Roger Diez: Kyle Busch finally claims spot in playoffs
August 4, 2017
There was plenty of racing action last Sunday. There were first-time winners at two tracks, one in NASCAR and the other in IndyCar, as well as a big shift in the Formula One drivers' championship standings. Kyle Busch finally locked himself into the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoffs with a dominating performance at Pocono after the longest winless streak in his Cup career. Josef Newgarden scored his first Mid-Ohio IndyCar win after a series of mishaps had denied him victory in previous years. And Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari dominated the proceedings in Hungary, taking both the pole and the race win, despite a suspension issue that saw him avoiding the curbs. The win extended Vettel's lead over rival Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton to 14 points, and Ferrari's one-two finish closed the gap to Mercedes in the constructors' championship to 39 points.
Formula One is now on their four-week summer hiatus, IndyCar is off until Aug. 20, but two of NASCAR's top series will take on the Watkins Glen road course this weekend. It is the final road course race of 2017 for the Cup cars. Last week's winner, Kyle Busch, is the only two-time Glen winner in the field, taking the checker in 2008 and 2013. Denny Hamlin is the defending winner, but may be called away for the birth of his first child, so Regan Smith is on standby. Other one-time Glen victors in the field are Joey Logan (2015), A.J. Almendinger (2014), and Kevin Harvick (2006). Among non-winners I'd favor Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Larson.
Watkins Glen may see a change in the overtime procedure if the race goes long. After a little more than half a season, NASCAR has abandoned the overtime line halfway around the track. The line will now be back at the start/finish line as it was under the old green/white/checker rule, with the difference that there can be unlimited attempts at restarts to finish the race under green. So if this rule had been in place at Indy, would we have seen the final two cars still running with flashlights taped to the fenders to end the race? Never fear. NASCAR reserves the right to end a race under yellow due to darkness, weather, or other unforeseen variables.
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For the second race in a row, the Cup cars will qualify and race on the same day. Sunday qualifying will take place at 9 a.m. and the race at noon. Today's action includes Xfinity qualifying at 8 a.m. and racing at 11. Two years ago Joey Logano swept both Glen races, but opportunities like that will be fewer for the Cup drivers next season. Cup drivers in the lower-tier series have long been an issue. When it was the Busch series, they were called "Buschwhackers"; under Nationwide sponsorship, it was "claim jumpers." I'm not aware of a nickname under the Xfinity banner, but NASCAR is taking steps to curb the practice anyway. In 2017, drivers with more than five years of full-time experience in the Cup series will only be allowed to run up to seven Xfinity series races and five Camping World Truck series races. Those drivers may not run in the four dash for cash events, nor in the final eight "playoff" races in those series.
Here's a quick update from the police beat at Pocono: penalties for loose lug nuts were issued to crew chiefs for Kyle Busch's No. 18 Toyota, the No. 17 Ford of Ricky Stenhouse, and Trevor Bayne's No. 16 Ford. A $10,000 fine was levied for each. More serious was a rear suspension discrepancy in the No. 77 Toyota of Erik Jones, resulting in loss of 25 driver and owner points, and a $50,000 fine and two-race suspension for crew chief Chris Gayle. The point loss makes it imperative for Jones to win a race in order to make the playoffs.
Finally, Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup cars this weekend will carry stickers in memory of Harry Scott Jr., owner of HScott Motorsports, who passed away last week at the age of 51. Godspeed, Harry.