Roger Diez: It’s championship weekend in NASCAR racing
And then there were four. The field for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Series championship finale was set at Phoenix last Sunday. With three drivers already locked in, five contenders vied for the final berth. Jimmie Johnson’s blown tire and collision with the wall ended his quest for an eighth title, while Chase Elliott’s payback to Denny Hamlin for Martinsville put Hamlin into the wall and on the sidelines. With a big point deficit, Elliott had to win in order to transfer. However veteran Matt Kenseth, in probably his next to last NASCAR drive, had a different idea. He tracked down and passed Elliott, taking a popular and emotional win. Brad Keselowski, who admitted after the race his car just didn’t have speed, survived a yo-yo day. “He’s, in…no he’s out…no, he’s in again.” In the end, Brad will have a shot at his second title.
So it’s on to Miami/Homestead this weekend to decide the NASCAR champions in all three major racing divisions. As you read this, the Camping World Truck title will already be decided. The Xfinity series champion will be decided Saturday, and the 2017 Cup champion will be crowned Sunday afternoon. Since the playoff format began in 2014, all three champions crowned under this system have won the finale at Homestead. However, it won’t matter if Jeffrey Earnhardt wins on Sunday, because whoever has the highest finish of the four finalists will have the title. All four start with an equal 5,000 points, and no points will be awarded for the first two stages. Three of the four have already won a title – Kevin Harvick in 2014, Kyle Busch in 2015, and Keselowski in 2012. Martin Truex Jr. is the only one still standing who hasn’t been a NASCAR champion. But given the year he’s had and his record on mile and a half tracks, he’s my pick to go all the way this year. He has additional motivation in wanting to win for team owner Barney Visser, who will be at home this weekend, recovering from a heart attack and bypass surgery. I’m going to have to check the odds at the local sports book and maybe invest a buck or two in Mr. Truex.
Last Sunday’s Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix had some interesting moments. Perhaps the most spectacular was Lewis Hamilton’s drive in his Mercedes. After having been the fast man in practice, Hamilton made an uncharacteristic mistake in the first lap of qualifying, spinning into the wall and ending up with no time. He started from the pit lane and drove through the pack to fourth. He was chasing down Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen for a podium spot, but ran out of race. A remarkable result, in any case. Kimi’s teammate, Sebastian Vettel, jumped polesitter Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes on the first lap and held the lead throughout the race except for pit stops.
Bottas ended in second, sandwiched between the Ferraris. For Vettel it was a moral victory, as the championship had been decided in Hamilton’s favor in the previous race. It also kept Bottas from overtaking him for second in the drivers’ championship standings. The last race of the 2017 F1 season will take place in Abu Dhabi next Sunday.
In Saturday’s Xfinity contest it will be veterans Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier versus new kids William Byron and Daniel Hemrick. Byron is headed to the No. 24 Hendrick Chevy in Cup next season, so he’s already a winner whether he takes the title or not. Personally, I’d like to see Sadler become the champ, but that’s probably because I’m old school like he is. It was a similar scenario in Friday night’s truck race. Veterans Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton versus up and coming drivers Austin Cindric and Christopher Bell. Win or lose, Bell is moving up to a Gibbs Racing Camry in the Xfinity series next season. And I predict Cindric will be moving up soon as well.