Ironman series tonight at Fernley speedway |

Ironman series tonight at Fernley speedway

Roger Diez

If you want to see some great local dirt track racing, head for Fernley 95A Speedway tonight for the final race of the Ironman series that has been battling at various northern Nevada tracks for the past week. Racing action starts at 7 p.m. tonight, but you might want to get there a bit early to pick your favorite driver during hot laps. All the regular racing divisions are also on the card for tonight’s racing.

Well, as I said last week, strategy played a role in last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma. But it wasn’t Chad Knauss whose call gave Jimmie Johnson the win, but Mike Bugarewicz, whose late-race call put Tony Stewart into the lead for the closing laps. But “Smoke” had to do a little of the work himself, losing the lead in turn seven but not giving up. And when Denny Hamlin made a mistake in the turn 11 hairpin, Stewart pounced and retook the lead and the checkered flag. After a miserable start to the season, sitting out the first half dozen races with a back injury, Stewart is now a contender to make the Chase for the Championship in his final racing season in NASCAR’s top division. He currently sits 32nd in points, only nine points out of 30th, which would qualify him for a Chase berth. And he’s won the Daytona summer race four times, most recently in 2012. With momentum from his Sonoma win and a need to move up in the points, Smoke is highly motivated to secure his Chase spot at Daytona.

Of course, tonight’s Daytona race is a wild card, as are all restrictor plate races. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one of the best plate racers around, and this could be his best chance to punch his ticket to the Chase. Danica Patrick also runs well at plate tracks, and so do a few other drivers who are winless so far on the season. Aric Almirola has scored a win at Daytona in July, as have Greg Biffle and David Ragan. I have my eye on Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, and even Michael Waltrip, whose only Cup victories have come at plate races. The bottom line is with 10 races to go before the Chase cutoff and 11 winners already on the books, this could be the year when 15, 16, or even 17 drivers score regular season wins, meaning point totals without a victory are meaningless. And you thought this format couldn’t get more exciting! The Coke Zero 400 will run this evening with the green flag scheduled to wave at 4:45 p.m., weather permitting. The race will be the first of the season to air on NBC, as the FOX Sports portion of the season ended at Sonoma. NBC Sports now has a lock on NASCAR Sprint Cup, IndyCar, and Formula 1.

Overshadowed by Stewart’s popular win at Sonoma, Will Power dominated the IndyCar field on the series’ return to Road America after a long hiatus. Like Stewart, Power also started the season with one foot in a hole, having to drop out of the season opener with medical issues after qualifying on the pole. It’s beginning to look like yet another Penske year in IndyCar, with team drivers Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, and Power the top three in points. Juan Montoya, the fourth Penske pilot, has a top 10 spot in ninth.

Speaking of F1, this is the weekend for the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring (formerly Osterreichring). Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won the race in 2015 and has some momentum this season, leading the championship points and coming off a win at the European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan two weeks ago. But defending champion and teammate Lewis Hamilton is highly motivated as are Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, who just extended his commitment to Red Bull through the 2018 season. Riccardo had been rumored in some circles to be the top pick to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari. The race will air on NBC Sports Network at 5 a.m. Sunday.