Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Five: Sakhir, Homestead, Coffs Harbour

The final weekend before Thanksgiving sees five seasons ending and six champions will be decided. Some are looking to repeat, others are looking to make history and a few have a chance to put their name among the all-time greats.

6 Hours of Bahrain
The final round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship takes place this Saturday and three of the four class championships are still to be decided.

The #2 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani lead the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with 152 points and trailing by 17 points is the #6 Toyota of Mike Conway, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kamui Kobayashi. The #2 Porsche can clinch the title with a finish of fifth or better. The team's worst finish this season was fifth at Fuji. The #6 Toyota has finished on the podium in the last four races while the #2 Porsche hasn't finished on the podium since winning Le Mans in June.

The battle for third in the championship has the #8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval sitting two points head of the #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard. The #8 Audi and the #7 Audi of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer look to give the manufacture its final victory in the final race for the esteemed program. The #5 Toyota of Anthony Davidson, Kazuki Nakajima and Sébastien Buemi scored its first podium of the season with a third at Shanghai.

The GTE-Pro championship has five teams fighting for the honor. The #95 Aston Marton of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørenson lead with 131 points and hold a 12-point lead over the #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado are tied with the #66 Ford GT of Stefan Mücke and Oliver Pla on 110 points. After winning the last two races, the #67 Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell are alive in the championship with 105.5 points, meaning the team has to score maximum points and have the #95 Aston Martin to finish just to have a shot for the title.

It is a two-horse race in GTE-AM and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas just has to complete 70% of the race to clinch the title. The French-Portuguese combination leads the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda by 25 points. The #98 Aston Martin has won the last three races and five of seven races entering the finale. The #83 AF Corse Ferrari won the season opener and was awarded top points after Le Mans for being the top WEC team in class.

The #36 Signatech Alpine-Nissan of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi locked the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers at Shanghai. The #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Albuquerque, Bruno Senna and Ricardo González lead Romain Rusinov of the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan by 11 points for second in the championship. Rusinov has won the last two races with Will Stevens and Alex Brundle.

The 6 Hours of Bahrain will start at 8:00 a.m. ET on Saturday November 19th.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Four drivers remain eligible for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Jimmie Johnson enters looking to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most Cup series championships at seven. Johnson's last title came in 2013 and he has finished ninth at Homestead the last three years. The Californian has never won at the 1.5-mile South Florida race track but he has four top tens and ten top tens in 15 starts. However, Johnson has never led more than 28 laps in a Homestead race and has only led 99 laps there in his career and has not led a lap in the last three Homestead races.

Kyle Busch's victory in last year's Homestead race sealed him his first career championship. He looks to defend his title and complete the 18th successful title defense in Cup series history. His victory last year was only his second top five finish in 11 Homestead starts and he has four top ten finishes at the track. His average finish at the track is 21.1 with an average starting position of 13.1. Last year, he started a career-best of third at the track.

Joey Logano finished fourth last year at Homestead and led 72 laps from second on the grid. Those were the first laps Logano had ever led at Homestead. In seven starts at the track, he has one top five, two top tens and has an average finish of 17.7. He has finished on the lead lap in all but one of Homestead starts. In 2010, he retired from the race after an accident on the back straightaway with Juan Pablo Montoya.

Carl Edwards enters Homestead as one of the best drivers all-time at the track. His average finish of 9.2 is second all-time among drivers with at least three starts. He has two victories at the track with his most recent in 2010, five top fives and seven top tens in 12 starts. He has been running at the finish of all 12 of his Homestead starts and has completed 3,205 of 3,209 laps in his career at the track, however he has not finished in the top ten since finishing second in 2011 and losing the championship on tiebreaker to race winner Tony Stewart.

While four drivers are battling for the drivers' championship, Toyota could clinch its first ever manufactures' championship in the Cup series at Homestead. Toyota leads Chevrolet by 30 points entering the finale and all Toyota needs is one driver to finish 26th or better at Homestead to get the title. Chevrolet has won the last 13 manufactures' championships in the Cup series. Eight Toyotas are entered for the finale. Toyota has won 16 of the previous 35 races while Chevrolet has won 11 races and Ford has won nine times.

The NASCAR Cup race will be held at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday November 20th.

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Despite having four drivers fighting for the championship last year at Homestead without a Chase format, the NASCAR Xfinity Series' first year with a Chase format will have four drivers competing for the title for the second consecutive season.

Erik Jones enters leading all championship-eligible drivers with four victories from 32 races this season. Despite Jones' success, he has the fewest top ten finishes of the remaining drivers with 19 top tens, 15 of which were top five finishes. His average starting position is 3.1 with an average finish of 11.7. Jones finished third in last year's Homestead race and finished sixth in last year's Truck race to clinch that championship. Jones could join Greg Biffle and Johnny Benson to win titles in NASCAR's lower two national touring divisions.

While Jones has the most victories, Elliott Sadler leads in top tens with 28 and has three victories and 13 top five finishes. He has been running at the end of all 32 races and has finished on the lead lap 30 times this season. While his average starting position is 9.2, his average finish is 6.9, the best of the remaining four drivers. Sadler is coming off a 13th at Phoenix and has not finished outside the top ten in consecutive races this season. In ten starts at Homestead, Sadler's best finish of fifth came in 1996.

