Roger Diez: The ‘Big One’ happens again at Talladega
The “Big One” at Talladega is a dreaded feature of restrictor plate racing, high banks, and bunched fields. Last Sunday’s race ran true to form, with a huge wreck just 20 laps from the scheduled end of the race, taking a quarter of the field out of the race and a number of “walking wounded” that rejoined after repairs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took advantage of a late caution that led to overtime, snatching the l from Kyle Busch and holding him off in the run to the checker. It was Stenhouse’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victory and the resurgence of Roush-Fenway Racing after a 101-race winless streak. A disappointed Busch had to settle for a third-place finish and a stage victory in this so far winless season for Joe Gibbs Racing.
In what seems to be a pattern, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is the winningest driver at Kansas, with three victories under his belt. Three drivers have won there twice; Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Matt Kenseth. Harvick is the most recent Kansas winner, scoring last fall, while Logano won the spring race one year ago. Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski has won at Kansas once, as have Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, along with Ryan Newman back in 2003. Kansas is Clint Bowyer’s home track, so he’s highly motivated and has been running competitively in the last few races. This could be his breakthrough win for his new team, Stewart-Haas Racing. Stenhouse has some momentum from his Talladega win, and youngsters Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, or Eric Jones could make their first trip to victory circle as Cup drivers at Kansas.
Both the IndyCar series and Formula One are back in action this weekend as well. The IndyCars will be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but not for the 500, which takes place in two weeks. Sunday is the IndyCar Grand Prix, which runs on the combination oval/road course that was built for Formula One, which ran there from 2000 to 2007. This year will be the fourth annual event on the road course for the IndyCars. So far this season there have been no repeat winners in the series, a situation which may well continue this weekend, as champions Will Power, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, and Ryan Hunter-Reay are all winless and hungry.
Fernando Alonso will not be joining the IndyCar crowd this weekend, as he will be otherwise occupied trying to squeeze some performance out of his McLaren/Honda Formula One car in his home race, the Formula 1 Gran Premio de Espana Pirelli 2017. Unfortunately for Alonso, the battle for F1 dominance seems to be between just two teams, Mercedes and Ferrari, both of whom are evenly matched this season. Last year the two Mercedes drivers were eliminated on the first lap as the rivalry within the team reached fever pitch. With a new man, Valtteri Bottas, in the seat vacated by 2016 champion Nico Rosberg, I don’t anticipate a replay of last year’s debacle. I do expect a fierce battle for both the pole and the race among the Sebastian Vettel/Kimi Raikkonen duo for Ferrari and Mercedes pilots Bottas and Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes arrived at Barcelona’s Catalunya circuit on Thursday with some radical aerodynamic changes, and Ferrari countered with some of their own. It should be an interesting race. You can catch all the action on NBC Sports Channel.
Finally, Carl Edwards is enjoying his hiatus from NASCAR racing. He took a highly modified Toyota Land Cruiser from Toyota Racing Development for a little spin last week in the Mojave Desert, setting an unofficial SUV speed record at a modest 230 mph. His next project? Planting 1,800 acres of soybeans.