Wednesday, November 21, 2018

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Chip Ganassi Racing's 2018 Season

We have done it! We have reached the final IndyCar Wrap-Up and it is the champions! It is Chip Ganassi Racing. The team shrunk to two cars after seven years running a four-car operation and it worked. A familiar face was responsible for bringing the hardware back to Chip Ganassi Racing for the team's 12th IndyCar championship.

The picture says it all
Scott Dixon
It was another year in which Scott Dixon ended as champion. It was a difficult fight but Dixon never seemed to lose his grip once he took the championship lead for the entirety of the second half of the season. Along the way, Dixon moved his name up the record book in multiple categories and he continues to cement himself as one of the all-time greats in motorsports let alone IndyCar.

What objectively was his best race?
Dixon added another three victories to his decorated IndyCar career and in doing so he has moved to third all-time with 44 victories behind only A.J. Foyt's 67 and Mario Andretti's 52. The first victory came at the first Belle Isle race. He ran on the back of Marco Andretti for the first stint and ran better in and out laps to get the lead. The first caution erased the challenge of Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was on a three-stop strategy, and Dixon had control from there on out.

The following week, Dixon ran strong at Texas and he was going all-out on a four-stop strategy while some tired to stretch it on three stops. Timely cautions killed any reason to conserve fuel and Dixon had put a fair amount of the field a lap down and had clean air to work with on the restart. He pulled away again while Alexander Rossi battled Simon Pagenaud and took the championship lead with this victory.

At Toronto, Dixon was running second and Josef Newgarden brushed the barrier on coming to a restart allowing Dixon through. From there, Dixon took another convincing victory and on that day it became clear Dixon was likely going to win the championship. He had a 62-point lead with five races to go and Toronto was a race where his four biggest championship challengers all had issues. Rossi got into Will Power. Hunter-Reay got into the barrier all on his own when he locked up the brakes in turn three. Power had a second accident. Newgarden brushed the barrier while leading. Every other driver showed their flaws and it was clear they were not going to have enough to defeat Dixon.

What subjectively was his best race?
Portland! It is the race where he finished fifth after coming out of a cloud of dust without any damaged and four wounded racecars, two to his left and two to his right. Dixon made mistakes during that race. The first lap accident wasn't one of them but even being at the wrong place at the wrong time didn't get him. Dixon had everything go against him in that race and he shot himself in the foot with a pit lane speeding penalty but timing was in his favor. A caution occurred after Dixon's pit stops and Alexander Rossi was caught out. Rossi shuffled to the back, Dixon slid up to the front and what was going to be a 72-points swing in the American's favor turned out to be a day where Dixon added some insurance heading into the finale. Portland was the day when it became clear the title was going to be Dixon's.

What objectively was his worst race?
His worst race was 12th at Iowa. It was his one bad day. He started sixth and fell back to 12th. His only other result outside the top ten was 11th at Long Beach, where he was in contention for a podium finish but a caution caught him out. He made it to pit road but not before the caution and he had to serve a penalty. Despite the set back, he fought back to finish 11th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
When you win a championship, is there really a worst race? Unlike every other driver that can look back at points lost over the course of a season, the champion didn't lose points. Dixon can look back and think he could have finished fourth at Portland but it would have been another three points to his championship total.

He could look back at Gateway and say he should have won that race after starting on pole position and leading 145 of 248 laps but finished third. It doesn't matter. Enough was done. You can always want more but Dixon did what Dixon does. He ended the season with six consecutive top five finishes and 12 top five finishes in the final 13 races. He did what was needed to get his fifth championship.

Scott Dixon's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 1st (678 points)
Wins: 3
Podiums: 9
Top Fives: 13
Top Tens: 15
Laps Led: 357
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 8.0
Average Finish: 4.235

There were a lot of pluses and minuses for Ed Jones in 2018
Ed Jones
The sophomore season for Ed Jones saw him move from Dale Coyne Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing. Jones improved in the championship but the results were not good enough. His best days could not cover up his shortcomings and his tenure with the team lasted one season.

What objectively was his best race?
Jones had two podium finishes; both third place finishes at Long Beach and the second Belle Isle race. Long Beach was a race where he benefited from a caution that took him from the back half of the top ten to the podium but it was not a cakewalk. Zach Veach put up a challenge for third and Jones held on.

What subjectively was his best race?
The second Belle Isle race was the only race Jones started in the top ten and finished in the top ten and better yet, he started in the top five and finished in the top five. Jones started fourth and finished third and he held off Dixon for that final podium position.

What objectively was his worst race?
Because there are 33 cars at the Indianapolis it makes it more likely a driver's worst finish will occur in that race and sure enough, Jones' worst result was 31st in the Indianapolis 500 after an accident exiting turn two after 57 laps.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Jones was going to finish on the podium at Phoenix but he had an accident and instead of finishing second, the marbles caught him out and ended what could have been a remarkable result in his second start with Chip Ganassi Racing. Instead, he pretty much ended his Ganassi career before it even got started. It didn't help that Jones was always the third choice for the team and when he could have won the team over and maybe saved any hope of a second season at Ganassi he only set the dominos in motion to justify his removal after 2018 and sure enough he is gone.

Ed Jones' 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 13th (343 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 1
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 4
Average Start: 13.1875
Average Finish: 13.294

An Early Look Ahead
Ed Jones is out and Felix Rosenqvist is in and it is one of the most anticipated rookie of the year campaigns in IndyCar in recent memory. Though Rubens Barrichello was not classified as a rookie, I think this addition to the grid matches the level of interest when Barrichello came in but in two different respects.

With Barrichello, we wondered how the most experienced driver in Formula One history not only would do in IndyCar but how would he adapt to the differences and Barrichello seemed to fit right in. He didn't dominate but he had respectable results and he seemed to fit in. For Rosenqivst, he has been a highly touted prospect for over six years and he seems to fit the quintessential European driver that has the talent but not the budget to move up to Formula One and no Formula One snagged the kid while they could.

Rosenqvist beat many on the current Formula One grid whilst in Formula Three. In 2012, he beat teammate Pascal Wehrlein and Carlos Sainz, Jr. while finishing third in in the championship. The following year he topped Alex Lynn, Harry Tincknell and Jordan King and was vice-champion. He dropped to tenth in 2014 but was the 2015 European Formula Three champion ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi, Charles Leclerc, Lance Stroll and George Russell and all four of those drivers will be in Formula One next year.

The Swede has found success everywhere he has gone. After Formula Three, he won three Indy Lights races in ten starts. He was competitive in Formula E from the drop of the hat. He had three podium finishes in Super Formula and he finished on the podium last year in Super GT while scoring points in six of seven starts.

I am not worried about off the track for Rosenqvist. He ran Indy Lights, he understands the American scene a bit and after watching him in Indy Lights and Formula E he seems like a flexible guy and I don't think he will suffer a culture shock in the paddock. I look at Rosenqvist and after the season Robert Wickens had I think that is not an unrealistic bar for Rosenqvist. He has some experience when it comes to the tracks but plenty will be new to him and the car is different. He will not necessarily be Juan Pablo Montoya but I do not expect him to be lost every weekend. He is the early favorite for rookie of the year.

It would be easy to say Scott Dixon has nothing to work on because every year he seems to do the same old thing and at worst he finishes fourth in the championship. Dixon has pretty much had a championship-caliber every year since 2006 it is just some years another driver was slightly better. But this level of consistency has not been matched by anybody and that is how Dixon has won five championships.

Dixon has never gone more than five seasons without a championship. He won titles in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015 and 2018. We can pencil him in for another title by at least 2023 at this rate and it would not surprise anybody if he would three titles in the next five years.

Dixon finished the year with 678 of a possible 1,026 points, 66.0818% of the maximum and this is the third consecutive seasons the champion has scored over 60% of the maximum points total after four consecutive years scoring below 60%. This is the second-highest percentage of the maximum points Dixon has scored in his five championships. In 2008, he scored 646 of 901 points, 71.698%, the last time a champion has scored over 70% of the maximum points.

This was the second consecutive season the champion had nine podium finishes but Dixon's 13 top five finishes and 15 top ten finishes gave him in the highest percentage in each category since Dario Franchitti achieved both totals in 2011. Dixon had top five finishes in 76.47% of the races and top ten finishes in 88.235% of the races.

Where could Dixon improve? Qualifying? I guess he could have a Will Power-esque qualifying record but he has been pretty damn successful without qualifying on the front row in 14 races.

Dixon is going to be at the top of championship and I think Rosenqvist will be better than Jones. How much better? I think he will be in the top ten and we will see where he goes from there. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

2018 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

NASCAR season is over and we are now going to look back at the predictions made nearly a year ago. What things went as thought and how wrong was I last December? This is where we find out.

1. Martin Truex, Jr., finishes outside the top ten in at least two races at 1.5-mile tracks
Wrong! Truex, Jr. had one finish outside the top ten at a 1.5-mile oval and that was 37th in the first Texas race after an accident. That is quite impressive especially when you look at it over the two-year span.

2. Aric Almirola sets a career-high in top ten finishes in a season
Correct! Not only did Almirola set a career-high with 17 top ten finishes but he had a career-high four top five finishes. And with his results, Almirola finished fifth in the championship. And that doesn't feel right.

NASCAR's championship format has many problems but from a historical standpoint I think there will be drivers we look back on, see the championship finish but are misled a bit because of the reset and then the reset once eliminated. If a driver makes the round of eight but not the final four, there is a chance that driver could finish 16th in the championship. All these drivers get points for advancing each round but once eliminated they lose the bump from advancing to the prior round. It is really odd.

Almirola finished four points ahead of Chase Elliott despite Elliott having won three times the number of races and double the number of Chase races. Elliott had nearly three the number of top five finishes with 11 and he had 21 top ten finishes. Brad Keselowski had three the number of victories, three times the number of top five finishes and 20 top ten finishes.

Without the Chase, Elliott, Keselowski and Almirola would have been eighth, sixth and 12th respectively.

I know people make the argument "a guy with one victory had finished ahead of drivers with three or four or nine victories prior" and I understand this defense but it doesn't mean it is right or means NASCAR's decision to lump the eliminated drivers together is the right thing to do.

