Friday, September 21, 2018

Friday Five: End of Summer Edition

We're back! The end-of-year tradition of looking at a handful of racing series at the end of a work week has returned and we are back with all the usual features. We will look at every series from stock cars to touring cars, supersport to sports cars, endurance races to sprints. There will be a handful of championships from many continents competing from now until the motorsports season dwindles down around the end of November/start of December.

This one starts with the end of summer. Summer ends on Saturday and then we will be in glorious comfort of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. This weekend features championships that are getting to the point. A few championships could be wrapped up this weekend.

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Tonight is the first round of NASCAR's second division's Chase from Richmond and the championship contenders have been whittled down to 12 drivers.

Justin Allgaier enters as the championship leader. The JR Motorsports driver won five of the first 26 races and he holds a seven-point lead over Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell. Allgaier enters with 14 consecutive top ten finishes and he was as low as fifth in the championship at Mid-Ohio in August.  After winning three consecutive races in July, Bell's average finish has been 12.8 in the last seven races and he has only led 19 laps in that period, including having not led in the last four races. Bell won the Richmond race in April.

Elliott Sadler and Cole Custer are tied in the championship, 28 points behind Allgaier. Sadler has not won in 65 races. This will be his 31st Richmond start in this series. He has never won and he has five consecutive top ten finishes at the track. Custer won his series leading fifth pole position at Las Vegas last week. He has four top five finishes in the last five races.

Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain and Daniel Hemric are tied, 29 points off Allgaier. Chastain picked up his first career victory at Las Vegas and this is his final of three races with Chip Ganassi Racing. Reddick has finished outside the top ten in eight of the last 12 races; seven of those have been finishes outside the top twenty. Hermic's 29th place finish at Las Vegas last week matched his worst result of the season, which was a 29th place finish at Richmond in April.

Brendon Jones rounds out the top eight on 2,006 points, three ahead of Matt Tifft and Ryan Truex. Jones has not had a top five finish since Iowa in June. Tifft had five consecutive top ten finishes before his retirement at Las Vegas. Truex has seven top ten finishes in the first 13 races but since then he has only three top ten finishes in the last 13 races. Austin Cindric is five points behind Jones with Ryan Reed rounding out the top 12. Cindric had retired from three consecutive races before he finished ninth at Las Vegas. Reed has finished outside the top ten in five consecutive races.

This race will feature Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in his first race since his competitive race since last year's Cup season finale at Homestead. Katherine Legge will make her first oval start after running at Mid-Ohio and Road America.

The NASCAR Grand National Series race will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET and is scheduled for 250 laps.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
On Saturday night at Richmond, the NASCAR Cup Series will have its second race of what has already been a chaotic round one.

Brad Keselowski won his third consecutive race of the season at Las Vegas and clinched a spot to the next round while Martin Truex, Jr. finished third and took the points lead on 2,087 points. Truex, Jr. is two points ahead of Kyle Busch, who recovered to finish seventh after a spin at Las Vegas. If both drivers hold serve this weekend and do not drop points they should clinch a spot to the next round on points. Busch leads all active drivers with five Richmond victories.

Kevin Harvick dropped to fourth on 2,060 points after a tire failure ended his day. He is four points ahead of Joey Logano. Logano has three top five finishes in the last four races after not having a top five finish in the prior 11 races. Kurt Busch is ten points behind Logano with Ryan Blaney five points behind him and Kyle Larson a point off Blaney. Busch has the third best average starting position this season behind only his brother Kyle and Truex, Jr. Blaney has never finished in the top ten in five Richmond starts. Larson won last year's summer Richmond race and that is his most recent victory.

Ninth through 14th are covered by 15 points. Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon round out the top ten on 2,034 points and 2,031 points respectively. Almirola has finished 17th in three of the last four Richmond races. Dillon has never finished in the top ten in nine Richmond starts and he has finished off the lead lap in six Richmond starts. Clint Bowyer is one point behind Dillon and two points ahead of Alex Bowman. Bowyer led 45 laps in the April race, the first time he had led at Richmond since the infamous September 2013 race. Bowman has the worst average finish of the Chase drivers at Richmond at 30.6. His best finish was 18th in April.

