Roger Diez: Happy winners and big disappointments
Last weekend featured some exciting racing, happy winners, and big disappointments. Joe Gibbs Racing is back on top as Denny Hamlin took his third win of the season, only one victory behind teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. Scott Dixon took his sixth Mid-Ohio win, barely holding off Ganassi Racing teammate Felix Rosenqvist. And after securing pole position for the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, Mercedes’ 125th anniversary in the sport came to an ignominious end while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen scored his second win of the season.
Hamlin held off teammate Erik Jones in overtime to take the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victory at Pocono on Sunday, while fellow JGR driver Martin Truex Jr. come home third. Hamlin first showed his prowess at the tricky triangle in 2009 and 2010, when he won there back-to-back. Jones is the only JGR driver who has not been to victory circle this year. The race had its share of wrecks, with the outside wall seemingly eager to reach out and grab race cars at will. One bright spot for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was his first stage win of the season. Johnson will go to Watkins Glen with new crew chief Cliff Daniels, who replaces Kevin Meendering. Daniels was an engineer on the No. 48 team for Johnson’s 2016 championship run, but it’s his first time in the crew chief role. With only five races to go in the regular season and Johnson 12 points below the playoff cut line, the Hendrick organization felt that a drastic change was needed.
The series visits the Watkins Glen road course this weekend. Only six drivers in the field have won at the Glen. Kyle Busch is the only two-time winner, taking the checkers in 2008 and 2013. The others are Chase Elliott (2018), Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Denny Hamlin (2016), Joey Logano (2015), and Kevin Harvick (2006). Any of them could win again, but also watch for Daniel Suarez and Clint Bowyer from Stewart-Haas Racing, William Byron and Alex Bowman from Hendrick, or Matt DiBenedetto from the Gibbs-affiliated Leavine Family Racing. It will be fun to watch.
Rain plagued much of the German Grand Prix, with the turn 16 “skating rink” claiming a number of Formula One cars including Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas. Lewis Hamilton also fell afoul of the turn but escaped with a broken front wing and a five-second penalty for illegal pit entry. His six pit stops relegated him to 11th at the finish, one place out of the points. However, a post-race investigation assessed 30 second penalties on both Alfa Romeo for technical violations. This elevated Hamilton to ninth, giving him two points to add to his 39-point lead. Max Verstappen overcame a bad start to drive a brilliant race, finishing more than seven seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who charged from dead last at the start to take second place. Daniil Kvyat got his first F1 podium finish for Toro Rosso. This weekend is the Hungarian Grand Prix, the last race before the August hiatus.
The Mid-Ohio IndyCar race was a study in strategy, as driver after driver led by more than 10 seconds, only to see fortunes change with each round of pit stops. The Ganassi Racing teams executed brilliantly, although Chip Ganassi must have held his breath as Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist dueled in the closing laps. Point leader Josef Newgarden threw away a solid fourth place finish with an overoptimistic pass attempt late in the race that dropped him to 14th. This tightened up the title race, with Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi now just 16 points behind in second. Dixon’s win moved him to fourth in the standings, 15 points back of third-place Simon Pagenaud.