Roger Diez: NASCAR starts round of 12 in Las Vegas
And then there were 12. Four drivers were eliminated from the NASCAR Cup playoffs last Saturday at Bristol, and the three-race round of 12 begins at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas oval Sunday. And Formula 1 is back in action after a week off.
Kyle Busch blamed lapped traffic, especially Joey Logano, for denying him a win at Bristol last Saturday. Kevin Harvick was able to use the traffic to score his ninth victory of the season, and both drivers advanced to the round of 12.
Kyle, along with brother Kurt, is well behind in points heading into their hometown race. Kurt lags Harvick by 66 points and Kyle by 63, tied with Clint Bowyer. Aric Almirola at 62 points back is the fourth driver currently on the bubble.
The Penske team has dominated at Las Vegas in recent years, winning five out of the last 10 races. Brad Keselowski scored three team wins with Logano taking two. Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. also have a pair of Vegas wins each in those 10 races.
Not surprisingly, those four drivers top the oddsmakers’ charts for Sunday night’s race. Keselowski, Logano, and Truex are all at 11-2 and Harvick is 6-1. Odds on Denny Hamlin, second most prolific winner this season, are 8-1 while Ryan Blaney is 9-1. And Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch are at 10-1 each, with the odds dropping off rapidly after that.
Coverage for the first Xfinity playoff race at Las Vegas begins at 4:30 p.m. Saturday with the Cup race Sunday at 4 p.m. Both will air on NBCSN
Also on tap this weekend is the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix from Sochi, site of the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 10th race in the COVID-19 delayed 17-race season.
Lewis Hamilton is poised to tie Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 F1 wins and is likely to do so Sunday.
Mercedes has won all six previous races at Sochi, and Hamilton has accounted for four of them including the last two. His biggest rival for the win is teammate Valtteri Bottas who won the Russian GP in 2017.
Hamilton currently leads the drivers’ championship with 190 to Bottas’ 135, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen third at 110. Mercedes also has a lock on the constructors’ title with 325 points, almost double the 173 scored by Red Bull. McLaren is a distant third at 106 points.
NASCAR silly season just got sillier with the addition of a new team for 2021. Earlier this week came the announcement that NBA legend Michael Jordan will join fellow basketball star Brad Daugherty as a NASCAR Cup team owner.
Jordan, along with minority owner Denny Hamlin, purchased the Germain Racing franchise and has named Bubba Wallace as the team driver. Wallace, after four increasingly successful seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports, had earlier announced his departure from that team. The Jordan/Hamlin team’s name, manufacturer, car number, sponsorship, and other details will be revealed at a later date.
The move puts Ty Dillon out of a ride, joining Eric Jones in the ranks of the potentially unemployed in NASCAR Cup. One potential avenue for Dillon closed up as Ross Chastain was named to drive the Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet next season. With Christopher Bell potentially moving to the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 in place of Jones, his former seat at Leavine Family Racing is up in the air with the sale of that team.
Current open seats are Wallace’s RPM No. 43 Chevy, the Hendrick Racing No. 48 Chevy of the retiring Jimmie Johnson, and the Gaunt Brothers No. 96 Toyota being vacated by Daniel Suarez.