Johnson earns 77th victory
Last weekend saw racing activity in California, Florida, and Australia, as NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA, and Formula One were all in play. There was a big first-time winner, some scary crashes, and business as usual. At the NHRA Gatornationals, Brittany Force, daughter of the legendary John Force, scored her first-ever Top Fuel victory. She dominated the class, getting off the line first and scoring low elapsed time in every round. In California, I was waiting for Darrell Waltrip to say, “Look, out on the track! It’s a jet! It’s a rocket! It’s Super Jimmie!” Yes, clad in a Superman cape in Victory Lane, Jimmie Johnson became the first two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup winner of 2016. He also elevated himself into sole possession of seventh place in the all-time win list with 77 victories, one more than the late, great Dale Earnhardt. It’s still early in the season, and the Chase elimination format is fraught with perils, but Johnson just may be on his way to tying Earnhardt and Richard Petty with seven championships.
In the Land Down Under, Formula 1 kicked off its 2016 season with Mercedes and Nico Rosberg picking up right where they left off in 2015. It was another Mercedes 1-2 finish, with Rosberg taking the race win ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, who had qualified on the pole. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel led the early laps and held on for a podium finish in third. And, Fernando Alonso is lucky to be alive after totally destroying his McLaren in an accident with Haas F1 driver Esteban Gutierrez. Recently a friend posted a picture of a 1975 Formula 1 Ferrari next to this year’s F1 car, asking which was more exciting. I replied from a speed and sound standpoint the 1975 car was the winner, but for safety and driver survivability, 2016 had it hands down. Alonso would not have survived that wreck in the 1975 car. Although Gutierrez was also taken out in the accident, teammate Romain Grosjean showed Haas is very much in the hunt, driving from 18th at the start to a sixth-place finish.
Back in Florida, the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship ran its annual 12 Hours of Sebring Classic, and again it was a Honda-powered Ligier P2 Prototype at the checkered flag. The Scott Sharp/Ed Brown/Johannes Van Overbeek machine beat the best of the Daytona Prototype Corvettes, the second-place car of multi-series champion Scott Pruett, with co-drivers Dane Cameron and Eric Curran.
Because of Easter, this is a bye week for teams in all three of NASCAR’s top divisions. Kyle Larson had been scheduled to drive in a sprint car race last Wednesday at Placerville, but bowed out, still hurting from a massive hit he took on Sunday. The initial impact into the outside wall apparently severed a brake line, and he was unable to slow the car down before impacting the inside safety barrier at around 140 miles per hour.
Danica Patrick also suffered a major crash after contact with Kasey Kahne, who was a lap down at the time. Kahne was invited to the NASCAR hauler after the race to discuss the incident, and apologized both on air and on Twitter.
After such a busy weekend, all major racing series are dark for the Easter holiday, but several return the following week. NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Trucks are at Martinsville, Formula 1 is in Malaysia, IndyCar returns to Phoenix after a long time away, and the NHRA Mello Yello series comes to Las Vegas. One bright spot for local race fans is today is opening day at Fernley 95A Speedway. Start time is 2 p.m. and the show features the Pure Stock, Street Stock, Dwarf, Super Stock 4, and Pro Stock classes along with the popular chain races. Admission is $12 for adults 13 and up, $8 for kids 5-12 and seniors over 63, and free for kids under 5 and military with ID. A Family Pack (two adults, two kids) is $30, and a season pass for all regular races (excluding special events) is $125 but must be purchased by April 9.