Sunday, November 30, 2014

Porsche Wins FIA WEC Season Finale at Interlagos

After a heavy accident by Mark Webber brought out the safety car, the #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb scored it's maiden victory in the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship season finale from Interlagos. The #14 Porsche finished out the podium in each of the final three races, improving by one position in each race. The 2014 world champions, the #8 Toyota TS040 of Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi finished second with the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro rounding out the podium. Tom Kristensen ends his career with one final podium as Lucas di Grassi finished on the podium in his home race and Loïc Duval gets his third podium of the season.

The #7 Toyota of Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway finished fourth with the #2 Audi of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer rounding out the top five. With Toyota coming home in second and fourth, the Japanese manufacture has dethrone Audi as manufactures' championship.

Webber was carried off on a stretcher after his turn eleven accident at the end of the race. Webber did raise his arm and wave as he was put in the ambulance. Porsche tweeted that Webber is ok. Also involved in the accident was the #90 8Star Motorsport Ferrari of Matteo Cressoni. The Italian got out of his car under his own power.

In LMP2, the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan of Richard Bradley, Matthew Howson and Alexandre Imperatori won their third race of the 2014 season despite suffering two accidents. The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier's championship hopes were squashed early after an accident heading into turn one with Olivier Pla behind the wheel. The accident is believed to have been caused by a brake failure. With their retirement, the LMP2 championship fell to the #27 SMP Racing Oreca-Nissan and driver Sergey Zlobin who finished second in class after the #37 SMP Racing Oreca had a mechanical failure, forcing them to pull off course. KCMG won by 18 laps over the #27 SMP Racing Oreca.

Aston Martin swept the GT classes as the #97 of Stefan Mücke and Darren Turner won their second race of the season in GTE-Pro. Their only other victory came at Austin. The #92 Porsche 991 RSR of Patrick Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki finished second with the #71 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of James Calado and Davide Rigon coming home in third. The world champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander finished fourth.

Ferrari clinched the GT manufactures' championship with AF Corse coming home in third and fourth.

Aston Martin picked up their seventh victory in GTE-Am in 2014 with the #98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Christoffer Nygaard getting their third victory. The #95 Aston Martin of David Heinemeier Hansson, Kristian Poulsen and Nicki Thiim finished second. The #95 finished second in all even-numbered rounds of the season and won all odd-numbered rounds as Hansson and Poulsen clinched the title at Bahrain. The #81 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Stephan Wyatt, Michele Rugolo and Andrea Bertolini rounded out the GTE-Am podium, their second consecutive podium to close out the season.

The 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship season begins April 12, 2015 at Silverstone, 133 days away.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Friday Finales: FIA World Endurance Championship at Interlagos, Stock Car Brasil at Curitiba

With only a handful of season finales remaining in 2014, we focus first on Interlagos, host of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship season finale. Three of the four class championship have already been decided but the manufactures' championships still remain up in the air. Their are plenty of storylines heading into Brazil as not just the WEC wraps up 2014 but so does Stock Car Brasil.

G-Drive vs. SMP in LMP2
Normally we start with the premier class, LMP1 but with that title already decided, we will start with the lone class that is still undecided, LMP2.

It is a Russia vs. Russia battle in LMP2 as the Russian G-Drive Racing takes on the Russian SMP Racing. 

SMP Racing's Sergey Zlobin lost the championship lead at Bahrain after a late mechanical forced his #27 SMP Racing Oreca-Nissan to retire. This handed the LMP2 championship lead over to the #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Olivier Pla, Julien Canal and Romain Rusinov, who had to overcome two wishbone failures in the Persian Gulf to make it to the finish. G-Drive Racing has won four of seven races with Zlobin's lone victory in 2014 coming at Le Mans. G-Drive has won eight of the last 15 races dating back to last season.

The G-Drive trio lead Zlobin by eight points heading to Brazil. They can win the title with a victory or second place finish. They can also win the title with a third or fourth place finish if the #27 SMP Racing Oreca does not win at Interlagos.

Zlobin will be joined by Nicolas Minassian and Maurizio Mediani in the #27 Oreca-Nissan. SMP Racing's #37 Oreca-Nissan will featured an all-Russian driver line-up of Anton Ladygin, Kirill Ladygin and Viktor Shaitar. The #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan has won two of the last four races including the most recent round in Bahrain. Matthew Howson and Richard Bradley will be joined by Alexandre Imperatori for the sixth time in 2014.

Kristensen's Final Ride in LMP1
Interlagos will mark the final start of Tom Kristensen illustrious career. The Dane announced his retirement last week and will be joined in the #1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro by Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval. Kristensen will exit as the all-time leader in victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with nine and 12 Hours of Sebring with six. He also won the 2002 American Le Mans Series championship scoring his lone Petit Le Mans victory that season. Kristensen also accumulated three victories in DTM, two in British Touring Cars Championship, a victory in Super Formula and Japanese Formula Three and German Formula Three titles.

Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi clinched the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship at Bahrain in the #8 Toyota TS040 as the #7 TS040 took victory with Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Mike Conway. Toyota has won five of seven races this season but despite their dominance, Audi still has a shot at the manufactures' title as they sit 40 points back entering the final round. Forty-four points remain on the table at Interlagos. 

André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer have won two races this year in the #2 Audi but have not finished on the podium since winning at Austin two months ago. This trio won at Interlagos last year, leading an Audi 1-2 finish. 

Porsche has one final shot to get victory in their first season in the WEC. They put both cars on the podium at Bahrain with the #14 919 Hybrid of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani leading the #20 of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley. The #14 Porsche has finished on the podium the last two races while the #20 has three podiums this season (Silverstone, Fuji, Bahrain).

Ferrari vs. Porsche in GT
The World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers and the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers were locked up at Bahrain but the GT manufactures' championship is still up for grabs as Ferrari leads Porsche by 25 points.

In GTE-Pro, Ferrari has won four of seven races with all with their victories coming at the hands of world champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia. The #92 Porsche 911 RSR has two victories this year with Frédéric Makowiecki being joined by Marco Holzer and Richard Lietz for the win at Silverstone and Patrick Pilet being his co-driver for the victory at Shanghai. Aston Martin has one victory in GTE-Pro this season when the #97 Vantage V8 of Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke won at Austin.

James Calado and Davide Rigon will drive the #71 AF Corse Ferrari and has finished on the podium in the last three races. Jörg Bergmeister, Richard Lietz and Nick Tandy will be in the #91 Porsche with the #99 Aston Martin being shared by Alex MacDowell, Darryl O'Young and Fernando Rees.

A Champion Returns in GTE-Am
While David Heniemeier Hansson and Kristian Poulsen look for their fifth victory of the season to close out their championship season, the bigger story in GTE-Am is the return of world champion Emerson Fittipaldi to racing. 

Fittipaldi will compete in the #61 AF Corse Ferrari along side Jeff Segal and Alessandro Pier Guidi. The two-time World Drivers' Championship and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner last competed in motorsports in 2008 when he and his brother Wilson ran a Brazilian GT race. 

As mentioned above, Heinemeier Hansson and Poulsen are looking for their fifth victory of the season, however all their victories have come in the odd-numbered rounds of the championship this season. They have finished second in all the even-numbered rounds of the championship. Nicki Thiim will round out the all-Danish line-up in the #95 Aston Martin. Thiim has been apart of all four of the #95's victories and has skipped all the even-numbered rounds until this weekend. 

