F1 Hamilton M49976 D331889

Formula One Grande Prêmio do Brasil at Autódromo José Carlos Pace in São Paulo
Hamilton and Rosberg one-two in a treacherous rain-filled race

Nov. 13, 2016: The result was familiar – Lewis Hamilton over Nico Rosberg with Max Verstappen third – but this race was anything but standard fare. Rain, which fell throughout the race resulted in five safety car periods which included two red flags. This race was a disaster waiting to happen and, by rights, it should have been flagged off completely and run the next day if such a thing were possible. Instead, race direction toughed it out while six cars crashed out of the race and really serious accidents were avoided by luck more than by good management. Amazingly the race was able to run full distance, Hamilton taking the checkered flag at the end of the scheduled 71 laps.

Even on the reconnaissance lap we had a preview of how it was going to go. Romain Grosjean, who had qualified his Haas car up in a remarkable eighth place lost control of his car coming up the hill towards the start-finish and crashed, eliminating his car from the race. This pre-race crash was the prototype of most of the crashes that were to follow. This uphill stretch of road collected more water than other places and the Pirelli full-wets were not up to the job of preventing aquaplaning here.

The race started behind the safely car and it went green after seven laps. Hamilton took off ahead of Rosberg and that set the pattern for the front of the field – nearly all the drama was to take place behind them. Verstappen, who had started in fourth passed Räikkönen for third.

On the tenth lap Vettel, who had been running in fifth, had a 360-degree spin up the hill but he continued, albeit down in 19th place. It was Ericsson’s turn next. He lost control in the same place but he crashed against the barriers on both sides of the track coming to rest on the entrance to pit lane. Immediately there was a call for the safety car to come back out but Verstappen had already slipped past into the pits to take on intermediates. His teammate Daniel Ricciardo followed a few seconds later but by now the pit lane closed signal was displayed and he was subsequently given a five-second penalty for this illegal entry. Verstappen came out in fourth place behind Räikkönen.

Pieces of carbon fibre from Ericsson’s Sauber were all over the track and the safety car was sent out while this was cleaned up.

No sooner had the track gone green again than Räikkönen crashed. Behind him Hulkenberg ran into the Ferrari’s front wing but fortunately it was knocked aside rather than up over the barriers. The brought out the safety car again and then the race was red-flagged while the debris which littered the track was cleaned up.

Under red-flag conditions the cars are parked in pit lane in race order. Surprisingly, the teams were still allowed to do quite a bit of work on their cars under the red-flag conditions (I guess I’m totally out of date; I thought that no work was ever allowed under red.)

The cars were sent out again behind the safety car but after several laps behind it, the race was inexplicably red-flagged again. The crowd, who by now must have been thinking they were going to be robbed of their race, booed heartily. My sympathy was with the race fans; I truly expected that the race was going to be waved off for good at any minute.

In fact there was logic to this second red flag. The rules provide that the race cannot run for more than two hours (not counting red-flag time) before it is flagged off – but they had a window of television time quite a bit longer than that. By stopping the race now, they were gambling on the weather forecast that predicted lighter rain a bit later which might allow some of the race to be actually run under green. As it turned out, that gamble worked out and we did see some real racing in the second half – albeit still on full-wet tires.

The cars went back out behind the safety car and on the restart Verstappen charged past Rosberg into second place and started making moves like he was going to challenge Hamilton. But Hamilton upped his pace enough to hold off the young Dutchman. On lap 37 Verstappen narrowly averted disaster, coming up the wet hill he lost it and did a bit of a tank-slapper but miraculously he caught it before it hit the barriers – and he was able to resume speed still ahead of Rosberg.

Red Bull wanted to follow an alternate strategy to that of the Mercedes team (which ended up running the entire race distance on the same set of full-wet tires on both cars) and brought Verstappen in for intermediates on lap 43 dropping him to fifth behind Carlos Sainz and letting Rosberg regain second.