Jimmie Johnson is the first driver in the drop zone and he is six points behind his teammate. After winning three of four Richmond races between 2007 and 2008, Johnson has not won at the track in ten years. In the last 19 Richmond races, Johnson has three top five finishes, all three were third place finishes, and he has led 92 laps. Chase Elliott is three points behind Johnson. Elliott's second place finish in April was his first top five finish at the track. Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin are 19 points and 20 points respectively below the cutline. All three of Hamlin's Richmond victories have been the summer race. He has six consecutive top ten finishes at Richmond.

Eight different drivers have won the last eight Richmond races. Kyle Busch's victory from 32nd on the grid in April is the only of the eight to come from outside the top five.

The 400-lap Cup race will take place at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday September 22nd.

Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters
With 112 points left on the table and four races remaining in the 2018 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season, eight drivers are alive for the championship as the series heads to the penultimate round of the year at Red Bull Ring.

Gary Paffett took the championship lead from fellow Brit and Mercedes-Benz driver Paul di Resta after di Resta was spun in race one of the Nürburgring weekend. Paffett holds the lead with 206 points to di Resta's 204 points. Both drivers have won three races this year and both drivers are going for their second DTM titles. Paffett's only title came in 2005 while he has finished vice-champion on three occasions since then including to di Resta in 2010.

Defending champion René Rast swept the Nürburgring races and he is 57 points behind Paffett. Rast won the second race at Red Bull Ring last year. Edoardo Mortara is 11 points behind Rast in fourth and he won at Red Bull Ring in 2012 and 2015. Marco Wittmann is a point off Mortara and he and Mortara are the only two active drivers with multiple Red Bull Ring victories. Wittmann won in 2014 and 2016.

Timo Glock sits on 119 points and he is another past DTM winner at the Red Bull Ring. He won the second race in 2016. Glock has not stood on the podium since Hungary in June. He had four podium finishes in the first six races. Lucas Auer heads home to Austria on 110 points. Auer has only score points in his home race twice in six starts. He did have three podium finishes at Red Bull Ring in Formula Three. Pascal Wehrlein is the final driver alive for the championship on 100 points. The 2015 champion finished second in the second race at this track in 2015 to Mattias Ekström.

Including qualifying races, Mercedes-Benz won the first six races at this track from 2001-2003 with Bernd Schneider sweep in 2001 and Marcel Fässler sweeping the next two years. Since returning to the schedule in 2011, Audi has won six races while BMW has won the other four. Since returning to the doubleheader format in 2015, all three visits to Red Bull Ring have been sweeps for a manufacture with Audi sweep in 2015 and 2017 and BMW sweeping in 2016.

This year's race will include five-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Ogier making his DTM debut. The Frenchman is driving as a guest driver in the #17 Mercedes-Benz. Ogier is currently third in the 2018 WRC standings and has three victories this season.

DTM will race at 6:10 a.m. ET on Saturday September 22nd and at 6:10 a.m. ET on Sunday September 23rd.

Six races remain in the MotoGP season and 11 riders are still alive for the championship.

Marc Márquez has finished on the podium in six consecutive races and has ten podium finishes from 12 races. With 221 points, he leads Andrea Dovizioso by 67 points. Valentino Rossi is three points behind Dovizioso in third despite not having finished on the podium in the last three races and not having won a race this season. Jorge Lorenzo has won three races this season but those are his only three top five finishes this season and he is fourth on 130 points. Maverick Viñales rounds out the top five on 124 points.

Cal Crutchlow is the only winner this season not named Márquez, Dovizioso or Lorenzo and he is sixth on 119 points and he is coming off his second podium finishes of the season after finishing third at Misano. Johann Zarco and Danilo Petrucci are tied on 110 points with Zarco holding the tiebreaker with two runner-up finishes to Petrucci's one runner-up finish. Andrea Iannone has 92 points with Álex Rins rounding out the top ten on 79 points. Dani Pedrosa is the final rider mathematically eligible for the title on 76 points. Pedrosa has not had a podium finish this season. This is the second time Pedrosa has not had a podium finish within the first 12 races of the season. The other was 2015 and he finished second in the 14th race at Arágron and he won the 15th race at Motegi.

