Disaster! That’s the description of last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race in Texas, voiced by fans and pundits alike. Tire failures were a major issue, second only to the 2008 Brickyard 400, where the tires were junk after 25 laps. Eight of the sixteen cautions at Texas were due to blown tires, three times involving the race leader.
Some teams were more affected than others, but Tyler Reddick nursed his tires through the final segment to take the win.
There were also some rough driving incidents, resulting in penalties for William Byron and Ty Gibbs. Byron lost 25 driver and owner points, dropping him from 17 points above the cut line to eight below. Hendrick Motor Sports is appealing the penalty. Gibbs is ineligible for Cup points, but lost owner points, and both drivers received a hefty fine. And since Reddick was eliminated from the playoffs in the last round, none the 12 current playoff drivers automatically advanced to the Round of Eight.
This weekend, it’s Talladega, one of two wild card races in the Round of 12. Five playoff contenders have won at the 2.66 mile high-banked oval. Joey Logano has posted three wins, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney two apiece, while Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain have won win each. Brad Keselowski tops them all with six ‘Dega wins, most recently last year. Keselowski is with a new team this year but has shown good speed recently. Could he be the next non-playoff driver to score a win?
Given Talladega’s unpredictability (except for the near certainty of a “big one”), oddsmakers are hedging their bets, so to speak. Six drivers share the favorite opening odds of 12-1: Kyle Larson, Byron, Blaney, Logano, Hamlin, and Elliott. Reddick shares 15-1 odds with Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric, while Toyota drivers Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, and Bubba Wallace are all at 18-1.
A good long-shot bet might be multiple superspeedway winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at 40-1. The Camping World Truck race airs at 9:30 a.m. Saturday on FS1 with the Sparks 300 Xfinity series on USA at 1 p.m. NBC will broadcast Sunday’s Yellawood 500 for the Cup series at 11 a.m.
Also on tap this weekend is the Singapore Grand Prix for Formula 1 cars. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen could clinch the championship Sunday if he wins and posts the fastest lap, but only if Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc finishes fifth or worse.
There are too many other permutations to go into here but suffice it to say that the World Driving Championship is a foregone conclusion, whether at Singapore or one of the final five races of the season. If Verstappen does clinch Sunday, he will tie Nigel Mansell for the second-earliest championship lock in F1 history.
Qualifying airs Saturday at 6 a.m. on ESPNEWS with Sunday’s race on ESPN2 at 5 a.m. Rain is in the forecast for both days.
The 2023 F1 schedule is set with a record 24 races including the return of China and Qatar. Beginning March 5 in Bahrain, and ending in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 26, there will be three U.S. events: Miami on May 7, Austin Oct. 22, and Las Vegas Nov. 18 (a night race).
The NTT IndyCar series has also released its 2023 schedule featuring 17 races with little change from this season. St. Petersburg will kick off the season on March 5 with the Laguna Seca finale Sept. 10. Jimmie Johnson will not be rejoining the series, having recently announced his retirement from full-time racing. He has not ruled out competing in some “bucket list” events, perhaps including the Memorial Day Indy/Coke 600 “double.”