Roger Diez: Kyle Larson on hot streak with Michigan win | NevadaAppeal.com

Roger Diez: Kyle Larson on hot streak with Michigan win

Roger Diez

I wish I had followed my own advice and bet on Kyle Larson at the local sports book last weekend. He dominated the race to become the only current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series active driver to accumulate two wins at Michigan. Larson is on a win streak, taking a World of Outlaws sprint car race in Nebraska the week before Michigan, and keeping up the momentum with a pair of sprint car victories in Ohio this past week. With assurance from Chip Ganassi he will be back in the No. 42 Target Chevy next season, Larson goes into this weekend’s race at Sonoma with lots of momentum and confidence.

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In addition to the Cup race at Sonoma, professional racing series will visit another road course, a street circuit, an oval, and a straight-line drag strip this weekend. The Verizon IndyCar series is at the longest track on their schedule, the four-mile Road America circuit in Wisconsin. Formula One has a through-the-streets and around-the-houses race in Baku, Azerbaijan, rivaling Monaco with some of the tightest, narrowest turns on their schedule. NASCAR’s Craftsman Trucks and Xfinity series will race at the fast 7/8 mile bullring in Iowa, while the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing series competes in the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Ohio.

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I always enjoy NASCAR’s annual visit to Sonoma. It was my home track in my racing days, and the in-car camera shots bring back some great memories – especially the scramble trying to find racing room in the off-camber right hander at turn two on the first lap. That’s a white-knuckle thrill ride for sure!

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Back in the old days most NASCAR drivers weren’t thrilled with road-course racing, so teams brought in road course ringers in an attempt to steal a win. These days, most regular drivers in the Cup series are quite proficient at turning both left and right, and only the low-budget teams will bring in a ringer in the hopes of a miracle victory. There are five ringers on the entry list this year, ranging from veteran Boris Said (who replaces Jeffrey Earnhardt in the No. 33 car) to NASCAR’s first Israeli driver, Alon Day, driving the No. 23 BK Racing entry. Also notable is the fourth driver this season to wheel the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, IMSA endurance racer Billy Johnson. He replaces Darrell Wallace Jr., whose lack of road racing experience was a factor in the change. All five will make the race, as there are only 38 entries, one more than at Michigan last week.

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In the last 10 Cup races at Sonoma, only one driver has won twice; Kyle Busch visited victory circle in 2008 and 2015. No driver has repeated in the last eight races, and two of those winners, Carl Edwards and last year’s victor Tony Stewart, are no longer competing. I’m looking for that trend to continue with another new winner on Sunday. My top three picks to take their first Sonoma win are (drum roll) Kyle Larson, A.J. Allmendinger, and Joey Logano. Larson is having an incredible season, and that momentum could overcome his relative lack of road course experience. Allmendinger has an extensive road racing background and has won at Watkins Glen. The new stage format will help him with tire management, his one weak spot. Logano swept the Xfinity and Cup rounds at the Glen last year, and the Penske Fords are fast this season. I wonder what the sports book odds are on those three?

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The Formula One series championship battle may have a new challenger in Baku. Friday’s practice saw Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at the top of the time charts in both sessions, while teammate Daniel Ricciardo ran second and third. The track, with a 1.3 mile full-throttle straight and a section that twists through the old town and narrows to 25 feet, is a daunting combination of Monaco and Monza. The configuration causes headaches for the engineers and challenges for the drivers. Qualifying was aired early this morning, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Red Bull on the pole for the first time this season. And maybe a new 2017 winner on Sunday.