I will say it. I fucking hate this system. Because we have no idea what it means to be good. Remember when NASCAR wanted to make winning races worth more? NASCAR has failed to do that with each re-iteration of the Chase. But even worse it has devalued top five finishes. Almirola had a career year but it never felt like he was the fifth-best driver in NASCAR and you can argue that he is because that is where he finished but deep down you have to know at no point was anyone saying Almirola's name in the same conversation as Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.

3. Hendrick Motorsports wins more than three races
Wrong! Hendrick Motorsports won exactly three races and all were at the hands of Chase Elliott. The Georgian broke through at Watkins Glen, adding his second victory at Dover and then won at Kansas two weeks later but that was it for Hendrick Motorsports.

Jimmie Johnson was shut out for the first time in his career. Alex Bowman had a few good days but was never a contender for a race victory. William Byron was getting his feet wet.

4. Ford does not win more than two restrictor plate races
Correct! Ford won twice at plate tracks with Joey Logano in the spring Talladega race and Aric Almirola winning the autumn race at Talladega but Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and Erik Jones won the July Daytona race.

5. Team Penske does not win the autumn race at Talladega
Correct! See above. Almirola won in what was a dominant day for Stewart-Haas Racing.

6. Darrell Wallace, Jr., is the top rookie finisher in at least 12 races
Correct! He was the top rookie in 14 races and this was a terrible prediction. One, there were only two rookies with Wallace and William Byron. Two, 14 out of 36 races is only 38.888%. That isn't good. Wallace was basically a 6-10 team in the NFL. No one ever celebrates going 6-10. Not even Cleveland Browns fans would feel good about celebrating 6-10.

Richard Petty Motorsports is a bad team and I think the longer Wallace stays the more it hurts his career. Who has gone to Richard Petty Motorsports and left with their career in better shape? Who? And yes, I realize we just talked about Aric Almirola but look at other recent drivers for this team: Brian Scott, Sam Hornish, Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Elliott Sadler, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson, A.J. Allmendinger, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Green.

Which of those drivers had a significantly better career after driving for Petty's team? The answer is none. Wallace, get out while you still can!

7. A change is made to the Charlotte roval event before the race occurs
Correct! The layout was changed and the infield section bypassed a left and a right hand turn that would have created a hairpin back onto the oval and a chicane was added on the backstretch.

8. At least five drives make the Grand National Series Chase by victory
Wrong! And I am a bit disappointed. Only four drivers clinched a spot with a victory: Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Ross Chastain. Six championship-eligible drivers did win a race before the start of the Chase but Ryan Preece was not full-time and Spencer Gallagher failed a drug test and could not qualify based on that victory.

Daniel Hemric didn't win a race all season. Elliott Sadler did not win a race all season. Cole Custer did not win until the autumn Texas race. Matt Tifft didn't win a race. Austin Cindric had a few road course races get away from him. John Hunter Nemechek won a race but it was not until Kansas in October and he wasn't full-time. Chase Briscoe won a race but it was not until Charlotte in September.

I thought Sadler would break through and Custer would get a victory and possibly even Hemric. This season the Grand National Series underperformed. But what makes it worse is the final eight races when there were no full-time Cup drivers racing were really good races and fun to watch and there were six different winners in the final six races and there were seven different winners in the final eight.

Imagine if most of the season had no Cup drivers. I am not for banning Cup drivers entirely but there is a night and day difference between the start of the season and the end. Thirteen of the first 26 races were won by Cup drivers and four races were Dash 4 Cash races (Bristol, Richmond, Talladega, Dover) where Cup drivers are banned, another four races are standalone races (Iowa twice, Mid-Ohio and Road America) and Cup drivers were barred from the Las Vegas race, the final race of the regular season.

That leaves four "unregulated" races won by championship-eligible drivers and those races were Daytona, Kentucky, Loudon and Indianapolis. Daytona was a plate race and Indianapolis has the alternate aero package.

I don't want too much more to be done. I think enough has been done to begin with and I think the decision to barred cars with Cup drivers scoring points toward the owners' championship will cause a seismic shift and is the most disadvantageous move made yet. I think we are more likely to have at least five or six championship-eligible drivers get a victory in the first 26 races of 2019.

9. Brendan Gaughan competes in at least three of four August Grand National Series races
Wrong! Gaughan competed in only two of the four races, Mid-Ohio and Road America.

10. The Eldora truck race has a sixth different winner in as many years
Correct! Chase Briscoe won in a photo finish over Grant Enfinger and either driver would have been the sixth different winner at Eldora.

11. Ryan Truex wins a truck race
Wrong! This one stings. At the time, it wasn't clear where Truex would be and I thought he would return to Hattori Racing Enterprises. However, he moved up to the second division with Kaulig Racing and he nearly won the season opener at Daytona but outside of that he had a pretty average year and made the Chase but Hattori Racing Enterprises won the Truck championship with Brett Moffitt. Oof. I am not going to say Truex would have done just as well or better than Moffitt but I think he would have won at least one race.

12. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., runs one track he has never raced at before
Wrong! Earnhardt, Jr. made one start and it was at Richmond and Earnhardt, Jr. had run plenty of times at Richmond before. I am not surprised he didn't run more but I thought he would have run three or four races and spread them out over the summer. I thought he would have given Iowa a go and I thought he was going to run Homestead because he spoke so highly of the track last November and it sounded like he really wanted to run it.

I would have liked to see him run a few more times. I get why he didn't and he is still young but if Richmond is the only time he runs every year from now until he is 64 then I think we will all live.

Final Words
I got to admit this season ends with a bit of an underwhelming feeling and I think it is because for the first time I think NASCAR has produced not just one champion but two champions that were never the best driver at any point in the season. With prior iterations of the Chase, the guy on top at the end had a better argument for being on top. When Johnson won five consecutive titles he had to put together ten strong races, same for Kurt Busch in 2004 and Tony Stewart in 2005 and 2011 and Brad Keselowski in 2012. Even in the Chase-era, the only questionable title was Stewart's 2011 because he didn't win in the first 26 races but he did win five of ten to close out the year and that provides a great defense for Stewart's title.

With this format something as simple as a pit lane speeding penalty can cost you a title. If Logano speeds on that final stop, he is not champion and you could twist an argument that speeding could have cost a driver prior but the difference is that driver either had nine other results or 35 other results to look back on where points could have been made up and that driver could have not been in position where a pit lane speeding penalty could cost a driver a title. With this format, it is one race that decides the champion. The other races decide who gets there but have no bearing on the final result and that is terrible.

I am not a moron. I am not one of those people who say Joey Logano or Tyler Reddick are not real champions and I am not going to be delusional and say another driver is champion. First off, those people are full of shit. What sane person goes through their life preaching results are different then the record book and not just one event but possibly every year? Those people are full of shit and full of themselves.

But something doesn't feel right. It feels more like Logano and Reddick did what was necessary to be good in one race and that is how the game is currently played but we must decide whether one race should have so much bearing in deciding who is best over an entire season and how we will look at who are the best drivers in the history of these series.

Six of 12, 50%. Not good. Not bad. Plenty of room for improvement.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Picking the Americans for Race of Champions

Team Penske got another championship and it has a chance at another next week. NASCAR's fairy tale fell short. The FIA World Endurance Championship and MotoGP both had red flags due to rain but half a world apart. There was an unfathomable winner in Moto3! Rob Huff did not win in Macau. Prayers go out to Sophia Flörsch after her terrible accident. The World Rally Championship's three-way title fight was anti-climatic. Thanksgiving is upon us. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Picking the Americans for Race of Champions
We are at the end of the motorsports season. There are a few championships still going and a few starting but for the most part we are at the end and looking for some time off. With the end of the season comes traditional offseason events and one of those is the Race of Champions.

The Race of Champions has not taken over the world and arguably it has lost some luster over the last ten to 15 years. For starters, we have less of an offseason. It wasn't long ago that at this point of the year the Formula One season had been over for a month and we were still four months until the opening round of the following season. The IndyCar season would be over. NASCAR would be the one major series wrapping up. There was no world championship for sports cars and the fragmented sports car series of the world had all be finished for a month.

There was a time when the Race of Champions fell at the right point in the offseason. It was early December. We had a break and the time had come for a hit of motorsports action. What better bump to get then a gathering of the best drivers from around the world from a handful of different disciplines? It was an early Christmas present.

The world has changed. There is no break. Formula One keeps going. NASCAR is oversaturated. The FIA World Endurance Championship has changed its calendar to run over the winter months. IndyCar has been over but that is really it when it comes to the top series. Drivers don't have as much time to recharge the batteries and have enough energy for this all-star competition. The big names do not come out like they once did.

Race of Champions has tried to adapt with the times. The event moved from the start of December to the middle of January. It is still a part of the year where we are starved of motorsports and it gives Formula One drivers a break before competing but it still trying to fit in to a growing clutter on the calendar.

It is still here and I continue to look forward to it and the upcoming edition of Race of Champions will be held in Mexico, at Foro Sol, the baseball stadium inside Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Mexico has already announced four competitors. Benito Guerra, the 2012 Production World Rally Championship champion returns for the first time since 2012. Four-time Grand-Am champion and three-time overall 24 Hours of Daytona winner Memo Rojas will be back for his second consecutive Race of Champions. The Mexican drivers making their Race of Champions debut will be the reigning Indy Lights champion and IndyCar rookie Patricio O'Ward and the 2016 NASCAR Grand National Series champion and still free agent Daniel Suárez.

Joining the four Mexican drivers will be the defending Champion of Champions winner David Coulthard and the 2015 Champion of Champions and the seven-time Nations' Cup winner, the most successful driver in the history of Race of Champions, Sebastian Vettel.

There will be plenty of other world-class drivers announced in the coming days and months to join those six competitors but I want to focus on the United States.

The United States has won the Nations' Cup once, in 2002, when Colin Edwards went undefeated and carried the United States to victory with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Travis Pastrana almost single-handily won the Nations' Cup in 2006 but lost to Heikki Kovalainen twice in the final as Kovalainen and Marcus Grönholm won it for Finland. Pastrana and Tanner Foust got the United States to the semifinals in 2009 but lost to the German team of Vettel and Michael Schumacher. In 2017, on home soil, the United States had power-in-numbers and was guaranteed to compete in the finals when the NASCAR duo of Kyle and Kurt Busch took on IndyCar's Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay in a semifinal. The Busch brothers advanced but lost to Vettel, who single-handily won it for Germany after Pascal Wehrlein was injured the day before.