The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Christoffer Nygaard has won two rounds this season and are second in the championship. The #98 has finished on the podium in six of seven races this year. Third in the GTE-Am championship is the #88 Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler and Khaled Al Qubaisi. Their best finish this season was second at Le Mans.

Fresh off their second in class at Bahrain, the #81 AF Corse Ferrari returns with Michele Rugolo, Stephan Wyatt and Andrea Bertolini behind the wheel. The other Ferrari in class belongs to 8Star Motorsports which will feature an all-Itatlian driver line-up in Brazil with Gianluca Roda, Paolo Ruberti and Matteo Cressoni in the #90. The final car in class is the #75 Prospeed Competition Porsche with their all-French driver line-up led by Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxivière. 

Eight Battle For Stock Car Brasil
Rubens Barrichello enters the 2014 Stock Car Brasil season finale with a shot at winning the title in his second season in the series. The former Formula One and IndyCar driver holds a 14.5-point lead over Átila Abreu. Barrichello won two races in August while Abreu's lone win came at April at Brasilia. In the last four races, Barrichello has finished ninth, second, fourth and fourth while Abreu has finishes of nineteenth, seventh, third and fifth.

Thiago Camilo is third in the championship, 23.5 points back. Camilo has won three races this season, more than any other driver. Júlio Campos sits 30.5 points back with his teammate, former Formula One drivers Antônio Pizzonia rounding out the top five, 39.5 points behind Barrichello.

A half points behind Pizzonia and an even forty back of Rubinho is Sérgio Jimenez who won at the most recent round at Salvador. Five-time Stock Car Brasil champion Cacá Bueno is seventh, 41 points back and Allam Khodair, Barrichello's teammate is the final driver mathmatically eligible for the title as he trails by 45 points. Khodair split the Salvador weekend with Jimenez to keep his title hopes alive.

Forty-eight points remain on the table at Curitiba. Barrichello can clinch the title with a fourth place finish. Of the remaining drivers eligible for the title, five drive Chevrolets (Barrichello, Abreu, Camilo, Bueno, Khodair) and three drive Peugeots (Campos, Pizzonia, Jimenez). Chevrolet and Peugeot has split the last six championships evenly with Chevrolet taking the last two. 

Despite there being only two races this weekend, I will do over/unders and predictions for all four classes.

1. Over or Under: 1.5 Russian drivers on the top step of the LMP2 podium?
2. Over or Under: 2.5 cars on the lead lap?
3. Over or Under: 216.5 laps run by the winning GTE-Pro car?
4. Over or Under: 1.5 Aston Martins in the top two of GTE-Am?
5. Over or Under: 4.5 Chevrolets in the top ten at Curitiba?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Only 12 cars finished on the lead lap in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
2. Under: Conor Daly failed to score in GP2. 
3. Over: Dean Stoneman, Nick Yelloy, Alex Lynn and Emil Bernstorff all got podiums in the final round of the GP3 season. 
4. Under: The average speed for the Formula E race from Putrajaya was 57.8 MPH.

1. The G-Drive trio of Olivier Pla, Julien Canal and Romain Rusinov hold off Sergey Zlobin for the LMP2 crown.
2. Tom Kristensen ends his career on the top step of the podium.
3. Aston Martin wins pole position in GTE-Pro.
4. Emerson Fittipaldi does not finish on the GTE-Am podium.
5. Rubens Barrichello wins the Stock Car Brasil title. 

Last Week's Predictions
1. Lewis Hamilton wins his second world championship (Correct).
2. Jolyon Palmer and/or Stefano Coletti score a fastest lap at Abu Dhabi (Correct. Palmer scored fastest lap in race one).
3. Someone gets their first victory of the GP3 season in the season finale (Correct after Nick Yelloly was awarded victory when Patric Niederhauser was disqualified)
4. We see some rain in the Formula E race (Incorrect. There were some sprinkle but not even enough to call the race a wet race).
Overall: 3/4. Running Tally: 31.5/57

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Ed Carpenter Racing's 2014 Season

The penultimate 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season team review brings us to the team that won three races, scored four podiums and won the Indianapolis 500 pole position. Ed Carpenter Racing had a banner year with Ed Carpenter splitting the #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Honda with Mike Conway. Carpenter handed over the reins to Conway on road and street courses and it paid off.

Ed Carpenter had a season to smile about in 2014
Ed Carpenter
In six races, Ed Carpenter scored ten more points than Mike Conway did in twelve. His season didn't start until the month of May but it started in style. His second consecutive Indianapolis 500 pole-position as he was at the top of the time charts most days during the month. Not to forget mentioning Indianapolis 500 one-off J.R. Hildebrand qualifying ninth and finishing tenth. His race was going great until he and James Hinchcliffe came together on the second restart of the race.

After a week off, Carpenter was back behind the wheel for Texas. He started fifth and led 90 laps but had to hold off a late charge from Will Power after the Australian took fresh tires on the final caution. It was his third career victory and first since winning the 2012 season finale at Fontana. He ended up a lap down at Pocono finishing thirteenth and despite contact with Juan Pablo Montoya, Carpenter finished fifth at Iowa, a race where he spent most of the night as the first car between a Ganassi-Penske parade leading the way.

Despite being known for his oval-prowless, Carpenter historically struggles at Milwaukee but he was able to come home in ninth, one lap down this year at the famed mile. At Fontana, Carpenter found himself at the front, going toe-to-toe with the big boys of Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carpenter ended up third behind the Ganassi duo of Kanaan and Dixon.

Ed Carpenter's 2014 Statistics (Note: Made 6 Starts)
Championship Positions: 22nd (262 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 122
Poles: 1
Average Start: 8.333 (4th)
Average Finish: 9.666 (6th)

Mike Conway won twice but could have done better in 2014
Mike Conway
All people will see from Mike Conway's 2014 IndyCar season is two victories but it very well could have been worse. Much worse. Failures in communication at St. Petersburg cost him a shot at victory and a penalty for passing the pace car was icing on the cake. Long Beach started on a poor note when he ended up qualifying 17th. Through lots of attrition and a much better strategy than in St. Petersburg, Conway ended up taking the victory and matching the furthest back on the grid a winner has come from in the IndyCar-era of the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Results continued to not fall Conway's way. An average weekend at Barber was followed by a rough weekend at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis as he started outside the top twenty in each race and retired with 24 laps to go at Indianapolis. After three weeks out of the car, Conway returned and started fourth in each race from Belle Isle but race one was over in just over a dozen laps after an accident at turn twelve and poor tire manage in race two dropped him from contention for victory to 11th. At Houston, he started 17th in both races but an accident in race one left him with only a 17th place finish and he only managed a 13th place finish in race two.

In race one from Toronto, he was stuck in the middle of the pack and ended up 15th. In race two, he and the team pulled one out nothing. He started eleventh but with the changing conditions and track going from dry to wet and back to dry, Conway might the switch to slicks at the right time and went on to pick up his second victory of the season.

He started 12th and finished 13th at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma was more of the same from Conway as he started 17th and finished the 2014 season with a 13th place finish in Wine Country.

