Monday, November 20, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Truex and The Format

"Death, taxes and Rob Huff winning at Macau" proved to be a true statement this weekend. There were two other memorable races at Macau but both came with a costly bill in crash damage. There were three new NASCAR champions crowned this weekend and two first-time winners. Porsche said goodbye to LMP1. A Senna, a Lauda and a Fittipaldi all won championships this weekend. And apparently the TCR International Series ended its season this weekend, a week earlier than announced and at a different track but in the same country as the original finale. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Truex and The Format
I missed Martin Truex, Jr.'s first career NASCAR Grand National Series at Bristol. Though it was 2004, I didn't find out he won the race until the next morning in the Sunday paper only five minutes before we had to be in the car for church. That doesn't seem possible in 2017 and thirteen years ago I had Internet but it was dial up and it would take 15-30 minutes on a good day. There was always the bottom ticker on ESPN, there was even SPEED with Speed News or The Speed Report or whatever the network called its wrap up show but for some reason it slipped through the cracks and I found out about the victory in ink.

Growing up in New Jersey, there weren't many big name race car drivers to follow and Truex, Jr., was the first (and so far only) local driver I got to follow on a major, national stage. I always felt New Jersey was too small for motorsports. I got into motorsports about ten years too late in Flemington, New Jersey. The semi-famous Flemington Speedway had been shut down for a handful of years by that time but even the sight of a broken down, overgrown grandstand would capture my attention anytime I was in the backseat and my parents were driving on Route 31. I never recall going to the track for a race. I never knew the Truck series went there until it was too late. Every time we drove by I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be there on a Saturday night.

While I stared into an abandoned facility and tried to connect with the past, in the present New Jersey had a rising star. Truex, Jr., would win the then-Busch Series and in somewhat convincing fashion. The following year he successfully defended his title and with a move to Cup set for 2006 the hope was he could be one of NASCAR's best. Unfortunately, that didn't happen right away.

He got to Dale Earnhardt, Inc. at the wrong time. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Teresa Earnhardt feuded and the team fell apart. Earnhardt, Jr., was soon out the door and on his way to Hendrick Motorsports. Truex, Jr., was stuck and had to make the best of a terrible situation. He picked up his first career victory on a Monday at Dover but it appeared that was going to be it. He got out when he first could and went to Michael Waltrip Racing, which was closer to the sharp end of the grid but still far away.

It took a while for it to click but over six years after he won at Dover, his second career victory came at Sonoma and he seemed set to make the Chase and possibly make a title run. Then came the infamous Richmond race where Clint Bowyer spun on purpose, which led to the whole team being punished. Both Bowyer and Truex, Jr., were docked points but while Bowyer got to fight for a title, Truex, Jr., had been knocked out. To add insult to injury, NAPA Auto Parts pulled its sponsorship of the team prior to the 2014 season and despite doing nothing wrong, Truex, Jr., was out of a ride.

Furniture Row Racing was a life preserver. The team was getting better when Truex, Jr., arrived there but he was back to square one. The team had finished tenth in the championship the year prior with Kurt Busch but that next step wasn't going to come easy. His first race with the team ended with a 43rd-place finish in the Daytona 500. He wouldn't get a top ten finish until the ninth race at Richmond. He wouldn't get a top five until the 30th race at Kansas. Truex, Jr., finished 24th in the championship, his worst position since becoming a full-time driver.

The last three years have been some kind of ascendance for Truex, Jr., and Furniture Row Racing. The team was consistent from out of the gate in 2015. He got a victory at Pocono and made the Chase and he was a surprise finalist for the championship at Homestead that year but he was the fourth best of the final four. Despite the team's championship run, it switched from Chevrolet to Toyota and while a decade earlier Truex, Jr., got to DEI at the wrong time, Furniture Row Racing's manufacture switch proved to be right on the money. He finished second in the Daytona 500 in a photo finish with Denny Hamlin and he continued his consistent ways. He dominated the Coca-Cola 600 and won the Southern 500 then won at Chicagoland and Dover. Unfortunately, his title hopes ended after an early engine failure at Talladega.

In 2017, no one deserved the Cup title more than Martin Truex, Jr. The man was head and shoulders above the competition and it is a shame the format nearly prevented this historic season from being rightly awarded. The man won eight races, most for a champion since Jimmie Johnson won ten races in 2007 and he had 19 top five finishes, the most for a champion since Johnson's 20 top five finishes in 2007. He had 26 top ten finishes, the most for a champion since Dale Jarrett's 29 in 1999. He ended the season with nine top five finishes in the final ten races. He should have clinched the championship at Texas and we should have a two-week coronation ceremony where he tried to win races with beer sweats.

In NASCAR's attempt to be other sports, it has allowed for great seasons to be devalued based on the results of one race. I understand the urgency to have the championship go to the wire but to decide the champion by separating it from the results of the first 35 races should not be the way to do it. NASCAR abuses the reset button. The Chase format makes sure everyone remains about equal the deeper we get into autumn, from the driver who has won a half-dozen races to the driver who hasn't won all season to the driver who won once and had four top ten finishes the rest of the season. It has given drivers second and third chances at a championship when they should have been eliminated weeks prior.

Truex, Jr.'s championship would have been as well received had he locked it up at Texas. The man and the entire Furniture Row Racing team became darlings of NASCAR by dominating races and fans respected what the team from Colorado had achieved. The results at Homestead were more a sigh of relief that the best driver got the championship and some fluke engine failure or spinning back marker didn't take it away from Truex, Jr.

I am puzzled where Truex, Jr., stands in NASCAR history. Maybe I am thinking about this too much because of the departure of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Four years ago, it was hard to see Truex, Jr., ever becoming a Cup series champion. When he joined Furniture Row Racing his best championship result was 11th. He had two victories in 297 Cup starts. He seemed more likely to fall in a group with the likes of Johnny Benson and Steve Park than be heralded in a group with the likes of the Labonte brothers and Matt Kenseth. How things can change in three years.

Truex, Jr., will likely not end his career with records that rival most of his contemporary champions but very few will come close to matching the level of joy Truex, Jr.'s title brought to everyone who follows.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about Martin Truex, Jr., but did you know...

Bruno Senna and Julien Canal clinched the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 drivers as they and #31 Vaillante Rebellion Racing Oreca co-driver Nicolas Prost took the class victory in the 6 Hours of Bahrain.

The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessanrdo Pier Guidi clinched the GT World Endurance Drivers' championship with a second-place finish at Bahrain.

The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda clinched the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am with a class victory at Bahrain.

William Byron won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship with a third-place finish at Homestead.

Christopher Bell won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship with a second-place finish at Homestead.

Pietro Fittipaldi clinched the World Series Formula V8 3.5 championship with a pair of second-place finishes at Bahrain.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Martin Truex, Jr., and a handful of class victories from Bahrain but did you know...

The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson won the 6 Hours of Bahrain overall. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird won in GTE-Pro.

Dan Ticktum won the Macau Grand Prix after Sérgio Sette Câmara and Ferdinand Habsburg both hit the barrier in the final corner on the last lap of the race.

Edoardo Mortara won the FIA GT World Cup in the #48 Mercedes-AMG for the Mercedes-AMG Team Driver Academy.

Mehdi Bennani and Rob Huff split the WTCC races at Macau. It was Rob Huff's ninth victory at Macau and he has won driving for five different manufactures (Chevrolet, SEAT, Lada, Honda and Citroën).

Cole Custer won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Homestead. Chase Briscoe won the Truck race.

Pepe Oriola and Stefano Comini split the TCR International Series races from Dubai.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Formula One finale at Abu Dhabi.
Formula Two and the GP3 Series also conclude their respective 2017 seasons at Abu Dhabi.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Five: Five Finales and a Hat Trick of Street Races

We are less than a week away from Thanksgiving but the motorsports feast is this weekend with five season finales, six championships to be decided and a slew of races from a street course in Asian providing plenty to snack on over three days.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
The 36th and final race of he NASCAR Cup season takes place at Homestead-Miami Speedway and four drivers from four teams and two manufactures have a shot at the championship.

Martin Truex, Jr., has been the top driver all season. The New Jerseyan has won seven races this season, including six on 1.5-mile ovals. Truex has an average finish of 2.7 on 1.5-mile ovals this season with his worst finish being eighth. He has finished in the top five in eight of nine Chase races with the exception being 23rd at Talladega. His best finish at Homestead was second in 2006. While he has three top fives and seven top ten finishes in 12 Homestead starts, he has failed to finish in the top ten the last three years in the finale.

Kyle Busch won five races this season including three during the Chase. However, Busch's three victories are his only top five finishes during the Chase and he has not had a top five finish on a 1.5-mile oval since finishing fifth at Kentucky in July. Busch won the 2015 championship with a victory at Homestead. He has finished in the top ten in four of the last five Homestead races.

Kevin Harvick won the 2014 championship with a victory at Homestead and he won the most recent 1.5-mile race at Texas two weeks ago. Harvick has nine consecutive top ten finishes at Homestead and he has 14 top ten finishes in 16 Homestead starts. The California has never retired from a Cup race at Homestead and he has completed 4,277 of 4,278 possible laps.

Brad Keselowski suffered an accident in last year's Homestead race and it was his first retirement at the track after three consecutive top ten finishes including two third-place finishes. Keselowski clinched the 2012 championship with a 15th place finish after Jimmie Johnson retired from the race. He has the best average starting position at the track of the four championship contending driver at 11.6.

