Roger Diez: NASCAR takes a breather
It was an interesting race weekend last week, and this week should prove no less fascinating. Denny Hamlin joined his Monster Energy Cup teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in the four-win club, and Will Power kept his NTT IndyCar series streak of 13 years with at least one season win alive. And Matt DiBenedetto proved that he deserves a good ride, taking a 2018 JGR chassis to a second-place finish after finding out he’ll be losing his job at season’s end. Finally, after another big crash, fortunately with no major injuries, there are questions about whether IndyCar should continue to race at Pocono.
The Bristol night races were typical, with lots of beating, banging, and caution flags. Chevrolets won both the Gander Outdoor Truck race with Brett Moffit and the Xfinity contest with Tyler Reddick driving, but the Toyotas had the Cup field covered. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have now won 50% of the points races in the Cup series this year — 12 of the 24 with two to go in the regular season. The only other teams with multiple wins are Penske (5), Hendrick (3), and Stewart-Haas (2). That’s called dominance, folks. And it promises to get even worse (or better, depending on your point of view) next season. Leavine Family Racing, a Gibbs affiliate team, is ousting DiBenedetto in favor of Xfinity star Christopher Bell. Bell indicated that he wanted to go Cup racing next year, and Joe Gibbs, who has no open seats at JGR, didn’t want to lose him. So, the word was passed that he would take over the Leavine No. 95 Toyota, leaving DiBenedetto with no ride for 2020. But given Matt’s performance this season, particularly last Saturday’s near win at Bristol, he deserves a good ride in Cup. We’ll have to see how the silly season plays out, but I hope he has a seat when the music stops.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup guys have the weekend off, but both of the other touring series are on road courses this weekend. Xfinity will race on Saturday at Road America, and the Truck series is at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, where it’s always entertaining. Last year the finish was quite controversial, leading to a fist fight between two wrecked drivers after the checker.
Will Power won the Pocono round of the NTT IndyCar season in a race that was stopped for weather after 128 of the scheduled 200 laps. They might have gotten the whole race in but for a lengthy red flag to repair fencing after a multi-car lap one wreck that had frightening similarities to the incident last year that left Robert Wickens a paraplegic. The track made the same shoddy repairs as last year’s, with a chain link gate zip-tied to the torn fence. This led to questions from many teams as to whether the track was up to the speeds the cars attain there. Many blamed the accident on Takuma Sato, although his team said in-car video showed it was Alexander Rossi’s fault. Personally, I agree with analyst Paul Tracy in putting the blame squarely on Sato, but I’m not an IndyCar steward so I’ll let them figure it out. The series races on the Gateway oval Saturday at 5 p.m., with the final two races on the Portland and Laguna Seca road courses.
The Nevada Pro Stocks were at Fernley 95A Speedway last Saturday night, and Bill Pearson took advantage of the leaders wrecking at the white flag to take the win. The IMCA Modified main saw Cory Sample taking the checker, and Jimmy Ray Huffman winning the B Modified main. Randy Boyd was the Hobby Stock winner.