While the United States has had moderate Nations' Cup success, no American driver has ever won the Champion of Champions competition. Only once has an American made it to the semifinals and that was Carl Edwards in 2008.

There are a lot of great drivers in the world but with the quantity of American drivers there is no reason why the United States has yet to produce a Champion of Champions winner.

Frankly, many United States teams at the Race of Champions have been duds. The first American team in 2000 had Danny Sullivan, who had been retired for five years, and off-road racer Rod Millen alongside Colin Edwards. One year after winning the Nations' Cup, the United States had Boris Said, Casey Mears and Pastrana defend the title. In 2004, Mears was a late substitute for an ill Jeff Gordon. In 2006, Pastrana had to compete on his own because Jimmie Johnson broke his arm fooling around on a golf cart and Scott Speed hurt himself doing who knows what.

Tanner Foust represented the United States three times and worst of all Foust and Brian Deegan were the representatives in 2011. Twice has the United States not even had a team but fielded one participant in an Americas team. Ryan Hunter-Reay did it in 2012 with Guerra and Hunter-Reay did it in 2015 with José María López. There was an Americas team in 2014 with López and Robby Gordon but there was also a United States team in that competition made up of Hunter-Reay and Kurt Busch.

With 2019 approaching there is no reason why the United States should not only have its own team but a team that should be competing for the Nations' Cup and have two competitors capable of winning Champion of Champions.

Time is up when it comes to sitting idle and letting a D-Team represented the United States. It is time somebody stepped up and made sure the best two American drivers are at Race of Champions... and that is where I come in, the self-appointed general manager for the United States Race of Champions team.

No one else is stepping up to do it. What is more American than taking on a task nobody has thought needed a leader?

The last two editions of Race of Champions have been promising. On home soil, the United States got the necessary bump. Sure, it had three of four teams in a group in the Nations' Cup and the top two advance and those two teams met in a semifinal but beyond that Pastrana won his Champions of Champions group after defeating Hélio Castroneves, Vettel and Alexander Rossi. Kyle Busch advanced from his group over Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe. Unfortunately, Pastrana and Busch were both eliminated in the quarterfinals without winning a race in the best-of-three format.

Last year, Hunter-Reay returned for his fifth consecutive Race of Champions appearance and Josef Newgarden joined him in Saudi Arabia. Things did not go well in the Nations Cup. The United States could not get out of the group ahead of Germany's René Rast and Timo Bernhard and the Latin America team of Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves. Hunter-Reay went 0-3 while Newgarden went 2-1 with victories over Castroneves and Rojas.

In the Champion of Champions competition, Hunter-Reay got out of his group with victories over Castroneves and Rojas while Newgarden defeated both Saudi Arabian drivers on their home soil. The quarterfinals were not so kind. Coulthard handily knocked out Hunter-Reay while Newgarden ended up in the barrier after two corners in his race against World Rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson.

The United States is progressing in the right direction in the Race of Champions but we have to keep it going in this direction.

A bar has to be set high. The difficult thing is picking out only two drivers to represent a country that has plenty of top drivers across NASCAR, IndyCar and sports cars. The United States has plenty of drivers that the country could probably field 15 teams of two and each one appear better than the one before it. How do we decide who should go?

It is not as simple as picking a champion or a race winner. The Race of Champions is a multi-discipline event. A driver needs to be able to drive the nimble ROC car, which is a buggy, a KTM X-Bow, something as heavy and clunky as the knockoff Euro version of a stock car. A driver has got to be flexible and has to be able to drive a bad car with little preparation.

That sounds like a sports car driver but there is a trend in Race of Champions and that is the Champion of Champions competition has ruled by single-seater drivers. Since the Race of Champions has moved to the confined crossover/stadium course in 2004, there have been 13 competitions. While the combination of Mattias Ekström and Sébastien Loeb won five of six Champion of Champions from 2004-09, six of the last seven winners were drivers from single-seater series.

The lone exception is Sébastien Ogier in 2011. Since 2010, Filipe Albuquerque took a shock victory in 2010 in Düsseldorf and at that time the Portuguese driver was starting his transition to sports cars and was running the Italian GT Championship but at that time he was fresh off success in Formula Renault 3.5 and A1GP. The last five Champion of Champions winners have been Romain Grosjean, David Coulthard, Sebastian Vettel, Juan Pablo Montoya and Coulthard.

With that said, tin-top experience is duly noted. The dominance of Ekström and Loeb was not that long ago and since 2010, the losing finalists have been Loeb, Tom Kristensen, Kristensen, Pascal Wehrlein, Kristensen, Kristensen and Petter Solberg.

The team preferably should be balanced. There should be one driver from a single-seater series and one driver from a tin-top series. So we haven't narrowed it down at all but we should look at what the United States has done in recent years that has achieved its moderate success.

Newgarden went 4-3 last year in Race of Champions, which isn't a great record and slightly misleading when you take into consideration two of those victories were local Saudi Arabian drivers whom he should have defeated. I said after last year's Nations' Cup that if I was GM of the United States team I would bring Hunter-Reay into my office, shake his hand and thank him for his service.

Hunter-Reay has not been great in Race of Champions. Here are his records over the five competitions: 2-4, 5-2, 3-3, 2-5 and 2-5. I think we know who Hunter-Reay is and he put in five tours of duty. It is time for someone else to carry the flag.

Alexander Rossi's 2017 Race of Champions is a bit wishy-washy. Rossi went 0-3 in his Champion of Champions group with losses to Pastrana, Castroneves and Vettel. However, he went 3-2 in the Nations' Cup. His Nations' Cup group is a bit misleading because that was the group with three American teams and a Canadian team and Rossi lost to Stefan Rzadzinski. His second loss was to Kurt Busch when it was pretty clear Busch jumped the start and Busch was not penalized for it. So, who has Rossi beat? He falls in the same boat as Newgarden.

Kyle Busch did well in 2017 but his brother Kurt might have been slightly better. Kyle went 2-1 in his Champion of Champions group but unfortunately lost 2-0 to Coulthard in the quarterfinals. Kurt didn't get out of his group and went 1-2 but Kurt went 2-1 in the Nations' Cup group and won both races to get to the final before a losing to Vettel in the final. Kurt also ran in 2014 but that was opposite to 2017. Kurt struggled in the Nations' Cup going for 1-2 and the United States did not advance but he went 3-0 in his Champion of Champions group but in a group that featured Petter Solberg, Susie Wolff and Barbadian driver Rhett Watson and he lost to Jamie Whincup in the quarterfinals.

Using recent results, there isn't a standout, no doubt selection. There are a few drivers that would be encouraging selections but none are surefire picks.

What about outside the bubble? We looked at five drivers, what about the hundred-plus American drivers? There is one unexplored territory when it comes to the United States in the Race of Champions is sports cars. There hasn't really been a top American sports car driver to run Race of Champions and when you go back to the array of cars that one has to drive in Race of Champions and lack of preparation, why isn't a sports car driver representing the United States? Sports car drivers have to jump into crazy situations and sometimes into a car that has been on track for six hours and is entirely different then when that driver was last behind the wheel.

Sports cars in general is a diverse discipline. You have prototypes, GTE, GT3 and even touring cars have sports car-based drivers competing. Those are at least three different disciplines that we throw under one category and the United States have drivers that have succeeded in all of them.

Patrick Long won in the Porsche RS Spyder and has been consistently winning in Porsche's GT program. On top of that, Long has won a few stock car races.

Joey Hand has won the 24 Hours of Daytona overall and in the top GT category and he won the GTE-Pro category at Le Mans. Hand spent three years in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters and while he didn't win a race Hand did well after a change of scenery.

Colin Braun has won races in Grand-Am while a teenager in a Daytona Prototype. Braun won the Prototype Challenge championship twice. This year, Braun and Jon Bennett put up a strong fight in a disadvantaged LMP2 car against the DPi stronghold of Cadillac in IMSA's Prototype class and they were runner-ups in the championship. Oh, and not only has Braun done that but he was the youngest driver to stand on a class podium at Le Mans when he finished second in GT2 in 2007 with Tracy Krohn and Nic Jönsson when 18 years old and he won in NASCAR's Truck series and he ran well in NASCAR's second division while also having some rallycross experience. And Braun has been linked to an IndyCar ride over the last six months.

Through all this I have not mentioned Jordan Taylor, who is a IMSA Prototype champion, had won a championship in Daytona Prototype prior to that, won in GTE-Pro at Le Mans with Corvette and he did well in Grand-Am's GT championship with Bill Lester. I have also not mentioned Andy Lally, who has won many times in GT competition but was also the NASCAR Cup rookie of the year in 2011 and he has shown in recent years he can take a team that is in the back half of the grid in NASCAR's second division and turn it into a top ten finisher and even top five contender on a road course.

I kind of want to give a sports car guy a shot and if there is one that fits right now it is Colin Braun. He has found success in pretty much every style of racecar he has driven. He might be the secret weapon for the United States. When it comes to single-seater options, it basically comes down to whether you think Newgarden's track record of beating two Saudi Arabian drivers, Castroneves and Rojas is more impressive than Rossi's track record of being swept in a group and losing to a driver who never made it higher than Indy Lights but got in position to advance to the final of Nations' Cup and lost a semifinal race where his opponent clearly jumped the start. If we were to use this year as a tiebreaker then Rossi is the choice.

There is one other name I will throw out there and it has to do with a notable trend in Race of Champions. In recent years, the top drivers in the competition have been older and quasi-retired. I cannot explain it.

The last six Races of Champions have had at least one Champion of Champions finalist be over the age of 40. The last two years have had both Champion of Champions finalists be over the age of 40 and in both editions three of the four semifinalists have been over 40 and it is spreading over to the Nations' Cup. Montoya and Castroneves made the finals last year. Both drivers are over 40. Two editions prior to that the English team of 48-year-old Jason Plato and 41-year-old Andy Priaulx won the Nations' Cup and in 2014 the 47-year-old Tom Kristensen and 40-year-old Petter Solberg won the Nations' Cup as Team Nordic over the United Kingdom pairing of Susie Wolff and 43-year-old David Coulthard.