Since the introduction of this Chase format in 2014, each champion has won the Homestead race all three seasons and at least one championship contender has finished outside the top ten. Ford leads all manufactures with seven victories at Homestead but the manufacture has not won at the track since 2010 and all seven of Ford's victories have been by Roush-Fenway Racing. Both times Stewart-Haas Racing has won at Homestead the team has won the championship with Harvick in 2014 and Tony Stewart in 2011. Team Penske has never won at Homestead in Cup while Joe Gibbs Racing has six Homestead victories.

Five of the last six Cup champions have ended the season with five victories.

The season finale for the NASCAR Cup season will take place at 2:46 p.m. ET on Sunday November 19th.

NASCAR Xfinity Series
It is an all-Chevrolet affair for the championship in NASCAR's second division as three JR Motorsports drivers and one Richard Childress Racing driver will fight for the title.

William Byron won at Phoenix last week, his fourth of the season. Byron leads all championship-eligible drivers in victories this season. Byron won last year's Truck race at Homestead and he could become the second teenage to win the NASCAR Grand National Series championship. Chase Elliott is the youngest champion in series history at 18 years, 11 months and 18 days old. Elliott's championship is the only title for JR Motorsports.

Elliott Sadler dominated this season but the Virginian has not won a race this season and Sadler is coming off an 18th place finish at Phoenix. He had six consecutive top ten finishes prior to Phoenix. Only two of Sadler's 13 Grand National Series victories have come on a 1.5-mile racetrack, including his most recent victory in the series, which came last autumn at Kentucky. He finished third last year at Homestead and last year was the third time he has finished runner-up in the championship.

Justin Allgaier won twice this season, including at Chicagoland in September. Like Sadler, Allgaier has only won twice on 1.5-mile racetracks but both of those victories have occurred at Chicagoland for Allgaier. He has never finished in the top five at Homestead with last year being his best finish at the track when he finished sixth. He matched his career-best championship finish last year with a third place championship finish.

Daniel Hemric was the final driver to clinch a spot in the championship race with his fifth place finish at Phoenix. The rookie has yet to win this season. His best finish this season was second at Mid-Ohio and his best finish on a 1.5-mile oval was fourth at Chicagoland in September. Hermic is also winless in 49 Truck series starts. He made three Truck starts at Homestead and had finishes of 12th, eighth and fifth. Richard Childress Racing is bidding for its fifth Grand National Series championship. The team's most recent title was with Austin Dillon in 2013.

The NASCAR Grand National Series finale will be at 3:45 p.m. ET on Saturday November 18th.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
One driver is looking to become the second driver to win consecutive NASCAR Truck championship. Another is looking to become the third driver to win at least three Truck series championships and two drivers are going for their first title, including one rookie.

Johnny Sauter has won the last two races and the Wisconsinite is looking to successful defend his Truck championship. Sauter won last year's championship after a third place finish at Homestead and he entered that race off the back of two victories and a second place finish. Sauter has already matched the amount of top five finishes he had last year with 12.

Matt Crafton is looking for his third Truck championship in the last five seasons. He won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. Crafton's only victory this season was at Eldora and his only top five finish on a mile-and-a-half racetrack was second at Atlanta in March. He won at Homestead in 2015 from pole position.

Christopher Bell has won the most races this season as the Oklahoman has five victories. Three of Bell's victories were on 1.5-mile racetracks. His most recent victory was the first race of the Chase at Loudon but Bell enters Homestead with seven consecutive top ten finishes. Bell finished eighth in last year's Homestead race.

Austin Cindric was the final driver to qualify for the final race and the rookie for Brad Keselowski Racing did it off the back of six consecutive top ten finishes, including a second place finish at Texas and a fourth place finish at Las Vegas. This will be Cindric's first start at Homestead. Cindric could become the first Ford driver to win the Truck championship since Greg Biffle in 2000.

The final race of the Truck season will be Friday November 17th at 8:49 p.m. ET.

6 Hours of Bahrain
The LMP1 championship has been decided in the FIA World Endurance Championship but the other three classes have yet to be decided.

Bruno Senna and Julien Canal took the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers championship lead with their victory at Shanghai with Nicolas Prost. They sit on 161 points and the #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca drivers lead the drivers of the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, Thomas Laurent, Oliver Jarvis and Ho-Pin Tung by four points entering the season finale. Both teams have won three races this season but the #31 Oreca has three runner-up finishes while the #38 Oreca has finished third twice and finished off the podium three times.

Gustavo Menezes has an outside shot of successfully defending the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers. The American trails by 23 points and would have to win the race and have the #31 Oreca retire from the race and the #38 Oreca finish eighth or worse in class. Menezes shares the #36 Signatech Alpine with Nicolas Lapierre and André Negrão. This team won at Austin in September. 

The GT World Endurance Drivers' Championship will come down to one of four possibilities. The #51 AF Corse of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi lead with 135 points but they are only two points ahead of the #91 Porsche of Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki. The #51 Ferrari has won three times and finished on the podium in six of eight races while the #91 Porsche has not won this season but has six podium finishes and the team's worst finish is sixth. Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell kept their title hopes alive with a victory at Shanghai. The #67 Ford GT drivers are 8.5 points back. Davide Rigon is the final driver with a shot at the title. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari driver trails his teammates by 22.5 points. Sam Bird joins Rigon in the #71 Ferrari. They won at Spa-Francorchamps in May.

The FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am drivers also has three teams battling for the title. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda enter with that elusive championship within the teams' grasp. The trio has scored 166 points and took the championship lead with their third victory of the season last time out at Shanghai. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Marvin Dienst, Christian Ried and Matteo Cairoli dropped to second in the championship, ten points back after finishing third at Shanghai. The #77 Porsche's worst finish this season was fourth at Austin. Clearwater Racing has an outside shot at the title as the #61 Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Weng Sun Mok and Keita Sawa trails by 19 points. The #61 Ferrari won the season opener at Silverstone and has five podium finishes this season.

Bahrain marks the final round for Porsche LMP1 program. Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber clinched the World Endurance Drivers' Championship at Shanghai and the #2 Porsche has won four races this season, as has the #8 Toyota of Sébasten Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson. The #1 Porsche of Neel Jani, Nick Tandy and André Lotterer has finished on the podium in five consecutive races but has not won this season. The #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López has three podium finishes this season.

The 6 Hours of Bahrain will start at 8:00 a.m. ET on Saturday November 18th. 

Rally Australia
The World Rally Championship is the fifth season finale this weekend.

Sébastien Ogier locked up his fifth consecutive title with a third place finish in Wales Rally GB but the Frenchman has not won since Rally de Portugal in May. This is the fewest rally victories for Ogier since he won twice in 2010. The Frenchman entered Rally Australia with 40 rally victories and 500 stage victories. 

Andreas Mikkelsen won last year's Rally Australia and he will be driving for Hyundai for the third consecutive round after contesting three races for Škoda in WRC-2 and three races for Citroën earlier this season. Mikkelsen's teammate Thierry Neuville sits second in the championship and he is 14 points ahead of M-Sport World Rally Team Ford driver Ott Tänak. Toyota driver Jari-Matti Latvala sits on 136 points in fourth and Wales Rally GB winner Elfyn Evans rounds out the top five on 118 points. Citroën drivers Kris Meeke, Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre look to give the French manufacture its third victory of the season. 

Ford could match Volkswagen for most Rally Australia victories at four. Ogier could tie Juha Kankkunen for most Rally Australia victories by a driver at four. 

Macau Grand Prix
The autonomous territory of Macau hosts three major motorsports events this weekend and the main event is the 64th running of the Macau Grand Prix. Twenty-two cars are entered for the famed Formula Three race.

Carlin has entered six cars including FIA European Formula 3 Champion and McLaren development driver Lando Norris. Norris won nine of 30 races and finished on the podium in 20 races. Norris is attempting to become the ninth different British driver to win the Macau Grand Prix since the race became a Formula Three event in 1983. Carlin is going for its second consecutive victory in the event and third overall. Carlin will also field cars for Jehan Daruvala and Ferdinand Habsburg, both race winners in Formula Three, Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 champion Sacha Fenestraz and Canadian Delvin DeFrancesco, who finished third in the Euroformula Open Championship. 

Joel Eriksson finished second to Norris in the Formula Three championship and he will be one of five Motopark with VEB entries. Prema Powerteam, in partnership with Theodore Racing, has entered four cars including two for Maximilian Günther and Callum Ilott, who finished third and fourth in Formula Three. Mick Schumacher is one of Prema's entries. His father Michael won the 1990 Macau Grand Prix and his uncle Ralf won the 1995 Macau Grand Prix and that is the most recent time a German won the Macau Grand Prix.

Pedro Piquet is another notable second-generation driver on the Macau Grand Prix entry list. He will drive for Van Amersfoot Racing with Estonian Ralf Aron.

Team TOM's has won the Macau Grand Prix five times most recently in 2008 and the team has entered two cars for Sho Tsuboi and Ritomo Miyata. Tsuboi finished second in the All-Japan Formula Three championship and he finished third in the Super GT GT300 championship this year. Álex Palou finished behind Tsuboi in the All-Japan Formula Three championship and he will be at Macau with ThreeBond Racing with Dorago Corse. Palou made his Formula Two debut at Jerez and had a pair of eighth place finishes.

