Roger Diez: Stage is set — so don’t turn right
Well the stage is set for the championship races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, the Xfinity series, and the Camping World Truck series. All three will crown a champion this weekend. In fact, the Truck series awarded the 2018 title on Friday with the Xfinity champion to be decided Saturday and on Sunday we’ll find out who’ll be the champion in the Cup series. The contenders for the big prize are no surprise…they’re the ‘big three” of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. They have won fully half of the points races this season between them, a total of 18 races.
The last four years, the winner at Homestead’s season finale also walked away with the championship. Truex won last year, Jimmie Johnson the year before, Kyle Busch in 2015, and Harvick in 2014. Three of these, the aforementioned “big three” are in the hunt again this season along with Joey Logano. Logano is the only one of the four championship contenders who hasn’t won the title, but he has had run-ins with all three. In fact Truex, who was less than appreciative of Logano’s tactics at Martinsville in the round of eight, has stated he’ll race Joey differently than he will the other two contenders. Among active drivers who aren’t in the championship hunt, only Denny Hamlin has won the Homestead season finale, in 2009 and 2013.
The NASCAR playoffs differ from other sports in the finalists have to compete not only with each other, but also with the other 36 drivers in the race, any of whom can win. So whichever of the four contenders finishes the highest wins the title, even if it’s 15th. I think it’s going to be a battle all the way to the last lap.
Formula One has a bye weekend, and will wrap its season next Sunday in Abu Dhabi. Neither the drivers’ nor the constructors’ championships are on the line, already clinched by Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, respectively. So the race is mostly for bragging rights and stats padding. Hamilton would like to close out his fifth championship season with another win, which would bring his 2018 season tally to 11 and his career total to 73. Hamilton is on track to match Michael Schumacher’s record of seven championships and 91 victories. He’s 33 years old, and probably has 4-5 years of competitive racing ahead. Hamilton already has a higher win percentage (31.58 percent) than Schumacher (29.55 percent). If Mercedes keeps fielding strong cars and Hamilton stays with the team, we may well see a new all-time F1 winner by 2022.
One of racing’s legends completed his final lap last Monday, as David Pearson, the “Silver Fox” passed away at the age of 83. Pearson was second only to the legendary Richard Petty in terms of wins in NASCAR’s top division, scoring 105 wins to Petty’s 200. But Pearson ran part-time for most of his career, running full-time for only four seasons and winning the championship in three of those. Like many of the best drivers of his era he was versatile, running not only for legendary owners Cotton Owens, Holman-Moody, and the Wood Brothers on NASCAR’s ovals but also wheeling a Trans-Am car on road circuits for Bud Moore. My favorite personal memory of Pearson was at the first International Race of Champions (IROC) at Riverside in 1973. I was flagging trackside when he and A.J. Foyt came by in Porsches about six inches apart, nose to tail at 170 miles an hour, giving each other the one-finger Italian racing salute. He was one of a kind. Godspeed, David Pearson.