Roger Diez: Racing season finally gets into gear
At long last, the racing season has begun! The green flag to start the Rolex 24 at Daytona will wave at 11 a.m. today, with the first two hours of the race airing on FOX. Coverage will then alternate between FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports GO, and FOX Sports 2. Coverage of the finish will begin at 7:30 a.m. Sunday on FOX Sports 1. Chip Ganassi Racing, fielding a pair of Ford GTs in the GTLM class, is aiming for its 200th win as an organization, counting race wins in NASCAR, IndyCar, and Sports Cars. Up front, it will be a battle between Detroit and Tokyo, with a Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac Dpi on the pole and a Penske Racing Acura Dpi alongside. Only .007 second separate the two, and the top 13 cars in the Prototype class are all within one second — but that’s a one-lap time. It’s a long race, and anything can happen.
Of course, the Rolex 24 is only the opening act of Speedweeks at Daytona. The track will be a busy place in the coming weeks. NASCAR is onstage next with the Advance Auto Parts Clash in two weeks on Feb. 11, the Can Am Duel races on Feb. 15, and the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. A pair of two-time Daytona champions will be missing from this year’s 500, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2004, 2014) has retired and Matt Kenseth (2009, 2012) is without a ride for the 2018 season. The 500 will also be the stock car swan song for Danica Patrick, who will race for Premium Motorsports. Her No. 7 Chevy will be sponsored by GoDaddy, the company that sponsored her in IndyCar and her early years in NASCAR. Tony Eury Jr. will be on the pit box, reuniting Danica with her first NASCAR crew chief, sponsor, and car number. She plans to wrap her racing career in May with her final Indy 500 appearance, but that ride hasn’t yet been finalized.
For fans of stock car road racing (a club of which I’m a charter member) the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoffs will feature a road course race in September. Unfortunately it’s not a natural road course like Sonoma or Watkins Glen, but rather a “roval” combination oval and infield road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After initial testing, NASCAR and Charlotte management altered the original infield layout to make the total tack length 2.28 miles with 17 turns. The track will utilize about two thirds of the 1.5 mile oval with the addition of a “bus stop” style chicane on the back straight, similar to that used at Daytona for the Rolex 24.
Finally, belated congratulations to the 2018 inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The passing of Dan Gurney last week took up most of my space, and I apologize to the Hall of Famers for inadvertently slighting them. This year’s honorees are NASCAR pioneer and first champion, Red Byron, who passed away in 1960; multi-time champion crew chief Ray Evernham; broadcasting legend Ken Squier, who named the Daytona 500 “The Great American Race;” many time Truck series champion Ron Hornaday Jr.; and Robert Yates — master engine builder, car owner, and crew chief who passed away last year.