Roger Diez: NASCAR hits the brick(yard) this weekend
Last weekend’s racing saw a first-time series winner, a first-time season winner, a disqualified winner, a second-time 2019 winner, and unfortunately a tragic accident. Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc took his first Formula One victory, holding off the charging Mercedes of five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton in Belgium. At Darlington, Erik Jones became the fourth Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver to score in 2019, winning the rain-delayed Bojangles Southern 500 in the wee hours of Monday morning. But the Gibbs bunch also suffered the humiliation of disqualification, as Denny Hamlin’s Toyota was found to violate ride height limits after the Xfinity race. This moved Cole Custer into first place and Dale Earnhardt Jr. into fifth in his first race in almost a year. Will Power took his Team Penske Dallara/Chevy to the checker in the Portland IndyCar race, the next-to-last on this year’s schedule. And Spa Francorchamps was the site of a fatal crash that took the life of 22-year-old Anthoine Hubert in the Formula 2 race there. He was an up-and-coming driver who last year won the GP3 championship. He is mourned by all the racing community.
This weekend, jewelry is the focus. Specifically, one of the crown jewels in the NASCAR schedule, the Brickyard 400. The others are the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500. JGR drivers have won all three this season; Hamlin at Daytona, Martin Truex Jr. at the 600, and Jones last weekend’s Southern 500. If a Gibbs driver wins tomorrow at Indy, it will be the first time a team has won all four crown jewels in a singles season.
So, what are the oddsmakers saying about the last race of the regular season? Not surprisingly, four out of their top five picks are JGR drivers. Kyle Busch, who won at Indy in 2015 and 2016, is at 3-1 odds, while Hamlin, whose best finish there is third, is at 6-1. Also, at 6-1 is Kevin Harvick, the only non-Gibbs driver in the top five, who won in 2003. Truex, who finished 40th in 2018, is listed at 8-1, as is Darlington winner Jones with a second-place 2018 Indy result. Last year’s Brickyard winner Brad Keselowski goes off at 10-1 as does his Penske teammate Joey Logano. Kyle Larson, who was second last weekend, is listed at 12-1, but the odds drop off rapidly after that. If you want a good long-shot bet, I recommend four-time Indy winner Jimmie Johnson at 60-1, or Matt DiBenedetto, who’s at 100-1. Both are highly motivated. Johnson because he needs a win to ensure a playoff berth, and DiBenedetto, who has punched above his weight all season, is looking for a 2020 ride.
Monza hosts the Formula One Italian Grand Prix this weekend. Lewis Hamilton is the defending champion. However, given the performance of Ferrari, particularly young Charles Leclerc, at Spa last Sunday, we could see a different winner tomorrow. Monza, like Spa, is a high-speed course that favors Ferrari’s straight-line speed, and Leclerc has matured into a formidable threat to the Mercedes juggernaut. He has outperformed teammate Sebastian Vettel on a regular basis, and a win at Monza may just elevate him to the position of Ferrari’s number one driver in 2020.
In local racing news, Fernley 95A Speedway this week announced that the World of Outlaws had canceled their scheduled Sept. 15 visit to the speedway. Those who have already purchased tickets should apply for a refund. However, the regular racing program will continue this evening with IMCA Modified, B Mod, Hobby Stock, and Gen-X classed scheduled. Gates open at 3 p.m. with racing slated to start at 6 p.m.