The qualifying race will be at 9:20 p.m. ET on Friday November 17th. The 64th Macau Grand Prix is scheduled for 2:30 a.m. ET on Sunday November 19th.

FIA GT World Cup
For the third consecutive year, Macau hosts the FIA GT World Cup. Twenty GT3 cars will be on the grid for this year's edition with seven manufactures represented.

The first two winners of the FIA GT World Cup are back with Maro Engel in the #999 Mercedes-AMG for Team GruppeM Racing and Laurens Vanthoor in the #911 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche. Each driver will have a teammate with Raffaele Marciello in the #888 Mercedes-AMG and Darryl O'Young in the #991 Porsche. 

Mercedes-AMG Team Driver Academy has entered two cars for Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters-experienced drivers with Edoardo Mortara in the #48 Mercedes-AMG and Daniel Juncandella in the #50 Mercedes-AMG. Mortara won the Macau Grand Prix in 2009 and 2010 and Juncandella won the 2011 Macau Grand Prix. HubAuto Racing has entered two Porsches with Romain Dumas in the #7 Porsche and Super GT regular Hiroki Yoshimoto in the #77 Porsche. 

Audi won last year's event and the German manufacture will have five cars attempting to defend the title. Audi Sport Team WRT will have Blancpain Sprint Series co-champion Robin Frijns in the #1 Audi and DTM regular Nico Müller in the #2 Audi. Defending Formula E champion and 2005 Macau Grand Prix winner Lucas di Grassi will be in the #11 Audi for HCB-Rutronik-Racing with his teammate being one of two silver-rated drivers on the grid, Fabian Plentz in the #12 Audi. The other silver-rated there is Markus Pommer and the ADAC GT Masters driver will be in the #27 Aust Motorsport Audi. 

BMW has four cars entered. Augusto Farfus, who won two races at Macau in WTCC competition, will be in the #18 BMW Team Schnitzer BMW with fellow BMW DTM drivers Marco Wittmann and Tom Blomqvist also on the entry list. Wittmann will be in the #91 BMW for FIST Team AAI and Blomqvist will be in the #99 Rowe Racing BMW. Supercars driver Chaz Mostert will be Wittmann's teammate in the #90 BMW.

There are three manufactures with one entry. Defending Blancpain GT Series champion Mirko Bortolotti will be in the #5 FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini. Two-time Macau Grand Prix winner Felix Rosenqvist will be in the #63 Ferrari for IMSA GT Daytona champions Scuderia Corsa. Renger van der Zande will drive the factory-backed #84 Honda NSX.

The FIA GT World Cup qualifying race will be at 11:25 p.m. ET on Friday November 17th. The FIA GT World Cup championship race will be at 11:10 p.m. ET on Saturday November 18th.

Guia Race of Macau
While not the season finale, Macau is the penultimate round for the 2017 World Touring Car Championship season. With 120 points left on the table, nine drivers have a shot at the championship. 

Volvo driver Thed Björk leads the championship with 228.5 points but the Swede has not won since the first race on the Nürburgrng Nordschleife in May. Honda driver Norbert Michelisz has won three races this season, more than any other driver but he trails Björk by 16.5 points. Björk's teammate Nicky Catsburg trails his teammate by 29 points and Catsburg's only victory this season was the second race at the Nordschleife.

Tiago Monteiro will miss his third consecutive round due to injuries suffered in a high-speed testing crash at Barcelona in September. The Portuguese Honda driver was leading the championship at the time of the accident with 200 points. 

Tom Chilton sits on 184.5 points, a half point ahead of his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën teammate Mehdi Bennani. Esteban Guerrieri substitutes for Monteiro for the second consecutive race and the Argentine has 180 points. Rob Huff has 142 points and the seven-time Macau race winner is looking for his first win this season in a Citroën for Münnich Motorsport. Last year, Huff failed to win one of the two TCR International Series races at Macau and it was only the second time in nine years Huff did not win at Macau. Volvo driver Néstor Girolami is the final driver with a shot at the title. He sits on 110 points.

The first WTCC race will be at 1:10 a.m. ET on Saturday November 18th with race two at 9:40 p.m. ET later that day.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 100.5 laps led by Martin Truex, Jr.? 
2. Over or Under: 2.5 of the final four drivers leading a lap in the Xfinity Series race?
3. Over or Under: 14.5 finishing position for Austin Cindric?
4. Over or Under: 23.5 classified cars after the 6 Hours of Bahrain?
5. Over or Under: 11.5 points scored by Hayden Paddon at Rally Australia?
6. Over or Under: 6.5 cars covered by ten seconds in the Macau Grand Prix?
7. Over or Under: 0.5 flips in the FIA GT World Cup races?
8. Over or Under: 1.5 podium finishes for non-European drivers between the two WTCC races?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: There were eight retirements in the MotoGP race from Valencia.
2. Under: Brendon Hartley retired and would have been 17th after starting 18th.
3. Over: Mercedes-AMG and BMW were the only two manufactures on the GT300 podium.
4. Under: Matt Kenseth led 63 laps on his way to victory.
5. Over: The 24H COTA winning #911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche completed 608 laps.

1. The NASCAR Cup champion will not have exactly five victories this season. 
2. Sam Hornish, Jr., finishes ahead of at least two of the four championship eligible drivers.
3. The winner of the Truck race does not lead the most laps.
4. The #98 Aston Martin holds on and wins the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers.
5. Sébastien Ogier gets his third rally victory of the season.
6. Mick Schumacher retires from at least one of the two races.
7. A past Macau Grand Prix winner does not win the FIA GT World Cup.
8. Rob Huff wins one of the two WTCC races.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso each finish on the podium at Valencia (Partially Wrong. Márquez finished third and Dovizioso retired)
2. There will not be a red flag in qualifying or the race at Interlagos for rain (Correct! Although there was a red flag for Lewis Hamilton's accident but rain was not the cause)
3. Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy hold on to win the GT500 championship (Correct! Hirakawa and Cassidy won the title with 84 points).
4. There will be at least three cautions in the final stage at Phoenix (Correct! There were five cautions in the final stage).
5. The overall Hankook 24H COTA winner will not be Hofor-Racing or Herberth Motorsport (Wrong! Herberth Motorsport won).
Last Week: 3.5/5 Overall: 23.5/42

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

1000 Words: The 1967 USAC Championship Battle

IndyCar no longer races into autumn but this November marks the 50th anniversary of one greatest championship battles between the two of the greatest race car drivers to ever walk this Earth.

A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti ended up in a championship battle that went to the wire. The 1967 USAC National Championship season featured 21 races including one 500-mile race, the Pikes Peak International Climb, the shortest race circuit race in IndyCar history, four dirt ovals, two doubleheaders and a championship decider that will never be seen again.

Andretti found himself in a hole early in the season. He won the second race of the year at Trenton but practice accidents kept him from starting the season opener at Phoenix and the fourth round of the season at Milwaukee and his day in the Indianapolis 500 ended just after 50 laps. Foyt won the Indianapolis 500 after Parnelli Jones' famed turbine failed while dominating the race. However, neither driver would win another race before the Fourth of July. Foyt led the championship with 1,370 points, 215 points ahead of Al Unser and Andretti found himself tenth, 910 points behind Foyt.

Through the first eight races, Andretti had only scored points in three races while Foyt scored in five of the first eight races; one of the races he didn't score in was Pike Peak, which Foyt did not enter.

However, Andretti would go on a tear by winning four consecutive races, including sweeping the doubleheader at Mont-Tremblant. Foyt continued to lead the championship with 1,780 points and Al Unser remained second, 185 points back but Andretti had moved up to third and trailed by 220 points.

Foyt responded with a victory at Springfield but the next day Andretti won at Milwaukee but Milwaukee was 200 miles and paid 400 points for victory while Springfield was half the distance and 200 points were awarded to the winner. That difference brought Andretti within 60 points of Foyt heading into the final two races of the summer.

Foyt and Andretti traded victories again with Foyt winning at DuQuoin with Andretti in second and Andretti winning the Hooiser Hundred with Foyt finishing second. Foyt retook the championship lead with a victory at Trenton after Andretti had an accident with Lloyd Ruby and Foyt extended his championship lead to 500 points over Andretti with a victory at Sacramento and Andretti finishing second. After Foyt and Andretti combined to win ten consecutive races, Gordon Johncock won at Hanford while Foyt finished fourth and Andretti got caught up in another accident, this time with Al Unser.

Foyt could have clinched the championship at Phoenix but a suspension failure forced him to retire after nine consecutive finishes in the points. Andretti passed Bobby Unser with 20 laps to go and won the race, narrowing the gap to Foyt to 240 points with 600 points available at the season finale at Riverside. Johncock also had a slim shot at the title with him trailing Foyt by 580 points and needing to win at Riverside to have any shot at the title.

The season finale was a 300-mile affair at Riverside International Raceway held on November 26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Dan Gurney returned for his first start since Indianapolis and he won pole position at what his home racetrack. Gurney pulled away from the start while Andretti ran in third ahead of Foyt.

The championship was thrown into disarray when Foyt hit the spinning Al Miller ending his race. Foyt ran back to the pits to get into Jim Hurtubise's car because USAC rules allowed relief drivers to score points based on the percentage of the race that relief driver completed. Unfortunately for Foyt, Hurtubise's car had to be retired because of an oil leak the lap prior to Foyt's accident.

