Roger Diez: Weather playing big role in NASCAR season
This seems to be a year in which Mother Nature is more involved in NASCAR races than ever. Perhaps inspired by Independence Day celebrations, she provided a light show in the form of lightning at Daytona last weekend. Saturday night’s race was delayed until Sunday, and then ended after 127 of the scheduled 160 laps by lightning, followed by rain. The beneficiary of the early race stoppage was the most unlikely winner of the season – young Justin Haley. The Xfinity regular can’t score points in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, nor can he qualify for the series playoffs. But for an untimely decision to pit, Kurt Busch could have been in front when the race was stopped and would have been in the playoffs.
Of course, the earlier “big one” may have also had an effect, eliminating a number of contenders on lap 119. Drivers vying for the lead in a race that was looking likely to be called early triggered the big wreck. Blocking, which had been under discussion all weekend, may or may not have been the cause, depending on who is telling the story. In any event, the series will be back its natural habitat, a 1.5-mile oval. Kentucky Speedway is the mile and a half of the week, a track with a relatively short history as a NASCAR venue. Since Cup teams began competing there in 2011, only four drivers have won at Kentucky; Brad Keselowski with three victories, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. with two each, and former competitor Matt Kenseth a one-time winner. The last two years it’s been Truex in victory circle. Unless Mother Nature intervenes as she has so often this season, I anticipate that we won’t see any new winners lock in for the playoffs Saturday. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. PDT on NBC Sports Network.
British driver Lewis Hamilton will attempt to win his sixth British Grand Prix this weekend. Like the legendary Jim Clark, Hamilton has racked up five wins, including four in a row from 2014-2017 (Clark did it from 1962-1965). Despite the less than stellar performance of Hamilton’s Mercedes team in Austria two weeks ago, he still has a comfortable lead in the point standings. Hamilton’s 197 points tops teammate Valtteri Bottas by 31, with Red Bull Honda’s Max Verstappen another 40 points back and Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc another three in arrears, 18 points ahead of teammate Vettel. In the Constructor’s standings, Mercedes has an almost insurmountable lead, 363 points to Ferrari’s 228 and Red Bull Honda’s 169. You can catch the race on ESPN2 at 6:05 a.m. PDT.
The NTT IndyCar series is racing north of the border this weekend, on the streets of Toronto. The race has a long history, dating back to 1967, but the current iteration of Indy cars has only been racing there since 2009. Among active drivers, Ganassi star Scott Dixon has three wins, including both ends of the 2013 doubleheader. Penske drivers Will Power and Josef Newgarden have two victories apiece, while Sebastian Bourdais and Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay have one win each. Watch for Alexander Rossi in this one, because he’s tired of being second. And Robert Wickens, who was severely injured and paralyzed in a crash at Pocono last season, will lead the parade laps in an Acura NSX fitted with hand controls. Great to see him back on the track!
Locally, Fernley 95A Speedway hosts IMCA Modifieds, Hobby Stocks, Gen-X, and Sport Mods on Saturday. Gates open at 3 p.m. and racing starts at 6 p.m. This will be the only race on the clay oval in July. The next race is scheduled for Aug. 17.