Racing at Daytona kicks off this weekend, Roger Diez says
Joseph Newgarden is already enjoying his new seat with Penske Racing, topping the charts at the recent Phoenix test. The youngster was fastest at the 1.022 mile oval in the daytime round on Friday, and was only one of two drivers to post a top-10 time in each of the four sessions: ninth on Friday night, third on Saturday in the daytime test, and ninth again on Saturday night. Sebastian Bourdais was the only other driver to score four top-10 placings. Marco Andretti topped the charts on Friday night, and J.R. Hildebrand, who replaced Newgarden at Ed Carpenter Racing, was fastest in Saturday’s daylight run. Hildebrand set the fast lap of the weekend at 193.234 mph (19.0401 seconds), which topped the official track record of 192.631 miles per hour Penske driver Helio Castroneves set last year at the flat 1.022 mile oval. Hildebrand’s boss, Ed Carpenter, was second-quickest overall at 192. Third though fifth in top times were all Penske drivers — Newgarden, Castroneves, and Will Power in that order.
All five of the top-10 speeds were set by Chevrolet-powered teams. The Hondas seem to have closed the gap a bit, but still have a ways to go. The test results, while interesting, weren’t necessarily indicative of relative speeds because some teams did qualifying runs while others concentrated strictly on race setups. Teams were limited to only six sets of tires over both days, which dictated testing strategies. This was the final test before the season opener on the newly resurfaced St. Petersburg street course on March 12.
The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series opened its season with the Winternationals at Pomona last weekend. Female racers were very much in the hunt, with Leah Pritchett taking the honors in Top Fuel with an elapsed time of 3.711 seconds and a trap speed of 324.98 mph. Courtney Force was runner-up in the Funny Car division, finishing second in the final elimination round to Matt Hagan, who clocked a run at 3.875 seconds, 330.07 mph. Jason Line bested the Pro Stock field with a 6.568 second, 211.10 mph run in the final. Force will be in a different sort of car next weekend, having been tapped to drive the pace car for NASCAR’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona next Saturday. Force has now scored the trifecta in the top three series in U.S. motorsport, because she’s also married to IndyCar star Graham Rahal.
And speaking of legacies, Mario Andretti has been named honorary race official for this year’s Daytona 500. Andretti is one of only two men (the other is A.J. Foyt) to win both the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500. Andretti won at Daytona in 1967 and at Indy in 1969, along with winning the 1978 Formula One World Driving Championship. His long-time rival Foyt is breaking ground in yet another arena, undergoing stem cell therapy to deal with ongoing health issues. We wish both of them well.
This weekend will be the end of a long drought for stock car racing fans, as NASCAR takes to the track at Daytona for the opening of the 2017 season. The Clash, a race for 2016 pole winners, former Daytona pole winners, former Clash winners, and 2016 Chase contenders, will be run tonight, with TV coverage on FOX beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday will see qualifying runs for all three of NASCAR’s top series, but the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series will only lock in the front row of the grid for the 500. The remainder of the field will be set in the Daytona Duel 150 lap races the following Thursday.