Roger Diez: Talladega puts an end to Penske’s good time
Roger Penske was having an excellent weekend last Friday and Saturday at Indianapolis with wins both days, but then came Talladega and the wheels came off (almost literally). Penske cars in both the Saturday Xfinity Race and the Sunday NASCAR Cup contest were strong early but got caught up in accidents, resulting in poor finishes.
The NTT IndyCar series’ doubleheader at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course was a Penske benefit with Josef Newgarden winning on Saturday and Will Power taking the checkers on Sunday. Newgarden’s win plus his fourth-place finish on Sunday advanced him to just 32 points behind championship leader Scott Dixon. The season finale is two weeks away, on Oct. 25 at St. Petersburg. If Dixon finishes ninth or better, he will take home his sixth IndyCar championship, no matter what Newgarden does. And ninth is his exact average finish over the past four outings, a far cry from early in the season when he won the first three races.
The double yellow line proved to be the story of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Talladega, even more so than the inevitable “big ones.” Yes, they had a couple of the multi-car wrecks that seem to be Talladega’s trademark. But the “below the line” penalties that were levied on Sunday were not on the driver who crossed it, but the one who forced him there. Joey Logano received two such penalties before crashing out in one of the two big wrecks. And the penalties ended up changing the final results. Denny Hamlin beat Matt Dibenedetto to the line by .023 second, only to see Matt penalized for forcing William Byron below the line. Dibenedetto finished 21st officially. Only seven of the 12 playoff drivers finished on the lead lap, and the bottom four are in danger of ending their championship hopes heading to this weekend’s wild card race at the Charlotte roval. Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon are both 21 points under the cut line, Clint Bowyer is 28 below, and Aric Almirola is minus 48. It’s a definite must-win situation for Almirola and Bowyer, while the other two have a shot if they finish well and Logano or Alex Bowman do poorly. Kurt Busch and Hamlin are locked into the Round of Eight with wins and Kevin Harvick on points, while Chase Elliott (+44) and Brad Keselowski (+41) just need decent finishes to transfer. It’s a busy weekend at Charlotte, with the Xfinity series airing at 12:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC and the IMSA WeatherTech race on NBCSN at 5 p.m. Sunday the Cup race coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. on NBC.
Formula One is also back in action after a weekend off, at the Nurburgring in Germany for the Eifel Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton leads the pack with four wins in Germany but only one at the Nurburgring. Sebastian Vettel also won at the track in 2013 driving for Red Bull. Max Verstappen took his Red Bull car to the 2019 win, but at the Hockenheim circuit. One factor facing the teams this weekend is extremely cold weather, ranging from the mid-30s to the mid-40s Fahrenheit. Fortunately, the series uses tire warmers, but a safety car situation could lead to a restart on cold tires with ensuing grip issues.
Silly season updates: Clint Bowyer will be moving from the No. 14 SHR Ford to the FOX booth for 2021. His replacement is expected to be Chase Briscoe, who has won eight Xfinity races this season. Matt Dibenedetto will remain in the Wood Brothers Ford for 2021 but will lose the ride to Austin Cindric in 2022. And Alex Bowman will take over the No. 48 Hendrick Chevy next season, moving from the No. 88.