Roger Diez: ‘Wrecking ball’ comes down at Daytona
Last week’s racing produced a first-time winner, a broken winning streak, and a vindication. The first-time winner came in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. Erik Jones drove his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the front in overtime to take the checkered flag for his first Cup victory. Across the Pond, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton fell one position short of winning his sixth British Grand Prix, finishing second to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. And in Iowa, James Hinchcliffe avenged his failure to qualify for the Indy 500 by smoking the field on the fast 7/8 mile oval.
To call the Daytona race a wreckfest would be a serious understatement. There were at least three big wrecks, and no fewer than two of them were attributed to Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who led 51 laps and won the first two stages. Kurt Busch called him “DD,” short for “demolition derby,” and I wouldn’t be surprised to find his new nickname is “Wrecking Ball.” There were only 18 cars still running at the finish, and with most of the top runners out there were some unfamiliar names in the top 10. Martin Truex Jr. finished second, but A.J. Allmendinger had his best result of the season in third. Kasey Kahne came home fourth, followed by teammate Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon, and Matt DiBenedetto. Even Jeffrey Earnhardt managed 11th, on the lead lap! Jones is now qualified for the Playoffs, making it seven drivers now locked in out of a possible 16. With only eight races remaining in the regular season, I think my prediction of half the Playoff drivers qualifying on points has a pretty good shot at holding up.
Lewis Hamilton was on the pole for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, but Vettel beat him into turn one. Battling for position, Hamilton was hit and spun by Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen, and rejoined in 18th. In a remarkable drive, Hamilton worked his way through the field, took advantage of a couple of safety car situations, and made his way to second. Who says there’s no passing in Formula One? Vettel now has a nine point advantage in the driver’s championship standings, 171-163, while Ferrari enjoys a 20 point gap to Mercedes, 287-267.
After the disappointment of being the only driver in the field who failed to qualify for the biggest race of all, James Hinchcliffe got that monkey off his back last Sunday in Iowa. Starting mid-field in 11th, Hinchcliffe steadily made his way forward, overtaking Penske driver Josef Newgarden in the waning laps and driving away. Newgarden, who had dominated the race up to that point, finished fourth after losing positions to Spencer Pigot and 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato. It was Pigot’s best IndyCar finish to date.
Formula One has a bye weekend after three grueling back-to-back races, but both NASCAR and IndyCar are back in action. All three NASCAR touring series are at Kentucky Speedway, with the Cup cars racing Saturday. IndyCar will race on Sunday on the streets of Toronto, where Hinchcliffe and fellow Canadian Robert Wickens will be the crowd favorites. Both series will air on NBC Sports.