Roger Diez: 2 playoff spots on the line at Daytona
Late breaking news for local race fans. Flooding caused by Wednesday’s rain in Fernley has caused the postponement of Saturday’s oval track race. New date to be announced.
Last weekend we saw one happy driver and 32 disappointed ones as the Indy 500 ended under caution. We also saw business as usual at Dover as the two winningest drivers of 2020 split the NASCAR Cup doubleheader while 2020’s perennial bridesmaid scored a pair of seconds for his seventh top 3 finish in a row.
Spencer Pigot’s crash with six laps to go effectively ended the 2020 Indy 500. Cleanup was extensive and the stewards elected not to red flag the race, so Takuma Sato took his second Indy win ahead of Scott Dixon. Sato won for the Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan team for his second victory, but his first Indy win was with Andretti Autosport. It was a good day for Bobby Rahal and David Letterman as Rahal’s son Graham finished third. Unfortunately, team driver Pigot’s late-race crash relegated him to 25th but caused the caution that helped Sato win. With the biggest race of the season behind them, the NTT IndyCar series has a doubleheader at the 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway (formerly Gateway) oval. Both races will air on NBC Sports Network at noon Saturday and Sunday.
Denny Hamlin’s late-race pass on teammate Martin Truex Jr. won him the Saturday half of last week’s NASCAR Cup Dover doubleheader. Hamlin’s win tied Kevin Harvick’s six season victories, but Harvick came back on Sunday to extend his tally to seven. Truex Jr. was second again, making it seven races in a row with a top-three finish. Harvick clinched the regular season championship, which comes with a trophy, cash, and most importantly 15 playoff points. Speaking of the playoffs, tonight’s 400-miler at the Daytona oval will set the field for the run to the championship. Ten drivers have clinched playoff berths with a win, leaving six spots to be determined. Three more are already safe on points; Aric Almirola is 112 above the cut line, Kyle Busch is 91 above, and his brother Kurt is plus 72. Clint Bowyer is also probably safe at 57 points above the cut line, leaving two spots open. Vying for those last playoff berths are Matt DiBenedetto at plus nine, William Byron at plus four, and Jimmie Johnson four points below the cut line.
A new winner Saturday night could take one of those spots, and at Daytona anything can happen. Johnson’s performance has picked up considerably in recent weeks, culminating with a seventh and a third at Dover. Dibenedetto has lost 45 points in the last three races, and Byron has four finishes in the bottom half of the field out of five Daytona starts, so things look promising for the seven-time Cup champion. You can catch the race on NBC at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
Formula One is at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium this weekend for the seventh round of the 2020 season. It is one of the longest, and arguably the fastest, track on the schedule. Ferrari has won the last two Spa races with Charles Leclerc in 2019 and Sebastian Vettel in 2018. But given the team’s lackluster performance this season I expect Mercedes or Red Bull to top the charts Sunday. Lewis Hamilton has three Spa wins to his credit, the last in 2017 and will likely add his fourth Sunday. The race will air on ESPN at 6:10 a.m.
In other F1 news, the series has announced the addition of three races, extending the season to 16. They are Turkey on Nov. 15, Bahrain on Nov. 29 and Dec. 6, and Abu Dhabi on Dec. 13.