Not only are these driver older and somewhat retired but some had unfulfilled careers. Coulthard had 13 grand prix victories but he never really challenged for the world championship. Coulthard's only real championship was the 1989 Formula Ford 1600 title. Castroneves might have won 30 IndyCar races, including three Indianapolis 500s but he never won a championship. He was more known for losing championships. Solberg is living off the World Rally Championship he won in 2003. Yes, he has won the World Rallycross title twice... but that is rallycross.

Coulthard, Castroneves and Solberg all had respectable careers but they are definitely frustrating careers when you think about them.

So... who is the American equivalent? What 40-plus, somewhat retired American driver that had a respectable career, won a fair amount and won big races but never won the big championship but won other small championships early in a career is out there and fits these qualifications?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Think about it! Earnhardt, Jr. won 26 Cup races, not a small total, more than champions Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte and Benny Parsons, and he won the Daytona 500 twice. However, Earnhardt, Jr. didn't really meet the expectations and I am not talking about those of the manically fans who expected him to be his father but of the reasonable fan who saw him win back-to-back Grand National Series titles and thought, "Yeah, he could win a Cup title." Earnhardt, Jr. only came close to a championship once or twice.

In 2003, he finished third in the Cup championship but Matt Kenseth dominated that year and Earnhardt, Jr. spent most of the year in second only to lose a lot of ground late and have Jimmie Johnson surpass him in the final race. In 2004, Earnhardt, Jr. had a slim shot at the title in the finale but he needed a lot of events to go in his favor. That was it for his Cup title challenges. For the final 13 years of his career he was never in the discussion for a title.

Earnhardt, Jr. might just win the Race of Champions. There are plenty of people still buzzed off his cameo appearance in NASCAR's second division at Richmond in September where he finished fourth after not doing any racing for ten months. There is probably a sizable crowd that thinks he still has it and is bound to announce a comeback to full-time driving at any moment. That isn't happening but a one-off in an exhibition event? It isn't that crazy.

I don't think Earnhardt, Jr.'s lack of racing would hurt him. Do you think Coulthard does any serious racing between Race of Champions? No! And why couldn't Dale Earnhardt, Jr. just step into a KTM X-Bow and win the damn thing? Coulthard can do it and he is on television just as much as Earnhardt, Jr.

It would be a massive coup for Race of Champions it got Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Race of Champions is not going to get Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I don't think he would be even a slight bit interested if the organizers called him.

With the dream pick not even interested, let's focus on putting the best two drivers out there and I think Colin Braun and Alexander Rossi are the two drivers for the job. If this were reality we would see how those two would do and then re-group and look toward the next competition. We can't do that and we are at the mercy of some anonymous driver picker to represent the United States.

Champions From the Weekend

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup Series championship with his victory at Homestead.

Tyler Reddick won the NASCAR Grand National Series championship after winning the finale at Homestead, his second victory of the season.

Brett Moffitt won the NASCAR Truck Series championship after winning the finale at Homestead, his sixth victory of the season.

Sébastien Ogier won his sixth consecutive World Rally Championship Drivers' championship after finishing sixth in Rally Australia.

Gabriele Tarquini won the World Touring Car Cup championship after finishes of fourth, a retirement and tenth at Macau.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick and Brett Moffitt but did you know...

Andrea Dovizioso won MotoGP's Valencian Community Grand Prix, his fourth victory of the season. Miguel Oliveira won the Moto2 race, his third victory of the season. Can Öncu won the Moto3 race on his Moto3 debut! The 15-year-old Turkish rider was the 2018 Red bull MotoGP Rookies Cup champion.

The #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López won the 6 Hours of Shanghai. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stéphane Richelmi won in LMP2, their third victory of the season. The #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen won in GTE-Pro. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauder won in GTE-Am, their third victory of the season.

Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally Australia

Dan Ticktum won the Macau Grand Prix for the second consecutive year.

Jean-Karl Vernay, Frédéric Vervisch and Esteban Guerrieri won the World Touring Car Cup races from Macau.

BMW's Augusto Farfus won the FIA GT World Cup from Macau.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Formula One finale from Abu Dhabi.
Supercars finale from Newcastle.
The Asian Le Mans Series season opener from Shanghai.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday Five: Shanghai, Valencia, Australia, Macau

We are into part two of this weekend's preview and it is mostly in the Asia-Pacific region. We have an endurance race and a sprint race, a grand prix and a rally and a few titles to decide. A few drivers look to retain their crowns, others are looking to ascend to the throne. Meanwhile, some motorcycles will race in Spain.

6 Hours of Shanghai
The fifth round of the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship season and the final round of the calendar year 2018 takes place at Shanghai with the sixth editions of the 6 Hours of Shanghai. It is the final time the race will be six hours in duration. Next season's visit to Shanghai will be a four-hour race.

The #8 Toyota of Fernando Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima lead the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with 84 points and has a 13-point lead over the sister #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López after the #7 Toyota won at Fuji last month. The #1 Rebellion Racing Rebellion of Thomas Laurent Gustavo Menezes and Mathias Beche trail the #8 Toyota by 21 points with André Lotterer and Neel Jani 33 points back in the #3 Rebellion.

One point covers the top three LMP2 teams heading into Shanghai. The #36 Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão lead the championship with 87 points with the two Jackie Chan DC Racing entries tied on 86 points. The #37 Oreca of Jazeman Jaafar, Weiron Tan and Nabil Jefri won the most recent round at Fuji while the #38 Oreca of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stéphane Richelmi has two victories this season, both victories coming at tracks that start with the letter "S" in Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone.

Michael Christensen and Kévin Éstre have control of the World Endurance GTE Drivers' Championship. The #92 Porsche has won two of four races this season and sits on 96 points. The #92 Porsche has finished on the podium in every race this season. The #66 Ford GT of Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla trail by 31 points after a pair of sixth-place finishes in the last two races after winning at Spa-Francorchamps and finishing third at Le Mans. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi won at Silverstone and despite that being the duo's only podium finish of the season, it has them third in the championship on 55.5 points.

Porsche has won three consecutive races in GTE-Am. The #80 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer lead the championship with 80 points after victories at Le Mans and Silverstone. The #56 Team Project 1 Porsche of Jörg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti won the most recent race at Fuji and are second in the championship on 66 points. The #90 TF Sport Aston Martin of Salih Yoluç and Charlie Eastwood have finished second in three of four races this year and are on 54 points, two ahead of the factory #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda. Jonathan Adam will be in the #90 Aston Martin for the third consecutive race.

Corvette Racing has entered a Corvette for this round. It is the first time Corvette has entered a car in a WEC event that was not Le Mans or in the United States. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner will split the #64 Corvette. Gavin and Milner finished third in the IMSA GTLM championship this year and they won at Long Beach.

The 6 Hours of Shanghai will begin at 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday November 17th.

Marc Márquez clinched the MotoGP title three races ago in Japan but the Spaniard could end the 2018 season with ten victories.

It would be only the second time Márquez has won ten races in a MotoGP season, he won 13 races in 2014. He also had ten victories in the 2010 125cc season and he won the title that year as well. If Márquez is to break into double figures in the win column, he will have to do it at one of his most elusive tracks. He has only won twice at Valencia with a Moto2 victory in 2012 and a MotoGP victory in 2014. He does have six consecutive podium finishes at Valencia across all series.

Andrea Dovizioso will finish second in the championship regardless of what happens on Sunday. Dovizioso has never won at Valencia and an Italian has not won in MotoGP at the track since Marco Melandri in 2005. The last Italian to win at Valencia in any category was Michele Pirro in 2011 while in Moto2. Dovizioso's only podium finishes at the track were a second in 125cc in 2004 and a third in MotoGP in 2011.

The battle is for third between the Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales. Rossi has 195 points and a two-point lead over his Spanish teammate. Rossi is looking to avoid his first winless season since 2012, his final year with Ducati. Rossi has never had a winless season with Yamaha. Rossi and Viñales each have two victories at Valencia. Rossi won the 2003 and 2004 MotoGP races while Viñales won in the 125cc class in 2011 and in Moto3 in 2013.

Álex Rins and Johann Zarco are tied for fifth in the championship on 149 points. Rins and Zarco finished second and third in the most recent round from Sepang. Rins currently holds the tiebreaker as  both riders each have two runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes. Rins has finished fourth twice while Zarco's next best finish is fifth. Zarco finished second in last year's race from Valencia and he won the Moto2 race in 2016. Rins has yet to win at the track.

Cal Crutchlow is a point behind Rins and Zarco in seventh with Danilo Petrucci five points behind the battle in eighth. Andrea Iannone is ninth on 133 points and Jorge Lorenzo will look to return to competition after missing the last four races due to injury. Lorenzo sits in tenth on 130 points.

The MotoGP race is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 18th.

The Moto2 championship has been wrapped up and MotoGP-bound Francesco Bagnaia will look to close out his career in the series with his ninth victory of the season.

Bagnaia has seven podium finishes in the last eight races and he has never finished on the podium at Valencia with his best finish being fourth last year. Bagnaia will move up to ride for Pramac Racing Ducati next year in MotoGP. Miguel Oliveira will also be moving up to MotoGP in 2019 and he will finish second in the championship regardless of what happens on Sunday. Oliveira has two victories and 11 podium finishes but has not won since Brno in August. Oliveira will ride a Tech3 KTM next season.

Brad Binder will stay in Moto2 next season and he is looking for his fourth victory of 2018. Binder's three victories this year are his only podium finishes in 2018.

Fifteen points cover fourth to seventh in the championship. Lorenzo Baldassarri has 162 points and has a five-point gap over Álex Márquez. Joan Mír is two points behind Márquez and Sepang winner Luca Marini is seventh on 147 points.

Oliveira has won twice at Valencia, in 2015 in Moto3 and last year in Moto2. Binder won the 2016 Moto3 race from the track.

The Moto2 finale will take place at 6:20 a.m. ET on Sunday November 18th.

Jorge Martín will move up to be Brad Binder's teammate next year in Moto2 but the 2018 Moto3 champion will look to close the season with his eighth victory of the year and his second consecutive Moto3 victory at Valencia. Martín won the most recent race at Sepang and he has started on pole position in the last two races.