Then, on lap 48, Felipe Massa crashed bringing out the final Safety car period of the day. This was Massa’s last race as a formula one driver on his home circuit so this was tremendously emotional for him and the massed Brazilian fans. He literally wrapped himself in the Brazilian flag and walked back to the pits where the other teams paid him tribute.

The intermediates did not pay off for Verstappen so he made yet another pit stop on lap 54 to take on full wets again, this time dropping him to 14th place.

Now Verstappen rewarded all of us who had been despairing that we had been robbed of a proper race by the rain. In the remaining 17 laps Verstappen put on a school of how to drive and pass cars in the rain, passing about one car every lap after that. With two laps to go, he passed Sergio Perez for third but he was unable to catch up to Rosberg before the checkered flag fell at the end of the full 71-lap race distance.

Hamilton scored the full 25 points for his win while Rosberg received 18 points. Rosberg still holds the lead in the championship standings with 367 points to Hamilton’s 355, a 12-point margin. Going into the final Grand Prix of the year at Abu Dhabi on Nov. 27, Rosberg can clinch the championship with a second or third-place finish even if Hamilton wins the race.

PIR NSCS Logano VL 111316

NASCAR Sprint Cup Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway
Logano wins to clinch his spot in the Championship finale at Homestead

Nov. 13, 2016: This time NASCAR’s knock-out method of determining the Sprint Cup champion worked as they hoped. Phoenix was the last round of the eliminations before the one-race “Championship Round” at Homestead next week. Only two of the six remaining contenders were going to advance to the finale. Matt Kenseth lined up alongside Alex Bowman for the first overtime restart but when the flag dropped Kenseth shot out nearly a car length ahead of Bowman and turned down to claim the lead. Unfortunately he was not clear and the two tangled. This eliminated Kenseth from what had looked like a sure slot in the finale. – and left Chase contenders Joey Logano and Kyle Busch lined up on the front row for the next restart. Logano beat Busch into the first corner and sprinted out into a solid lead, a lead he maintained until he took the checker. This win gave Logano a spot among the “championship four” for next week while Busch, who had started the race so far back that it looked like he did not have a chance, won the fourth slot on points.

Two of the four spots in the elimination finale had previously been sewed up when Carl Edwards won at Martinsville and Jimmie Johnson won at Texas. The remaining six contenders in this round were Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. Pre-race, all the pundits were sure that Harvick was going to earn a place in the finale by virtue of winning here at Phoenix, something he had already done six times since 2012, but it was not to be. Harvick started in sixth place and fell back for most of the race. He did improve near the end and he was in fifth place for the first overtime session but he had to win the race and that was not to be.

Understandably, a lot of attention was lavished on the permutations of the Chase and how this surprisingly convoluted schema was going to determine the series champion at Homestead but for much of the race, Bowman, a Sprint Cup journeyman, stole the spotlight. Bowman has been filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car, alternating driving duties with the retired Jeff Gordon. Bowman has put up a number of decent performances but this time he was outstanding. He won the pole and he led for 194 of the race’s 312 laps. Indeed he was on the front row for the first overtime restart until he was side-swiped by Kenseth. He had run a full Sprint Cup season the previous two years but for “also ran” teams. This year he has been in one of the best cars out there and he has turned a lot of heads. As things stand now, he has nothing lined up for next year – and the new-for-2016 team Charter system means that there are few, if any, openings in any of the top teams. Despite this you have to believe that something good will open up for him next year.

The final race of the season will be run at the Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday (Nov. 20) and will be broadcast on NBC and TSN. The final four drivers, Edwards, Johnson, Logano and Kyle Busch will fight it out for the championship. Which ever of these four drivers finishes highest at Homestead will be crowned 2016 Sprint Cup Champion.

PIR NXS EJones 111216

NASCAR Xfinity Series Ticket Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway
Cup diver Kyle Busch dominates the race to win over the Xfinity regulars

Nov. 12, 2016: As if we did not know this already, Kyle Busch gave us an object lesson on why Cup regulars should not be allowed to compete in the Xfinity Chase races. The Chase was invented to heighten interest in each of the three series championships by having us focus on the elimination battle which culminates in a shootout between the four series drivers left standing in contention going into the finale at Homestead. Instead, here at Phoenix, in the penultimate race of the Xfinity series, we saw a demonstration of total domination by Cup regular Kyle Busch –which threatened to overshadow the efforts of the Xfinity regulars who were fighting for their place in the Homestead championship shootout.