Mike Conway's 2014 Statistics (Note: Made 12 Starts)
Championship Positions: 23rd (252 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 2
Laps Led: 36
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 14.6363 (19th)
Average Finish: 12.91 (16th)

As ECR merges with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, the team appears to be a growing threat in 2015. Does Mike Conway return to split the #20 with Carpenter? Conway has been lined-up to potentially become a full-time driver for Toyota's FIA World Endurance Championship effort and their 2015 schedule has three conflicts with the 2015 IndyCar schedule. If Conway gets the promotion, it would make it unlikely he would return to run all the road and street courses. However, with Stéphane Sarrazin announcing he will return with Toyota next year and Sébastien Buemi winning the title, it looks like Conway might be able to return to IndyCar after all. He is coming off victory at Bahrain and will be running with Alexander Wurz and Sarrazin at Brazil this weekend.

The leading candidate to replace Conway as Carpenter's co-driver is J.R. Hildebrand. He finished tenth in the Indianapolis 500, his only start in 2014. Hildebrand's résumé on road/street circuits is not nearly as good as Conway's as the 2009 Indy Lights champion has two top fives and nine top tens in 27 road/street course starts. His only two top fives were fifth place finishes at Long Beach with his best finish on a natural terrain road course being seventh at Motegi in 2011 when the race was switched to the road course after damage to the oval from the Tōhoku earthquake. His average career road/street course finish is 13.81.

If Conway or Hildebrand aren't the ones to pair with Carpenter, then who? We could let speculation run wild but whoever it is will be heading to a proven race-winning team and that is a standard they will have to race to in 2015. Carpenter's offseason will be longer than any other driver as we are 102 days away from the opening round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season but 180 days away from the Indianapolis 500. If anything, Carpenter should be pleading for an oval or two between February and April.

With that said, I will now put motorsports aside for a day and will spend time with my wonderful family and friends. I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

2014 Formula One Predictions: Revisited... Again

Last December, I made predictions for the 2014 Formula One season and in March, after it appeared the entire season would be a complete different animal from any when had seen in recent memory, I revisited those and add a few predictions. Those we see how I did.

1. Sebastian Vettel's Winning Streak Ends at Nine
I got that one right but I didn't think Vettel would have gone winless in 2014, the first time that has happened to Vettel when running a full Formula One season. 

2. Vettel Is Still The Championship Favorite
He stopped being the championship favorite once we got to Australia. Any shot at retaining the world title would have only came if Mercedes stubbed their toe and had a massive set back.

3. Romain Grosjean Will Win A Race
In March I added a qualifier saying only he'd only win if he switched team, Lotus had a miracle or a monsoon took out the entire of the field except for Grosjean. I really felt bad for Grosjean, especially after how he finished in 2013. It was impressive that he finished in the points at all this season with how poorly the Lotus ran. Hopefully the switch to Mercedes engines will give the team a boost but even then the team will have to produce a better car seeing as how Williams and Force India both had really good seasons.

4. Pastor Maldonado Will Cement His Role as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Formula One
After four seasons in Formula One, his point totals in each season are 1, 46, 1 and 2. The entire 2012 season and his victory at Barcelona are appearing more and more to be an anomaly. It's disappointing that his Venezuelan petrol dollars are keeping him on the grid and keeping a promising talent such as Jolyon Palmer, Stoffel Vandoorne, Sam Bird, James Calado, Davide Valsecchi and Fabio Leimer.

5. Nico Hülkenberg Will Score a Podium
No but his teammate Sergio Pérez did at Bahrain. Hülkenberg finished in the points 15 times in 2014 and finished 37 points clear of Pérez. Hülkenberg has to be one of the most under appreciated drivers on the grid. What else does he have to do to get picked up by a big team? Let me remind you he was the driver Pastor Maldonado replaced at Williams in 2011. If Maldonado could score a victory and 46 points with Williams in 2012, imagine what Hülkenberg could have done. 

6. Caterham or Marussia Will Score a Point in Formula One
Jules Bianchi got Marussia their first and only points at Monaco with a ninth place finish. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to keep Marussia on the grid in 2015.

7. Pirelli Will Continue to Struggle To Provide A Reasonable Tire But Expect Them To Stay For 2015
Pirelli actually had a much better 2014 season and the are going to return in 2015. It seems they are getting a hang on providing the teams with the compounds they want at each race weekend.

8. The Grand Prix of America in New Jersey Will Happen For 2015
Not going to happen in 2015 but I still have hope for 2016. If it doesn't happen in 2016 then I will give up.

9. India, Korea and Mexico Do Not Return For 2015
The former two won't but Mexico is on the 2015 schedule. Will we have to see how construction goes but it will likely happen barring any major set backs.

10. Daniel Ricciardo Will Have Success But Won't Win
Wrong. Who would have thought that not only Daniel Ricciardo would finish ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the championship but the Australian would get three victories and Vettel would end 2014 with a bagel? This was a great coming out party for Ricciardo. If Red Bull gets a better start in 2015 than they did this year, I would not be surprised to see Ricciardo competing for the world championship.

11. McLaren Will Score a Podium and May Even Get A Win
They finished second and third with Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button in the opening race but after that, the team fell flat and it was disappointing to watch. You expected more out of the famed team from Woking. After twenty seasons with Mercedes power, McLaren returns to Honda, their partner through some of their greatest achievements. Hard to believe that in over two decades with Mercedes, McLaren won only one constructors' championship that coming in 1998. You will probably be quick to bring up 2007 when the team was excluded from the constructors' championship but even then they wouldn't have won the title after they were excluded from scoring points at Hungary after the Fernando Alonso pit fiasco in qualifying. 

Speaking of Fernando Alonso, he appears to be making the comeback everyone thought was the less likely of them all and return to McLaren. After their falling out in 2007, I thought Alonso would never step foot in Woking again. That appears not to be the case. It's only a matter of who is Alonso's teammate? Button is the most experienced driver on the grid but Magnussen had a really good rookie season. Who will they pick? Could they both return if Formula One allows three car teams? With Honda returning and loads of development to be done, I would take an Alonso-Button pairing with Magnussen going on loan for a year (maybe IndyCar at this point because other than McLaren the only other open spot on the 2015 Formula One grid is the second Toro Rosso seat and I bet they will select one of their two dozen development drivers to fill the seat).

12. A Team Other Than Red Bull and Mercedes Will Win A Pole
And Felipe Massa did that at Austria scoring pole position for Williams.

13. Williams Will Score More Than Five Points By the Start of the European Season
Bottas scored ten at Australia alone. They had 36 points by the time they reached Spain.

14. Abu Dhabi Will Not Be Double Points
It was but it didn't really play a role in deciding the world championship. It appears the double points season finale will only be a one and done in 2014 and that is a good thing. 

All of the following were added in March.

15. Felipe Massa Wins a Race
He did not win a race but came close at Abu Dhabi. Perhaps he gets lucky in 2015.

16. Mercedes Has The Upper Hand
That was an understatement.

17. We Will Not See A Team Added For 2015
I am starting to think we might not even see ten teams on the grid at Melbourne with Caterham being in administration and Marussia folding after trying to make an eleventh hour revival to be on the grid at Abu Dhabi. Maybe someone buys Caterham but who would want to enter Formula One at this team? Gene Haas' team is schedule to appear in 2016 but I will only believe it when I see it

18. Ferrari Will Find Their Groove By Monaco
They never really found their groove. Fernando Alonso carried the weight all season long with Kimi Räikkönen's lone impressive race being at Spa.