Marco Bezzecchi is second in the championship on 214 points and he holds a nine-point advantage over Fabio Di Giannantonio. Bezzecchi has won three times this year while Di Giannantonio has won twice. Enea Bastianini is fourth on 166 points with Lorenzo Dalla Porta rounding out the top five on 151 points. Bastianini's only victory this season was at Barcelona in June. Dalla Porta won at Misano in September. Dalle Porta has been the runner-up finisher in three of the last four races.

There have been six different winners in the last six Moto3 races from Valencia and those six winners represented five different countries. An Italian has not won the 125cc/Moto3 race at Valencia since Simone Corsi in 2008.

The Moto3 race will take place at 5:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 18th.

Rally Australia
The World Rally Championship will decided at the finale and three drivers could take home the top prize in Australia. This is the first time the WRC title will be decided in the final round of the season since 2011.

M-Sport Ford driver Sébastien Ogier seeks his sixth consecutive championship and the Frenchman re-took the championship lead in the last round from Catalunya. Ogier has 204 points and a three-point lead over Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville. Toyota's Ott Tänak has an outside at the title with the Estonian 23 points behind Ogier.

Ogier and Tänak each have four victories this year while Neuville has won three times. All three drivers have six podium finishes this season.

Three different drivers have won the last three editions of Rally Australia with Neuville entering as the defending championship. Ogier won in 2015 and Andreas Mikkelsen won in 2016. Ogier's 2015 victory was his third Rally Australia victory. Toyota's two Rally Australia victories were with Juha Kankkunen in 1989 and 1993.

The last time a driver overcame a deficit to win the World Rally Championship in the final round was Sébastien Loeb in 2009, who trailed Mikko Hirvonen by one point entering the finale. Loeb won Wales Rally GB while Hirvonen finished second and Loeb took the title by one point.

Guia Race of Macau
Seven drivers are alive for the World Touring Car Cup championship entering the final round form Macau.

Gabriele Tarquini won the most recent race from Suzuka and the Hyundai driver extended his championship total to 291 points. Fellow Hyundai driver Yvan Muller trails Tarquini by 39 points with Muller's M Racing-YMR teammate Thed Björk rounding out an all-Hyundai top three and 53 points behind Tarquini.

Pepe Oriola is the first non-Hyundai driver in the championship and the SEAT driver sits on 227 points with Audi driver Jean-Karl Vernay on 216 points. Honda driver Esteban Guerrieri has 213 points and Tarquini's teammate Norbert Michelisz is the final driver mathematically alive for the title on 212 points.

Tarquini and Björk are tied for the most victories this season with four apiece. Muller and Vernay each have three victories while Oriola, Guerrieri and Michelisz all enter the finale with just one victory.

It is Macau and Rob Huff is entered. Huff has won nine Macau races and he has had at least one victory in eight of the last ten years at Macau. Huff is ninth in the championship and he has victories at the Hungaroring and Suzuka this season.

Tarquini was the 2009 World Touring Car Championship while Muller won the WTCC title four times. Björk won the WTCC title last year while Vernay won the TCR International Series championship in 2017. Oriola, Guerrieri and Michelisz are all going for their first championship.

The first WTCC race will be at 1:25 a.m. ET on Saturday November 17th. The final two races of the season will be at 7:20 p.m. ET on Saturday November 17th and at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday November 17th.

Macau Grand Prix
This weekend marks the 65th Macau Grand Prix and 28 cars are entered for the event.

Dan Ticktum won last year's race and he will defend his victory. Ticktum will drive for Motopark and he is coming off a runner-up finish in the European Formula Three championship to Mick Schumacher. Schumacher will be at Macau driving for Theodore Racing by Prema. Schumacher defeated Ticktum by 57 points for the title.

Ticktum will have Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters race winner Joel Eriksson as a teammate as well as Ferdinand Habsburg. Habsburg led last year's Macau Grand Prix into the final corner of the race but hit the barrier on exit and slid to a third place finish. Eriksson was the fastest qualifier last year at Macau and he started second for the main race before retiring after two laps.

Callum Ilott started on pole position last year at Macau and he is back as one of four Carlin entries alongside Jehan Daruvala, Sacha Fenestraz and Yoshiaki Katayama. Ilott is currently third in the GP3 Series with one round to go next week from Abu Dhabi.

Team TOM's has entered the All-Japan Formula Three champion Sho Tsuboi and vice-champion Ritomo Miyata. Tsuboi won 17 of 19 races including ten consecutive victories to close out the season. Miyata won the other two races with Tsuboi finishing second in each.

B-Max Racing Team will have Super Formula race winner Yuhi Sekiguchi in car alongside Álex Palou. Sekiguchi finished fourth in this year's championship and his lone victory was in the rain-shortened race from Okayama.

Jake Hughes leads the F3 Asian Championship with a round to go and he will drive for Hitech GP. Hughes has won all nine races he has entered this season. He missed the second round of the season from Ningbo and the season closes next week from Sepang.

Ticktum could become the seventh driver to win the Macau Grand Prix in consecutive years joining John MacDonald, Arsenio Laurel, Vern Schuppan, Riccardo Patrese, Geoff Lees, Edoardo Mortara and Felix Rosenqvist. Schumacher's father Michael won the race in 1990 and his uncle Ralf won it in 1995.

The qualifying race will take place at 8:00 a.m. ET on Friday November 16th with the Macau Grand Prix scheduled for 2:30 a.m. ET on Sunday November 18th

FIA GT World Cup
This year marks the fourth FIA GT World Cup from Macau. Fifteen drivers from five manufactures are entered in this year's race.

Edoardo Mortara is the defending champion and he is back in the #1 Mercedes for Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing. His teammates will be the 2015 FIA GT World Cup winner Maro Engel in the #888 Mercedes and this year's Blancpain GT Series champion Raffaele Marciello in the #999 Mercedes.

Audi won this race in 2016 and it looks to reclaim the title with four drivers entered. Christopher Haase is coming off a runner-up finish in the Intercontinental GT Challenge and he will be in the #28 Audi for Audi Sport Team Rutronik. Robin Frijns had two runner-up finishes in the DTM season this year and he will be in the #66 Audi for Audi Sport Team WRT with Dries Vanthoor as his teammate in the #88 Audi. Frijns was the runner-up finisher last year to Mortara. Adderly Fong will drive the #77 Audi for Zun Motorsport Crew.

Laurens Vanthoor won the 2016 race for Audi but the Belgian looks to get Porsche its first victory in the FIA GT World Cup. Vanthoor will drive the #911 Porsche for Manthey Racing with Le Mans winner and World Endurance Drivers' Champion Earl Bamber as his teammate in the #912 Porsche. Craft-Bamboo Racing will have Darryl O'Young and Mathieu Jaminet in the #55 Porsche and #991 Porsche respectively.

The only non-German manufacture entered for the FIA GT World Cup is Nissan and Nissan has three entries. Tsugio Matsuda leads the charge. The two-time Super GT GT500 champion will drive the #23 Nissan with Oliver Jarvis in the #35 Nissan and Alexandre Imperatori in the #18 Nissan.

BMW has one bullet in the chamber and it is DTM race winner Augusto Farfus. The Brazilian will drive the #42 BMW for Team Schnitzer.

The FIA GT World Cup will take place at 11:25 p.m. ET on Saturday November 17th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 188.5 laps completed by the 6 Hours of Shanghai overall winner?
2. Over or Under: 3.5 riders in the top ten of the championship improving their championship position after Sunday's race?
3. Over or Under: 15.5 points for Brad Binder this weekend?
4. Over or Under: 3.5 seconds covering the top five of the Moto3 race?
5. Over or Under: 0.5 Australians scoring points in Rally Australia?
6. Over or Under: 2.5 total championships between WTCC/TCR for this year's World Touring Car Cup champion after Sunday?
7. Over or Under: 1.5 teams on the podium of the Macau Grand Prix?
8. Over or Under: 1.5 manufactures on the podium of the FIA GT World Cup?

Last Week's Over/Unders 
1. Over or Under: 91.5 minutes elapsed time for the Motegi race?
2. Over or Under: 0.5 retirements on lap one?
3. Over or Under: 14.5 stage points for Chase Elliott?
4. Over or Under: 20.5 being the worst finishing position for a championship eligible driver?
5. Over or Under: 3.5 starting position for the race winner?
Last Week: 2 Unders; 5 Overs. Overall: Unders 23; Overs 19

1. Nothing controversial, such as a disqualification from a session, happens to a Toyota entry.
2. Jorge Lorenzo gains at least one position in the championship.
3. A ride that is not heading to MotoGP in 2019 wins the Moto2 race.
4. An Italian wins the Moto3 race.
5. The WRC champion does not win Rally Australia.
6. Rob Huff wins a race but only one race from Macau.
7. Dan Ticktum does not repeat in the Macau Grand Prix but he finishes in the top five.
8. A new manufacture wins the FIA GT World Cup.

Last Week's Predictions
1. There will be at least one European race winner this weekend (Wrong! All winning drivers were Japanese).
2. The race lap record is broken by at least a half-second (Correct! Valtteri Bottas broke it by 0.504 seconds).
3. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. all remain championship eligible after Phoenix (Correct! All three are still alive).
4. The top three finishers combine to lead at least 170 laps (Wrong! The top three led a combined 95 laps).
5. There will be fewer than six cautions (Correct! There were five).
Last Week: 4/7. Overall: 24.5/42

Thursday, November 15, 2018

2018 NASCAR Finales Preview

There is a lot of action this weekend and there are a lot of finales and championships to be awarded. With so much action, we are breaking the previews into two parts and this one will specifically look at the three NASCAR finales scheduled for this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr. and Joey Logano are the four drivers that will be competing for the NASCAR Cup championship on Sunday at Homestead. Three of the four drivers have won a championship within the last four years and Logano was the 2016 championship runner-up.

Busch is coming off his eighth victory of the season after winning at Phoenix. This matches Busch's most victories in a season, which occurred in 2008. Busch and Harvick are tied for most victories this season. Harvick leads all drivers with 22 top five finishes while Busch is second on 21. Truex, Jr. has won four times this season but his most recent victory was at Kentucky in July. He is third in top five finishes on 19. Logano has only won twice but he has 25 top ten finishes, five more than Truex but behind Harvick's 28 and Busch's 27. If either Busch or Harvick win the championship, it would be the most top ten finishes for a champion since Dale Jarrett's 29 in 1999. Logano had six consecutive top ten finishes before last week's retirement at Phoenix.

