Roger Diez: Record-breaking Daytona 500 was one for the ages
For the Nevada Appeal
Don’t forget, Fernley 95A Speedway is holding a meeting at the track today at noon for fans who want to get involved in racing as a track volunteer. I hope to see some of you there.
The 2016 Daytona 500 was a record-breaker on many levels. The closest finish in Daytona 500 history, 0.01 second (a “jiffy” in scientific terms), first 500 win for Toyota, first 500 victory for Denny Hamlin, who also punched his ticket to the 2016 Chase for the Championship. It also was the first 500 win for Joe Gibbs Racing since 1993 when Dale Jarrett brought home the Harley Earl trophy to the JGR shops. Toyotas also took four of the top 5 spots and led the most laps by far. Of course, what happens at Daytona isn’t necessarily indicative of the rest of the season, so Sunday’s race at Atlanta will show whether the Chevy and Ford camps have anything for the Toyotas.
Among the Chevys, Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson has been the strongest at Atlanta with four wins, the most recent last March. His teammate Kasey Kahne has won three times, most recently in August of 2014. Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards also have three victories each at Atlanta, but not for some time. Busch’s last win was in March of 2010, and Edward’s most recent victory was in March of 2008. Kyle Busch has scored twice, the last time in September of 2013. Denny Hamlin, riding his Daytona momentum, will try for his second win at Atlanta, having won in September of 2012. Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have each scored an Atlanta victory, but both were more than 10 years ago. Other drivers who I expect to contend for the win Sunday include the two Penske drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., and young Chase Elliott.
Rumor has it Ty Dillon’s relationship with Bass Pro Shops has landed him the seat in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet for this weekend’s Atlanta race as well at Phoenix on March 13 and the March 20 Auto Club Speedway contest.
The same rumor puts Brian Vickers in the car for Las Vegas. A date for Tony Stewart’s return hasn’t been set.
Stewart won’t be the only thing missing from the Stewart-Haas Racing squad in 2016. Chevrolet also will be history on the team, replaced by Ford. According to Stewart, the move was in part to “get out of the shadow” of the Hendrick organization. SHR has been a satellite of Hendrick since the team’s inception, but now will be able to build its own chassis to link up with Roush-Yates provided Ford engines. Stewart-Haas is adding staff to build and maintain the chassis, and Roush Yates will also have to increase production to provide engines for an additional four cars. And there are ramifications for the manufacturer’s championship as well. The NASCAR Sprint Cup field has been Chevrolet-heavy for a number of years, but this move will make the field much more equal, threatening Chevy’s long domination of the manufacturer’s title.
And co-owner Gene Haas, whose Formula 1 team is powered by Ferrari engines, was asked if the old Ford/Ferrari rivalry would come into play. Haas, as well as both Ford and Ferrari execs dismissed the issue as ancient history.
The Formula One cars took to the track this past week in Spain at Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya for the first of two pre-season tests. The new Haas F1 cars put in 110 laps and showed a good turn of speed at the hands of veteran driver Romain Grosjean, who was second fastest on the third day of practice after a front wing failure on day one. Both Ferrari and McLaren were ahead of where they were a year ago according to drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. And Max Hulkenberg’s Force India was consistently one of the fastest cars on track, finishing up with fast time on day three. The start of the season, the Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne, is just three weeks away. That’s when the first true test of just who is fastest comes.