Roger Diez: Sunday drivers: Fernley holds opening day
Last Saturday’s scheduled opening day at Fernley 95A Speedway was delayed due to rain, but the race went off smoothly on a warm and cloudless Sunday afternoon. A dozen Hobby Stock cars took the green flag for their main, with Reno’s Rich Italiano in front at the checker. Dayton’s Royce Goetz followed him home, with Shayna Nieman of Reno third. A full field of 20 Modifieds started a caution-filled main, with five drivers taking turns in the lead. Former track champion Cory Sample of Winnemucca took the win, followed by a quartet of California racers led by Ryan McDaniels. The Modifieds have been added to the upcoming May 12 SCCT Sprint Car show at the track.
After too many (in his opinion) second place finishes this season, Kyle Busch finally put his No. 18 Toyota into victory circle last Sunday at Texas. He held off Kevin Harvick in the closing laps, reversing their normal finishing order. Chase Elliott received a Level 1 penalty after the race for a non-approved rear window brace, the same infraction that cost Harvick at Las Vegas. Penalties were also the same, with loss of 20 owner and driver points, plus a $50,000 fine and two-race suspension for crew chief Alan Gustafson. This week it’s onto the notorious Bristol short track. Jimmy Spencer once likened driving a Cup car there to flying a jet fighter in a gymnasium. There are sure to be torn-up cars and frayed tempers long before the race’s end. Former winners at Bristol include Kyle Busch (6 wins), Kurt Busch (5), Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Harvick (2 each), and Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin (1 apiece). Interestingly, recently retired drivers Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth have four each.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel stood atop the podium after the second Formula One race of the season last weekend, giving him a big leg up in the point standings. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas chased him to the flag, but couldn’t catch the flying red machine. Bottas’ teammate Lewis Hamilton overcame a five-spot grid penalty and poor qualifying position to advance from ninth to third at the checker. Lap times once again eclipsed last season’s, which in turn were faster than the previous year. Formula One’s new ownership is doing a good job on the technical side, but the race commentary leaves much to be desired. I want Hobbs and Matchett back!
Defending champion Josef Newgarden took his Penske Chevy to the lead late in the race at the one-mile Phoenix oval now known as ISM Raceway last Saturday night. He passed rookie Robert Wickens for the win, the second that has escaped the rookie in as many races. Newgarden was one of many leaders during the race, but led the only lap that counted, the last one. Sunday the series will contest the most famous street race in the United States, and second only to Monaco in my opinion.
And after many delays and extensions, NASCAR finally signed a one-year sponsorship deal with Monster Energy. The company will return as sponsor of NASCAR’s top division, which will remain the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for at least one more season. According to NASCAR’s chief operating officer, Steve Phelps, the shorter contract was mutual and may signal a new paradigm for motorsports sponsorship.
Since I’ve been following the sport, the top division has been the Grand National, Winston Cup, Nextel Cup, Sprint Cup, and now Monster Energy Cup. I may have missed one or two in there. In that period there has also been a change in the team sponsorship model, with multiple sponsors on a car during a season rather than just one. Back in the day, sponsors were primarily automotive related…STP, Champion Spark Plugs, Pennzoil, Goodwrench, etc. Then things branched out to beer, and finally sponsors like Tide for Darrell Waltrip and Viagra on Mark Martin’s No. 6 Ford. Now it’s far too expensive for one sponsor to underwrite a full season for a car. Could the same situation be in the future for the series? Stay tuned.