Harvick enters as the best of the final four at Homestead. In 17 starts, Harvick has the best average finish at 6.8 and he has nine top five finishes and 15 top ten finishes, the most all-time in those categories and Harvick has ten consecutive top ten finishes and four consecutive top five finishes at the track. Truex, Jr. has the second-best average finish of the final four at 11.5 and he has eight top ten finishes in 13 Homestead starts. His victory last year was his first top ten finish at the track since 2013.

Busch has made 13 Homestead starts and he has six top ten finishes, including three consecutive. He has also led a lap in three consecutive Homestead races. Logano has four top ten finishes in nine Homestead starts and he has three consecutive top ten finishes in the finale. He has only led at the track twice.

Busch, Harvick and Truex, Jr. are each attempting to win their second Cup championships. Any of those three would become the 15th driver to win multiple Cup championships. Either Busch or Truex, Jr. could become the first driver to win multiple championships with Toyota. Either Harvick or Logano could become the first Ford driver to win a championship since Kurt Busch in 2004. Harvick could become the first driver since Tony Stewart to win a championship with multiple manufactures. Harvick's 2014 title came with Chevrolet. Stewart won the 2002 championship with Pontiac and he won his 2005 and 2011 titles with Chevrolet.

Truex, Jr. could become the 11th driver to win consecutive Cup championships joining Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Lee Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly.

Championship-ineligible drivers to keep an eye on include Denny Hamlin, a two-time Homestead winner. Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth each have one victory at Homestead. Johnson and Kenseth have 11 and ten top ten finishes at Homestead respectively. Kyle Larson has three consecutive top five finishes at Homestead and he has the second-best average finish amongst active drivers at 7.6. Chase Elliott finished fifth in last year's race while Brad Keselowski has four top ten finishes in the last five Homestead races.

The NASCAR Cup finale will take place at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday November 18th.

NASCAR Xfinity Series
NASCAR's second division will feature two Chevrolet drivers, one Ford driver and one Toyota driver battling for the title.

Christopher Bell's victory at Phoenix kept his title hopes alive. It was Bell's seventh victory of the season while the other three championship-eligible drivers combine for two victories. While Bell has the most victories and most top five finishes at 18, Cole Custer has the most top ten finishes at 25. Custer won two races ago at Texas. Tyler Reddick finished second to Custer at Texas and his only victory was at the season opener in Daytona. Daniel Hemric is still looking for his first career victory in NASCAR's second division and this weekend will be Hemric's 66th career start.

Custer dominated last year's Homestead race from second on the grid. He led 182 laps while Reddick started on pole position and led the remaining 18 laps before finishing fourth. Bell qualified third but his race ended early due to an engine failure. Hermic started next to Bell on row two but his race was hampered by electrical issue and a battery change forced him to finish 13 laps down.

Hemric has six consecutive top ten finishes. Reddick has three consecutive top ten finishes and two of those are top five finishes. Four of Reddick's six top five finishes this season have occurred in the last nine races. Bell has five top five finishes in his last seven starts and three of those were victories. Custer has 12 consecutive top ten starts entering Homestead.

Reddick is attempting to win JR Motorsports its second consecutive championship and the team's third title in five seasons. JR Motorsports' previous two championships came with rookies Chase Elliott and William Byron and Reddick is also a rookie. Bell could join Kyle Busch and Daniel Suárez as Joe Gibbs Racing drivers to win this championship. Richard Childress Racing could win a series-record fifth drivers' championship with Hemric. The team's prior championships were in 2001 and 2006 with Kevin Harvick, 2008 with Clint Bowyer and 2013 with Austin Dillon. The team is currently tied with Roush Fenway Racing on four. Custer or Reddick could join Harvick as the only California-born drivers to win this championship.

Championship-ineligible drivers to keep an eye on include Justin Allgaier, who was eliminated after Phoenix despite having five victories this season. Allgaier has a poor track record at Homestead with his only top ten finish in eight starts being sixth in 2016. This weekend marks Elliott Sadler's final race as a full-time driver. Sadler has an average finish of 8.6 entering the finale. Sadler has not won since Kentucky in September 2016. He has five top ten finishes in his last seven Homestead starts.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series finale will take place at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday November 17th.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Johnny Sauter could become the fifth driver with multiple Truck championship while Brett Moffitt, Justin Haley and Noah Gragson each shoot for their first Truck title.

Sauter has the most victories this season with six while Moffitt's Phoenix victory was his fifth of the season. Sauter's most recent victory was at Martinsville last month while Haley won at Texas two weeks ago. Gragson's only victory this season was at Kansas in May. Sauter and Haley are tied with 17 top ten finishes this season while Sauter has 14 top five finishes. Moffitt only has 12 top ten finishes but all 12 were top five finishes. Gragson has 16 top ten finishes and leads the series with six pole positions.

Sauter is the only one of the four drivers to have won at Homestead. He won the 2011 race and he has eight top ten finishes in the last nine Homestead races. This will be Moffitt's first Truck start at Homestead. Moffitt has two Cup starts at Homestead. In 2014, Moffitt finished 36th and in 2015, Moffitt closed out his Rookie of the Year season with a 31st place finish. Haley made his Homestead debut last year and he finished ninth. Gragson has finishes of 15th and 18th in his two Homestead starts.

If Sauter wins the race, it would his seventh victory of the year and it would be the second-most victories for a Truck champion behind only Mike Skinner's eight in the inaugural season in 1995. Regardless of where he finishes, if Moffitt wins the championship it would be the fewest top ten finishes for a Truck series champion. Haley could become the first Indiana-born driver to win the Truck championship. Gragson could become the first Truck champion to not start every race in a season. Gragson missed the Pocono race due to illness.

Matt Crafton won at Homestead in 2015. Todd Gilliland is looking to get his first career victory before his rookie season is over. Harrison Burton is making his second career start on a 1.5-mile oval. Burton has seven top ten finishes in his last eight starts. Chris Windom will make his second start of the Truck season.

The final race of the Truck season will take place under the lights at 8:00 p.m. ET on Friday November 10th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 4.5 average finish at the end of the stages for champion?
2. Over or Under: 301 miles completed at the time of the checkered flag?
3. Over or Under: 144.5 combined age of the top five finishers?

1. There is one caution that involves one of the championship-eligible drivers.
2. Cole Custer does not win the championship and leads fewer than 75 laps.
3. The champion wins the Truck race.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Andretti Autosports' 2018 Season

The penultimate IndyCar wrap-up is here and it is Andretti Autosport. The team had one of its best seasons in the DW12-era. It had two drivers win a race and it had two drivers finish in the top five of the championship. It was the first time the team had two drivers in the top five of the championship since 2007. The team was in the title fight from day one of the season though it did not bring home the silverware.

Alexander Rossi had a career year and was arguably the best driver in 2018
Alexander Rossi
He was everyone's sleeper entering the 2018 season and sure enough the man who we all thought could challenge for the championship did. Rossi's 2018 season was spectacular to watch and in every race he left us dazzled. In races where we thought passing was not going to occur, Rossi made heart-stopping moves that will be shown for years to come. He might not have taken home the hardware but he won a lot of hearts.

What objectively was his best race?
Rossi had a career year and won three races after having won twice in his first two seasons. Each victory was a beat down. The first was in his home state on the streets of Long Beach, a race where he started on pole position and led 71 of 85 laps. His second victory would not come until the end of July at Mid-Ohio but it was another victory from pole position and while he only led 66 of 90 laps, Rossi won by 12.8285 seconds over Robert Wickens. His final victory was in the following race at Pocono. He didn't start on pole position in this one but he started third and led 180 of 200 laps at an average speed of 191.304 MPH, this fourth-fastest 500-mile race in IndyCar history.

What subjectively was his best race?
Pocono. While the Long Beach and Mid-Ohio victories were impressive, Pocono was an old-school 500-mile race where one man ran from the field and dared it to keep up. Will Power put a valiant fight and he took the point for a bit but Rossi out-legged the Australian after Power had won the prior two Pocono races and was coming off his Indianapolis 500 victory in May. On top of all that, Rossi joined limited company at Pocono as he became just the ninth driver to lead at least 450 miles in a 500-mile IndyCar race and he was the first to do it in nearly 38 years.

The others to do?
Ralph DePalma: 1912 Indianapolis 500, 490 miles led, finished 11th.
Dario Resta: 1916 Speedway Park, 450 mile led, finished first.
Billy Arnold: 1930 Indianapolis 500, 495 miles led, finished first.
Bill Vukovich: 1953 Indianapolis 500, 487.5 miles led, finished first.
Jim Clark: 1965 Indianapolis 500, 472.5 miles led, finished first.
Al Unser: 1970 Indianapolis 500, 475 miles led, finished first.
A.J. Foyt: 1975 California 500, 468.5 miles led, finished first.
Bobby Unser: 1980 California 500, 455 miles led, finished first.

Who wouldn't want to add their name to that list?

What objectively was his worst race?
Rossi's worst race on paper was Road America, where chamber shim issues forced an extra pit stop and dropped him from podium contention to 16th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Rossi coughed up a lot of points this season and that is where the championship was lost. Rossi really should have been controlling this championship from the get-go but he let a lot of points slip through his fingers.

At St. Petersburg, he should have at least finished second but his contact with Wickens drove him wide enough that both Sébastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal slid passed and instead of scoring 41 points, his scored 36 points.

At Phoenix, Rossi hit a crew member, had to serve a one-lap penalty and put on one of the greatest shows as a lapped car, uncapping himself under green flag conditions, overtaking when few else could and finding himself within ten seconds of the later in less than five minutes. The show got him up to third in the final results but if it wasn't for the whole charade, Rossi could have won this one outright with the pace he had.

At Barber, Rossi had an off while trying to stretch his slick tires in the wet and he went from at least an eighth place finish to 11th.

In the second Belle Isle race, Rossi was the best of the two-stop strategy drivers but Ryan Hunter-Reay was chasing him down for the lead and it seemed inevitable Hunter-Reay was going to get pass. Rossi tried to hold him off but a lock up not only knocked him out of the lead but dropped him to fourth and punctured his tire, forcing him to make another stop and then have to scramble to finish 12th instead of setting for second.