Daniel Suárez has two victories this season and leads the four drivers in top five finishes with 18 and he has 26 top ten finishes. Suárez has nine top five finishes in his last ten starts, which includes a victory at Dover and his worst finish in the last ten races is eighth. He finished sixth last year at Homestead. He could become the first foreign-born driver to win a championship in one of NASCAR's three national touring series.

Justin Allgaier is the last driver competing for the championship. He has as many top five finishes as his teammate Sadler and as many top ten finishes at Suárez but Allgaier is the only one of the four drivers to have yet to win a race this season with Allgaier having three runner-up finishes this season, at Talladega, July at Daytona and August at Bristol. In six Homestead starts, Allgaier's best finish is 11th. He has led 28 laps this season.

The final race of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season will be at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday November 19th.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Just like the other two NASCAR series, four drivers are contending for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Johnny Sauter enters having won the two of the last three races and having won three times this season. The Wisconsinite enters with 11 consecutive top ten finishes. He has been running at the finish of 21 of 22 races. The leads the final four drivers with 11 top fives finishes and 18 top ten finishes. He has an average starting position of 8.7 with an average finish of 8.2. Sauter won at Homestead in 2011 and has two top fives and six top tens in nine starts at the track.

Matt Crafton has won twice this season but enters as the only of the four drivers with an average finished over ten at 11.0 and has failed to finish five races this season but Crafton has been on the lead lap in all of 17 races he has finished, 15 of which have been in the top ten. Crafton won last year's Truck race at Homestead and he has been running at the finish of all 15 of starts at the track.

Christopher Bell enters the finale with one victory, nine top five finishes and 16 top ten finishes. He is the only one of the four without a pole position entering the finale but he has the second-best average starting position of the final four at 9.2. Bell failed to finish last year's Homestead race after running out of fuel with four laps to go.

Timothy Peters has not won this season and his only runner-up finish was at Michigan but he has eight top five finishes and 15 top ten finishes, the same amount as Crafton. The one thing Peters has done that the other three drivers have not done is been running at the finish of all 22 races and he has finished on the lead lap in 21 races with Eldora being the exception. In nine Homestead starts, Peters has three top fives and six top tens and he has completed 1,215 of 1,216 laps.

The Truck finale will be at 8:00 p.m. on Friday November 18th.

Rally Australia
The final round of the 2016 World Rally Championship takes place in Australia. The championship is already decided as Sébastien Ogier locked up the title in Spain. He has 247 points and has won the last four races. Ogier has won the last three editions of Rally Australia. Ogier leads Volkswagen into its final WRC round before it withdraws from the championship.

One hundred and three points behind Ogier is Hyundai's Thierry Neuville. He has been on the podium in the last four rallies and his lone victory came in Italy. Fourteen points behind Neuville is Ogier's teammate Andreas Mikkelsen and the Norwegian is three points ahead of New Zealander Hayden Paddon. Dani Sordo rounds out the top five with 119 points, nine points ahead of Jari-Matti Latvala, whose best finish in the last four rallies is fourth. Mads Østberg has 94 points and Ott Tanak sits on 82 points after finishing second at Wales Rally GB.

1. Over or Under: 4.5 laps between the GTE-Pro and GTE-Am winners?
2. Over or Under: 7.5 cautions in the Cup race?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 championship ineligible drivers finishing in the top five of the Xfinity race?
4. Over or Under: 70.5 laps led by GMS Racing Trucks?
5. Over or Under: 38.5 points scored by Hyundai drivers?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: Mercedes were 1-2 in two rounds of qualifying at Interlagos.
2. Over: Four riders retired from Valencia (Mika Kallio, Cal Crutchlow, Dani Pedrosa, Yonny Hernández).
3. Under: Harvick led zero laps at Phoenix.
4. Over: Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate won the GT500 championship with 82 points.
5. Under: American teams combined to score one point at Marrakesh thanks to Loïc Duval's fastest lap.

1. All point leaders entering Bahrain leave Bahrain as champions.
2. We get our seventh different winner in the last seven Homestead Cup races.
3. There is caution in the final ten laps of the Xfinity Series race.
4. Two of the four Truck championship eligible drivers finish outside the top five.
5. Jari-Matti Latvala gets his first podium finish since Rally Finland.

Last Week's Predictions 
1. Felipe Massa finishes ahead of Valtteri Bottas and finishes in the top six (Wrong. Massa did not finish).
2. The pass for the victory comes within the final five laps at Valencia (Wrong. Jorge Lorenzo led lights to flag).
3. Kevin Harvick doesn't win at Phoenix (Correct. He finished fourth).
4. At least one winner in GT300 is a first time winner this season (Correct. Richard Lyons and Tomonobu Fujii won their first race of the season in race one from Motegi).
5. At least two drivers finish on the podium that didn't finish on the podium at Hong Kong and at least one of the two are in the bottom half of the championship (Correct. Sam Bird and Felix Rosenqvist each got their first podium of the season and Bird was 14th in the championship enter Marrakesh).
Last Week: 3/5 Overall: 21/40