Roger Diez: Record-setting weekend for Castroneves
July 14, 2017
Last weekend was a busy one for race fans, and this weekend looks no less active, with NASCAR's Monster Energy Cup and Xfinity series, the Verizon IndyCar series, and Formula One all back in action.
Last Sunday, Team Penske's Helio Castroneves broke a three-year, 54-race losing streak, dominating the Iowa Corn 300 IndyCar race with 217 laps led. His margin of victory was almost four seconds, and he celebrated with his trademarked fence-climb for the fans. It was Castroneves' 30th victory in his 20 years in Indy cars, moving him to 12th on the all-time series win list. The series moves from Iowa's bullring to Toronto's street course this weekend, with the championship battle still tight. Castroneves' win puts him within eight points of leader Scott Dixon, 403 to 395, with the top five drivers only 56 points apart.
Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas held off a charging Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari in the final laps to take his second Formula One race of the season in Austria last Sunday. Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo split the two top teams to take third ahead of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (who overcame a five grid spot penalty) and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen. Vettel extended his lead over Hamilton in the driving championship standings to 20 points, while Mercedes' first and third took them to a 33 point lead in the constructor's championship over Ferrari. The British Grand Prix is coming up this weekend, Hamilton's home race.
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Martin Truex Jr. scored his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victory of the season, matching Jimmie Johnson's box score. Truex also won both stages, making it 13 on the season, and extended his playoff point total to 28. Kyle Larson was second for the sixth time this season, but a nonstandard brake cooling system found in post-race inspection encumbered that result. The team lost 35 driver and owner points, with a three-race suspension and $75,000 fine levied against crew chief Chad Johnston. The points penalty drops Larson from the lead to second in the overall standings behind Truex.
Sunday, the Cup teams race in New Hampshire, with the Xfinity series today sandwiched in between the Whelen Modifieds and the K&N Pro Series. The flat one-mile oval will benefit from enhanced grip from an application of PJ1 Trackbite compound. The race marks the start of the second half of the Cup season, and will see the return of Aric Almirola to the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford. Eleven currently active drivers have won at New Hampshire. Brad Keselowski, and Kasey Kahne have each won once, with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Clint Boyer posting a pair of wins apiece. The four three-time winners are Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth. Kenseth, who won this race a year ago, has extra motivation to visit victory circle again. He recently learned he's without a ride for the 2018 season, as Joe Gibbs Racing will replace the 45-year-old champion with 20-year-old Erik Jones. Jones, the 2015 Camping World Truck champion, is a product of the Gibbs/Toyota driver development program. He's contracted with Joe Gibbs Racing and is on loan this season to Furniture Row Racing. This is his first full Cup season, although he has previously subbed for Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin.
Kenseth may be the first domino to fall as silly season in NASCAR's top series begins. The biggest prize to be had, of course, is the 2018 seat in Hendrick Racing's No. 88 Chevy when Dale Earnhardt Jr. retires. I had figured Alex Bowman for the seat, although Hendrick has been slow in making any announcement. Now with a seasoned veteran like Kenseth in play, Bowman's advancement may be iffy. Matt still has a few good years left, and Hendrick had good results when he picked up Mark Martin in his final Cup seasons. If Kenseth does take over the No. 88, he will have driven for all three manufacturers currently in the series. He scored his 2003 championship in a Roush Ford.