Roger McCluskey took the lead from Gurney during the pit stop cycle but McCluskey was one of three possible cars Foyt could have taken over for because they were both Goodyear drivers. The other two options were Bobby Unser and Jerry Grant. Foyt returned to the pit lane after running from the scene of the accident and McCluskey was signaled into the pits for a driver swap. Foyt got in the car with 53 laps to go and he exited in fifth position and on the lead lap. However, he had to pit immediately after getting into the car because the fuel cap had not been closed on the initial pit stop.

Dan Gurney led and Andretti got ahead of Bobby Unser for second during the pit cycle. Just 12 laps after a caution for an accident by Joe Leonard, Gurney was forced to stop because of a right rear tire puncture. This allowed Andretti to take the lead and in turn provisionally putting him in position to win his third consecutive championship as Foyt remained in fifth and Foyt would only get a fraction of the 300 points awarded for a fifth place finish.

When it appeared the title had been lost for Foyt, another twist came as Andretti was forced to pit from the lead with six laps to go for fuel. Unser took the lead with Gurney closing on him. Andretti returned to the track in third but with Foyt a lap down in fifth Andretti would not win the championship after surrendering 180 points by dropping to third.

Gurney passed Unser on the inside of the final corner coming to the white flag and he would complete the comeback, taking the checkered flag the next time by comfortably ahead of Unser. Andretti rounded out the podium ahead of Lloyd Ruby and Foyt finishing fifth in his relief drive was enough to take the championship by 80 points over Andretti.

After the race, Foyt said McCluskey told him before the race that Foyt could use his car if Foyt needed it. McCluskey was commended for what Chris Economaki called a great sporting gesture and there was no ill will toward Foyt for what occurred.

If this were to happen today people would lose their minds. Team orders cause enough people to have their blood boil over into a state of rage but this wasn't team orders. This was sponsorship orders. Imagine if Sébastien Bourdais was told to get out of his car because he and Scott Dixon were both sponsored by the same wrist watch company and Dixon had a shot at the championship but his car broke down and Bourdais was in the top five. There is still a group of people that are upset Ed Jones won the Indy Lights championship in 2016 because he needed to make up one position on the racetrack and Carlin teammate Félix Serrallés moved out of the way. This makes what Serrallés did look tame.

It goes to show team orders have always been around and the golden era when sex was safe and racing was dangerous is no different from the modern era. Sponsorship talks and the one with the most backing get preferential treatment.

Of course, the series has changed. Points cannot be split. Heck, in race driver changes have been banned in the rulebook. This scenario will not play out in 2018 or any time in the near future.

I will have to say this is probably one of the most forgotten races in IndyCar history and it is a doozy of a race. You had three drivers enter with a shot at the championship. The championship leader, Foyt, was taken out prior to halfway but he got a second bite at the apple by getting into the car that belonged to a competitor. Then you had the race leader, Gurney, who clearly had the best car be forced to pit for a punctured tire and that gave the lead of the race and potentially the championship to the driver who entered second in the championship, Andretti. Just when everything appeared to be settled, Andretti had to pit for fuel with six laps to go and loses the lead and in turn the championship. Meanwhile, Gurney was in sight of Bobby Unser and he made a lunge up the inside of a hairpin to take the lead and ultimately the victory with a little over a lap to go. Sonoma could not produce a championship decider half as good as the one that occurred on November 26, 1967.

The 1967 season finale was not only a race that featured one of the quirkier championship finishes in IndyCar history but it featured a few notable differences from modern motorsports. The Formula One season had ended a month earlier in Mexico City and two Brits found themselves on the grid at Riverside.

The 1964 World Drivers' Champion John Surtees made his one and only IndyCar start. He started fourth and retired after 31 laps due to a mechanical failure. Surtees wasn't the only Formula One regular in the field. Jim Clark returned for his second start of the season after he made his fifth Indianapolis 500 start earlier that year. Clark started next to Gurney on the front row driving a year old car but a broken value ended his race after 25 laps, just after he took the lead from Gurney. It would be Clark's ninth and final IndyCar race and his final competitive race in the United States. He would lose his life in a fatal accident during a Formula Two race at Hockenheim over four months later.

This was IndyCar's first trip to Riverside and I have to say I am surprised IndyCar was not a regular visitor to the famed Southern California road course. While NASCAR went to the track for over 30 seasons with many years featuring two races, some as long as 500 miles, IndyCar would only return to the track five more times and there would be a 12-year hiatus between appearances in 1969 and 1981. While the 1968 and 1969 races were in December, the final three races held there from 1981 to 1983 all took place the final weekend of August.

It would be Foyt's fifth championship in eight seasons. In the three years he didn't win the championship he finished second, second and 15th. Andretti would go on his own stellar run of form. He would finished second to Bobby Unser in the championship the following year but he would take his third title in five years in 1969. It was the second and final time Foyt and Andretti finished first and second in the championship after Andretti beat Foyt for the title in 1965 despite Andretti only winning one race to Foyt's five victories that season.

As much as we talk about motorsports rivalries, very few are head-to-head year after year and few go to the wire. Foyt-Andretti was no different. The 1965 and 1967 seasons were the only two years they both finished in the top five of the championship and Andretti clinched the 1965 championship with two races to spare. The only time the two drivers finished in the top five in the same Indianapolis 500 was in 1989 when Andretti finished fourth and Foyt finished fifth and both drivers finished seven laps down.

Alain Prost-Ayrton Senna may have been the only head-to-head rivalry that lasted for an extended period. They each finished in the top five in the championship for seven consecutive seasons and in eight of nine seasons because of Prost's sabbatical in 1992. They were 1-2 in the champion for four out of five seasons in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have both been in Formula One for 11 seasons and despite both drivers having four world championships and 62 and 47 victories respectively this will be the first time they finished 1-2 in the championship. This is only the second time the two drivers have both finished in the top three of the championship.

The seasons where two all-time greats go head-to-head only come around so often. Fifty years have passed and IndyCar might not see another championship battle between the caliber of drivers of Foyt and Andretti in the next 50 years.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Tim Cindric is four days away from what could be the proudest day of his life. Unfortunately, his son has a target on his back as he competes with Johnny Sauter, Christopher Bell and Matt Crafton for the Truck series championship. Speaking of championships, three JR Motorsports drivers of William Byron, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier take on Daniel Hemric in NASCAR's second division while Brad Keselowski joined Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in the final four for the Cup series. The MotoGP season ended with one man nearly throwing the title away and another man losing it in the gravel. There were no surprises in Motegi and there was a Formula One race but it will be remembered more for the muggings. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Here is a Dale Earnhardt, Jr., farewell piece that will get lost at the bottom of the pile of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., farewell pieces.

I grew up at a weird time in American motorsports. The CART-IRL split was in its infancy and the early stages of war had already soured my family. While my grandfather continued to watch the Indianapolis 500 on a yearly basis, he and my uncle had starting watching more and more NASCAR. Naturally, it was what was on most Sunday afternoons when I went over to visit. While the speed of IndyCars on ovals, in those final glory days of CART breaking 240 MPH and even the sublime speeds of 215 MPH of the IRL always hooked me in, I was one of millions who couldn't ignore NASCAR.

The series took the honor of top motorsports series in the United States and ran away with it. Numbers soared to unprecedented heights and there was something for everyone. The King abandoned his throne but for nearly a decade an old stalwart battled a boy from the West for the identity of the series. In-between the clash of champions there was a who's who of mustachioed veterans contending each week and a rise of racers from a path that had never led to the series before.

Then there was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Somewhere between the drivers who were entering from USAC because even with the IRL American open-wheel racing still had no place for them and the veterans who entered from the short track route in the 1980s, the son of one of the series most noted drivers came in and he stole the attention of the entire room and everybody looking in.

He was a guy coming from a less traveled path and he did it with much less help than most young drivers with rich fathers get today. Dale Earnhardt didn't continuously pump money into his son's career. He got him going and then he was on his own, working with mechanics and racers left behind on the short tracks in the Carolinas. He could have lived in a palace and but he spent his time with those from the salt of the Earth, following the footprints his father had left behind.

The short tracks of the Carolinas paid off and when the time was right his father gave him an opportunity in his team's Busch Grand National Series team. He won the championship in his first full season, repeated as champion in 1999 and was in the Cup series for the turn of the millennium. You know the rest of the race career.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., reminded me of my older brother and that is one reason I was drawn to him. When Earnhardt, Jr., made it to the Cup series my brother, who is a few years younger than him, was on his way to college and not long after that he would join the Air Force. I looked up to my brother and wanted to be just like him. Then he was gone and multiple tours of duty overseas kept us apart for the better part of six years. There were similarities between the two. Both were a product of an MTV Generation, confident 20-somethings who wore their baseball caps backward and wanted to have a good time.

His last name helped Earnhardt, Jr., but his demeanor, the good time guy promoted in Budweiser commercials, is what made him transcend NASCAR and become a national sports icon in the United States. He wasn't polished. He was regular. Watching him you didn't get a sense that he was a spokesperson trying to get you to buy a crappy beer. He was a guy you wished was hanging out with you and your friends on Saturday night.

There is something weird about the end of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s career. I can't find a place to put him on the spectrum of NASCAR drivers. He enters what will likely be his final Cup race tied for 29th all-time in victories with Fred Lorenzen. He wasn't a slouch but he isn't in the conversation with those drivers at the top and the problem is many will likely put him ahead of his contemporaries even though a few have him beat on paper.

