Roger Diez: Penske having outstanding racing season so far
Roger Penske has to be loving the 2019 racing season so far. Two of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, have already won a race and are locked into the playoffs. Last Sunday at Phoenix, his third Cup driver, Ryan Blaney, took the pole. Penske driver Will Power took pole position for last Sunday’s NTT IndyCar season opener and teammate Josef Newgarden won the race, with Power third. A Penske Acura DPi prototype was third in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the two-car Penske team is among the favorites for the 12 hours of Sebring this weekend.
Yes, it’s a big racing weekend. Not only is the WeatherTech IMSA Sports Car series at Sebring, but NASCAR is at Auto Club Speedway in California, Formula One kicks off its season in Australia, and the NHRA is at Gainesville, Fla., for the 50th annual Gatornationals. Locally, it looks like dry weather and pleasant temperatures for the Test and Tune day at Fernley 95A Speedway. Action starts at 11 today and spectators are free.
Here’s a rundown of what to expect this weekend: Television will cover the entire 12 hours of Sebring, split among three cable networks. From 7:30 to 10 a.m. CNBC will air the start and first two hours; NBC will take over from 10 a.m. to noon then will hand off to the NBC Sports Network, which will air the action until the end at 8 p.m. The race will feature 38 entries in four classes, 114 drivers, and 13 different manufacturers.
The Formula One season will start on a sad note. Race Director Charlie Whiting, who had been in the post since 1997, passed away suddenly in Melbourne at 66 from a pulmonary embolism on Thursday. His passing leaves a huge void, and F1 won’t be the same without his firm hand guiding the races. But the show must go on, and the green flag will wave on the 2019 season on Sunday down under, which will be 11 p.m. today here when it airs on ESPN. It will re-air on ESPN2 at 3:30 a.m. Sunday and 6 a.m. on ESPNEWS. There are lots of changes this season; new drivers, drivers with different teams, team names, and engine swaps. McLaren will have Honda power for Carlos Sainz and rookie Lando Norris. Daniel Ricciardo will drive for Renault after a successful run at Red Bull, with Pierre Gasly moving up from Toro Rosso to replace him. Kimi Raikkonen leaves Ferrari for Sauber/Alfa Romeo, replaced by Charles LeClerc. Lance Stroll moves from Williams to the Racing Point (formerly Force India) team, joining Sergio Perez. Robert Kubica returns to F1 with Williams, teamed with rookie George Russell, and another rookie, Alexander Albon, will drive for Toro Rosso with Daniil Kvyat.
With Kyle Busch taking the win at Phoenix last Sunday, there are now four different winners locked into the playoffs, two Ford drivers and two Toyota pilots. Chevy is still looking for its first win of 2019, but Kyle Larson won there in 2017 and he’s overdue for a victory. Jimmie Johnson had an Auto Club Speedway victory in 2016, and he’s looking to get back to championship form. Martin Truex Jr. won there last year, with Brad Keselowski on top in 2015. Kyle Busch won it back to back in 2013 and 2014, and Kevin Harvick went to victory lane in 2011. This could be the breakout race for the bowtie bunch, but they’ll have their hands full with those Fords and Toyotas. We’ll find out on Sunday when coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. on FOX.