Roger Diez: NASCAR back at Daytona on Saturday
Last weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Chicagoland was a very good day for Chevrolet. Alex Bowman won the race after finishing second three times earlier in the season. Defending Chicago winner Kyle Larson was second and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was fourth. The late-race duel between Bowman and Larson was epic, one of the best finishes of the season. Chevrolets took five of the top 10 spots, and three of them were Hendrick Racing cars. Chase Elliott, the fourth Hendrick driver, finished 11th. Does this signify that teams have finally come to grips with the Camaro bodywork after a year and a half? Let’s wait a few more races before declaring that problem solved.
Another big change was introduced at Chicagoland, as FOX handed over broadcast duties to NBC Sports for the remainder of the season. Both broadcast teams do a good job, with a mix of professional broadcasters and ex-drivers and crew chiefs who are both knowledgeable and articulate. I’m looking forward to Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 from Daytona starting at 4:30 p.m. on NBC. Erik Jones, who is the only winless Joe Gibbs Racing driver so far this season, took the checker in last year’s race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., also winless in 2019, won it two years ago. The oddsmakers favor the two Penske pilots, Brad Keselowski (2016 winner) and Joey Logano, both at 8-1 odds. The foursome of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, and Kevin Harvick are all rated at 10-1. Surprisingly, Martin Truex Jr., tied with Busch for the most season wins at four, and Chicago winner Bowman are only given 18-1. Either one might be a good bet. And if you want a high-risk bet with good odds, put a couple of bucks on Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, or Matt DiBenedetto, all at 40-1.
Austria once again proved to be the Achilles heel for the Mercedes team, as their string of wins was broken at the Red Bull Ring in Austria last Sunday. It wasn’t quite as disastrous as last year’s race, where neither car finished. As Red Bull’s Max Verstappen dueled with Ferrari pilot Charles Leclerc for the lead, Valtteri Bottas fended off the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel to finish third, while points leader Lewis Hamilton languished in fifth. A controversial pass by Verstappen in the final laps triggered a stewards’ investigation, as Max banged wheels with Leclerc while making the pass for the lead. Fortunately, this was one instance in which the finish was allowed to stand, the ruling that it was (in NASCAR parlance) “Just one o’ them racin’ deals.”
For you drag racing fans, Fox Sports 1 will carry the NHRA New England Nationals from New Hampshire this weekend. Saturday Nitro Live will air this evening from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., and finals will be on Sunday beginning at 10 a.m. Steve Torrance leads Top Fuel by an astounding 404 points ahead of second-place Doug Kalitta, with Ashley Force another 16 points behind. Robert Hight has 153 points in hand over John Force in Funny Car, and Pro Stock leader Bo Butner is 148 points to the good over Alex Laughlin.
Also on Sunday, the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Series is racing at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in a two-hour, forty-minute sprint race. It’s a rare back-to-back event, the series completing the Sahlen Six Hours at the Glen last weekend at Watkins Glen. Mazda Team Joest won their first race, finishing first and second. This Sunday’s race will air on NBC from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.