Roger Diez: Austin Dillon guarantees spot in playoffs
We saw a second driver lock into the NASCAR Cup playoffs in Kentucky last Sunday as Austin Dillon took his first win of the season for Richard Childress Racing. Kyle Busch did the triple and took the checkered flag in both the Xfinity and Gander Truck series, but a disqualification dropped him to last in the Xfinity order. He finished second to Dillon in the Cup race. And in an unusual Thursday night race, Denny Hamlin resumed his winning ways at Kansas, scoring his fifth season win for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Super Start Batteries 400. The Cup drivers can now rest until Aug. 2, when they visit New Hampshire for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. Today both the Xfinity and Gander Truck series are on tap, the trucks for the second day in a row. The truck race will air at 11:30 a.m. on Fox Sports 1 with the Xfinity cars on NBC Sports Network beginning at 2 p.m. And X-Games star Travis Pastrana will return to NASCAR for a one-off ride today in the No. 40 Chevy usually driven by Ross Chastain.
With the addition of Austin Dillon and Cole Custer, the NASCAR Cup playoff roster now stands at 10 drivers locked in with one or more wins. Drivers who have not yet won but have a high probability of doing so include both Busch brothers, Aric Almirola, William Byron, Eric Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, and rookie Tyler Reddick, as well as seven-time Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson in his final season.
Penske Racing broke the Ganassi stranglehold on the NTT IndyCar series season at Iowa last weekend, taking both ends of the doubleheader. Simon Pagenaud scored the Friday victory, starting from dead last, while Josef Newgarden took the Saturday win from the pole. Qualifying was a very odd two-lap affair with lap 1 setting start positions for Friday and lap 2 determining Saturday’s grid. The new Aeroscreen got its first live test as Colton Herta’s car vaulted over Rinus Veekay’s machine on an aborted restart. Both drivers were uninjured, but Veekay attributed his survival to his Aeroscreen, which he said was “destroyed” in the accident. Scott Dixon now leads the points with 244 followed by Pagenaud’s 195 and Newgarden’s 191. The series is idle until Aug. 9 when they race at the Mid-Ohio road course. That will be the final race before the Indy 500, scheduled for Aug. 23 in front of grandstands limited to 1/3 capacity. Qualifying will take place on Aug. 15/16. There are 34 confirmed entries for the 500 including six “Indy only” entries. These include three-time 500 winner Helio Castroneves in a Penske entry and Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso driving for Arrow McLaren.
Mercedes maintained its perfect 2020 win record at the Hungaroring last Sunday, with Lewis Hamilton romping to an easy win from pole position. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen split the Mercedes, holding off a charging Valtteri Bottas in the closing laps. Hamilton now leads Bottas by five points in the drivers’ standings and is 30 points ahead of third-place Verstappen. Mercedes leads the constructors’ standings with 121, well clear of second-place Red Bull’s 55.
The Formula 1 season is expanding. Last week the series announced the addition of five races to the schedule. A second Italian race will be run at Mugello on Sept. 13 followed by the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi on Sept. 27. In addition, F1 will race at the Nurburgring in Germany on Oct. 11, Portimao in Portugal on Oct. 25, and Imola in Italy on Nov. 1. F1 will not race in the Americas this season, as the series have canceled the Canadian, U.S., Mexico, and Brazil Grands Prix.