19. The Russian Grand Prix Will Happen
It did happen but it was probably the worst race of the season.

20. Honda Will Have Kimiya Sato (no relation to Takuma) Number by the End of the Year
I doubt Honda is looking to hire Kimiya Sato as he wasn't that impressive in his rookie season of GP2 scoring only two points all season. However, Sato did win the Auto GP championship despite missing two rounds.

21. No One Has A Clue What is Going to Happen. Not Even Me
I think it became clear quickly that Mercedes were going to dominate and it was going to be tough for anyone else to compete. To be honest, it appears 2015 might not be much different.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: Thanksgiving Can't Arrive Soon Enough

Most major motorsports series have now wrapped up their 2014 championships but we still have a few series remaining over the next few weeks. While there will be less action on tracks, this is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the time between Thanksgiving and New Years. I love visiting family, I love getting people Christmas gifts, I love driving around at night with my family looking at Christmas lights and of course, I love the meals. Who else can't wait until they are devouring turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes that has been drowned by gravy? Let's not forget about a slice of pumpkin and apple pie for dessert. There might be a race at Interlagos this Sunday but I am looking forward more to Thursday afternoon.

A Matter of Consistency
With Formula One and NASCAR ending their seasons a week apart and seeing how their championship unfold in two completely different manners, I think about how consistency played a role in each outcome.

In NASCAR, not only did the driver who won the most races not win the title but there was a chance a driver that did not win one of NASCAR's 36 races could have been champion, despite the Chase being changed to emphasize winning. NASCAR Chairman Brian France responded to the possible scenario of a winless driver becoming champion by saying in any format it is possible for a driver to be champion without winning a race. He went on to say that he didn't want a system that ignored consistency and that is fair but what type of consistency are we talking about and for how long?

Ryan Newman had five top fives all year and finished second in the championship. Joey Logano won five races and finished fourth. Newman consistently brought the car home, finishing 35 of 36 races with 31 of those on the lead lap but he wasn't consistently at the front. His only sliver of consistency was during the Chase. Before the Chase, Newman had back-to-back top ten finishes only three times. In the Chase, he went on a run of five consecutive top ten finishes.

Compare that to Jeff Gordon who had ten instances of back-to-back top ten finishes in the first 26 races. In the final ten race, Gordon had six top ten finishes, same amount as Newman, expect his finishes were 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 10th to Newman's 8th, 6th, 7th, 5th, 3rd and 2nd. What took Gordon out of contention were his outliers. In the semifinal round, Gordon finished runner-up twice with the Texas fiasco having him come home in 29th. Think about that. Had the crew changed left side tires only after his spin, he probably stays on the lead lap and picks up at least another point or two, which would have been enough to advance to Homestead while Newman's championship hopes would have died in the Phoenix desert instead.

With everyone who starts a race in NASCAR receiving points, consistency is much harder to reward. Look at what happened at Kansas. Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson all had tire failures ruin promising days while Matt Kenseth was average, justing riding around and coming home in 13th. Kenseth scored 31 points by just managing to bring the car while Keselowski, Earnhardt, Jr. and Johnson ended with nine, six and four points respectively because of something out of their controls. A massive outlier in NASCAR kills championships run and we saw that occur in this Chase.

It would have been one thing if Newman was consistently finishing second, third or fourth every week and just wasn't having luck getting into victory lane but that wasn't the case. Other than Talladega in October and the final race, Newman was never in contention for victory. But you can't hate on Newman, you have to hate the system. Newman didn't have to turn up the wick until the Chase when the field was leveled on points. If the system was set up to award consistency throughout all 36 races, not to just those who survived three segments of three race and was top finisher in the final race, Newman wouldn't have been in play for the title.

Then you have Formula One where Lewis Hamilton won the world championship after winning 11 of 19 races. Nico Rosberg, who won just under half the amount of races Hamilton won, could have won the world title and had that been the case, then consistency would have been the explanation as to why. Unlike Newman, who barely finished in the top five all season, Rosberg finished on the podium in 15 of 19 races. He finished in the points on 16 occasions. That is championship worthy consistency. You know who else was consistent this season? Fernando Alonso with 17 points paying finishes but he was no where near Hamilton and Rosberg because he continued finishing fourth, fifth and sixth.

It's ok to award consistency. It's what sets motorsports apart from other sports as most series determine their champions over an aggregate of all that has occurred over the course of a season. It's just a matter of what type of consistency is being award, those finishing at the front or those who merely finish.

If NASCAR wants to truly award consistency, they should take a page from Formula One's book and award those who consistently finish at the front, the drivers who are consistently in the top five and top ten.

Formula One's Open Class
Between the Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Bernie Ecclestone floated out an idea to boost the Formula One grid. As Ecclestone called "Super GP2" with a single-make car and an upgraded engine.

What Ecclestone got wrong was labelling it as "Super GP2" but the idea has some legs.

First, don't call it "Super GP2." Never call it "Super GP2." It sounds like you are merely taking inferior equipment and adding it to the back of the grid to inflate the amount of cars in the race.

Second, look at what MotoGP has done. Four years ago, MotoGP was in a tight situation. Kawasaki had left and Suzuki were leaving and their grid was under 20 entries for every round. They needed to do something and for 2012 they introduce Claiming Rule Teams to allow privateer teams to compete at lower costs. In it's first year of 2012, grid sizes were up. Come 2013, grid sizes were up again. This past season the CRTs were restructured into the "Open" class with all bikes in the class using the MotoGP ECU and identical software. Every MotoGP round this season saw at least two dozen bike entered and the "Open" class has developed into a competitive option for teams to compete against the factory and satellite teams.

Here would be my proposal for Formula One's "Open" class:
1. Have a spec-chassis that is approved by the FIA.
2. Allow each the "Open" class teams to be supplied by of of the current engine manufactures (Ferrari, Mercedes, Renault and Honda in 2016 after their one-year exclusivity with McLaren is up) and merely plop the engine into the spec-chassis.
3. However, each engine manufacture can only supply one team.
4. Require that the "Open" class teams field a driver that is 24 years of age or younger or has less than 60 starts to their name.
5. All aerodynamic development is done as a collaborative

In my mind, I see four privateer teams on the grid, giving young drivers a shot at Formula One with no pressure to develop them too quickly. Think about how quickly we see drivers bounced out of Formula One in recent years? Think about the drivers that didn't and still haven't got a shot?

If an "Open" class would boost the grid with affordably competitive cars for young drivers to break into Formula One, who would be against it? The last two GP2 champions couldn't get on the grid and it looks like the struggle won't be any easier for this year's champion Jolyon Palmer. Jaime Alguersuari was out of Formula One by the age of 21. Charles Pic was out of Formula One by the age of 23. Jean-Éric Vergne's Formula One career very well could be over and he is only 24. Same for Esteban Gutiérrez who is only 23 years old. Then there is Kevin Magnussen, who could be one and done from Formula One and he is 22 years old and scored a podium on debut.