Take his career-long rival Matt Kenseth. The Wisconsinite picked up his 39th victory at Phoenix yesterday, that is 13 more Cup victories than Earnhardt, Jr., and Kenseth won a Cup championship, something that eluded Earnhardt, Jr. Even when it came to the big races Kenseth holds an advantage. Each driver won two Daytona 500s, Kenseth won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2000 (his first career victory) and he won the Southern 500. Earnhardt, Jr., did not win any of the other crown jewel events. However, I feel Earnhardt, Jr., will be ranked ahead of Kenseth by many and mostly because of the name he carries and the following he had. But while he stood above everyone in terms of popularity it isn't worth a championship or a handful of victories.

Besides Kenseth, five other active drivers are ahead of Earnhardt, Jr., in Cup victories and four of those drivers have a championship. The only one of the four not to have a championship is Denny Hamlin, who has 31 career victories. Besides Hamlin, only four other drivers have more victories than Earnhardt, Jr., and did not win a championship. Those four are Junior Johnson, Mark Martin, Fireball Roberts and Carl Edwards.

Earnhardt, Jr.'s rear view mirror is clear as he heads into retirement. Brad Keselowski is two victories behind him and it is only a matter of time before the apprentice passes the master. Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman are tied on 18 victories. He likely won't have to worry about Kahne and Newman. Logano is only 27 years old and nine victories seems likely especially if he races until he is 40 years old.

After that, it isn't clear who will overtake Earnhardt, Jr. Martin Truex, Jr., sits on 14 victories but he is 37 years old and while he has bloomed late there is no guarantee he will continue this form into his 40s. After Truex, Jr., there are no other active drivers with double-digit Cup victories but the day will come when somebody either already in NASCAR or someone who has yet to race a go-kart will surpass Earnhardt, Jr.

It will take decades before we know Earnhardt, Jr.'s place in NASCAR history, who he is ahead and whom he is behind. He will remain in the limelight thanks to a move to the broadcast booth so it is likely a generation of fans will grow up with him even if they never saw him in a race car. The man will not be forgotten even if he isn't in NASCAR's pantheon.

Champions From the Weekend

Marc Márquez clinched his fourth MotoGP World Championship and sixth world championship overall with a third place finish at Valencia.

The #37 Lexus KeePer TOM's Lexus of Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy clinched the Super GT GT500 championship with a second place finish at Motegi. The #4 Goodsmile Racing & TeamUKYO Mercedes-AMG of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka clinched the GT300 championship with a third place finish in class.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Matt Kenseth but did you know...

Sebastian Vettel won the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Dani Pedrosa won the Valencian Community Grand Prix. Miguel Olivera won in Moto2, his third consecutive victory to close out the season. Jorge Martin took his first career Moto3 victory in his 50th career start.

The #23 NISMO Nissan of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won the Super GT race from Motegi. The #65 LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG of Naoya Gamou and Haruki Kurosawa won in GT300.

William Byron won the NASCAR Grand National series race. Johnny Sauter won the Truck race, his second consecutive victory.

The #911 Herbert Motorsport Porsche of Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer and Alfred Renauer won the 24H COTA.

Other winners at the 24H COTA:

A6-Am: #34 Car Collection Motorsport Audi of Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff, Gustav Edelhoff, Elmar Grimm, Ingo Vogler and Max Edelhoff.

991-class: #85 PROsport Performance Porsche of Charlie Putman, Charlie Espenlaub and Joe Foster.

SP2: #214 MARC Mazda V8 of Malcom Niall, Clint Harvey, Brett Niall and Robert Thompson.

TCR: #308 Team Altran Peugeot of Guillaume Roman, Gonzalo Martin de Andres, Thierry Blaise and Marc Guillot.

SP3: #41 Brookspeed International Motorsport Porsche of Freddie Hunt, David Pattison, Alan Metni and Joseph Toussaint.

CUP1: #158 Classic BMW of Mike Vess, Jason Hart, Matt Travis, John Capessto-Dubets and Max Fedler.

A2: #171 Team Eva Solo/Jönsson Consulting Peugeot of Jan Engelbrecht, Thomas Sørensen, Henrik Sørensen, Claus Bertelsen and Søren Jønsson.

Coming Up This Weekend
All three NASCAR national touring divisions crown champions at Homestead.
Three championships will be decided in the FIA World Endurance Championship finale in Bahrain.
The World Rally Championship season ends in Australia.
Macau hosts the Macau Grand Prix, the World Touring Car Championship and the FIA GT World Cup.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Five: Valencia, Interlagos, Motegi, Phoenix, Austin

Three championships will be decided this weekend meanwhile two series head to the penultimate rounds of their 2017 seasons. There will be an inaugural event of a 24-hour endurance race in the United States and it will be held in Texas.

Valencian Community Grand Prix
The MotoGP season ends this weekend at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia and the championship will be decided this weekend.

Marc Márquez sits on 282 points and he has a 21-point lead over Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso. With only 25 points left on the table Dovizioso will have to win at Valencia to have any shot at the title and he will need Márquez to finish 12th or worse. Both riders enter with six victories this season meaning should Dovizioso and Márquez finish tied on points and Dovizioso were to win the race, Dovizioso would be the champion on tiebreaker.

Márquez has only won twice at Valencia and only one of those came in the MotoGP class (2014). Despite his lack of victories, Márquez has finished on the podium at Valencia the last five years including finishing on the podium in all four of his MotoGP starts at the track. Dovizioso has never won at Valencia with his best finish being second in the 2004 125cc race. His best MotoGP finish at the track was third in 2011 when he was with the factory Honda team.

Márquez is going for his fourth MotoGP championship and sixth world championship overall. Dovizioso's only world championship came in the 125cc class back in 2004.

Spaniards have won the last five years at Valencia with Jorge Lorenzo and Yamaha winning three of the last four years. Ducati's most recent victory at Valencia was with Casey Stoner in 2008 and the most recent MotoGP victory for an Italian rider at Valencia was Marco Melandri in 2005.

Maverick Viñales has locked up third in the championship on 226 points. His Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi sits in fourth on 197 points. Rossi won at Valencia in 2003 and 2004 but he only has four podium finishes in the last 12 races at the track. Dani Pedrosa trails Rossi by 12 points but Pedrosa will finish no worse than fifth in the championship.

Johann Zarco is 6th, 17 points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo. Both riders finished on the podium in Sepang with Lorenzo picking up his best finish of the season with a second place finish. Pramac Racing Ducati's Danilo Petrucci will likely get a career-best championship finish. The Italian is 8th on 121 points and he is 17 points clear of Team LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow. Jonas Folger will miss his fourth consecutive race due to illness that has been diagnosed Gilbert's syndrome but the German will likely finish tenth in the championship. He has 84 points and is nine points clear of Álvaro Bautista and 11 points clear of Jack Miller.

The Valencian Community Grand Prix will take place on Sunday November 12th at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Brazilian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton returns to Brazil after having clinched his fourth World Drivers' Championship in Mexico City despite picking up his worst finish this season in ninth. Last year, Hamilton picked up his first career victory at Interlagos where he led all 71 laps and won by over 11 seconds to Max Verstappen in a torrential downpour. It was Mercedes third consecutive Brazilian Grand Prix victory.

No manufacture has won the Brazilian Grand Prix four consecutive years. Ferrari won the race three consecutive years from 1976 to 1978 with Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann, who won two of the three. Ferrari would match the achievement from 2006 to 2008 with Felipe Massa's two victories sandwiching Kimi Räikkönen's 2007 championship-clinching victory. Red Bull followed Ferrari by winning from 2009 to 2011 with Mark Webber having victories sandwich Sebastian Vettel's 2010 victory.

Massa, Vettel and Hamilton are the only active drivers with victories in Brazil. Only Alain Prost, Reutemann and Michael Schumacher have more than two Brazilian Grand Prix victories.

Vettel sits second in the championship on 277 points, 15 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Daniel Ricciardo has retired from the last two races and Räikkönen has finished third in the last two races, narrowing the gap to the Australian for fourth to 14 points. Max Verstappen has won two of the last four races with finishes of second and fourth in the other two results. He is 30 points behind Räikkönen.

Sergio Pérez's gap to his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon has shrunk to nine points with the Mexican on 92 points to the Frenchman's 83 points. Ocon has finished ahead of Pérez in the last three races. Carlos Sainz, Jr. remained ninth on 54 points but Lance Stroll cracked the top ten with a sixth place finish at Mexico giving him 40 points, four more than his teammate Massa and six more than Renault's Nico Hülkenberg.

Massa returns to his home race off the back of another retirement announcement. His retirement from last year's race was the first time Massa failed to finish in his home race since his first Brazilian Grand Prix in 2002. He has scored points in nine of 13 Brazilian Grand Prix starts with two victories and six podium finishes. Massa's 11th and most recent grand prix victory came in that famous 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. This year's race will occur 3,297 days after that 2008 race.

While Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Force India and Williams pretty much have the top five in the World Constructors' Championship locked up, the fight for sixth will likely come down to the final race.