This is the eighth visit to Motorland Arágon. Márquez has four victories at the track, including two consecutive MotoGP victories and three overall. Lorenzo won at Arágon in 2014 and 2015. Ducati has not won at Arágon since the inaugural race in 2010 with Casey Stoner. Stoner is the only non-Spaniard to win at Arágon. Besides his 2010 victory, the Australian won in 2011 with Honda. Honda leads all manufactures with five victories at the track.

The Arágon Grand Prix is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday September 23rd.

European Le Mans Series
Spa-Francorchamps host the penultimate round of the 2018 European Le Mans Series and the LMP2 championship could be clinched at the famed Belgian racetrack.

Andrea Pizzitola and Romain Rusinov and the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Gibson could take the championship with at least a second place finish. They lead the championship with 87 points and holds a 34-point lead over the #24 Racing Engineering Oreca of Norman Nato and Paul Petit. The #26 Oreca has won three consecutive races and Jean-Éric Vergne is back in his fourth consecutive race in the car. He was not at the season opener at Circuit Paul Ricard due to Formula E commitments. Olivier Pla will join Nato and Petit in the #24 Oreca.

Two other cars are mathematically alive for the LMP2 title. The #28 IDEC Sport Oreca of Paul-Loup Chatin, Paul Lafargue and Memo Rojas are on 50 points and has finished third in two of the four races. The #21 DragonSpeed Oreca of Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Nicolas Lapierre finished second at Red Bull Ring in July and has 41 points.

In LMP3, the #15 RLR Msport Ligier of John Farano, Rob Garofall and Job van Uitert lead the championship with 58.5 points and 12.5 points back is the #3 United Autosport Ligier of Matt Bell, Garett Grist and Anthony Wells and the #11 EuroInternational Ligier of Giorio Mondini and Kay Van Berlo. The #15 Ligier has won twice, at Circuit Paul Ricard and Red Bull Ring. United Autosport won the most recent round at Silverstone and EuroInternational won at Monza.

A half-point back off of United Autosport and EuroInternational is the #6 360 Racing Ligier of Ross Kaiser, Lucas Swift and Terrence Woodward. The #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier of Martin Hippe and Jakub Smiechowski round out the top five on 45 points. The #7 Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen Ligier of Alex Kapadia, Chris Noble and Christian Stubbe Olsen has 39 points and has finished runner-up in the last two races.

The #88 Proton Competition Porsche of Gianluca Roda, Giorgio Roda and Matteo Cairoli lead the GTE championship with 72 points and has a nine-point lead over the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Liam Griffin, Alex MacDowell and Miguel Molina. The #88 Porsche won at Red Bull Ring and has finished on the podium in three of four races. The #66 Ferrari has victories at Circuit Paul Ricard and Silverstone. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott won at Monza and is third in the championship on 58 points.

The #77 Proton Competition Porsche sits on 53 points of Marvin Dienst, Christian Ried and Dennis Olsen. The #80 EbiMotors Porsche has finished third place three times this season and sits on 46 points. Bret Curtis joins Fabio Babini and Riccardo Pera in the #80 Porsche for his third race. Krohn Racing is sixth in the championship on 38 points with Tracy Krohn, Nic Jönsson and Andrea Bertolini in the #83 Ferrari.

The 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will take place on Sunday September 23rd at 6:30 a.m. ET.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 7.5 lead changes?
2. Over or Under: 99.5 laps led for the race winner?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 point scorers in race one starting outside the top ten?
4. Over or Under: 3.0 seconds being the margin of victory?
5. Over or Under: 5.5 nationalities represented in the three class winning entries?

1. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finishes behind at least two of his full-time drivers.
2. Fewer than three top five starters finish in the top five of the Cup race.
3. Sébastien Ogier does not score a point at Red Bull Ring but has a better average finish than Mattias Ekström did at the Hockenheimring.
4. At least two front row starters do not finish on the podium.
5. There will be at least one first-time class winner this season at Spa-Francorchamps.