We covered Road America and the second half of the year was kinder to Rossi but he left points on the table. He stalled on his first pit stop at Iowa and what could have been fifth was ninth. At Toronto, he got into the back of Power and had to make an extra pit stop and he fought to finish eighth but should have been a top five finish. He had Portland in the bag and then cautions went against him and sometimes those days happen and you finish eighth.

Finally, Sonoma, where he ran into the back of his teammate Marco Andretti at the start, puncture his front tire and had to limp back to the pits on lap one. It was almost championship over but Rossi never quits and got himself back into the discussion even though he would run out of fuel before the finish line and drop to seventh.

Sonoma might be the worst of all because he still had a great shot at the championship and he kind of beat himself but the second Belle Isle race was just as bad.

Alexander Rossi's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 2nd (621 points)
Wins: 3
Podiums: 8
Top Fives: 10
Top Tens: 14
Laps Led: 415
Poles: 3
Fast Sixes: 6
Fast Twelves: 9
Average Start: 6.5625
Average Finish: 5.705

After a few rough years, Ryan Hunter-Reay ended 2018 smiling

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Hunter-Reay entered the 2018 season on a two-year drought since his most recent victory. Not to mention he had not finished in the top five of the championship since 2012. He got off the snide in both categories this year but the bad days could not be completely shaken this year.

What objectively was his best race?
The veteran got back in the win column after almost two and a half seasons of misses. The first victory was the Belle Isle race where Hunter-Reay was a man shot out of a cannon on the three-stop strategy and chased down his teammate Rossi despite the television crew calling the race over with 15 laps to go. The second victory was in the finale at Sonoma, a race where he started from pole position. Hunter-Reay really wasn't challenged in the finale and led 80 laps on his way to victory.

What subjectively was his best race?
Though he dominated Sonoma, the second Belle Isle race is what we love to see. Hunter-Reay ran flat out and it got him the victory but it should be noted it was the same strategy he employed the day before but a late caution erased his potential advantage as all the three-stop and two-stop drivers ended up on the same level playing field. If that caution had not come out in race one, Hunter-Reay might have won that race and it should be noted that Hunter-Reay had four runner-up finishes along with his two victories. This was a great year for Hunter-Reay.

What objectively was his worst race?
Hunter-Reay had two 20th-place finishes and both punches to the gut. He was forced to make an early pit stop at Long Beach after contact with Scott Dixon damaged his front wing. He got back into the top five but Takuma Sato cut down his tire. He lost a lap but fought back to the lead lap only to get caught at the hairpin after Bourdais spun and then he hit the barrier, ending his day. At Gateway, Hunter-Reay had a fuel pressure issue end his night while in contention for a top five finish.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I am going to list three:

The first is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where Hunter-Reay lost a cylinder a third of the way into the race and he limped home to an 18th place finish.

At Iowa, Hunter-Reay had no radio communication with his crew from the start. He could hear them but the crew couldn't hear Hunter-Reay. For the first 220 laps it was fine and Hunter-Reay was in the top ten but he had to call it a day when the left rear chamber shims fell out.

Finally, Toronto was a race where Hunter-Reay locked up and slid into the turn three barrier on his own while in a podium position. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 4th (566 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 6
Top Fives: 10
Top Tens: 11
Laps Led: 132
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 7
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 6.375
Average Finish: 8.764

Marco Andretti made improvements in 2018

Marco Andretti
After a few tough years in the aero kit epoch, Andretti had better days with the universal aero kit and was much more competitive though victory has still been far off for the third-generation driver.

What objectively was his best race?
Andretti started on pole position for the first Belle Isle race and he led the first stint but Dixon jumped  ahead him during the pit cycle. Andretti could not get back to the lead but he held on for a fourth place finish.

What subjectively was his best race?
I am going to say Sonoma because he was quick all weekend and the entire Andretti Autosport team was on it that weekend. Andretti qualified fourth, the second-best qualifier for the team. Three Andretti cars made it to the Fast Six, all four cars started in the top ten and Patricio O'Ward made his debut with Harding Racing and was starting fifth. Sure, Rossi got into Andretti at the start but Andretti stayed in the top five all race and closed the season with a fifth place finish.

What objectively was his worst race?
It was Portland where Andretti had nowhere to go in turn two at the start and his race was over in the span of 30 seconds. He started ninth and ended up classified as dead fucking last in 25th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
I am going to double back to the first Belle Isle race because while he started on pole position he could not dictate control of the race and it always seemed like Dixon was going to leapfrog of Andretti. It seemed like something the team should have been on top of and been aggressive to make sure Dixon would not get ahead. If Andretti could have stayed ahead of Dixon after the first pit stop then Andretti probably wins that race. 

Marco Andretti's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 9th (392 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 22
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 12.5
Average Finish: 11.508

Zach Veach was trending in the right direction at the end of 2018
Zach Veach
After a part-time effort in 2017, Veach made the full-time move to IndyCar with Andretti Autosport. Veach suffered growing pains early in the season but the Ohioan kept plugging along. At the end of the season, he was turning heads and a lot of people are excited for what he will do in his sophomore season.

What objectively was his best race?
He finished fourth in the third race of the season at Long Beach and it might not have been a stellar drive to the front but Veach found himself in a position at the front and he made the most of it. Veach challenged Ed Jones for that final podium position and he did not make it easy on the Ganassi driver. This was probably a result that was five positions better than it should have been but this was a taste of the season to come for Veach.

What subjectively was his best race?
Gateway! And Pocono! But mostly Gateway! Veach had to start 16th because qualifying was rained out but he likely would have qualified in the top five and had he started in the top five he might have won the race. Veach made some daring moves and got to the front. He ended the night in fifth! As for Pocono, Veach was making moves in what was tricky aerodynamic conditions and he wasn't passing nobodies, he was passing past champions; the likes of Bourdais, Newgarden and Pagenaud.

What objectively was his worst race?
Veach had a pair of 23rd-place finishes in the two Indianapolis races. The road course race was never favorable to him as he started 20th but mechanical issues didn't help make his day any easier. In the 500-mile race, Veach caught on fire exiting the pits but the car put itself out. Other than that, nothing memorable happened and he finished two laps down.

What subjectively was his worst race?
There are two races I will focus on: The second Belle Isle race and Portland.

In that Belle Isle race, Veach started seventh, the first top ten starting position of his career but in the race he faded a bit and wasn't really in contention for a top ten finish. He settled into 13th.

Portland was off a wave of momentum with fourth consecutive top ten finishes and off the back of the great results at Pocono and Gateway. He started sixth in this race and while a lot of challengers were out in the first lap, Veach had his own off-track excursion cause a caution and ruin what could have definitely been another top ten finish. 

Zach Veach's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 15th (313 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 2
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 14.4375
Average Finish: 14.508

An Early Look Ahead
All four drivers will be back in 2019.

Andretti Autosport won five races this season, the most the team has won since 2013. Andretti Autosport has been a championship contender since it entered the IRL in 2003 but it has been a less consistent contender when compared to Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. Andretti Autosport ebb and flows. It will have a strong championship effort one season and follow it up with two or three lackluster seasons in-between its next go at the title but the team might be in its best shape since the glory days of Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Bryan Herta.

Rossi had a championship-caliber season in 2018 and it seemed like the races where Rossi lost points, some of which were of his own making, were part of the growing process. He could have won the title this season and made the mistakes he did but he might be better off losing the title and spending the off-time focusing on where he can improve.

Rossi is an intelligent driver. He isn't a driver who is quick and needs to be honed in because of recklessness. He knows the limits and has perfected the high-wire act at the age of 27. The best example of this was at Gateway where in the first stint of the race Rossi was preaching patience on the radio and was conserving everything knowing it was a long race. When it came to the final stint, Rossi and the team decided to conserve fuel and not make an additional pit stop. While everyone else was going all-out, Rossi ran his race and he made it to the finish, not pushing the car, which would have been easy to do and running out of fuel. It got him a second place finish and made up ground in the championship. He can buy into a strategy and make it work. Not many drivers can do that in their third year in IndyCar.

It was comforting to see Hunter-Reay finish fourth in the championship on the back of two victories and six podium finishes. Hunter-Reay had a great season and he had ten top five finishes! There are years where that would have been enough to be champion but there were too many ill-fated days for him. If Hunter-Reay can get pass those days where electrical gremlins get him or he gets a tire cut down and just finishes those races in seventh or eighth, he could add another championship to his résumé and beat his teammate in the process.

Marco Andretti had a good season and he got back into the top ten of the championship. I felt this season had a big split with the top five drivers and Robert Wickens out front, Simon Pagenaud and Sébastien Bourdais in this next group and then Graham Rahal, Andretti and James Hinchcliffe all consistently finishing in the top ten but not doing much better than that.

Rahal and Andretti finished tied on points and Rahal finished eighth on tiebreaker but when you consider Rahal started the season with six consecutive top ten finishes and ten top ten finishes in the first 11 races I think it says a lot about Andretti's season. It was not as flashy and Andretti did benefit from finishing fifth in the double points finale at Sonoma but he can hold his own and what is wrong with that? He might not win nine races in a season but Andretti is a solid driver.

Veach might have ended the season as the driver we are most excited about. It might have been a coincidence that this surge in excitement around Veach occurred simultaneously with the exit of Robert Wickens due to his injury but things were clicking for Veach during summer. His season had a bit of a rough patch at the start but Veach started getting results and made a big leap forward down the stretch. I don't want to say he will win a race in 2019 but after watching how he did on ovals, I would not be surprised if he is in contention at Indianapolis, Texas, Pocono and/or Iowa.

Things are looking good for Andretti Autosport. I don't think Rossi is going anywhere and I don't mean that in I don't think he is going to Team Penske but I don't think Rossi is going to fall off. I think he will be there challenging Scott Dixon and Will Power for the title in 2019 and I would not be surprised if Hunter-Reay is in the conversation as well.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Exploring an IndyCar/NASCAR Joint Weekend

Where to begin? An appeal was heard. A championship was overturned. Besides that, two other championships were decided on track and one came down to the final lap while one driver joined exclusive company. Max Verstappen is not happy with Esteban Ocon. In NASCAR, the penalties from Wednesday didn't shake things up too much. There was plenty of contact though across all three races. IMSA held an exhibition race. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso and McLaren will return to attempt the Indianapolis 500 in 2019. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Exploring an IndyCar/NASCAR Joint Weekend
We are at the end of 2018. Seasons are dwindling. A few hang on but most are calling time with winter weeks away. With the end comes new beginnings and 2019 marks a few changes that could be momentous for motorsports, especially in the United States.