Scuderia Toro Rosso sits in sixth on 53 points, five points ahead of Renault and six points ahead of Haas. Toro Rosso drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley are both looking for their first career points. Since the end of the European portion of the season, Renault has scored 14 points while Toro Rossi has scored 13 points, 12 of which came with Sainz, Jr.'s fourth place finish at Singapore, and Haas has scored 12 points but has four points finishes in the last six races, including a double points finish at Suzuka. Toro Rosso and Renault has each only had two points finishes in the last six races. Toro Rosso has not had both cars finish in the points since Barcelona while Renault has not had both cars finish in the points since the French manufacture returned as a full works team last season.

The Brazilian Grand Prix will take place at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 12th.

Motegi GT Grand Final
Two championships will be decided at Twin Ring Motegi as the Super GT season comes to a close.

In GT500, the #37 Lexus Team KeePer TOM's Lexus LC 500 of Nick Cassidy and Ryō Hirakawa lead the championship with 69 points. The duo is fresh off its second victory of the season at Buriram. Six points back is the #6 Lexus Team LeMans Wako's Lexus of Andrea Caldarelli and Kazuya Oshima. The #6 Lexus has not won a race this season but it has three runner-up finishes this season, including finishing runner-up in both the #37 Lexus' two victories this season. Caldarelli has finished second in the GT500 championship two of the last three years and Caldarelli and Hirakawa won the Motegi season finale two years ago.

Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli are attempting to pick up their third championship in the last four seasons. The drivers of the #23 NISMO Nissan GT-R are seven points back and like the #6 Lexus it has not won a race this season but it has finished second in two of the last three races. James Rossiter sits on 53 points. His only victory this season was at Autopolis with Kazuki Nakajima in the #36 Lexus Team au Tom's Lexus. Nakajima missed the Fuji round in May due to FIA World Endurance Championship commitments. The #38 Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo Lexus of Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura won that Fuji race and the drivers trail the #37 Lexus by 18 points with 21 points left on the table.

In GT300, the #4 Goodsmile Racing Mercedes-AMG of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka lead the championship with 65 points despite not winning since the season opener at Okayama. The #4 Mercedes-AMG has finished second in two of the last three races. Taniguchi and Kataoka won the 2014 GT300 championship and both drivers are going for their third GT300 title.

The #51 LM corsa Lexus RCF GT3 of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi became the first and so far only repeat winner in GT300 this season with their victory at Buriram. However, the #51 Lexus trails by nine points entering the finale. The #65 LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG of Naoya Gamou and Haruki Kurosawa won in GT300 at the Suzuka 1000km and they are 13 points back in the championship. The 55 ARTA BMW of Sean Walkinshaw and Shinchi Takagi are 19 points back in fourth position.

The 53-lap Motegi GT Grand Final will start at 11:30 p.m. ET on Saturday November 11th.

Can-Am 500
The penultimate round of the NASCAR Cup season is upon us and there is one spot remaining for the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick clinched their positions with victories at Martinsville and Texas respectively. Martin Truex, Jr. has secured his position on points. Truex, Jr. leads the championship with 4,168 points, 50 points ahead of Busch and 56 points clear of Kevin Harvick.

Brad Keselowski is the first driver on the outside. He has 4,111 points and he is 19 points ahead of Denny Hamlin. Ryan Blaney trails Keselowski by 22 points with Chase Elliott 49 points back and Jimmie Johnson in eighth, trailing Keselowski by 51 points. If any of these five drivers win at Phoenix they will earn that final spot in the championship race. If either of Truex, Jr., Busch, Harvick or a non-Chase driver wins then the final spot will go to the next driver in points.

Harvick has the most victories at Phoenix all-time with eight and the remaining seven Chase drivers combine for seven Phoenix victories, four of which belong to Johnson. Busch's lone Phoenix victory came in his second start at the track in November 2005. Hamlin won the March 2012 race. Keselowski has five top five finishes and eight top ten finishes in 16 Phoenix starts. Blaney and Elliott each have two top ten finishes in three Phoenix starts with each their best finish at the track being eighth. Phoenix has not been a great track for Truex, Jr. He has one top five finish and seven top ten finishes in 23 starts and he has finished outside the top ten in nine of the 12 Phoenix races since the track was reconfigured prior to the autumn race in 2011.

Chevrolet has won eight of the last ten Phoenix races. Toyota's only two victories at Phoenix were the first two races after the reconfiguration with Kasey Kahne winning with Red Bull Racing in November 2011 and Hamlin taking the March 2012 race.

The Can-Am 500 will take place at 2:37 p.m. ET on Sunday November 12th.

Hankook 24H COTA
The Creventic 24H Series makes its debut in the United States with a non-championship round at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Forty-two cars are entered across eight classes.

Despite not winning a race overall, the #1 Hofor-Racing Mercedes-AMG took the A6 championship as the amateur entry won the A6-Am class on four of six occasions. Michael Kroll, Chantal Kroll, Kenneth Heyer and Christiaan Frankenhout return to the #1 Mercedes-AMG with Jörg Viebahn joining the team this weekend. Herberth Motorsport won three of six races this season including the season opener Dubhai 24 Hours. Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer and Alfred Renauer will be in the #991 Porsche.

The lone American in the A6-Pro class will be Ben Keating as he will drive the #3 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG with Jeroen Bleekemolen, Abdulaziz Al Faisal and Luca Stolz. Nicolas Minassian will be in the #8 Mercedes-AMG for ROFGO Racing with the 2013 FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am champions Jamie Campbell-Walter and Stuart Hall and Roald Goethe. Pirelli World Challenge regular Jorge De La Torre has entered the #20 Aston Martin for himself, Mark Kvamme, Ross Gunn and Tack Sun Kim.

The American trio Charles Putnam, Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster won the 991-class championship and they will be in the #85 Porsche.

Black Falcon has entered two Mercedes in the SP2 class. American Russell Ward will be in the #84 Mercedes with Maximilian Götz, Damien Faulkner and Indy Dontje. The #2 Mercedes will be driven by Thomas Jäger, Ryan Ratcliffe, Saud Al Faisal, Gabriele Piana and Mustafa Mehmet Kaya.

The SP3 class sees PWC GTS race winner Ian James in the #40 Brookspeed Porsche with James McGuire, Pierre Kleinburg and John Schauerman. Four Americans are entered in the #71 Cor Euser Racing BMW alongside Cor Euser. Those Americans are Chapman Ducote, David Ducote, Wayne Ducote and Jim Briody. Radio Le Mans lead commentator John Hindhaugh will be in the #232 Aston Martin with Andy Palmer, Peter Cate and Paul Hollywood.

In the A2 class, PWC race winner Ryan Eversley will be in the #183 THRW Honda Racing Honda with Douglas Chen, Jeremy Lucas and Scott Nicol. THRW Honda Racing has entered the #184 Honda for Calvin Tam, Michael Tsay, Lawrence Hwang and Derek Ferretti. The A2 champions Team Eva Solo/Jönnsso Consulting have come over from Denmark. The all-Danish driver line up of Jan Engelbrecht, Thomas Sørensen, Henrik Sørensen, Claus Bertelse and Søren Jønsson will drive the #171 Peugeot.

The Hankook 24H COTA will start at 10:00 a.m. ET on Saturday November 11th and the race will continue until 12:00 a.m. ET before an intermission will take place. The final ten hours of the race will resume at 9:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 12th with the race finishing at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 4.5 retirements at Valencia?
2. Over or Under: 7.5 positions improve by Brendon Hartley from his starting position in Brazil?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 non-Japanese manufactures on the GT300 podium?
4. Over or Under: 110.5 laps led for the Phoenix winner?
5. Over or Under: 600.5 laps completed in the 24H COTA?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: There was one lead change between the two World Superbike races from Qatar.
2. Under: Lucas Mahias won the World Supersport race by 0.023 seconds over Jules Cluzel. 
3. Under: Ford drivers led 16 laps at Pukekohe.
4. Over: Two classes were won by non-European teams, the Japanese Toyota Gazoo Racing in LMP1 and the American Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK in GTE-Pro.
5. Under: David Starr completed 237 laps.

1. Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso each finish on the podium at Valencia. 
2. There will not be a red flag in qualifying or the race at Interlagos for rain. 
3. Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy hold on to win the GT500 championship.
4. There will be at least three cautions in the final stage at Phoenix.
5. The overall Hankook 24H COTA winner will not be Hofor-Racing or Herberth Motorsport.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Kawasaki wins a race at Qatar but does not sweep the weekend (Wrong! Kawasaki swept the weekend).
2. There is a first time winner this season in World Supersport (Wrong! Lucas Mahias picked up his second victory of the season).
3. One of the winners from Pukekoke starts outside the top four (Correct! Shane Van Gisbergen won race one from sixth).
4. At least two Shanghai class winners are victorious from pole position (Wrong! None of the class winners started on pole position)
5. There will at least be one incident of contact between active Chase drivers (Correct! Kyle Busch got into Brad Keselowski at the start, forcing both cars to pit on lap one).
Last Week: 2/5 Overall: 20/37

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Team Penske's 2017 Season

We have reached the final IndyCar team review and of course it is the championship-winning Team Penske. Josef Newgarden's debut season with the team saw him take the championship, beating three experienced teammates who combined for 67 victories entering this season. That didn't scare the American. He didn't need a year to adjust. He jumped right in and led the pack.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
Josef Newgarden
The long awaited Penske debut for Newgarden was a solid run at St. Petersburg. Despite being caught out by the debris caution, Newgarden ran in the top ten all race and finished eighth. Thanks to the slew of Honda cars breaking down, Newgarden was able to jump into podium contention at Long Beach and he finished third, the top Penske in the field. He put himself in the right position at Barber despite being the slowest Penske driver in qualifying. He was running second when Will Power had to pit for a deflating tire and Newgarden held off Scott Dixon to get his first victory with the team. He had a good run at Phoenix but twice brushed the wall, had to make extra pit stops and he had to settle for a ninth place finish.

