Hello again race fans, gambling fans, and gambling on racing fans, we’re back and we have a full Sunday of racing ahead of us! IndyCar title fight in Portland, NASCAR Playoffs start at Darlington, and F1 returns to the Netherlands where Max Verstappen aims to please his Oranje Army.

We’ll start off stateside with IndyCar, 

Where title contender Josef Newgarden will be handed a six-place grid penalty this weekend because of a new engine in his #2 Hitachi Dallara Chevrolet. Newgarden trails championship leader Will Power by just three points coming into the penultimate race of the IndyCar season. Six-time IndyCar champ Scott Dixon trails Newgarden by eleven points, and 2022 Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson is three points behind Dixon.

The grid penalty suffered by Josef Newgarden will potentially impact the title fight. Maybe starting further down the grid will allow Newgarden to avoid a catastrophe at Portland’s chaotic first turn chicane, the sight of numerous wrecks ruining drivers’ days in recent IndyCar memory. We’ve already seen that Newgarden isn’t afraid to send it and might be similarly aggressive trying to make up places this weekend.

This is where I, someone who has seen the light that is the NTT IndyCar Series, urge those racing fans who may not watch it because it’s not F1 or they’re unfamiliar with IndyCar compared to NASCAR or whatever else to watch this Sunday’s race at 3pm Eastern on NBC. The team budgets aren’t as big as F1 but the action on track is the best open-wheel racing on the planet, and this year’s title fight is by far the best in motorsport.

Four drivers are within 17 points of a title with two others (reigning IndyCar champ Alex Palou and 2021 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Scott McLaughlin) still mathematically in contention. With just two races left, Portland and Laguna Seca, who wins the IndyCar championship is anyone’s guess.

Josef Newgarden has made himself the favorite despite trailing Will Power by three points. Newgarden has won a staggering five races this year, three more than any other driver in the series. A few DNFs for the Team Penske driver have made this championship hunt a little tougher than it potentially had to be. 

Josef Newgarden in victory lane at Gateway

Compare Newgarden’s highs and lows to the consistency of Will Power and Scott Dixon, who haven’t always been in contention for race wins, but they’ve constantly ran well. Both Power and Dixon have more top five finishes than Josef Newgarden despite only winning three races between them.

Marcus Ericsson remains in the title fight largely because of his Indy 500 win, which counts for double points as the centerpiece race of the IndyCar season. But like his Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon, he’s stayed consistent and finished in the top ten on eleven occasions this season.

However, both Ericsson and Dixon failed to advance out of the first round of qualifying on Saturday afternoon. Dixon complained about a lack of grip on the redwall alternate tire.

Historically, Portland is a high grip track, and high grip has suited the Andretti cars this year. Another high grip track on the schedule is the Indy road course, where Andretti has been quite strong this season.

A number of cars and teams tested at Portland International Raceway last week, including Penske and Andretti. It was Will Power going faster than everyone by three tenths of a second, which doesn’t sound like much, but is a huge gap on a lap that takes just around 58 seconds to complete. 

It was a Penske 1-2-3 in Saturday’s qualifying with Scott McLaughlin snatching the top spot. Josef Newgarden finished ahead of Will Power, but starts further back on Sunday with the aforementioned six-place grid penalty. 

Let’s get to the picks: 

Race Winner: Will Power +600, Will Power top 5 finish -130, Josef Newgarden top 3 +120, Colton Herta top 5 +100

NASCAR playoffs start this weekend, 

And they return to Darlington for the Southern 500, this being the first of three races in the round of 16, before the first elimination from championship contention. For those who may not be familiar, playoff drivers and NASCAR have a yellow stripe to identify themselves amongst the pack, as all the non-playoff drivers are still competing for race wins but cannot win the championship.

In this continually unprecedented NASCAR season, yet another new driver one at Daytona last week, in a race that was controversial to say the least. Rain in turn one on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway caused a huge wreck, wiping out the majority of the top runners of the Coke zero 400. NASCAR officials said that there was no way they could predict the rain, while many drivers and teams knew rain was overhead.

And this was all after rain postponed the race from Saturday night to Sunday morning, giving race fans the rare opportunity to watch F1 and NASCAR at the same time. A relatively sparse crowd at Daytona greeted the drivers for their brunch-time green flag. 

