Roger Diez: Bad weekend for fastest, strongest teams
There’s an old Bible quote from Ecclesiastes, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” That saying was certainly appropriate last weekend at both the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi and the South Point 400 in Las Vegas. In neither case did the fastest nor strongest win, due to a stewards’ decision in the former case and an untimely caution flag in the latter.
Mercedes missed a front-row lockout in Russia as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen inserted himself between pole sitter Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. But after the race began, with Hamilton comfortably in the lead, the stewards decided to assess him two 5-second penalties for practice start infractions that occurred the day before. Never in my 50-plus years of involvement in motorsports have I seen anything like it. The penalties held Hamilton in the pits for an extra 10 seconds on a tire stop but he was able to recover and finish third behind Bottas and Verstappen. The result narrowed the points gap between Hamilton and Bottas to 44 with Verstappen another 33 behind. It also delayed the inevitable tie between Hamilton and Michael Schumacher for the most wins in F1 history. With seven races to go in the season, Hamilton is almost guaranteed to tie, then surpass Schumacher’s 91 victories. The next round is the German Grand Prix on Oct. 11.
A caution flag during green-flag pit stops changed the complexion of the NASCAR Cup 400-miler in Las Vegas on Sunday evening. Denny Hamlin, who had dominated the race to that points, was caught a lap down along with a number of other contenders. Kurt Busch, who had pitted early, took over the lead with his Ganassi Chevy and held it through an overtime finish to take his first win in 22 tries at his home track. Matt Dibenedetto brought the Wood Brothers Ford home second, while Hamlin charged through the pack for third. Hamlin was the lap leader for 121 laps compared to Busch’s 29, but it’s only the last one that counts. Kurt is now locked into the round of eight as the series heads for Talladega on Sunday.
The Penske team has been the most successful organization at Talladega for a long time. Going back 11 years to the 2009 season, they have won 10 of 23 races at the high-banked 2.66-mile oval. Brad Keselowski has won five times, Joey Logano three, and Ryan Blaney has taken the checker in the last two Talladega races. Blaney is out of the playoffs, but his two teammates are still in play. Other playoff drivers who have posted Talladega wins are Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, and Aric Almirola. But it’s Talladega, a wild card race where the “big one” can eliminate anyone. Going into the race, Kyle Busch is nine points below the cut line, Clint Bowyer 20 back, Aric Almirola 27 behind, and Austin Dillon 27 points in arrears. Race coverage starts at 11 a.m. tomorrow on NBCSN. The Gander Truck series airs at 10 a.m. today on FS1, with the Xfinity race on NBCSN at 1:30 p.m.
NASCAR has released its 2021 schedule, and there’s good news for road racing fans (in which I include myself). Circuit of the Americas is on the schedule as are Road America and the Indianapolis road course. There is also a treat for dirt racing fans, as the March Bristol race will see the track converted to dirt. It has been 50 years since the last dirt race for NASCAR’s top division. Other changes include the All-Star race moving to Texas and a second race for both Atlanta and Darlington. Full schedule details are available at NASCAR.com.