Roger Diez: Title chase tightens in Formula One, IndyCar
The championship point battles tightened in both the Formula One series and the Verizon IndyCar series last weekend. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel rocketed past polesitter Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes halfway through the first lap of the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa before the safety car was deployed for a serious turn one accident. The new “halo” cockpit protection device proved its worth, as Fernando Alonso’s airborne McLaren made a touch and go landing atop Charles Leclerc’s Sauber. Vettel took command on the restart and was never in serious danger of losing the lead after that. He closed the point gap between himself and points leader Hamilton from 24 to 17, and I expect a seesaw battle between the two four-time champions through the rest of the season.
Penske driver Will Power won last Saturday night at Gateway, the final oval on IndyCar’s 2018 schedule. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi was second ahead of points leader Scott Dixon in third, shaving a few more points off of the Ganassi pilot’s lead. Just two west coast races remain, Portland this weekend and the finale at Sonoma two weeks later. I’ve been to Portland several times in the CART/Champ Car days and I was at Sonoma last year to see the IndyCars run, and I can tell you television doesn’t do their speed and handling justice. Schmidt-Peterson Racing announced The No. 6 car of Robert Wickens will be driven by veteran Carlos Munoz in the final two races, as Wickens continues his recovery from his Pocono accident.
Last weekend’s NASCAR road course races were quite entertaining. The Xfinity series raced at Road America on Saturday and the Camping World Trucks were at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Ontario for their first playoff race. The final turn of the last lap of the truck race featured a wreck by the leaders, KBM Motorsports drivers Noah Gragson and Todd Gilliland, leaving them to finish ninth and 11th respectively. Gilliland, who was in the lead when Gragson tried to force his way past, was understandably livid, while Gragson apologized on-air after the race. The Xfinity race finished with far less drama, as the No. 7 Junior Motorsports Camaro of Justin Allgaier cruised to an easy win as the competition faded. It was Allgaier’s fourth win of the season.
This weekend it’s the Southern 500 at “The Lady in Black” aka “The Track Too Tough to Tame,” Darlington Raceway. One of the oldest NASCAR venues, the list of former winners reads like a who’s who of NASCAR legends, from Curtis Turner, Buck Baker and Fireball Roberts to Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and Richard Petty, all the way up to Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, and Jeff Gordon. The Xfinity series races Saturday with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers taking to the track on Sunday.
Finally, I want to bid farewell to Sen. John McCain, a POW, war hero, and NASCAR fan. McCain frequently visited Phoenix International Raceway (now ISM) for NASCAR events, and gave the “start engines” command there in 2006. He was also the honorary starter at the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, made a campaign stop at a New Hampshire races in 2008, and culminated his association with NASCAR as Grand Marshal of the November 2015 Phoenix race. Godspeed, Sen. McCain.