Roger Diez: NASCAR continues West Coast swing
It looks like Roger Penske’s swap of drivers and crew chiefs paid off with a strategy call as Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup race on old tires last Sunday in Las Vegas. There was, however, a little intra-team friction, as Ryan Blaney was less than happy about the way teammate Logano raced him in the late going. Matt DiBenedetto finished second in his new Wood Brothers ride, and from his demeanor in post-race interviews you’d think he had won the race. Matt is going to score a win or two this season. Ricky Stenhouse came home third for JTG-Daugherty racing, followed by four more Chevrolets. Jimmie Johnson’s top-5 finish is a hopeful indication of a more successful season, and Bubba Wallace’s sixth was one of his best efforts since taking over the Richard Petty Enterprises ride.
This week NASCAR continues its west coast swing with a 300 mile/150 lap race for the Xfinity series today and a 400-mile/200 lap contest for the NASCAR Cup cars at California Speedway. Johnson is the all-time winner among active drivers with six Auto Club wins, the most recent in 2016. Kyle Busch has four victories at the two-mile oval and is the defending champion. Active drivers with one win are Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch and Harvick are the oddsmakers’ favorites with early odds of 5-1. Logano is at 6-1 with teammate Keselowski at 7-1. Larson and Truex have odds of 15-2, Blaney is at 13-1, Johnson at 16-1. Hendrick teammates Alec Bowman and William Byron share 20-1 odds with Erik Jones. Dark horse candidates are Cole Custer, Ross Chastain, and Christopher Bell, all at 100-1.
Formula One pre-season testing at Barcelona’s Catelunya circuit wrapped up last week, with Mercedes dominant, Ferrari showing more speed, and Red Bull also quick. So basically, no change from last season’s dominant teams. However, there is some concern about reliability in the Mercedes camp. Lewis Hamilton’s Silver Arrow ground to a halt after only 14 laps on Thursday after he had taken over from teammate Valtteri Bottas. The team reported an oil pressure issue caused the engine to shut down, which reminded me of an excuse I heard from a Porsche engineer many years ago in the old Can-Am series. He chalked the car’s issue up to and electrical problem, but one of the mechanics added a bit more detail. “Yeah, it was electrical. When the rod came out the side of the block, it cut through the battery cable,” he said.
It also appears that Mercedes’ Dual Axis Steering (DAS) system will be allowed this season but banned for 2021. Given the massive changes in technical regulations coming up for 2021, this comes as no surprise.
The start of the Formula One season is just two weeks away when the series’ season opener will take place in Australia. The IndyCar Series also kicks off the same weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida. One notable name missing from the grid will be James Hinchcliffe, who lost his ride with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (now renamed as Arrow McLaren SP). Hinchcliffe has a three-race deal, including the Indy 500, with Andretti Autosport, and will also be working as an analyst for NBC Sports. In addition to IndyCar, Hinchcliffe will provide analysis for the Sebring Weathertech Sports Car 12-hour and the NASCAR Brickyard 400 on July 4.
Finally, if you have a dirt bike and want to have some fun, the new motocross track at Fernley 95A Speedway is open this weekend from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today and tomorrow. Considering the weather report, today will probably be the better day to do it.