Let's not forget to mention the likes of Alexander Rossi, Robin Frijns, Stoffel Vandoorne, Sam Bird, James Calado and Giedo van der Garde. All winners in junior formulas who appear to lose the game of musical chairs not because they aren't good enough but don't have the backing behind them like others.

It's all about Formula One embracing the idea rather than clutch to a system of what they believe they have to be. An "Open" class would create it's own problems in that the only way teams get paid is through the manufactures' championship and the only way to be eligible for the manufactures' championship is for a team to build their own car. An "Open" class would need to have it's own cash flow coming in separate from the manufactures. This is easier said than done especially seeing the struggles of the small teams to get enough pay. If they can't get enough, why would we expect "Open" class teams to experience anything different and who is to say it will be enough for a team to survive even with spec-chassis?

It's not a bulletproof plan but Formula One has to realize their current state and if they don't do something soon, it could be disastrous.

If Not Formula One...
If the smaller Formula One teams such as Lotus, Force India and Sauber do get squeezed out, there is always IndyCar. Sure, it's not as glitzy but it produces really good racing and it is much more affordable. These teams would probably enter and immediately compete for victories. Other than Penske and Ganassi, these three teams could probably beat every other team on the IndyCar grid as they would all have larger budgets that are still a fraction of what they are currently running at.

While the chassis will be the same for everyone, each team could develop their own aero kit. Wouldn't that be great? Talk about diversity. Instead of every Honda and every Chevrolet looking the same, you could have four or five aero kits to choose from. How great would that be?

Think about it. Lotus would get to return to IndyCar... again! Except this Lotus isn't crap and you could see the return of Lotus-Honda, just like the late-1980s with Ayrton Senna. Talk about nostalgia. This would be a great alternative option for Sauber. The money Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are bringing would go so much further in IndyCar. Plus, Swedes and Brazilians do well in IndyCar, see Kenny Bräck, Gil de Ferran, Tony Kanaan, Hélio Castroneves and so on. Force India's COO Otmar Szafnauer is an American. He would would easily get Force India up to snuff in IndyCar. Sergio Pérez would be a huge hit in the States. Plus, there are around three million Americans with Indian ancestry and this could be an audience drawn to the series with a team they have a connection with.

If Formula One is too expensive for these teams then IndyCar would be a good alternative.

Champions From the Weekend
Lewis Hamilton won his second World Drivers' Championship with victory at Abu Dhabi.

Alex Lynn clinched the GP3 championship before a race was even run from Abu Dhabi. When Dean Stoneman failed to secure pole position for the feature race, it assured Lynn the title as Stoneman had to score maximum points to take the title away from his fellow British driver. Lynn is the first British GP3 championship.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton and Sam Bird but did you know...

Stoffel Vandoorne and Stefano Coletti split the GP2 finale from Abu Dhabi.

Dean Stoneman and Nick Yelloly split the final GP3 weekend of the season. Yelloly got the race two victory after Patric Niederhauser was disqualified.

Coming Up This Weekend
FIA World Endurance Championship ends their season at Interlagos.
Turkey Night Grand Prix at Perris Auto Speedway.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lewis Hamilton Wins Second World Drivers' Championship

With his eleventh victory of the 2014 season, Lewis Hamilton becomes the 16th driver to win multiple World Drivers' Championships. The British driver took the lead of the race from the start, beating his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg into turn one and controled the race from there on out. With Hamilton consistently holding a two-second lead over the German, Rosberg started experiencing problems with his ERS system, dropping him out of contention for the race victory and the world title. Hamilton becomes the first Mercedes driver to win the world title since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955.

Felipe Massa finished second after making a late charge for the race victory. It is Massa's third podium of the season. His Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas finished third, the first time two Williams car have finished on the podium since Monaco 2005 when Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber finished second and third respectively. Daniel Ricciardo finished fourth despite starting from the pit lane. The Australian scored fastest lap by running a 1:44.496 on lap 50. It is the first fastest lap of Ricciardo's career. Jenson Button rounded out the top five in what could have been his final race with McLaren.

The Force India drivers Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez finished sixth and seventh respectively. It is the first race both Force India cars finished in the points since Japan. Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso finished eighth and ninth, each in their final race for their respective teams. Kimi Räikkönen rounded out the points in tenth place.

Kevin Magnussen finished 11th followed by French drivers Jean-Éric Vergne and Romain Grosjean. The Lotus of Grosjean was the first car a lap down. Rosberg limped home in 14th. The Saubers of Esteban Gutiérrez and Adrian Sutil finished 15th and 16th. Sauber did not score a point in 2014. Will Stevens finished 17th on his Formula One debut driving for Caterham. Like Sauber, Caterham did not score this season.

Three drivers retired from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Kamui Kobayashi's season ended 12 laps early. Pastor Maldonado's race came to an end after a spectacular engine failure at the halfway mark of the race. Rookie Daniil Kvyat's season ended after running only 12 laps in Abu Dhabi.

Lewis Hamilton wins the world championship with 384 points to his name after 11 victories, 16 podiums, 7 pole positions and 7 fastest laps. Nico Rosberg will finished second on 314 points after five wins, 15 podiums, 11 pole positions and five fastest laps, all career-highs for the German.

In his first season with Red Bull, Daniel Ricciardo ends with 238 points after scoring three victories, eight podiums and one fastest lap. Ironically, despite scoring eight podiums, Ricciardo never finished second this season. Valtteri Bottas finished fourth with 186 points after scoring six podiums and a fastest lap this season.

Sebastian Vettel rounds out the top five in the championship with 167 points, six ahead of Fernando Alonso. Neither driver won in 2014 with Vettel scoring four podiums, his best finish being second at Singapore and two fastest laps. Alonso had two podiums with his best finish being second at Hungary.

Felipe Massa jumped up to seventh in the world championship with 134 points after his third podium of the season at Abu Dhabi. Massa was the only Mercedes driver to win a pole position this season when he stunned the grid at Austria. Massa also had one fastest lap. Jenson Button finished eighth in the world championship with 126 points. Button's lone podium was at the season opener in Australia.

The Force India drivers of Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez round out the top ten in championship with 96 and 59 points respectively. Kevin Magnussen and Kimi Räikkönen ended level on 55 points with Magnussen finishing 11th in the championship based on his second place finish at Australia. The Finn's best finish in 2014 was fourth at Spa.

Jean-Éric Vergne finishes 13th with 22 points. He is followed by his fellow Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who scored eight points. Daniil Kvyat also ended on eight points with Grosjean getting 14th with more eight place finishes. Kvyat's best finish was ninth on three occasions. Pastor Maldonado and Jules Bianchi both end with two points. Maldonado's lone finish in the points was ninth at Austin while Bianchi finished ninth at Monaco.

Mercedes ends with 701 points as World Constructors' Champions. Red Bull finishes second with 405 points. Williams ends in third with 320 points, 104 points clear of Ferrari. McLaren rounds out the top five with 181 points. Force India ends with 155. Scuderia Toro Rosso ends with 30 points, Lotus with ten and Marussia with two. Sauber and Caterham each failed to score in 2014.

With his victory, Lewis Hamilton jumps Fernando Alonso for fifth all-time in victories with thirty-three.

