Roger Diez: When the rubber meets the road …
Tires were the big story in last Sunday’s races – Pirelli left fronts in Formula 1, Goodyear right fronts in NASCAR. This weekend is a busy one with Formula 1 back at Silverstone, a NASCAR Cup doubleheader in Michigan and Xfinity race at Road America, the NTT IndyCar series at Mid-Ohio, and the NHRA Dodge Indy Nationals.
Lewis Hamilton won his home race, the Formula 1 British Grand Prix, for the seventh time last Sunday, but it was a near thing. Late in the race, left front tires began failing. When teammate Valtteri Bottas lost a left front, the team considered bringing Hamilton in for a tire change with one lap to go but didn’t. Sure enough, the left front went, and Lewis limped around the course on three good tires with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen (who had pitted for tires) closing rapidly. Hamilton took the checker with Max in sight behind him. This weekend the series is back at the same venue for the 70th anniversary Grand Prix honoring the start of the F1 modern era in 1950. For this one Pirelli will probably mandate higher tire pressures and teams will employ a two-stop race strategy to minimize tire failures.
Aside from tire issues, the NASCAR Cup contest in New Hampshire last Sunday was a two-horse race. Brad Keselowski led 184 of the 301 laps in his Penske Ford, dominating the field. But Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver Denny Hamlin kept him honest, harrying Keselowski in the closing laps. It was Brad’s third win of a season marked by three teams hogging the spotlight. Of the 20 Cup races run this season, Gibbs drivers have won six, Penske drivers six, and Stewart-Haas drivers five. Manufacturer totals are 11 for Ford, six for Toyota, and three for Chevrolet. Ten drivers have locked into the playoffs which begin at Darlington on Sept. 6. There are just six more opportunities to lock in, two of them this weekend at Michigan. Nine active drivers have won at the fast two-mile oval. Three-timers include defending winner Kevin Harvick, Saturday’s pole-sitter Joey Logano, and Matt Kenseth. Interestingly, the Ganassi Racing Chevy that Kenseth is driving won three consecutive Michigan races in 2016-17 with Kyle Larson at the wheel. Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman have two Michigan wins each, while Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin have one victory apiece. NASCAR action begins at 9 a.m. with the Road America Xfinity race, followed by the Cup race at 1 p.m. Both will air on NBCSN as will Sunday’s Cup race at 1:30 p.m.
The NTT IndyCar series is on the road course at Mid-Ohio Saturday, airing on NBCSN at 9:45 a.m. Scott Dixon is the runaway favorite, having already won six times at the track, the last in 2019. He also has three wins this season and leads the 2020 point standings with 244 points. Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden are second and third with 195 and 191. Both are former Mid-Ohio winners, Pagenaud in 2016 and Newgarden in 2017. It’s the final series race before the Aug. 23 Indy 500. Next weekend is Indy 500 qualifying. However, as you may have read in a story in Wednesday’s Appeal by Associated Press motorsports writer Jenna Fryer, the 500 will be run without spectators. Original plans to allow 25 percent of fan capacity were scrubbed due to a plea from IU Health, the state’s largest health care provider. Rising COVID-19 cases in Indiana and Marion County prompted the move.
Finally, in local racing news, Fernley 95A Speedway has changed the date on its next race to Friday at 7 p.m. IMCA Modifieds, Sport Mods, Hobby Stocks, and Bootleg Bombers are on the program.