Roger Diez: Fernley to open Saturday — or Sunday
April 6, 2018
After a racing drought on Easter weekend, this weekend makes up for it with just about every major series in action. Let's start off with the local scene, as Fernley 95A Speedway's opening day will kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday, weather permitting. If Saturday is rained out, the event will move to 1 p.m. Sunday. IMCA Modifieds will be the featured division, with Hobby Stocks, Street Stocks, Pro Fours, and Chain racers also on the program. Gates open at noon, racing begins at 3 p.m. unless there's a weather delay.
The second Formula One race of the season is set for Bahrain. After losing to Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel due to a mistimed pit stop, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton will be loaded for bear. He dominated practice and qualifying in Australia two weeks ago and would've won the race but for that miscalculation on the part of the team. It looks like another Mercedes/Ferrari duel this season, although Red Bull is showing some promise. Friday's practice was a bit of a surprise, as both Ferrari's second driver, Kimi Raikkonen, and Mercedes' No. 2, Valtteri Bottas, were faster than their teammates. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo topped the first practice session with Raikkonen on top in the second. Hamilton could do no better than fourth and fifth in the two sessions, and Vettel second and fourth. Could we see an upset in qualifying and the race? You can catch the race on ESPN2 Sunday at 8 a.m.
The NHRA will inaugurate Las Vegas Motor Speedway's new four-wide dragstrip this weekend. Track owner Bruton Smith pioneered the concept at his Charlotte track a few years ago, and Vegas is the second iteration of the idea. FOX Sports 1 will carry the action with final eliminations on the air Sunday at 3 p.m.
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The Verizon IndyCar series is at Phoenix for a night race Saturday. Look for lap speeds 20-30 mph faster than the NASCAR drivers posted last month at the track. It's the first oval race of the season for the series, so it's too early to predict who will have the best handle on the new bodywork mandated for 2018. Strategy and caution flags will play a large role in determining the eventual winner. Tune into NBC Sports Channel at 6 p.m. to catch all the action live.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series visits the fast Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has seven wins there including last spring and five of the last 10 Texas races. But the No. 48 and all four Hendrick teams are struggling with the new Camaro bodywork this season. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have two Texas wins each. Busch won two years ago and in 2013, but Hamlin's last win was in 2010. Kevin Harvick is the most recent Texas winner, taking the checker last fall for his only victory there. Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Ryan Newman have all been to victory lane once, but not for a long time. Busch's win was in 2009, Kahne's in 2006, and Newman's in 2003.
One of the reasons for Johnson's poor performance (and that of nearly all the Chevy teams) is NASCAR's reduced practice schedule. The Ford and Toyota teams don't need as much track time to dial their cars in because they have a couple of years of development time on them. Wind tunnel testing and simulators will get you close but you need track time on the actual pavement to make those final tweaks that spell the difference between a front-running car and a mid-packer. I foresee the Chevy teams getting on a par with the Fords and Toyotas, but it may be mid-season before they're truly competitive.