ONE: Congrats, Takuma Sato
First up this week, I have to start by congratulating Takuma Sato on an incredible Indy 500 victory this past Sunday, holding off a ravenous Helio Castroneves in the waning laps after a crash-filled and mesmeric 101st edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. For Sato, it was a second Verizon IndyCar Series victory in 124 career races and his first for his new team — Andretti Autosport. “This is going to be mega big,” said Sato when asked about the impact this win would have in his home country of Japan. “A lot of the Japanese fans are following the IndyCar Series and many, many flew over for the Indianapolis 500. We showed the great result today and I am very proud of it.” Pre-race all the news was about Fernando Alonso eschewing the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the 500 instead. And the two-time Formula One world champion acquitted himself extremely well running at the front all day and leading 27 laps until his engine expired with just 21 laps remaining. But the really good news of the day was that Scott Dixon walked away from a ferocious crash that could have been a lot worse. And it’s a tribute to all the safety enhancements in recent years that this was the case.
TWO: 2018 Schedule Changes
A quick word on the schedule changes for next season and I’ve got to say I’m a fan. Putting another short track in the final ten races, especially a historic track like Richmond International Raceway, is a great move. And so is starting the playoffs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway which should bring some more razzmatazz to the opening race. The Brickyard as a playoff cutoff race also makes sense; giving a shot of adrenaline to a race that despite the historic venue was losing its luster. But the biggest change is the road course in the playoffs and it is a complete wildcard – the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval”. Just how it will play out is anyone’s guess but you would have to figure there would be at least a day or two’s extra testing before the main event. Plenty of folks have advocated for a road course in the playoffs but I don’t think anyone really expected it to happen any time soon. Certainly a race to circle on the calendar next year, that’s for sure.
THREE: Next Up, Dover
Next up, it’s our first of two visits this year to the concrete one-mile high banked oval of Dover International Speedway. This will be Cup race number 95 at the Monster Mile; a streak that runs all the way back to 1969. Just for that record, that July race was won by none other than the Hall of Famer and seven time champion Richard Petty. On our last visit to Dover in the 2016 playoffs, it was a dominant performance and victory for New Jersey’s own Martin Truex, Jr. who led a race best 178 of the 400 laps — one of just six cars finishing on the lead lap. But in the first race of the season it was a completely different story. As our own Mike Neff noted in his race recap: “This race had everything but someone crossing the finish line upside down and on fire. A dominant car that faded, multiple on-track passes for the lead, racing grooves from the bottom to the top and a stellar battle for the lead at the end. If you came away from Dover wanting more then it might be time for you to look for another sport to follow.” Heading into the race that marks the half way point to the 2017 playoffs, it’s hard to know what just what we’ll get but here’s hoping it’s a monster of a 400-miler.
FOUR: 16 winners?
With fourteen races to go before the playoffs we have nine Cup winners. One of those, Joey Logano, has an “encumbered win” meaning it won’t count towards his post-season changes making it eight or half the playoff berths if you will. So is it possible we could have nine new winners between now and Richmond? I’ll start with four names that you’d expect to win: Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. We’ll add Logano bringing us to 13. Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott could both pick up maiden victories and you can’t discount Jamie McMurray given the speed of the CGR teams in 2017 or the rejuvenated Clint Bowyer. And I haven’t even mentioned Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kasey Kahne or Erik Jones or a wildcard winner like Chris Buescher last season at Pocono Raceway. Yes, it’s unlikely we’ll end up with 16 (or even 17) winners but it’s not impossible.
FIVE: Austin Dillon
Finishing up this week, I want to mention Austin Dillon’s huge fuel mileage victory in the Coke 600. The driver of the N0. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevy was ecstatic in celebrating his maiden Cup victory in 126 attempts and it was great to see. “I’m so proud,” said team owner Richard Childress. “We didn’t even run the 3 for many years….It’s just unbelievable….Having my grandson [win] just made it that much more special. I know Dale is up there smiling down because he would want this win, he’d want to see it with Austin.” For Dillon, it’s a second straight trip to the playoffs and with some time to gamble now over the next fourteen races, don’t be surprised to see the North Carolina native pick up some more playoff points along the way.
About the author
Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.
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