Roger Diez: A little extra time but playoff roster set
The NASCAR Cup playoff roster was settled at Daytona last week in overtime. William Byron locked himself into a playoff berth by scoring his first Cup win in the No. 24 Hendrick Racing Chevy that took Jeff Gordon to four championships and 93 race wins.
Going into the first race of the first playoff round, regular season champion Kevin Harvick carries 57 playoff points, pretty much assuring him of advancement into the next round. Denny Hamlin, second-winningest driver of 2020, has 2047. Brad Keselowski enters the playoffs with 2029, seven ahead of teammate Joey Logano’s 2022.
There are six former Cup champions in the playoffs: Harvick, Keselowski, Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kurt Busch. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson just missed the playoff cut due in part to a late multi-car pileup at Daytona, ending up 17th in the point standings; 2003 champion Matt Kenseth also missed the cut. Defending champion Kyle Busch, winless on the season, starts in 14th points position with just 2003 points.
All three of NASCAR’s top touring series are at Darlington this weekend. Called “The Lady in Black” and “The Track Too Tough to Tame,” the traditional Labor Day Southern 500 at Darlington is one of NASCAR’s crown jewels.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR held an unusual doubleheader there in May, with the wins going to Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. Hamlin tops active drivers with three Darlington wins, tied with Johnson. Harvick has won there twice, while Erik Jones, Keselowski, Truex, Kenseth, and Kyle Busch have one Darlington win each. Chase Elliott will start on the pole Sunday with Hamlin alongside as playoff drivers will occupy the first eight rows. Oddsmakers have Harvick at 13-4 for the win, a slight edge over Denny Hamlin’s 7-2 odds. Truex is rated at 8-1 with Elliott 9-1, and Kyle Busch 10-1. Penske teammates Keselowski and Logano are at 11-1 and 12-1 respectively, while Jones sits at 18-1 based on his 2019 win.
The Cup race will air Sunday at 3 p.m. on NBCSN preceded by the Gander Truck race at 11 a.m. on FS1. Today NBC will broadcast the Xfinity race beginning at 3:30 p.m.
The NTT IndyCar series doubleheader last weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway (formerly Gateway) was a split decision, with Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon taking the Saturday win and Penske Racing driver Josef Newgarden taking the checker on Sunday. Dixon’s point lead is now 96 over Newgarden, 416 to 320. Sunday runner-up Pato O’Ward is third in points with 297 and Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato has 274 courtesy of Saturday’s second-place finish.
The series is on hiatus until Oct. 2-3 when there is a doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis. The final race of the season is set for Oct. 25 at St. Petersburg, but there’s still a possibility of a doubleheader at Mid-Ohio. Stay tuned.
The Mercedes juggernaut continues to lay waste to the Formula 1 field, taking another 1-2 finish last Sunday at Spa Francorchamps to begin a four-week stretch of races. Lewis Hamilton took the win and is inching ever closer to Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 F1 victories. Spa was Hamilton’s 89th F1 victory, and he is on track to become the all-time winner before season’s end. Sunday is the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and Hamilton is tied with Schumacher for the most wins there at five apiece. Next week is the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello, followed by the Russian GP at Sochi. The Monza race will air on ESPN tomorrow at 6:05 a.m. with a re-air on ESPNEWS at 4 p.m.