Roger Diez: Talladega could shake up Cup standings
April 27, 2018
We are a quarter of the way through the 36-race Monster Energy Cup NASCAR series season. Last weekend at Richmond, Kyle Busch joined Kevin Harvick as a three-time winner, taking his third victory in a row. The pair have won two thirds of the races so far this season. Only Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer, and Martin Truex Jr. are also on the winners' list with one apiece.
Busch now tops the standings with the most wins (tie), most points (415) and most playoff points (17). But race number 10 is coming up this weekend, the GEICO 500 at Talladega, NASCAR's longest track. With restrictor plates, pack racing, and the usual Big One (or two, or three), it's anybody's race to win (or lose).
Busch won Talladega once, 10 years ago, but the Penske twins, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, have won five of the last seven Talladega races – Keselowski with three and Logano with two. Keselowski leads all active drivers with five Talladega Cup wins, still four shy of Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s nine. Logano has won twice, as have Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray, neither of them recently. One-time Talladega winners among active drivers are Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and David Ragan.
But I wouldn't be surprised to see Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Eric Bell, Daniel Suarez, or even Bubba Wallace taking the checkered flag Sunday ahead of a decimated field full of walking wounded. That's Talladega!
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Talladega qualifying is at 9 a.m., with the Xfinity race scheduled to start at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Cup race will begin Sunday at 10 a.m.
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Finally, there's good news for former NASCAR Cup champion Matt Kenseth, as Roush Fenway racing announced that they will put him in the seat of the No. 6 Ford in selected races, starting with Kansas. Kenseth will share the driving duties with current driver Trevor Bayne, who has had a fairly lackluster season so far. Kenseth will also wheel the car in the All-Star Race, for which he qualifies as a result of last year's Phoenix win.
Kenseth was announced at the press conference by friend and former teammate Mark Martin. Perhaps that choice was a subtle way of saying that Kenseth, now 46, has some good racing years left. Martin was competitive into his 50s and was instrumental in bringing Kenseth into Cup with the Roush organization. In conjunction with Kenseth's introduction, the team also welcomed a new sponsor, Wyndham Hotel Group, which will be on the car for Matt's debut at Kansas.
Formula One is back in action this weekend, in Baku, Azerbaijan. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, the series' most recent winner, topped the charts in the second practice session on Friday. The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, so dominant in the last half of 2017, were well off the pace despite Bottas' quick time the first session. Hamilton was fourth and fifth in the two practice rounds, with Bottas no better than fourth in the second session. "We're not quick enough," lamented Hamilton, who is winless on the season so far despite being second behind Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel in the point standings with 45 to Vettel's 54.
It has become fairly common this season to see Monday racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, given the inclement weather that has bombarded much of the country. But it is unusual to see the Verizon IndyCar series racing on Monday, especially on a road course.
But that's what happened last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. Torrential rains halted Sunday's proceedings before the halfway point, and also dampened the Monday finish. As one driver after another pitted for rain tires, defending champion Josef Newgarden surged to the front and put his Chevy-powered Penske Racing Indy car into the winner's circle for the second time in as many races. He dominated both Sunday and Monday's continuation, leading 73 of the 82 laps run, finishing 10 seconds ahead of runner-up James Hinchcliffe. A late pit stop for rain tires dropped Sebastian Bourdais from the lead to a fifth-place finish.