Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Will Aric Almirola Struggle to Compete in 2017?

Will Aric Almirola Struggle to Compete at Loudon and Beyond?

In the last eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, there have been four different drivers in the No. 43. But this one is the name that has been on the windshield all along.

Aric Almirola is back in action for Sunday’s Overton’s 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after a seven-race, two-month stint away from the series due to a back injury during a wreck at Kansas Speedway. Sitting only eight markers outside the top 30 in the standings, the question is performance and how Almirola will compete back on track.

Before the hard, three-car crash that took him out of the cockpit in May, Almirola was having a respectable year, earning two top fives at the plate races and sitting 20th in points. His eight top-20 finishes in the opening 10 races leaps above 2016, which saw only three in the first 10 races.

With solid momentum and a XFINITY Series win at Talladega, the Kansas wreck surely halted what could have been a breakthrough season for the 33-year-old.

However, it is not completely lost as we have a full half-season yet to run and plenty on the line for the No. 43 team. After constant improvement from rookie Darrell Wallace Jr., the Richard Petty Motorsports crew has stayed on track with where Almirola left off.

Additionally, Loudon is a good track for Almirola, who finished fifth at the Magic Mile in 2013 and backed it up with a sixth-place result in 2014. Overall, he has four top 20s in the last five races at the 1-mile oval.

Almirola has been outspoken about his new-found respect for being a racecar driver so will things be different when he’s back at it? It’s one interesting story to follow through 300 miles on Sunday.

Is Loudon Matt Kenseth’s Best Chance at 2017 Win?

Whew, what a week for Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing. The future of both has now been made true as Erik Jones will take over Kenseth’s No. 20 machine for 2018 and beyond. In the meantime, Kenseth’s future has been aligned with multiple potential landing spots, varying from Hendrick Motorsports to his couch at home.

Perhaps it is a perfect time to drive into New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a.k.a. one of Kenseth’s happy places as of late.

Scoring three wins in 34 total starts, that may not seem too great. However, it’s a better stat when you notice two of those have come in the last three races. Additionally, a late-race pass by Kevin Harvick last fall took away what may have been a third straight triumph at the Magic Mile. That day, he led more than a third of the event before finishing second.

Overall, Kenseth has finished 10th or better 55.9 percent of the time at Loudon, proving to be one of Kenseth’s best tracks.

Will Kenseth continue the streak on Sunday? If there is a time for the 45-year-old to win a Cup race, it is now. After the opening half of 2017, Kenseth’s 17.4 average finish, compared to end-of-season numbers, is his worst since 2001. Also, he is on track to lead his least number of laps since 2010.

An uncertain future and tough season will be matched against a terrific track history. Which is win?

Does F1 Have a Four-Driver Championship Going into Silverstone?

For the second time in 2017, Valtteri Bottas edged Sebastian Vettel by 0.6 seconds for a Formula 1 victory. This time, it was at the Red Bull Ring in Austria, where the first-year Mercedes driver claimed the pole and race victory, each for the second time in his five-year career.

Rapidly approaching the summer break for the World Championship, is Bottas entering the title fight with Vettel and Lewis Hamilton?

This weekend has one of the megas of the F1 world on tap in the Silverstone Grand Prix, a race that has populated the calendar every year since 1987. With hometown hero Hamilton going for a fourth consecutive triumph on the English track, it’s an interesting time to split the field between contenders and pretenders.

It’s safe to assume that Ferrari and Vettel are legitimate leaders in 2017. Leading the championship all season, Vettel has more podiums than any other driver and has an outstanding 2.1 average finish, also the best in the sport.

Sebastian Vettel has never lost a championship he led in any F1 season. (Photo: AFP Photo/Tom Gandolfini)

With the Maranello leading the sport consistently for the first time in a decade, Lewis Hamilton can surely use this weekend’s home race to reel in Vettel. However, as mentioned, the pressure is from both angles, as teammate Bottas is within striking distance after win No. 2 last weekend.

In fact, to the surprise of many, Bottas is closer to Hamilton than Hamilton is to Vettel. The whole narrative of Bottas struggling under his three-time champion teammate may be unraveling at this point in the season.

One more driver who has been in the picture is Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who is riding the sport’s longest podium streak all year, with five straight leading into Silverstone. He is the first non-champion to score five straight since Rubens Barrichello in 2004.

With a win in Baku, the Australian is 64 points back of Vettel and 29 back of third-place Bottas. Though he’s a long shot, consistency should never be taken lightly in motor racing.

Will any of these men boost ahead this weekend? Or will they merge even closer at the season’s halfway point?

How Will Formula E Adapt to Streets of New York?

For the first time, a 4 Burning Questions column represents Formula E, the all-electric FIA open-wheel series, which is used to showcasing the latest in electric technology, is bound to take over the way of driving in the next decade.

With two full seasons under its belt, a few things have become clear: the series is competitive, its unique unpredictable and it has a man named Sebastien Buemi in charge of the show.

Though Alejandro Agag is the series CEO off track, Buemi has taken control on track as the ex-Formula 1 talent has won nearly half of the events since its inception in September 2014.

For the 2016-2017 calendar, the 28-year-old reigning champion has already won six of the eight races, tallying up a whopping 32-point gap on Lucas di Grassi. And though these two have been rivals since the start, Buemi seems to be out of reach four races left to run.

But this weekend is a little something new for Formula E, as they run the inaugural Qualcomm New York City ePrix, which will take place in the streets of Brooklyn for a doubleheader of racing. It will be only the fourth time the series has raced in the United States.

If country stats mean anything, an American FE race has never gone to plan for Buemi, who finished 13th, 16th and fourth in the prior three events in Miami and Long Beach. Additionally, di Grassi bested Buemi’s efforts in all three, winning once and finished third and ninth in the other two.

But Brooklyn, a clockwise, 10-turn course, is a whole new animal no matter the soil. With two long straightaways leading and exiting Turn 1, the field has ample passing opportunities to start and finish every lap. Additionally, Turns 2, 5 and 7 also have lengthy straightaways that give trailing drivers, and the FanBoost winner, a chance to make some ground.

With Fox Sports broadcasting both events, the sport is looking to bring racing back to Brooklyn in one memorable way.

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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