Roger Diez: NASCAR at Talladega with playoff on line

Roger Diez

Roger Diez

Last weekend IndyCar crowned a new champion, a NASCAR Cup driver punched his ticket to the next playoff round, and a driver scored his 100th Formula 1 victory. This weekend all three NASCAR touring divisions descend on the biggest track on the schedule to see who else will advance to the next round.
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Lewis Hamilton won his 100th Formula 1 race in a wet and wild finish at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. The Mercedes team secured the victory by changing Hamilton to intermediate tires as rain increased dramatically in the closing laps. Leader Lando Norris, on slick tires, spun his McLaren out of contention on the treacherous surface, finishing 7th after finally changing to intermediates. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen overcame a last-row start to come home second. Hamilton’s win flipped the championship points battle narrowly in his favor, 246.5 to 244.5 over Verstappen. Mercedes also holds a lead over Red Bull in the constructors’ championship, 397.5 to 364.5. With just seven races remaining both teams and their drivers are in a tight points battle, which will resume at the Turkish Grand Prix on Oct. 10.
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Alex Palou, the 24-year-old Spaniard who is part of IndyCar’s young gun brigade, didn’t win the final race of the season at Long Beach. But his seventh-place finish was good enough to secure the series championship. Another youngster, Colton Herta, took the win in convincing fashion. It was Herta’s second win in a row and third of the season, tying him with Palou in the win column. Herta finished fifth in the point standings. Other young drivers with wins were Pato O’Ward with two and Rinus Veekay with one. O’Ward finished third in points, sandwiched between veterans Josef Newgarden in second and Scott Dixon in fourth. Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was 26th among 43 drivers who scored points this season.
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Denny Hamlin did not win a regular season race in the NASCAR Cup series this year but scored his second playoff victory for Joe Gibbs Racing last Sunday in Las Vegas. He held off closing Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott to take the win by a mere 0.442 second. It was Hamlin’s first win at the 1.5 mile Sin City oval. Hamlin is now locked into a berth in the Round of Eight and won’t have to worry over the upcoming Talladega race, which he won a year ago. The NASCAR Cup cars will run Sunday at the 2.66-mile ‘Dega tri-oval, with the “Big One” looming in everyone’s mind. Team Penske has all but owned Talladega in recent years, winning nine of the last 14 races at the big oval – Brad Keselowski four times, Joey Logano three, and Ryan Blaney twice. Drivers below the cut line to advance to the next round are William Byron, Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, and Christopher Bell. Harvick is the only driver in that group with a win at Talladega, way back in 2010. Logano and Keselowski are barely above the line at +6 and +4 respectively, so they are hoping the Penske magic is still working. Logano is rated at 9-1 odds for Sunday’s race with Blaney at 10-1 and Keselowski 12-1. Hamlin, the favorite at 8-1 odds, will start on pole.
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The playoff picture got confused at Las Vegas for the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series, with non-playoff drivers winning in both. A.J. Allmendinger and Tim Cindric lead the Xfinity contingent, while the top Truck seeds are Ben Rhodes and John Hunter Nemechek. The Talladega round should make things clearer. The trucks race Saturday at 10 a.m. on FS1 with Xfinity on NBCSN at 1:30 p.m. PDT. Sunday, the Cup race will air beginning at 11 a.m. on NBC.

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