Roger Diez: Talladega: Exciting (and unpredictable) as always
Last weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Talladega was as exciting and unpredictable as always. Ryan Blaney propelled himself from likely elimination from the playoffs into a guaranteed spot in the round of eight. His 0.007 second win over Ryan Newman was the sixth-closest finish in NASCAR history. Blaney’s win came at the expense of previous Talladega winners like Brad Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano, who had dominated at the track in recent years. And to illustrate the power of stage points, Logano finished 11th but his stage points earned him 44 points to winner Blaney’s 46. Logano scored more points than all top 10 drivers with the exception of Blaney. And during the “big one” Brendan Gaughan executed a move that rivaled gymnast Simone Biles. Gaughan’s maneuver was a 360-degree flip with a full twist in the midst of the “big one,” and he stuck the landing, coming down on all four wheels. The move got him a mention (with video) on Good Morning America.
Blaney’s advancement to the next round puts more pressure on those playoff drivers currently below the cut line going into tomorrow’s race at Kansas. Three are Hendrick Racing drivers. Alex Bowman is 18 points below the line after a Talladega accident, while teammate Chase Elliott is a further two points back and William Byron is five more points in arrears. Stewart-Haas driver Clint Bowyer is 24 points below the line, with Kevin Harvick the only other team driver still in the hunt. While not necessarily in a “must win” scenario, all four must score a lot of stage points and finish well while hoping drivers above the line have problems. The two drivers now above the line but in jeopardy are Logano and Keselowski, 18 and 20 points to the good respectively. The Kansas stats reveal nine former winners among active drivers. Harvick, whose most recent win was in the 2018 spring race, and Jimmie Johnson with a spring 2015 victory his most recent, have each won three Kansas races. Other recent winners are Keselowski with his second win this past spring, and Elliott who won last fall. Martin Truex Jr. has won twice, most recently in the fall of 2017, and Logano also has two wins with the 2015 fall race his latest. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman have one win apiece.
In Formula One, Mercedes is back on top with a 1-3 finish last weekend in Japan. The issue was in doubt after Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won the pole, but his slow start allowed Valtteri Bottas by into the first turn. From there it was a strategy race, a duel of pit stops and tire choices. Bottas held on for the win, his third on the season. Lewis Hamilton finished third and scored the extra point for fastest lap. The combination was enough to put Mercedes over the top to clinch the constructor’s championship with four races to go. The only driver with enough points to beat Hamilton for the driver’s championship is Bottas, so the team will win both titles, a feat unprecedented in Formula One. The next race is in Mexico next Sunday with the U.S. Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin the following weekend.
Finally, NASCAR silly season is in full swing. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who has lost his Roush-Fenway Ford ride, will drive the No. 37 Chevrolet for JT-Daugherty Racing in 2020. Stenhouse will replace Chris Buescher, who is taking over his former No. 17 Ford seat. Clint Bowyer has re-signed with Stewart-Haas Racing, and Ross Chastain will join Justin Haley full-time at Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity series for 2020, driving the No. 10 Chevy.