IndyCar moves full-time to NBC Sports in 2019 and the series will have eight races broadcasted on network NBC with the remaining nine on NBCSN. While IndyCar's relationship with NBCSN and its predecessor Versus extends back a decade, this is a new era for the series as it is now fully apart of the NBC Sports family.

Already fully apart of the NBC Sports family is NASCAR, which has been on the network since 2015. The last four years have seen a good relationship between the two series. NBCSN has created a motorsports stronghold on American cable TV and it has been beneficial to the series. IndyCar and NASCAR programming has mingled and races have led into other races. When Formula One was on the network it was arguably your one-stop-shop for motorsports. With IMSA joining the NBC Sports family as well in 2019, it appears that will be the case again but with an expanded partnership with IndyCar, could we a common television contract bring series together at the tracks?

A rumor came out over autumn about a discussion held for a IndyCar/NASCAR doubleheader at Chicagoland Speedway in 2019. While those talks were tabled it has not been completely ruled out and a motorsports summit will be held for the NBC Sports properties before the end of the year.

This will not happen in 2019 but could 2020 be an option? How realistic would it be for IndyCar and NASCAR to run a combined weekend? Let's explore and we will start with the rumored scenario.

Chicagoland makes sense. It is a Midwest venue, it has history with IndyCar and the venue falls during the NBC portion of the NASCAR season, the most crucial part of any potential combined weekend. This isn't going to happen during the Fox portion of the season. It has to be an NBC event just from a logistical standpoint.

Let's breakdown Chicagoland a little bit further. Chicagoland falls at the end of June/start of July. It was the first NBC race this year and it will be again next year. This race fell on an IndyCar off weekend in 2018 and it falls on an IndyCar off weekend in 2019 with the series running at Road America the weekend before and then having two weeks off until Toronto. A combined IndyCar/NASCAR weekend would be a great way for NBC to kick off its NASCAR portion of the schedule and it would be a big summer kick-off. We would be a month removed from the Indianapolis 500 and there would still be a little over two months until the Southern 500. It could be a big move at the start of summer.

However, there are problems with Chicagoland and I am not talking about the track size or the catchfence but the schedule itself. The weekend is already a triple-header for NASCAR with the Trucks running Friday night, the Grand National Series running Saturday afternoon and NASCAR Cup qualifying Saturday evening with the Cup race Sunday afternoon.

How can you squeeze IndyCar in? When does IndyCar squeeze in?

Oval events are known for having a lot of downtime. It is a NASCAR and an IndyCar problem. A practice session is held and then there is an hour break with nothing on track. Then another practice session is held and there is two-hour break before qualifying and when the day is over you spent just as much time watching empty asphalt as you did watching cars on racetrack.

There is room but it comes down to the tires. Goodyear and Firestone do not match well and it is neither manufactures' fault. It is science. Each tire has to be constructed its own way and they do not match. This isn't only a Goodyear/Firestone thing but Firestone has the same problem with Cooper Tires, which supplies all three series of the Road to Indy.

Thanks to Jon Beekhuis' inquiry, we have learned incompatible rubber is lifted from the track surface and thrown away. With three series on Goodyear, Firestone rubber would not have a chance to get into the surface and it would not be the best for IndyCar. I doubt the tire manufactures would want to work together to each bring a compound that would be compatible. A compromise could lead to a series taking a step back in terms of quality and I am not sure either side would be willing to give. Plus, you could be looking at an angry fan base that the series they hold closest to their hearts had to sacrifice and had a worse race because of it.

Rubber is a hurdle but there is also the question about what would the actual schedule look like that would deem it worth having a combination weekend? What would be the best for each series? It would make sense to give IndyCar its track time, rubber in and then race. IndyCar could be the leadoff to the weekend, practice Thursday night and race Friday night. The NASCAR weekend could start on Saturday. But would having IndyCar run Thursday and Friday and the NASCAR events being smushed into the Saturday and Sunday be worth promoting as a combination weekend?

The lure of a combination weekend would be getting to see IndyCar and Cup cars running on the same day. You would get to see Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and company go run a practice session and ten minutes later Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and the IndyCar bunch would take to the track. Splitting it up into two IndyCar days and two NASCAR days is basically having two separate weekends. If a track is going to do that then it mind as well hold the events a few months apart.

Maybe we put Chicagoland aside for a moment but we should also remember this year's Chicagoland weekend was held when it was over 90º F. The crowd was down significantly. I am not sure adding IndyCar would draw more people to the track. The easier thing to do would be to move these races to the night.

What other options are there? Both series go to Pocono but NASCAR at the end of July and IndyCar at the end of August. That would be something if both series shared a weekend but I don't think that is an option. Fans have wanted the Cup series to go to Iowa for quite sometime and with a possible calendar a few years away maybe that would be the better venue for this combination event in July. IndyCar has run with ARCA at Iowa the last few seasons and despite the tire differences, the IndyCar race hasn't been that bad. This year's race was just fine and it had not only ARCA's General Tire but also Indy Lights on Cooper Tires.

IndyCar is moving the Iowa race to Saturday night. I bet NASCAR would want the Cup race on Saturday night. On top of that, what about the support series for each? In my mind, Iowa might be the best option when it comes to an oval. But it also could allow for something different. What if each series could have the best of both worlds? What if instead of fighting over the prime time slot, each series got its chance under the lights?

This could be a chance for each series to run a doubleheader, one race on Friday and one race on Saturday. Each night could have 400 laps of racing, IndyCar running 200 and NASCAR running 200. On Friday night, one series would lead off in the evening, let's say it would be a 6:00 p.m. local start and the second race would begin at 8:00 p.m. local. On Saturday night, whatever series had the late start runs at 6:00 p.m. and the series that opened up on Friday closes out on Saturday at 8:00 p.m.

The only other option I would throw out there is Watkins Glen. IndyCar had good races at Watkins Glen. Crowds, not so much. NASCAR gets a great crowd at Watkins Glen and the race isn't half bad. This would be IndyCar's best chance to go back to Watkins Glen and this would basically force NASCAR to run the boot.

That is the start of a two-week break for IndyCar, as the Watkins Glen NASCAR weekend falls the week after Mid-Ohio. The NASCAR weekend already has Cup, Grand National Series and the East series but NASCAR road course weekends are always underwhelming when compared to an IndyCar weekend or sports car weekend. Four series is nothing. IndyCar could start on Thursday with a test session and fit in practice sessions on Friday. In August, there is enough daylight to go late into the day. Cup qualifying was held after the Grand National Series race this year. The IndyCar race could be held at that time or maybe IndyCar and the Cup races could be run on Sunday. The IndyCar races held in 2016 and 2017 took an hour and 41 minutes and an hour and 42 minutes respectively. The IndyCar race could begin at noon, end around 2:00 p.m. ET and the Cup race could begin at 3:00 or 3:15 p.m. ET.

That is a combination weekend worth having.

One final concern with all those possibilities is weather. If it rains, it will throw the entire weekend into chaos. What happens if the IndyCar race is scheduled to go first and it rains but the track is being dried and will be done at the time the NASCAR race is supposed to start. What happens? The only guarantee is anger. IndyCar fans would be angry if they are force to wait until after the Cup race or worse until the next day. NASCAR fans would be angry if their race is on hold until the IndyCar race is completed and the Cup race doesn't go green until 11:00 p.m. ET. Any road course would hopefully alleviate those concerns but we know there have been rainstorms hard enough that neither IndyCar nor NASCAR can race in.

This is the closest we have ever been to IndyCar and NASCAR's top series running together on the same weekend. It is still miles away from happening but a combination of the decline of motorsports, a stagnant landscape and a mutual television partner has made it seem possible. We are a long way off from it ever becoming a reality and egos will have to be put aside to make it happen. That might be the greatest hurdle of all.

If the two sides can come to terms then I hope we get to see it, preferably at Iowa or Watkins Glen.

Retroactive Champions From the Weekend
The #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG of Lucas Stolz, Maro Engel and Yelmer Buurman have been reinstated to the 3 Hours of Barcelona, given back the race victory and in turn the trio have won the Blancpain Endurance Series championship over Raffaele Marciello. Marciello remains the overall Blancpain GT Series champion despite the reversed result.

Champions From the Weekend
Jenson Button and Naoki Yamamoto of the #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda won the Super GT GT500 championship with a third place finish at Motegi. Yamamoto is the fourth driver to win the Super Formula and Super GT championships in the same year joining Pedro de la Rosa, Satoshi Motoyama and Richard Lyons.

The #65 K2 R&D Leon Racing Mercedes-AMG of Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou won the Super GT GT300 championship with its victory at Motegi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Black Falcon and the GT300 results from Motegi but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Brazilian Grand Prix, his tenth victory of the season and 72rd of his career.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Cup race from Phoenix, his eighth victory of the season. Christopher Bell won the Grand National Series race, his seventh victory of the season. Brett Moffitt won the Truck series race, his fifth victory of the season.

The #8 ARTA Honda of Tomoki Nojiri and Takuza Izawa won the Super GT race from Motegi.

The #13 ANSA Motorsports Ligier-Nissan of Kyle Kirkwood and Roman De Angelis won the IMSA SportsCar Encore from Sebring. The #60 Roush Racing Ford Mustang of Nate Stacy, Kyle Marcelli and Dean Martin won in GT4. The #22 Mark Motors Racing Audi of Remo Ruscitti and Marco Cirone won in the TCR class.

Coming Up This Weekend
Three NASCAR finales from Homestead.
Three finales from Valencia in MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3.
Three World Touring Car Cup races from Macau, the final round of the season.
The Macau Grand Prix.
The FIA GT World Cup from Macau.
The final FIA World Endurance Championship race of the calendar year, 6 Hours of Shanghai.
The World Rally Championship finale, Rally Australia.