Roger Diez: New point system will have big impact on NASCAR standings
Six races into the 2017 season, it’s becoming clearer how NASCAR’s new point system will have a significant effect on the championship. The stage points amassed by a driver can be huge by the end of the season, particularly for drivers who aren’t able to transfer into the playoffs with a win. The two stage points leaders are, not coincidentally, at the top of the overall point charts. Kyle Larson, the current overall leader, has amassed 75 stage 1 and 2 points. Chase Elliott, second overall, has 79 points from stages 1 and 2. Martin Truex Jr. has 63 points amassed from the first two stages and is in third overall. Brad Keselowski is in fourth having accumulated 73 early stage points in addition to the points from his two wins.
The other part of the equation is the playoff points — one for each stage 1 or 2 win, five for an overall race win. Those points carry into, and through, the playoffs, and could be instrumental in a driver advancing to the next round without a win. Keselowski will take at least 10 of those points into the playoffs. With two wins, he’s a sure thing for a playoff berth. Truex is right behind with nine playoff points, Larson has six, and Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch each earned five with their race wins.
Last week’s Martinsville race was a typical short-track cage fight. This weekend the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series descends on the fast and repaved 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson has the most wins there of any active driver, posting six victories. Johnson has won five of the last nine Texas outings, including a three-race sweep of the 2014 fall race and both races in 2015. Kyle Busch has two Texas wins, the spring races in 2013 and 2016, and Matt Kenseth also has two, most recently in the spring of 2011. Joey Logano won in spring 2014, and Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Ryan Newman have one win each. Texas should be a test to see if either of the powerhouse teams of Hendrick and Gibbs can put up a race victory on the scoreboard. Both are winless so far in 2017.
The Verizon IndyCar Series is back in action also this weekend on the streets of Long Beach. This has always be a favorite venue for the open-wheel series. The series season opener in St. Petersburg was a surprise, with the underdog Honda-powered Dale Coyne team’s Sebastien Bourdais beating the powerhouse teams. The Honda contingent comes to Long Beach even better-prepared after a test session at Sonoma. The Coyne team was joined by Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the test. I think the Penske organization and the rest of the Chevy teams are going to have their hands full Sunday at Long Beach. St. Pete winner Bourdais has won three times at Long Beach, all back in the CART days. Penske’s Will Power has scored two victories there, and his teammate, Simon Pagenaud, won last year. Andretti Autosport drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato also have Long Beach wins as does Ganassi’s Scott Dixon.
Formula One is in Shanghai for the Heineken Chinese Grand Prix on this busy racing weekend. After Ferrari’s win at the hands of Sebastian Vettel in Australia two weeks ago, the Mercedes team is champing at the bit to get back on top. Like Jimmie Johnson at most NASCAR tracks, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has by far the best record in the field at the Chinese track. He has won there four times — in 2008, 2011, 2014, and 2015. The two Ferrari drivers, Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, have one victory each in China, as does Honda’s Fernando Alonso. Given the McLaren’s dismal performance in testing at in the Australian season opener, we can discount Alonso, especially since McLaren’s Eric Boullier was quoted as saying, “The characteristics of Shanghai will likely expose the weaknesses in our package more than Albert Park did.”
Not a statement designed to instill confidence in your drivers.