Roger Diez: Monster Energy drivers enter ‘tricky triangle’ this weekend
Last weekend it was the NTT IndyCar series’ turn for rain delays. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series escaped precipitation for once, as New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon remained high and dry all weekend.
Yet another new winner took the checkered flag at Loudon, as Kevin Harvick ended his long winless drought with a spirited late-race battle with Denny Hamlin. For the second week in a row, the winning driver came from neither the Gibbs nor the Penske team. Harvick is the undisputed leader of the four-car Stewart-Haas Racing stable, scoring more points than any of his teammates thus far in the 2019 season. But the entire team was winless up until last Sunday. Harvick’s win vaults him to third in the season standings, behind leader Joey Logano and second-place Kyle Busch. Harvick is now locked into the playoffs, the ninth driver to secure one of the 16 slots in the postseason eliminations. With only six races to go in the regular season, at least one playoff berth, and probably five or six, will be determined on points. So, expect those teams vying for 14th, 15th, and 16th, to be point racing all the way through the Sept. 8 Brickyard 400.
The checkered flag for the Iowa 300 IndyCar race finally flew in the wee hours of Sunday morning after rain-caused red flags delayed proceedings. Penske driver Josef Newgarden took his fourth checkered flag of the season, while Ganassi Racing pilot Scott Dixon miraculously finished second after languishing mid-pack for much of the race. The championship battle eased a bit, as Newgarden gained 25 points on rival Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport, who came into this race only four points behind.
This weekend the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup will race at Pocono Raceway. It’s the series second visit this season to the dreaded “tricky triangle” that so many drivers hate. Next year, those drivers will have even more reason to dislike the track, because the schedule calls for two races to be compressed into one doubleheader weekend. I foresee some teams bringing an extra backup car or two, just to be on the safe side. As for Sunday’s race, Hamlin has four wins, the most of any active driver. But the last one was in 2010. Kyle Busch has won three of the last four Pocono outings, with Martin Truex Jr. winning last June. Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson are three-time Pocono winners, but it’s been a while for both. All three current Penske drivers have won once, with Ryan Blaney the most recent in 2017. But given the recent surge in Chevy power, it could be another new winner in victory lane tomorrow afternoon.
The NTT IndyCar series will be at the Mid-Ohio road course this weekend. The track has been a favorite playground of Scott Dixon, who has posted five wins since the series returned to the track in 2007. Rossi won there last year, Newgarden in 2017, Simon Pagenaud in 2016, and Graham Rahal in 2015. Newgarden has momentum but watch out for Dixon on Sunday.
Formula One is back in action after a week’s layoff, contesting the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Sebastian Vettel, winless on the season, is desperate to win his home race for Ferrari. It’s especially critical, given that his crash in last year’s contest was the turning point of his season. It’s also the home race for the Mercedes team, which will be trying to score its eighth one-two finish of 2019. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is tied with the legendary Michael Schumacher at four German GP wins each and would love to break that tie. But Rudolph Caracciola is still the all-time champion, scoring six wins from 1926 to 1939.