Roger Diez: Truex leads NASCAR into Richmond
The first race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoffs is in the record books, and Martin Truex Jr. locked himself into the next round with a win at Las Vegas. Combined with a stage win, Truex now sits atop the point standings and has six more playoff points to carry into the round of 12. Kevin Harvick, who led 47 laps, finished second. Truex was the only Toyota driver in the top 10, with five Fords and four Chevrolets filling the other spots. Regular season champion Kyle Busch had a bad night, hitting the wall early in the race and finishing 19th, one lap down. He now sits fourth in the standings behind Truex, Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
The series moves on to Richmond for the fall night race at the tight three-quarter mile oval. Kyle Busch is last year’s winner, Kyle Larson won in 2017, and the 2016 victory went to Denny Hamlin. Hamlin has won the Richmond night race three times, the most of the 10 active drivers who have done so. Tire management will be a key to winning tonight, as the Richmond surface is fairly abrasive. Teams will have 10 sets of tires including the qualifying set they’ll start on, so look for pit stops for fresh rubber at every caution. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas have Kyle Busch as the favorite at 3-1 odds, with Harvick, Hamlin, and Truex Jr. all at 6-1. Joey Logano is 7-1, Keselowski 8-1, and Larson 14-1. Longshot possibilities are Matt DiBenedetto at 300-1 and Jimmie Johnson at 80-1. The race will air at 4:30 p.m. tonight on the NBC Sports Network.
On Sunday, the IndyCar series will end their season with a double points race at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca, where Team Penske won the IMSA race just last Sunday. Penske IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden goes into Sunday’s race in the points lead with 593. Alexander Rossi, driving for Andretti Autosport, is 41 points back with 552, while Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud sits at 551. Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon has a mathematical chance at 508 points, but only if the top three take themselves out on the first lap. It’s the first outing for Indy cars at the Monterey track under the current sanctioning body. The CART/Champ Car series competed at Laguna from 1983 to 2004. Although none of the current crop of IndyCar drivers have raced at the track, three of them have fathers who have won there. Graham Rahal’s dad Bobby won four times, and Marco Andretti’s father Michael and Colton Herta’s dad Bryan each won twice at Laguna. Those three youngsters would do well to listen to fatherly advice. In addition, NBC Sports IndyCar commentator Paul Tracy has also posted two Laguna victories.
Formula One is also back in action this weekend, racing in Singapore. It’s a tough race, with heat, humidity, and the ever-present possibility of rain all factors. Mercedes is in a long (for them) two-race winless streak, as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc has bested them at Spa and Monza. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton is less worried about the Ferraris at Singapore than about the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. On the tight, 23-turn street circuit, the Red Bull’s superior downforce will be a distinct advantage. Verstappen’s teammate Alexander Albon is still coming to grips with his promotion to the varsity team, and probably won’t be a factor. Mercedes has won 10 of the 14 races won so far this season, but it’s far from their most dominant. They lost only two races in 2016 and three in 2015, but seven in 2017 and nine in 2018. A loss in Singapore might signal a disturbing trend.