Busch led for 190 of the race’s 200 laps and none of the Xfinity hopefuls ever looked like being a challenger. This added another win to Busch’s record total of 86 Xfinity wins but that is not what the Chase is about.

The television producers avoided showing Busch with his big lead and the commentators tried to turn our attention to the various permutations of how four of the current eight contenders were going to win the chance to move on to the elimination race at Homestead. If it had not been for the elephant in the room – Busch’s total dominance – it might have been engaging. Indeed, two other Cup regulars – Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse – grabbed up the second and third finishing positions.

Xfinity regulars Justin Allgaier and Daniel Suárez finished fourth and fifth, qualifying them for the final four next week at Homestead. Elliott Sadler never ran in the top ten and he finished in 13th place here but his performances in the previous two races – top Xfinity finisher at Kansas and third-best Xfinity finisher at Texas – were good enough to send him forward to Homestead.

At the start of the Chase, Erik Jones, the 2015 truck series champion looked like being almost a shoo-in to win this championship – but a number of mishaps during the Chase saw him hanging on by his fingernails coming into Phoenix. Early on here he ran up front together with his teammates Busch and Daniel Suárez but he had a few messy pit stops which saw him struggling to work his way back up from mid-field. In the end, he finished in tenth place – which was just good enough to earn him a fourth in the Chase standings, enough to move him forward to the final four next week. It seems as if Jones can outrun the competition on track but problems in the pits and with strategy calls seem to hamper what might have been outstanding runs. If he and his team can stop making boo-boos I still have faith that Jones will indeed win the championship at Homestead. Next year he will be in a new Cup team paired with Martin Truex and with a new crew chief.

The final four drivers in the Xfinity Chase are Sadler, Suárez, Allgaier, and Jones. The Xfinity finale goes green next Saturday afternoon (Nov. 19) at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

PIR NCWTS Byron 111116

NASCAR Camping World Trucks Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway
Suárez wins after a dominant Byron’s engine blows

Nov. 11, 2016: Kyle Bush may have won the Xfinity race as an interloper but this time it was a teammate of his, the Xfinity Series regular Daniel Suárez, who was the series interloper who took home the Truck Series trophy leading the final 12 laps after William Byron (another KBM driver), who had been dominant, had his Toyota engine blow up.

Johnny Sauter had already clinched his spot in next week’s final four by wins at both Martinsville and Texas. This week, he just failed to take his third win in a row, finishing second just a half-second behind Suárez.

Matt Crafton, the 2015 series champion, will move on to Homestead by virtue of his third-place finish here. Calgary native Cameron Hayley was fourth. Timothy Peters’ fifth-place finish was good enough to earn him a spot in next week’s championship shootout. Christopher Bell, another Kyle Busch driver, finished in seventh place but this was good enough to keep him in championship contention.

By rights, the driver who should be contending for the truck series championship next week at Homestead is young William Byron. He had already won six of the 21 truck series races so far this year – and he must surely be considered to be deserving of the championship in this year’s Xfinity Series. Instead, given the knockout nature of this championship he went from favourite to win the championship to zero in an instant when his engine overheated and blew up here after he had led 112 of the race’s 150 laps. Unsurprisingly the 18-year-old Byron was devastated by this turn of fate but he has shown form that will stand him in good stead as he moves forward – next year he will be driving a Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series for Rick Hendrick.

This leaves the quartet of Sauter, Crafton, Bell and Peters moving on to the Homestead final to determine which one will become this year’s truck series champion. The truck series finale will be run at the Homestead-Miami Speedway next Friday evening (Nov. 18).

Photo Credits:

F1: Wolfgang Wilhelm © Daimler AG
NSCS: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images
NXS: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images
NCWTS: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images