The 2015 Formula One season opener will be the Australian Grand Prix on March 15th, 112 days away.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rosberg Pole, Hamilton 2nd in Abu Dhabi Qualifying

For the eleventh time in 2014, Nico Rosberg will start from pole position as the German laid down a lap of 1:40.480 seconds in Q3. It is the German's 15th career pole and will give him sole possession of 20th on the all-time pole sitters list breaking a tie with Alberto Ascari, Ronnie Peterson, James Hunt and Rubens Barrichello. This will be Rosberg's first career start on the front row at Abu Dhabi. His teammate Lewis Hamilton ended up second, 0.386 seconds slower than the German. The pole-sitter has only won once at Abu Dhabi. That was Sebastian Vettel in 2010 as he went on to win the world championship with that victory. The driver starting second has won three of five Abu Dhabi Grands Prix while the pole-sitter has retired twice at Abu Dhabi.

Williams swept row two with Valtteri Bottas in third, 0.545 seconds back of Rosberg. Felipe Massa was fourth, 0.094 seconds back of his teammate. The furthest back a Abu Dhabi winner has come from is fourth when Kimi Räikkönen won driving for Lotus two years ago. Daniel Riccardo rounds out the top five with his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel qualifying sixth for his final grand prix with the team. Vettel qualified third on his Red Bull debut at the 2009 Australian Grand Prix. Both Red Bull's had their qualifying times excluded after the front wing on each car were found to be flexing, a breach of the regulations. Both cars will start at the back of the grid.

The man who will replace Vettel at Red Bull, Daniil Kvyat ended up seventh with Jenson Button in eighth. Tomorrow could mark the 266th and final start of Button's Formula One career. Only Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher have made more starts. Button qualified 21st at his first grand prix back at Australia at 2000. Kimi Räikkönen qualified ninth with Fernando Alonso rounding out the top ten. Alonso was 2.386 seconds behind Rosberg in Q3. Alonso started third in his first grand prix for Ferrari. He went on to win that day from Bahrain in 2010.

The rookie Kevin Magnussen missed Q3 by 0.030 seconds with Jean-Éric Vergne 0.009 seconds behind the Dane. The Force Indian pairing Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg ended up 13th and 14th respectively in qualifying. Just under a tenth and a half separated the teammates. Adrian Sutil rounded out the top fifteen.

Romain Grosjean failed to make it out of Q1 and ended up 16th but he will have to go to the rear of the grid after switching to his sixth engine this weekend. He missed advancing to Q2 by 0.022 seconds. Esteban Gutiérrez ended up 17th ahead of Pasto Maldonado with the Caterhams of Kamui Kobayashi and Will Stevens having the slowest times. Maldonado was 1.653 seconds back of Hamilton's fastest lap in Q1 wile Kobayashi and Stevens were 3.333 seconds and 3.888 seconds behind Hamilton respectively.

NBCSN's coverage of the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will begin at 7:00 a.m. ET with the race scheduled to start at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Rosberg Flexes Muscle in Final Practice of Season

After watching his Mercedes teammate be quickest in both Friday practices, Nico Rosberg topped the timesheet in the final practice session of the 2014 Formula One season. The German topped the session with a fastest lap at 1:41.424 seconds with his teammate Lewis Hamilton 0.369 seconds back. Rosberg has ten pole positions this season while Hamilton has scored seven.

Felipe Massa was third fastest, 1.005 seconds back of Rosberg. Masha's former Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso was fourth, 0.224 seconds back of the Brazilian. Alonso completed the fewest amount of laps during the session after completed only eight circuit. His second practice on Friday was cut short due to a mechanical issue. Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top five, 0.026 seconds behind the man he will be replacing at Ferrari in 2015.

Jenson Button made it three former world champions in a row on the time sheet as the British driver was 0.089 seconds back of Vettel. Daniel Ricciardo was seventh in the session, only 0.005 seconds behind Button. Valtteri Bottas was eighth followed by Daniil Kvyat and Kimi Räikkönen. The top ten were covered by 1.614 seconds.

Kevin Magnussen was 11th, less than an tenth behind Räikkönen and was followed by Jean-Éric Vergne. The Toro Rosso driver was 0.008 seconds clear of Sergio Pérez. Nico Hülkenberg followed his Force India teammate, 0.141 seconds back of the Mexican. Esteban Gutiérrez rounded out the top fifteen and ran a session high 24 laps. He was followed by the Lotus-Renaults of Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean. Adrian Sutil was eighteenth with the Caterhams of Kamui Kobayashi and Will Stevens rounding out the timesheet. The field was covered by 4.535 seconds.

Qualifying from the final round of the Formula One season will take place at 8:00 a.m. ET and can be seen live on NBCSN.

Bird Cruises to Putrajaya Victory

Sam Bird took the second round of the 2014-15 Formula E Championship in dominating fashion from the streets of Putrajaya. The Brit led most of the race and held a commanding gap over most of the field through out the race.

He took the lead from Oriol Servià after the first safety car period and saw no challenge from anyone through out the rest of the race. Despite opening up such a large gap, the Virgin Racing driver did 18 laps on the first stint, longer than any other driver

Lucas di Grassi finished second from 18th on the grid after working his way through the field on the first stint and picking up a handful of positions on pit stops. Sébastien Buemi followed di Grassi on the battle from the back of the grid and the Swiss driver came home on the final step of the podium after starting 19th. Pole-sitter Nicolas Prost had to serve a ten-grid spot penalty for causing the final corner collision with Nick Heidfeld at Beijing but the Frenchman was able to climb his way up to fourth in the race.

Jérôme d'Ambrosio rounded out the top five with Karun Chandhok finishing sixth. Servià finished seventh after leading a few laps at the opening of the race thanks to Prost being relegated ten positions on the grid. António Félix da Costa scored points on his Formula E debut with an eighth place finish. Jaime Alguersuari picked up his first points of his Formula E career with a ninth place finish and picking up two points for fastest lap by running a lap of 1:24.429 seconds (66.091 MPH). Daniel Abt switched cars during the second safety car period with just under 20 laps to go. Abt was able to stretch his battery to making to the end of the race and finish tenth for the second consecutive race.

Ho-Pin Tung came home 11th despite a spin earlier in the race. Stéphane Sarrazin finished 12th with Matthew Brabham coming home 13th on debut, the final driver on the lead lap. Bruno Senna finished 14th after an accident on the final lap while the Brazilian was in fourth. Senna had the back end step out on him at turn ten, putting the Mahindra Racing driver into the barrier. Franck Montagny finished 15th after being handed a penalty for contact with Nick Heidfeld that ended the German's day. The Frenchman lost more time after having to make an extra pit stop when he lost his front wing following contact with Senna.

Katherine Legge and Jarno Trulli each finished three laps down. Legge spun on lap one and got into Michele Cerruti. Trulli had to serve a penalty during the race after exceeding the 28kW per hour limit during the first stint of the race. Nelson Piquet, Jr. retired on lap 23 after he got into the outside barrier in turn one while trying to overtake Trulli. Heidfeld and Cerruti rounded out the field. The average speed of the race was 56.308 MPH.

Lucas di Grassi leads the championship with 43 points, three clear of Sam Bird. There is a four-way tie for third between Franck Montagny, Karun Chandhok, Jérôme d'Ambrosio and Nicolas Prost with 18 points. Charles Pic did not compete at Putrajaya due to commitments as Lotus F1 test driver in Abu Dhabi but he and Oriol Servià are tied for seventh in the championship with 12 points. Nelson, Piquet, Jr., Jaime Alguersuari and António Félix da Costa all have four points while Stéphane Sarrazin, Daniel Abt and Takuma Sato round out the points, each with two to their name.

