Roger Diez: Indy 500 qualifying leads off busy race week
Last weekend was an interesting one in the world of racing — a canceled race (IndyCar), a new winner (Formula 1), and a double-repeat winner (NASCAR Cup). This weekend should prove no less interesting, with all three top NASCAR divisions on a new track (to them), Indy 500 qualifying, and Formula 1 in Spain.
I missed the last-minute cancellation of the Mid-Ohio IndyCar race last Sunday due to COVID-19 concerns in the state. The plan is to hold a doubleheader there in September to replace the canceled season finale at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca.
To say the IndyCar schedule is still fluid might be an understatement. However, next week’s Indy 500 is definitely on, although without spectators.
Saturday’s first day of qualifying should be interesting. James Hinchcliffe, who is without a full-time ride this season, was fastest in Wednesday’s opening practice, turning a lap at 224.526 mph in the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda-powered entry. Three Andretti cars were in the top five with Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay joining Hinchcliffe. Scott Dixon was third fast in the No. 9 Ganassi car, and Fernando Alonso was fifth in the No. 66 Arrow McLaren machine, the only Chevrolet-powered car in the top five. Josef Newgarden in sixth place let the Penske four-car contingent, also with Chevy power.
Saturday’s goal will be to beat Simon Pagenaud’s four-lap average of 229.992 mph, which earned him the pole. I think it will take 230 mph and more to take pole this year.
The Mercedes Formula 1 team’s perfect 2020 record was broken last Sunday in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen used tire strategy to take his first win of 2020 and ninth career victory. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton finished second after a brief tussle with teammate Valtteri Bottas, who took the final podium spot in third.
The tire issues that plagued teams in the British Grand Prix a week earlier at the same track were also a concern, but teams were more proactive in dealing with them and there were no catastrophic failures.
This week, the series is in Spain for the Aramco Gran Premio de Espana, The venue is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the track used for preseason testing.
Pirelli is bringing a harder compound tire choice, which will play in Mercedes favor. Verstappen said Mercedes tire issues again will be his best chance to back up his Silverstone win.
Kevin Harvick almost scored a complete sweep in last weekend’s Michigan double-header in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. He won both races and three of the four stages, with teammate Clint Bowyer taking the other stage victory. Harvick now tops Gibbs Racing Toyota driver Denny Hamlin by one race win, six wins to five.
This weekend will be a whole new experience for nearly all NASCAR drivers, as they will be racing on the Daytona road course. It is the same 3.56-mile course used for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with the addition of a chicane off of the oval turn four.
The Xfinity series will race Saturday with coverage on NBCSN starting at 9 a.m.
Sunday, the Gander Trucks will race at 9 a.m. airing on Fox Sports 1, and the NASCAR Cup race will be telecast on NBC starting at 12:30 p.m.
There’s also the possibility of rain in the forecast both days, which could make things extremely interesting. Goodyear will have rain tires on hand, just in case. This could by Kyle Busch’s best chance to turn his winless season around, since he ran the Rolex 24 in January.