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Preview: Weekend of April 27-28, 2019

Preview: Weekend of April 27-28, 2019

This week we are watching three races, the Grand Prix from Baku and two NASCAR races from Talladega.

This will be the fourth time at Baku, Azerbaijan for the Formula One circus. The first race, in 2016 was named the European GP, a somewhat strange name given that the country’s geographic location makes it debatable whether it is part of Europe or part of Asia. The two subsequent races were called the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a less controversial name.

This choice of a venue for a Grand Prix has been criticized on the basis of the country’s human rights record. CarThrottle.com says, “Oil-rich Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku may look glitzy and glamorous but the county’s human rights record has been heavily criticised (journalists critical of the government have been imprisoned) and put under intense scrutiny, particularly after securing headline events like the European Games and F1.”

In addition the street circuit layout which runs, in part, through the old part of the city is incredibly narrow. I doubted whether an actual race could be run here given that it looked like there was at least one section of the course that would not allow side-by-side racing. The race has run three times by now and, to my surprise, the circuit gets generally good reviews.

The NASCAR Talladega Superspeedway is another controversial race venue. This high-banked 2.66-mile oval is inherently the fastest track on the NASCAR calendar and the high speeds have been a problem for the track since it opened in 1968 – when a drivers’ strike almost stopped it before it had begun. Bill Elliott set the record fastest lap in qualifying for the May race there with a speed of 212.809 mph, the fastest-ever qualifying lap for a NASCAR race. In the race that followed, Bobby Allison’s car got airborne and it crashed into the front-stretch fencing, destroying a big section of the fence. Five spectators were injured but there were no fatalities. NASCAR (no doubt, prodded by their insurers) knew something had to be done and they reintroduced the restrictor plate as a means of reducing the car’s power and, hence its speed. Restrictor plates have been used at the two big NASCAR ovals – Daytona and Talladega – ever since.

This has changed as of this upcoming Talladega race: “Starting with the [2019] April race at Talladega, Cup cars instead move to a tapered spacer in place of a restrictor plate as well as including a larger spoiler, larger splitter, and aero ducts added to the car, the combination of those features is expected to increase drag on the car and replicate the current pack racing that the tracks are known for, without the power loss.” One has to expect that these new rules will still produce high-speed pack racing – and perhaps even faster speeds than we have seen recently – conditions that almost always lead to one or more big crashes involving many of the cars. This is a feature of NASCAR racing I don’t enjoy but the fact that Talladega still seems able to attract large crowds when most of the other NASCAR venues are running with half-filled grandstands – or worse – suggests that there is a substantial NASCAR fan base that loves this ‘demolition derby’ aspect of racing on these big superspeedways. Hold onto your hat on Sunday!

Saturday, April 27
1. NASCAR Xfinity, Money Lion 300, Talladega Superspeedway
• 2.66 mi; 113 laps = 300.58 mi; Stages: 25/25/63 laps
• TV: TSN3/5 at 1:00P
• Last year this race was won by Spencer Gallagher in his family team’s (GMS) entry. Brandon Jones was second and Justin Allgaier was third. Four days later, however, Gallagher was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR for violating its substance abuse policy. He was reinstated later that summer.
• The most recent race this year was run at Richmond two weeks ago. Cole Custer had a solid race, taking the winner’s honours after leading for 122 of the race’s 250 laps. Austin Cindric was second while Allgaier was third.
• After Richmond, Tyler Reddick was leading in the championship points standings with 362 points but no race wins. Christopher Bell was second with 338 points but he has two race wins so far. Custer was in third with 33 points and two race wins. Note that Kyle Busch has won three of the eight Xfinity Series races so far this year – but, as a regular Cup driver, he is not eligible to score points in this series.
• Click HERE for the ENTRY LIST.

Sunday, April 28
2. FIA Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku, Azerbaijan
• 6.003 km (3.73 mi); 51 laps = 306 km
• TV: TSN1/4/5 at 8:05A
• Last year Lewis Hamilton was the surprise winner ahead of Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) and Sergio Perez (Force India). Earlier in the race the two Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were fighting each other for position and they crashed out of the race. Later Valtteri Bottas was leading ov er Sebastian Vettel when a Safety Car bunched them up. Vettel attacked Bottas but he slid off the track leaving the lead to Bottas by himself. It looked like Bottas would be the race winner but a flat tire cost him the win and gave it to his teammate Hamilton.
• The most recent F1 race this year was at Shanghai two weeks ago. It was won by Hamilton over Bottas with Vettel third. Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc was running in third place behind the two Mercedes drivers when he was given team orders to let Vettel past to challenge the Mercedes cars for position – a controversial decision. As it turned out Vettel was not able to mount a challenge to the Mercedes cars and Leclerc dropped to fifth at the finish behind Verstappen.
• After the first three races this year, the Mercedes cars have won all three. Hamilton is leading in the points race with 68 points to Bottas’ 62 with Verstappen in third place with 39 points, two ahead of Vettel.
• Click HERE for the ENTRY LIST.

3. NASCAR MENCS GEICO 500, Talladega Superspeedway
• 2.66 mi; 188 laps = 500 mi; Stages: 55/55/78 laps
• TV: FOX/TSN3/5 at 2:00P
• Last April, the Talladega race was won by Joey Logano in a Penske Ford. He finished ahead of Kurt Busch and Chase Elliot. There were two “Big Ones” during the race, the second coming 21 laps before the checker when Jimmie Johnson and his teammate William Byron tangled, setting off a melee which involved 13 cars.
• The most recent MENCS race this year ran at Richmond two weeks ago. It was won by Kyle Busch finishing ahead of Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.
• As of the Richmond race, with nine races completed so far, Kyle Busch is leading in the championship points race with 400 points and four wins – ahead of Joey Logano with 380 points and one win and Denny Hamlin with 366 points and two wins. Kevin Harvick, who is in fourth place with 349 points but no wins leads Brad Keselowski who is in fifth in the points standing with 313 points and two wins. The only other driver with a race win so far this season is Martin Truex who won at Richmond.
• Click HERE for the ENTRY LIST.

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