Roger Diez: Phoenix dogleg will challenge racers
We’re now three races into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season, and there have been three winners: Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano. Two of the three are Team Penske drivers and one is from the Joe Gibbs Racing stable. All three are now locked into the playoffs. In the manufacturers’ column, the score is Ford 2, Toyota 1, and Chevrolet 0.
This weekend the series will race at ISM Speedway, AKA Phoenix International Raceway. It’s a fast one-mile oval with a dogleg, and some drivers have it figured out better than others. Kevin Harvick is the absolute master there, having won nine times since posting his first victory at the track in 2006. His most recent trip to victory circle was last spring. Jimmie Johnson is second among active drivers with four wins, but the last one was almost 10 years ago. Both Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman have posted two wins there, with Busch winning last fall. Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano have each won at Phoenix once. That’s seven active drivers and 20 wins, nearly half of them belonging to Harvick. Needless to say, Las Vegas oddsmakers put Harvick at 7-2 to win, tied with Kyle Busch. Keselowski goes off at 8-1, Logano at 9-1, and Martin Truex Jr. at 10-1. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are the favorite Chevy drivers, both at 12-1. At the other end of the spectrum are Newman and Daniel Hemric at 80-1 and Daniel Suarez at 60-1. I wouldn’t bet against Harvick at Phoenix, but Newman might be worth putting a couple of bucks on. TV coverage of the race starts at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on FOX (don’t forget to set your clocks ahead an hour for Daylight Saving Time). For once, there’s no rain in the weather forecast, so everything should go off on time.
The NTT IndyCar series kicks off its 2019 season this weekend as well, racing on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. There are a lot of new faces in the series this year, as well as many returning veterans. Some will race the whole season, some a partial schedule, and a few will contest only the Indy 500. Former Formula One champion Fernando Alonso is expected to race at Indy with McLaren backing. The entry list for St. Petersburg includes 20 full-time drivers who will run the entire series, along with four part-timers. Of the 20 full-timers, 16 ran the full season in 2018. There are five rookies in the St. Pete field. They’re former F1 pilot Marcus Ericsson in a Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports Honda; Felix Rosenqvist piloting a Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; Santino Ferrucci in a Dale Coyne Racing Honda; Colton Herta driving a Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda; and Ben Hanly aboard a Dragon Racing Chevrolet. There are 14 Hondas and 10 Chevrolets in the St. Pete field.
It’s going to be an exciting season for the series, with 17 races and two new venues on the schedule. The new tracks are the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. A few of the veterans who raced in the CART and Champ Car series have raced at Laguna, but the Austin track will be a new experience for all but Ericsson, who has raced there in F1.
Next weekend is the Grand Prix of Australia, the opener for the Formula One season. Pre-season testing indicated Ferrari might have an edge on the dominant Mercedes organization this season, but only time will tell. I’ll analyze the F1 teams in more depth next week.