: Fast and furious back at Fernley
If you’re in the mood for some fast and furious dirt track racing, head out to Fernley 95A Speedway. Saturday marks the first appearance this season of winged 360 sprint cars. Also on the program are IMCA Modifieds, Sport Mods, Hobby Stocks, and Gen-X cars. Gates open at 3 p.m., racing starts at 6.
Last weekend was a bye for NASCAR, Formula One, and IndyCar, but two of the three are back in action this weekend. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series are at their biggest track, Talladega. The 2.66 mile high-banked oval has a well-deserved reputation for large packs, drafting, and the nearly inevitable multi-car wrecks. Ford has dominated Talladega recently, winning eight of the last 10 races with one win each for Chevrolet and Toyota. And most of those Ford victories came at the hands of the Penske twins, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. They each have won three of the last 10 outings, and Keselowski also has a win prior to that. So it’s no surprise the oddsmakers in Vegas have these two picked as favorites, opening at 8 to 1. There are four drivers at 10 to 1 odds; Stewart-Haas teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, along with Gibbs stablemates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Opening at 14 to 1 are last fall’s Talladega winner Aric Almirola, along with Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, and Daniel Suarez. Odds drop off rapidly after that, with David Ragan at 100 to 1 the best odds to put down a dark horse bet.
Formula One is in Baku, Azerbaijan on a street course that incorporates both tight corners and a long straightaway that challenge the teams to get the right balance. Ferrari and the rest of the grid are scratching their heads over what to do about the Mercedes juggernaut that has made a shambles of the season thus far. If anyone else is to finish ahead of the Silver Arrows, Baku is the most likely place to do it. In its three years of existence, the track has proven as unpredictable as Talladega, if for different reasons. The pole sitter has only won one of the three, and last year Daniel Ricciardo brought his Red Bull from 10th to first.
Although the IndyCar series is off this weekend, there’s some disturbing news about its most famous race, the Indy 500. The big three teams in the series, Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti, have all asked the sanctioning body for guaranteed starting spots in the race. Basically, the request was all full-time teams be guaranteed starting spots. Because there are only around 20 full-time teams, only the last 13 spots in the field would be subject to bumping. And since only James Hinchcliffe’s car was bumped last year, the effect would be minimal for now. But what if the series was to return to its former robust self? In 1971 there were 58 cars vying for the 33 starting spots in the 500. In 1995, the vaunted Penske organization failed to qualify a car. It seems like the big guys don’t want to risk anything like that ever again.
Michael Andretti, the last of the three to sign on to the petition, told the Indianapolis Star it was all but a done deal, with IndyCar President Jay Frye on board and lobbying series’ CEO Mark Miles to go along. Miles stated he and Frye are already on the same page. But in an Indianapolis Star survey, 85 percent of fans were against the idea. I’m with them, and hope the fastest 33 qualifiers continue to start the race.