Audi Sport ABT jumps tot he team championship lead with 45 points, one clear of Virgin Racing. The e.dams team is third with 33 points. After failing to score in Malaysia, Andretti Autosport falls to fourth, tied with their fellow American team Dragon Racing, each on 30 points. Mahindra Racing has 18 points, Super Aguri has six, China Racing has four and Venturi Grand Prix has two. TrulliGP remains the lone team yet to score in Formula E.

Round three of the 2014-15 Formula E season will take place on the street of Punta del Este, Uruguay on Saturday December 13th.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Prost Wins Another Pole Position

The Frenchman Nicolas Prost remains the only driver to score pole position in Formula E history as he will start the second round of the season from pole position from Putrajaya. Prost took pole position with a lap of 1:21.779 (68.232 MPH). Joining him on row one will be Oriol Servià after being 0.231 seconds slower than Prost. The Spaniard started 11th at Beijing. Servià's Dragon Racing teammate Jérôme d'Ambrosio will start third, ten positions better than his spot on the grid at Beijing. Sam Bird will start fourth as he was 0.456 back of Prost.

Daniel Abt qualified fifth with Jarno Trulli joining him on row three. The German and Italian were separated by 0.005 seconds and Trulli was 0.568 seconds back. Karen Chandhok ended up seventh, 0.833 seconds back. Nelson Piquet, Jr. qualified eighth but had another accident. Nick Heidfeld and Bruno Senna rounded out the top ten and 1.037 seconds separated Prost and Senna.

Matthew Brabham qualified 11th for his Formula E debut. He will be joined on row six by another driver making their Formula E debut, António Félix da Costa. Stéphane Sarrazin and Franck Montagny make it an all-Frenchman row seven. Michele Cerruti rounded out the top fifteen, trailing Prost by 2.078 seconds.

Ho-Pin Tung ended up 16th followed by Sébastien Buemi and Katherine Legge. Jaime Alguersuari and Beijing winner Lucas di Grassi failed to complete a lap in the session and will round out the final row.

By winning pole position, Prost has secured another three points toward the championship and now sits on six points, jumping him up into a tied for seventh with Servià.

The Putrajaya race is set to run at 1:00 a.m. ET. Fox Sports 2 will have live coverage with Fox Sports 1 rebroadcasting the race at 4:00 a.m. ET.

Bird Fastest in Putrajaya Practice

Sam Bird was quickest in first practice for the Putrajaya round of the 2014-15 Formula E championship. The Brit ran the fastest lap at 1:21.496 seconds (68.469 MPH). Dragon Racing's Jérôme d'Ambrosio was second fastest, 0.547 seconds back of the British driver. Sébastian Buemi was third driving for e.dams. The Belgian was 0.760 seconds slower than Bird. Oriol Servià made it two Dragon cars in the top four as he was 1.088 seconds back. Nicolas Prost rounded out the top five, 1.178 seconds back.

Karun Chandhok was sixth as the Mahindra Racing driver was followed by the Andretti Auotsport drivers Matthew Brabham and Franck Montagny. Brabham was over three-tenths quicker than his teammate in practice. China Racing's Nelson Piquet, Jr. was ninth but suffered rear suspension damage late in the session. Jarno Trulli rounded out the top ten, 1.918 seconds back of Bird.

Bruno Senna was 11th, 3.036 seconds back of Bird. Bird's Virgin Racing teammate Jaime Alguersuari was 12th, 3.175 seconds behind his teammate. Beijing winner Lucas di Grassi was 13th with his Audi Sport ABT teammate Daniel Abt 0.001 seconds behind him. Stéphane Sarrazin rounded out the top fifteen, 3.791 seconds behind Bird. Nick Heidfeld followed his Venturi Grand Prix teammate on the timesheet but the German's session ended prematurely after an accident in turn three.

Super Aguri teammates Katherine Legge and António Félix da Costa were 17th and 18th with Legge 4.678 seconds slower than her fellow Brit Bird and da Costa 4.877 seconds back. Ho-Pin Tung was 5.124 seconds back in 19th and Michele Cerruti was slowest in the session, 5.864 seconds back. Her session ended prematurely after losing a wheel.

Qualifying will take place at 9:00 a.m. ET with the race at 1:00 a.m. ET Saturday morning. The can be seen live on Fox Sports 2.

Hamilton Remains On Top in Abu Dhabi

For the second consecutive practice session, Lewis Hamilton topped the time sheet with his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in tow. The Brit laid down a lap of 1:42.113 seconds in the session 0.083 clear of his German teammate. 

Kevin Magnussen made it three consecutive Mercedes-powered cars in his McLaren-Mercedes. The Dane wrapped up his final Friday practice session as a rookie 0.782 seconds back of the former McLaren driver Hamilton. For the second consecutive session, Sebastian Vettel was fourth 0.846 seconds behind the Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top five, 0.111 seconds behind the German. 

Daniel Ricciardo was sixth, 0.113 seconds back of Bottas. Kimi Räikkönen jumped up to seventh in the final Friday practice of the session. The Finn was 0.306 seconds behind the Australian. Jenson Button was eighth in what could have been the final Friday practice of his Formula One career. The Brit was 0.014 seconds behind the Ferrari of Räikkönen. Daniil Kvyat was 0.043 seconds behind Button with Felipe Massa round out the top ten, 0.012 seconds behind the Russian and 1.445 seconds back of Hamilton. 

Sergio Pérez was 11th and the final driver to run a lap in the 1:43-second bracket. Pérez was followed by Pastor Maldonado and his Force India teammate Nico Hülkenberg. Jean-Éric Vergne dropped to 14th in the second session with Esteban Gutiérrez rounding out the top fifteen. He was followed by his Sauber teammate Adrian Sutil as both drivers will be making their final starts for Sauber this weekend.

Romain Grosjean was 17th followed by the Caterham of Kamui Kobayashi and Will Stevens. The nineteen drivers to complete a lap were covered by 4.944 seconds. Fernando Alonso did not complete a lap after a mechanical failure for the second consecutive weekend. He had a failure in Brazil abbreviate his second Friday practice.

Free practice three will take place tomorrow at 5:00 a.m. ET with the final qualifying session of the 2014 season set for 8:00 a.m. ET. NBCSN will have live coverage of qualifying tomorrow morning.

Friday Four: Abu Dhabi and Putrajaya

Open-wheel is the theme of the weekend as three series put on a bow on their 2014 seasons under the lights in the desert while another series heads to their second round of the season on the streets of the federal administrative center of Malaysia. At the start of Friday, two champions still needed to be crowned. One has already clinched his crown but before we get to the coronation ceremony, we start with the World Drivers' Championship preview.

Formula One
It is Mercedes vs. Mercedes at the Formula One season finale from the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Lewis Hamilton enters with a 17-point lead over his teammate Nico Rosberg. The German took seven points out of Hamilton's lead by winning the Brazilian Grand Prix a fortnight ago. It was his fifth victory of the season. 