A pair of pit lane speeding penalties killed a promising day in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and he finished 11th. Newgarden had an accident during practice for the Indianapolis 500 and he never really showed the pace it would take to win from that point on. He started 22nd and was middle of the field all race before his race ended in a turn two accident. He got back on the right path at Belle Isle. A three-stop strategy and a bunch of fast laps got him a fourth place finish in race one. Race two saw him use the three-stop strategy again and it got him a second place finish. Newgarden might have been able to give Will Power a run for his money at Texas but an ambitious move in turn four saw him slide into the wall exiting turn four and end his race.

His summer started with a good run at Road America. He was the best Penske all race but Scott Dixon made his move to take the lead on a restart and ran away with it, leaving Newgarden to settle with another second place finish. Newgarden didn't have the oval pace from Texas carry over to Iowa. He finished sixth but was never a factor for the victory. Newgarden was on pit road right as Tony Kanaan buried himself in the turn one tires at Toronto. It gave him the lead and he never looked back as he led 58 laps on his way to victory. While he started second at Mid-Ohio, he quickly found himself in the lead and was never really challenged by Power even after a restart with 20 laps to go. His third victory of the season gave him the championship lead for the first time in his career.

Newgarden started 14th at Pocono but he found himself in the battle for the victory at the end of the race and as much as he tried to find a way around Power all he could do was settle for another runner-up finish. The championship tightened up heading to Gateway. Power and Newgarden shared the front row again but Newgarden took the lead on the outside early and Power spun before getting through turn two on the first green flag lap. Newgarden traded the lead with teammates Hélio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud and in the closing stages Newgarden was second to Pagenaud. It appeared he would settle in and take the points but he made one gutsy move entering turn one and made it stick. He was gone and a fourth victory was in the bag.

He qualified third for Watkins Glen and it appeared he would extend the championship lead. He dropped back a few positions but a top ten was never in doubt until a race off the pit lane with Power. Newgarden lost a position to his teammate but on cold tires he slid into the pit lane wall, damaging his car and causing Sébastien Bourdais to have nowhere to go but into the back of the American. Newgarden finished the race but two laps down in 18th. With his championship lead down to three points over Scott Dixon entering Sonoma, Newgarden did not snap under pressure. He won his first pole position of the season and led the first 17 laps in the race. Newgarden led 41 laps and never put a wheel wrong. When Pagenaud took the lead, though he gave it one look into turn seven, Newgarden settled for second. It was all he needed as he won his first championship in his first season with Team Penske.

Josef Newgarden's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 1st (642 points)
Wins: 4
Podiums: 9
Top Fives: 10
Top Tens: 13
Laps Led: 390
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 6
Fast Twelves: 9
Average Start: 7.941
Average Finish: 6.058

A historic season was not enough for Pagenaud to retain the title
Simon Pagenaud
The Frenchman's title defense saw him start with an uphill battle after he failed to make it out of round one in qualifying and he started 14th. The timely yellow saw Pagenaud inherit the lead as the front runners had to make pit stops but soon Sébastien Bourdais passed him and Bourdais was gone, leaving Pagenaud to settle for second. Race two saw a blocking penalty in qualifying force Pagenaud to start dead last at Long Beach. He ran hard all race and it got him a fifth place finish. He finally had a good starting position at Barber but he could do no better than his starting position with a third place finish. Phoenix saw Pagenaud pick up his first oval victory with the Frenchman leading 116 laps, most of the race, and he led the final 114 laps in a comfortable victory.

He ran in the top five all race in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and he finished fourth but he never really had it in the Indianapolis 500. He started 23rd, lowest of the five Penske entries and he never had the pace to get to the front. He completed all 200 laps but finished 14th. Pagenaud had another off day in the first Belle Isle race with a 16th-place finish but he improved in race two finishing fifth. By being one of the few survivors at Texas, Pagenaud found himself on the podium again with a third place finish. He started and finished fourth in a quiet day at Road America.

Pagenaud was bottom of the four Penske drivers at Iowa but still ran to a respectable seventh place finish. He didn't make the most of his pole position at Toronto and was then shuffled back after the Tony Kanaan caution but he ran hard and got up to fifth. He had another top five run at Mid-Ohio with a fourth place finish but was well off his teammates Newgarden and Power, who finish first and second respectively.

He started on the outside of row one at Pocono but didn't lead a lap. He had a good car and quietly finished fourth. Gateway appeared it would be his second victory of the season. Pagenaud led after the final round of pit stops but Newgarden's audacious move in turn one took a victory from the Frenchman and even worse dropped him to third. The changing weather conditions at Watkins Glen made for a rough day for Pagenaud. It was bad enough he had to start 12th and he could do no better than ninth. Pagenaud had a shot at the title at Sonoma but he needed Newgarden to falter. The team decided to go to a four-stop strategy and it worked. He was fast and held off Newgarden to win the race and Pagenaud completed every lap run in the 2017 season, only the second driver to accomplish that feat, but he fell short in the championship.

Simon Pagenaud's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 2nd (629 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 6
Top Fives: 13
Top Tens: 15
Laps Led: 187
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 8.647
Average Finish: 5.294

Castroneves got a win, but not a championship
Hélio Castroneves
Like fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan, 2017 marked the 20th season of IndyCar competition for Castroneves and like typical Hélio Castroneves he finished sixth at St. Petersburg but this came after he started 16th on the grid. He picked up his first pole position of the season at Long Beach but he was quickly shuffled back. A pit lane speeding penalty was another set back but he was able to get a ninth place finish out of that day. He started second at Barber but never played into the fight for the victory and he finished fourth. He got another pole position at Phoenix and he led the first 73 laps but during the first round of pit stops he was shuffled back and never factored into the race for the victory after that and he settled for fourth.

In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Castroneves did lead for a while after a round of pit stops but he went two laps too long on the next stint and lost the lead to his teammate Will Power. Then he got dropped a few more positions with the likes of Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud overtaking the Brazilian and he had to settle with a fifth place finish. Castroneves qualified a career-worst 19th for the Indianapolis 500. He had to drive under the somersaulting car of Scott Dixon at one point. Another blow during the race was he was handed a penalty for jumping a restart, a near impossible penalty to earn in IndyCar. However, through sheer Penske strategy and a pair of cautions, Castroneves found himself in the top five and was in contention for his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. He fought with Takuma Sato, Ed Jones and Max Chilton. He was leading with seven laps to go but Sato would take the lead and hold on. Castroneves picked up his third runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500 to go with his three Indianapolis 500 victories.

Castroneves started second in race one from Belle Isle after thinking he won pole position but lost it because he ignored a local yellow in his qualifying group. Mistimed pit strategy cost him a podium, dropping him to seventh in the final results. He started fourth in race two but dropped outside the top ten. A late move got him up to ninth. He suffered a tire failure exiting turn two at Texas and that end his night after 90 laps.

He scored another pole position at Road America but lost the lead after the first stint to Josef Newgarden and was shuffled back to third. He finally got off the snide at Iowa. He started third and led 217 of 300 laps but he had to chase down J.R. Hildebrand as they navigated slower traffic late in the race. Once he got by, the victory was never in doubt. Castroneves made a bold move at the start of the Toronto race, going from third to first in the first turn of the race. His chance of consecutive victory evaporated when the caution came out for Tony Kanaan ending up in the tires. All Castroneves could manage out of it was an eighth place finish. He followed that up with a seventh place finish at Mid-Ohio.

At Pocono, he started 20th but worked his way into the top ten and settled for another seventh place finish. It appeared a second victory would be in his cards at Gateway but he stalled on his penultimate pit stop, the lead was gone and he finished fourth The drying conditions in the opening laps at Watkins Glen had Castroneves in the lead on lap two after Alexander Rossi had a bobble. However, the American ran Castroneves down. He was eventually dropped to fourth. He was the worst of the four Penske drivers at Sonoma where he finished fifth.

Hélio Castroneves' 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 4th (598 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 9
Top Tens: 16
Laps Led: 442
Poles: 3
Fast Sixes: 7
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 6.0
Average Finish: 6.176

The good days couldn't counterbalance the bad ones in 2017 for Will Power
Will Power
His season started like many do: On pole position for the season opener at St. Petersburg. James Hinchcliffe jumped him early but Power remained at the front. He had to make an early pit stop but at the second caution Power was in the top ten and by the end of the second stint he was back up to third. However, in the closing laps his engine started to go and he had to retire. At Long Beach, contact with Charlie Kimball put him behind the eight ball early and he finished a lap down in 13th. Power was leading late at Barber and he appeared in position to win until a deflating tire forced him to pit with 14 laps to go and it ironically dropped him to a 14th-place finish. He finally got a good result at Phoenix. He started second, led 59 laps and finished second to Simon Pagenaud.

