Roger Diez: And then there were 12 …
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup’s version of musical chairs eliminated four players at the Charlotte roval. Chase Elliott took his Hendrick Racing Camaro to the win, but not until overcoming a restart issue that saw him nosing into the turn one tire wall on a restart. Teammate Alex Bowman finished second but had to have medical attention after the race for heat exhaustion, as in-car temperatures approached 130 degrees. The track was modified from last year, with the addition of a chicane on the back straight and the elimination of an infield loop.
The 12 remaining championship contenders, along with the rest of the field, will move on to the Monster Mile at Dover this weekend. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers are favorites, with the oddsmakers putting Kyle Busch at 4-1 and Martin Truex Jr. at 6-1. Roval winner Elliott is at 7-1 with the rest of his Hendrick teammates all at 30-1. Ryan Newman, who has three Dover wins (but not since 2004) is a good dark horse bet at 200-1. Jimmie Johnson has 11 Dover victories, with the most recent in 2017. Other multiple Dover winners at Truex and Kyle Busch with three apiece, and Kevin Harvick with two. Busch and Truex are atop the point standings as we start the round of 12, Busch at 3,046 and Truex 3,041. The next three spots are tightly grouped: Denny Hamlin at 3,030, Joey Logano with 3,029, and Kevin Harvick at 3,028. The four drivers below the cut line for the round of eight as we start the new round are Clint Bowyer (3,000), William Byron (3,001), Ryan Blaney (3,004) and Bowman (3,005). To illustrate how important stage points are, Truex is the leader in wins with six to Busch’s four, but Busch has 11 stage wins to Truex’s five. And stage points may well help determine who’s in the final four at Homestead.
In Formula One action, Mercedes was back on top at the Sochi circuit for the Russian Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton took his fourth Sochi win and his ninth victory in 2019. Valtteri Bottas made it a Mercedes 1-2, holding off Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari in third. Sebastian Vettel, who won in Singapore a week prior, suffered a power unit failure in his Ferrari and did not finish. Hamilton’s point total now sits at 322, with Bottas at 249, Leclerc at 215, Max Verstappen of Red Bull at 212, and Vettel fifth with 194. Hamilton could sit out the next two races and still retain his lead. In the constructors’ standings, Mercedes has a whopping 162-point lead over Ferrari, 571 to 409, with Red Bull a distant third at 311. There are just six more races remaining in the season, with Japan next up on October 13.
I was recently taken to task by a drag racing fan for my lack of coverage, so here are the results of last weekend’s NHRA Midwest Nationals. Steve Torrance won Top Fuel, Robert Hight took Funny Car honors, Tanner Gray was the Pro Stock winner, and the Pro Stock Motorcycle win went to Matt Smith. The Top Fuel win puts Torrance within two points of leader Doug Kalitta, while Hight extended his lead to 13 over drag racing’s motormouth John Force.
Last Saturday’s final points race at Fernley 95A Speedway saw Shawn Natenstedt take the IMCA Modified win over Jeff Olschowka, Robert Miller, and Cory Sample. Jesse Gonzalez won the Pro Stock main with James Greenwalt and Antonio Aragon half a lap back in second and third. Randy Boyd romped home six seconds ahead of Royce Goetz in the Hobby Stock main, with Richard Italiano third. And Suzi Schmitt bested Shane Boyd in the two-car Gen-X division duel.