Wrecks happen. They happen somewhat more frequently and more dangerously at a superspeedway like Daytona. They generally don’t happen because of a wet racetrack, which is purely unsafe to drive on. NASCAR could have waved the yellow caution flag before the rain because of the incoming storms but didn’t want to in the case it didn’t actually rain on track.

As Dale Jr. would say, “they’re wreckin”

NASCAR stock cars going 200 mph on slick tires at a 31 degree angle simply cannot run on a racetrack with *any* moisture on it, let alone a sudden downpour. How fast the crash happened after rain fell on the track was more proof of just that. Because of the wreck, teams are now spending millions of dollars replacing race cars, and most importantly, drivers were put into real danger that could have easily been avoided by waving the caution flag a lap or two sooner.

Luckily such chaos shouldn’t be in order at Darlington, where the race is more about track position rather than hoping you don’t get collected in a wreck. The 1.366 mile egg-shaped asphalt oval is a unique entity on the NASCAR schedule and a track made even tougher with the new Cup Series car.

That new car has provided this unpredictable NASCAR season, one where the big teams don’t have the clear advantage they once did. No one would have predicted two Trackhouse drivers in the playoffs, let alone with multiple race wins between Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez. 

Joey Logano won the spring race at Darlington by putting Hendrick driver William Byron into the wall. Part of doing business in NASCAR, but more so part of racing against Joey Logano. The #22 Shell Pennzoil Penske driver has gained a reputation for punting another car if it could possibly earn him a victory, and he’s +600 to win from pole position on Sunday.

Let’s get to the picks:

Winner: Denny Hamlin +1000, Kyle Larson head-to-head over Kyle Busch -125, Top Ford: Joey Logano +120, Top Chevrolet: Chase Elliott +750, Top 10: Kevin Harvick -110

Last but not least, 

Formula One returns to the shores of the North Sea in the Netherlands. Previously a happy hunting ground for reigning F1 champ Max Verstappen, but Friday’s practice sessions seemed challenging for him and his Red Bull team. 

A gearbox problem caused Verstappen to stop on track in the first practice session, and even with second practice running didn’t seem to match the pace of the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, who topped FP2. Of course, there are factors that play into varying speeds in practice, differing fuel loads, engine setups, tires, etc.

It was Lewis Hamilton coming closest to the Ferraris in qualifying simulations on Friday, just seven hundredths of a second behind Carlos Sainz. After Mercedes topped FP1, the Silver Arrows are looking a bit more competitive on the high-downforce Zandvoort circuit.

That downforce difference from last week will play a huge role in the race and made qualifying a truly exciting show, but Max Verstappen still claimed pole, edging Charles Leclerc by two hundredths of a second. Red Bull dominated at Spa last weekend with a great strategy that was maximized by their pace advantage. With the latter not playing as much of a factor at Zandvoort, the Red Bull pit wall will have to call a perfect race to keep the Ferraris and Mercedes drivers at bay.

Max Verstappen, where he tends to be after races this season.

Race management has been the very apparent downfall of Ferrari’s title challenge this season. Charles Leclerc, who at one point was the favorite to win the championship this season, is now third in the championship behind both Red Bulls. This continued at Spa last weekend, where Leclerc fought back from a grid penalty to make his way to the fifth spot, only for Ferrari to call him to the pits to try to steal a point for the fastest lap.

A sound idea in concept, but in execution, Ferrari put Leclerc behind Fernando Alonso’s Alpine, meaning he couldn’t get a faster lap in on the redwall soft tires. Further compounding the Ferrari misery, Leclerc was microscopically too fast on pitlane, and suffered a five second penalty that handed fifth place to Alonso, and in trying to gain a point for a fastest lap, Ferrari lost two points with Leclerc finishing sixth.

The situation wouldn’t be so bad for Ferrari had Charles not sped on pit lane, and he did have a solid race otherwise. At Zandvoort, and from P2, Leclerc and Ferrari have a great opportunity to right last week’s wrongs.

Max Verstappen is a walloping -245 to win from pole position, and that’s no fun. Sure I admit it, that’s the most likely outcome, but unless you’re putting down some serious money for a return, you’d be better off to look elsewhere for value.

Let’s get to the picks: 

Race winner: Charles Leclerc +380, Podium Finish: Lewis Hamilton -105, Pierre Gasly head-to-head over Yuki Tsunoda -110, First Car Retirement: Williams +850, Number of Classified Finishers: Over 17.5 +110

Big fan of spending roughly seven hours of a Sunday watching cars spin laps. Let’s go racin’.