Roger Diez: Not always the swiftest, strongest |

Roger Diez: Not always the swiftest, strongest

Roger Diez

Damon Runyon once said, “The race may not always be to the swift, nor the victory to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.” Kevin Harvick was both the swiftest and strongest in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Atlanta last Sunday, but old Damon would have lost his bet. A late-race speeding penalty on pit road with only a few laps to go put Harvick at the back of the field. He charged to a top 10 finish from there, but Brad Keselowski took advantage and put his Penske Ford into victory circle. For a while it looked like Kyle Larson would hold on for the win, but he inexplicably took the high line despite the fact the low groove had been working for him all day. No matter, both Harvick and Larson will visit victory lane soon, based on the strength both have shown so far.

The new stage points system seems to be fulfilling its purpose. Harvick won both of the first two stages at Atlanta, and combined with his top 10 finish put him at the top of the point standings. Harvick has amassed 90 points in the first two races, four counters ahead of Kurt Busch. Keselowski is third in the standings with 84, Chase Elliott has 82, and Joey Logano rounds out the top five with 80 points. I think we’re going to see a strategy developing among all the teams to capitalize on those stage finishes to the maximum extent as the season wears on.

NASCAR visits Las Vegas for the 20th Cup race at the Southern Nevada track. I was there for the inaugural race, and it was quite a spectacle. Las Vegas does know how to throw a party, and there’s been some pretty good racing there over the years as well. As usual, Jimmie Johnson has the best track record at LVMS with four trips to victory circle. Matt Kenseth in the runner-up slot has three wins, Brad Keselowski a pair of victories, and Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have each won once. Both Atlanta winner Keselowski and Atlanta lap leader Harvick come in with momentum on their side.

And here’s an interesting factoid about Sunday’s race. Two drivers have the opportunity to become the first Cup series driver to tally 600 laps led at LVMS. Johnson needs to lead just 24 laps to accomplish this feat, and Kenseth is 74 laps short of the 600 mark.

At the other end of the country, the Verizon IndyCar series kicks off its 2017 season on the street course in St. Petersburg, Fla., Sunday. There are a few changes to the lineup this season. The biggest change is the switch from Chevy to Honda power for the four Chip Ganassi Racing drivers; Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, and Max Chilton. The Penske team has a new driver, with Josef Newgarden replacing Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 2 car. Montoya will return to drive a fifth Penske car in the Indy 500. KV Racing has folded its doors, and Sebastien Bourdais will drive for Dale Coyne Racing. Takuma Sato moves from A.J. Foyt Racing to Andretti Autosport, joining Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with field three cars for James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin, and Jay Howard.

And veteran Oriol Servia will join Graham Rahal at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

During testing last week at Sebring, the Hondas went well, and are looking to be competitive with the Chevy-powered machines this season, particularly on road and street courses. Race coverage on NBCSN commences at 9 a.m. Pacific time, so the checker should fly in plenty of time to switch over to the NASCAR race from Las Vegas.

Finally, in the second and final round of Formula One pre-season testing in Barcelona, Sebastian Vettel clocked the fastest time on both test rounds in his Ferrari on Thursday. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said he thought the Ferraris were sandbagging, and had more speed than they have shown. We’ll find out in two weeks when the green flag flies on the 2017 F1 season in Australia.