He followed up his runner-up performance with a dominating victory in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as he led 61 of 85 laps from pole position. Power was the top Penske qualifier for the Indianapolis 500 and the only one of the team's five cars to make the Fast Nine. He started ninth but he was second by the end of lap one. Power did fall back after that and was never really a contender only to be caught up in an accident in turn two late in the race and he finished 23rd. Race one from Belle Isle did not go well as he started 11th and proceeded to fall back and finish 18th. A blown lap in qualifying forced him to start seventh in race two but he recovered and finished third. At Texas, Power started ninth but quickly found himself in the lead and he never got off the bottom on the racetrack. He led 180 of 248 laps on his way to his second victory of the season.

A poor start at Road America was the start to a hectic day for Power. Twice he had to give up positions for blocking and he even made contact with James Hinchcliffe. He was able to finish fifth. Power started from pole position at Iowa but he could not compete with his teammate Hélio Castroneves and J.R. Hildebrand. He ran in the top five all race and he finished fourth. Toronto saw his race end in turn three after contact with Scott Dixon broke his suspension. He won pole position at Mid-Ohio but after 12 laps he was dropped from the lead by Josef Newgarden who never looked back. Power finished in second comfortably.

Another late season charge appeared to be on for Power. He followed up his second at Mid-Ohio with another stellar drive at Pocono. This time he had to overcome a broken front wing and unscheduled pit stops. A stint of rapid laps allowed him to make his final stop off sequence and get out ahead of the field. He held off Newgarden and Alexander Rossi for the victory. Then came Gateway and that hot streak ended when he spun in turn two on the first lap of green flag racing. He nearly cost his teammate Newgarden the championship at Watkins Glen but at least Power finished sixth. He closed the season by wrapping up a Penske 1-2-3 at Sonoma.

Will Power's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 5th (562 points)
Wins: 3
Podiums: 7
Top Fives: 9
Top Tens: 10
Laps Led: 443
Poles: 6
Fast Sixes: 7
Fast Twelves: 9
Average Start: 4.35
Average Finish: 9.176

Last year, I compared Team Penske's 1994 season to the 2016 season and the same has to be done after this season. The common thing from these three seasons was not only did Penske dominate and win the championship but also each driver got a share of the fun. All four drivers won this year for Penske and the team combined for ten victories from 17 races, one fewer than 1994 but one more than 2016, and the team won five consecutive races during the season, the longest winning streak for the team since it won seven consecutive races in 1994.

The team did not sweep the top three positions like it did in 1994 and 2016 but it took first, second, fourth and fifth in the championship. The team swept the podium on only one occasion, the season finale at Sonoma, more than 2016 but four fewer than the 1994 team. Overall the four drivers combined for 25 podium finishes, four less than 1994 but three more than 2016. Penske had at least one driver on the podium in 15 of the 17 races, the same total as 1994 but the 1994 season had 16 races and last year's team had at least one driver on the podium in 14 race but there was one fewer race last year. This year's bunch equaled the number of pole positions won by last year's team at 11, which is one more than the 1994 team.

The 2017 team was impressive when it came to leading laps with Team Penske sweeping the top four in the laps led column. Team Penske led a total of 1,462 of 2,331 laps (62.719%) in 2017 and it dwarfs the number put up by the 2016 team, which led 811 of 2,070 laps (39.178%). However, the 1994 team was impressive with the trio of Al Unser, Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy not only sweeping the top three in most laps led that season but the team combining for 1,584 laps led out of 2,083 laps (76.04%).

We can spin the numbers and look into the difference of eras and how IndyCar has changed and debate if the 2017 numbers are more impressive or vice versa but the one thing 1994 will always have over the 2016 and 2017 seasons is Team Penske won the Indianapolis 500 in 1994 with Al Unser, Jr. I am not that type of guy who weighs the Indianapolis 500 above everything else, the season has to be taken serious and the performance over the course of more than a dozen races means more than just one day in May, but when looking at how dominant these three seasons were, the Indianapolis 500 victory becomes the cherry on top that is missing from the last two seasons.

Team Penske moves on to 2018 with three drivers, three champions and all three looking for their first Indianapolis 500 victory. The team has not won three consecutive championships since 1981-1983 and while the introduction of the universal aero kit should level the playing field, Team Penske is Team Penske and it will be one step ahead of the competition.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

How Would Stage Points Have Altered the 2017 IndyCar Championship?

There has been a month and a half since the IndyCar season ended and it has given us some time to look back and pick a part what occurred from March to September. Back in August, between Mid-Ohio and Pocono, I took a look at what IndyCar would look like had the series used stage points.

Back in August, with the mythological stage points, Hélio Castroneves would have been the championship leader, not Josef Newgarden as the Brazilian would have scored 144 stage points through Mid-Ohio, more than any other driver, while Newgarden would have had the fourth most stage points with 117 points. Team Penske had the top four positions swept, as Will Power would have had 132 points and Simon Pagenaud would have 123 points.

How would the championship have changed if stage points had been around and awarded in the final four races? In case you are wondering, I used the quarter-post and halfway points to award stage points for these four races, so at Pocono would be lap 50 and lap 100, Gateway lap 62 and lap 124, Watkins Glen lap 15 and lap 30 and Sonoma lap 21 and lap 42.

Here is how the mythical stage points after Sonoma would have looked:

Drivers Stage Points
Castroneves 181
Newgarden 159
Pagenaud 154
Dixon 148
Power 143
Rossi 136
Rahal 120
Hinchcliffe 96
Hunter-Reay 95
Sato 62
Kanaan 58
Hildebrand 56
Chilton 51
Bourdais 42
Daly 39
Pigot 38
Andretti 37
Aleshin 25
Jones 21
Kimball 20
Alonso 17
Vautier 16
Saavedra 12
Muñoz 9
Montoya 3
Gutiérrez 1

And here is what the top 28 positions in the championship would have looked like with stage points:

Driver Championship Points Change in Position
Newgarden 801 0
Pagenaud 783 0
Castroneves 779 +1
Dixon 769 -1
Power 705 0
Rahal 642 0
Rossi 630 0
Hunter-Reay 516 +1
Sato 503 -1
Hinchcliffe 472 +3
Kanaan 461 -1
Chilton 447 -1
Andretti 425 -1
Hildebrand 403 +1
Jones 375 -1
Kimball 347 +1
Daly 344 +1
Muñoz 337 -2
Aleshin 262 0
Bourdais 256 +1
Pigot 256 -1
Carpenter 216 0
Chaves 98 0
Montoya 96 0
Saavedra 92 +1
Gutiérrez 92 -1
Alonso 64 +2
Servià 61 -1

As you can see, there are some changes but none of them are massive. Newgarden would have still been champion and Pagenaud would have still finished second. The first change is Castroneves would have finished ahead of Dixon in third. Hunter-Reay would have finished ahead of Sato by 13 points instead of finishing behind him by 20 points thanks in part to Hunter-Reay scoring points from all but one stage in the final four races while Sato would not have scored a single stage point in the final four races.

The biggest mover would be James Hinchcliffe, who would have jumped three points and rounded out the top ten in the championship. The Canadian's big move would have been facilitated by 96 stage points he scored during the season while the drivers he jumped, Kanaan, Chilton and Andretti score 58 stage points, 51 stage points and 37 stage points respectively. The only other driver that would have more up more than one position was Fernando Alonso, who would have moved from 29th to 27th.

Outside of Hinchcliffe, everybody from 11th to 18th would be in a different position. J.R. Hildebrand would have jumped Ed Jones to 14th because Hildebrand scored stage points on ten occasions while Jones only did it eight times while Jones' best stage finish would have been third in stage two at St. Petersburg while Hildebrand's good days at Phoenix and Iowa as well as good stages at Watkins Glen would have inflated his scored. In fact, Jones scored 21 stage points all season while Hildebrand scored 43 stage points in the six stages from Phoenix, Iowa and Watkins Glen alone. The gap would have swung from Jones ahead by seven to Hildebrand up by 28 points.

Charlie Kimball would have picked up a position to 16th as would Conor Daly to 17th and Carlos Muñoz would have dropped two spots to 18th. Kimball would have scored 20 stage points while Daly would have had 39 stage points and Muñoz would have picked up only nine points from stages all season.

Despite not seismically shifting the championship picture, stage points would shift drivers by providing an increased reward when a driver is having a solid day. Take Hildebrand for example. He jumped a position in the championship basically because he had two solid races at Phoenix and Iowa. Not only did he finish on the podium in both races but also he was in the top five for the entirety of those races. The philosophical question is should running in the top five all race be a reason for a driver to be rewarded?

My thought process is if you are having a solid day then you will get a result that you deserve and it will show there. Stage points add more points to the equation but not necessarily for the better of the championship picture. It separates the herd even more. The top ten drivers in stage points scored would have ended up being the top ten in the championship, granted in a slightly different order. Stage points provide cover for results that were not achieved at the finish of a race. Castroneves scored the most stage points but even with that extra bit added to his total it couldn't completely cover the fact he had one victory and three podium finishes all season. It got him an extra position but that was it.

Stage points would have distracted us from what was a disappointing season for Hinchcliffe. He won at Long Beach but still finished behind three drivers who combined for one podium finish all season. Had there been stage points, those extra 96 points would have covered for six finishes of 20th or worse during the season. In effect it canceled out a few of Hinchcliffe's bad days and once again do we want that? Do we want drivers to be allowed a few mulligans during the season? I don't think so.

Stage points wouldn't have changed much but the good news is it doesn't appear IndyCar will be introducing the concept anytime soon.