Roger Diez: Drivers pushing toward NASCAR playoffs
The addition of the Carousel to the Sonoma road course didn’t seem to have much effect on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup results last Sunday. The usual suspects ended up in front at the end of the race, as Kyle Busch chased his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex to the checkered flag in vain. The two Toyota drivers were well clear of the rest of the field, and the only question was whether lapped cars would play into the result.
Answer — they didn’t. Busch and Truex now have four wins apiece, fully half of the 16 races run so far this season. Add Denny Hamlin’s two wins and the five victories scored by Penske Racing drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, and those two organizations have won 94 percent of the races run so far. Only Chase Elliott’s Talladega win has kept them from a complete monopoly of the series.
As the regular season winds down, points become more and more important to drivers vying for a playoff berth. As of now, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson sits 17th in points, just one point out of the playoff picture. In this situation, stage points are becoming more critical, and some teams may be adjusting their race strategy accordingly. You can’t race for the championship if you don’t make the playoffs.
After the twisty and technical Sonoma road course, the Cup competitors are on more familiar ground this weekend at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland oval. The bad news is that the last six races at the track have been won by Gibbs drivers, and the one before that by a Penske pilot. Kyle Busch is the defending Chicagoland winner with Truex victorious in 2016 and 2017, and Hamlin the 2015 winner. Based on history, it looks like more of the same this weekend as far as winners go.
Formula One is also suffering from single-team domination. Despite Ferrari’s best efforts, the Mercedes juggernaut won at France’s Paul Ricard course last Sunday, another one-two finish with Lewis Hamilton easily outdistancing teammate Valtteri Bottas by over 18 seconds at the checker. The third step on the podium was occupied by a Ferrari driver, but this time it was young Frenchman Charles LeClerc, much to the delight of the partisan crowd. Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari finished a disappointing fifth behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
But Mercedes’ has had pre-race issues, forcing the team to perform the equivalent of “open-heart surgery” on the cars the last two races, according to team boss Toto Wolff. And coming up this weekend is the Austrian Grand Prix, where Mercedes last year locked out the front row in qualifying, only to have both cars drop out with mechanical issues. So, Wolff is not as confident as he might be, given this year’s results so far.
Also racing last weekend was the NTT IndyCar series, on the famed Road America’s four twisty miles. Young Colton Herta became the youngest pole winner in series history but couldn’t keep pace in the race and finished eighth. Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi was the class of the field, leading 54 laps of the 55-lap contest and taking the win 28.4 seconds ahead of second place Will Power. Power finished 3.4 seconds ahead of Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, who retained his position atop the point standings.
Locally, Fernley 95A Speedway is racing Saturday with the first green flag scheduled for 6 p.m. And in Carson City Shelton Racing & Fabrication is holding its annual car show in honor of late local racing legend Tom Shelton. The show is at 3600 Challenger Way, behind Sonic, and begins at 11 a.m. with the trophy presentation at 3 p.m.