Hamilton has won ten races this season, including five of the last six. The Brit has held the points lead ever since winning the Singapore Grand Prix while Rosberg retired due to electrical issues. Hamilton has 15 podiums this season and every race he has been running at the finish has ended on the podium. He has retired from three races this season (Australia, Canada, Belgium).

Rosberg has half the amount of victories as Hamilton but just as many podiums. Rosberg's lone finish off the podium was a fourth at Hungary while his only other retirement beside Singapore was at Silverstone because of a gearbox failure. Rosberg has ten pole positions, the most in Formula One this season but only three of his victories have come from pole position. Hamilton has won from six of his seven poles with the lone exception being the season opener from Australia were the Brit retired.

Hamilton won the 2009 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and has finishes of second and seventh at Yas Marina. He has retired from twice in five Abu Dhabi Grands Prix including retiring from pole position in the inaugural running of the race in 2009. Rosberg has never won at Yas Marina but scored his first podium at the track last year with a third place finish. He also has finishes of fourth, sixth and ninth to his name with his lone retirement coming in the 2012 race. Rosberg has never started on the front row at Yas Marina with his best starting being coming last year when he started third.

This year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is worth double points with a victory paying 50 points, second paying 36 points and third paying 30 points The remaining positions will pay as follows: 24-20-16-12-8-4-2. 

Hear are clinch scenarios:
If Nico Rosberg wins at Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton needs to finish second to clinch the world title. If Rosberg finishes second, Hamilton needs to finish fifth. 
If Rosberg finishes third, Hamilton needs to finish sixth.
If Rosberg finishes fourth, Hamilton needs to finish eighth.
If Rosberg finishes fifth, Hamilton needs to finish ninth.
Rosberg can not win the world title if he finishes outside the top five.

NBCSN's Will Buxton has written two excellent pieces on each of the championship contenders, Hamilton and Rosberg, that I highly recommend.

Hamilton was fastest in FP1 with a lap of 1:43.476 seconds, 0.133 second over Rosberg in second. Fernando Alonso was third, 1.708 seconds back of Hamilton in what appears to be the Spaniards final race for Ferrari. In fourth was Sebastian Vettel, who will be making his final start for Red Bull at Abu Dhabi. The German signed a three-year deal with Ferrari starting next season. He was 1.858 seconds back with his teammate Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top five, trailing the lead Mercedes by 1.885 seconds.

Jean-Éric Vergne was sixth with his Toro Rosso teammate Daniil Kvyat in seventh. The Frenchman was 2.242 seconds back and 0.117 seconds ahead of his teammate and future Red Bull driver. Valtteri Bottas just under 2.5 seconds back in eight. The Force Indias of Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the top ten with 2.554 seconds covering the top ten cars.

Kevin Magnussen was 11th followed by Kimi Räikkönen. Felipe Massa was 3.073 seconds back in 13th. Esteban Gutiérrez was 0.007 seconds back of Massa with Pastor Maldonado rounding out the top fifteen. European Formula Three champion, Frenchman Esteban Ocon got the FP1 drive for Lotus in place of Romain Grosjean and was 16th, 0.355 seconds back of Maldonado.

Jenson Button was 3.759 seconds back of Hamilton but ran 8 laps. Only Felipe Massa ran fewer laps in the session. Caterham has made it to Abu Dhabi and Kamui Kobayashi was 18th, 4.495 seconds back. Adrian Sutil was 19th, 4.792 seconds back. Will Stevens will make his Formula One debut this weekend in the second Caterham. He rounded out first practice in 20th. 

The 2014 GP2 championship was clinched at Sochi by Jolyon Palmer. The British driver has won four of twenty races and finished on the podium on 11 occasions for DAMS. Palmer is 56 points clear of Carlin driver, future Sauber F1 driver and current Williams F1 test driver Felipe Nasr. The Brazilian also has four victories but has nine podiums and finished outside the points three times while Palmer has finished outside the points only once and has been at the running of every race this season. 

Eight points behind Nasr is ART Grand Prix and McLaren test driver Stoffel Vandoorne. The Belgian has three wins but has finished outside the points eight times. RT Russian Time's Mitch Evans is fourth in the championship with Trident's Johnny Cecotto, Jr. rounding out the top five. Racing Engineering's Stefano Coletti is thirteen points back of the Venezuelan with Campos Racing's Arthur Pic five points behind Coletti. Coletti's teammate Raffaele Marciello is eighth, four points ahead of Julián Leal of Carlin and Stéphane Richelmi of DAMS nine points behind Marciello and rounding out the top ten. 

Conor Daly returns for Venezuela GP Lazarus in the season finale. Daly missed the last two rounds at Monza and Sochi. His lone points came at Hungary when he finished seventh in the sprint race. 

Alexander Rossi and James Calado won last year's GP2 round at Yas Marina. 

Alex Lynn has clinched the 2014 GP3 championship and we have yet to start race one. The Carlin driver clinched the title as second in the championship, Dean Stoneman failed to get pole position. Stoneman needed to score maximum points to have a shot at the title. Stoneman started at Marussia Manor Racing but after the team failed to make it to Sochi, Stoneman moved to Koiranen GP. Stoneman has won four races to Lynn's three. 

ART Grand Prix driver German Marvin Kirchhöfer is third in the championship and won pole position for the first race from Abu Dhabi. He entered a point behind Stoneman in the championship but jumps the Brit as pole position pays four points. Swede Jimmy Eriksson is fourth, 11 points behind his Koiranen GP teammate Stoneman. Richie Stanaway rounds out the top five driving for Status Grand Prix.

Sixth through ninth in the championship are all British drivers. Lynn's teammate Emil Bernstorff is sixth with 112 points. Four points back is Status GP's Nick Yelloly. ART's Dino Zamparelli has 101 points and sits eighth with Arden driver Jann Mardenborough in ninth. Following the four Brits are three Swiss drivers with Mardenborough's teammate Patric Niederhauser rounding out the top ten followed by ART's Alex Fontana and Jenzer Motorsport's Mathéo Tuscher.

Last year, Daniil Kvyat and Tio Ellinas won at Abu Dhabi.

Formula E
After 70 days off, Formula E returns for their second round in Putrajaya, Malaysia. After a thrilling finish at the premiere race in Beijing, China, Lucas di Grassi leads the championship after taking a surprise victory. Di Grassi was the benefactor of a final corner collision between Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld as the Brazilian slid by to make history as he gave Audi Sport ABT the victory. Andretti Autosport's Franck Montagny finished second with Virgin Racing's Sam Bird coming home third. 

Charlie Pic finished fourth with Mahindra Racing's Karun Chandok rounding out the top five. Dragon Racing's Jérôme d'Ambrosio and Oriol Servià finished sixth and seventh. China Racing's Nelson Piquet, Jr. came home in eighth with Venturi Grand Prix's Stéphane Sarrazin in ninth and Daniel Abt in tenth. Abt had finished third but was penalized 57 seconds for exceeding allowed battery usage limit of 28kW. 

Despite the final corner collision, Nicolas Prost is ninth in the championship because three points are awarded for pole position. Takuma Sato also finished outside the points but is tied for tenth with Sarrazin because the driver who scores the fastest lap gets two points. Sato will not be at Putrajaya as António Félix da Costa will run for Super Aguri. Da Costa was announced as Aguri's full-time driver but had to miss Beijing due to his DTM commitments. 

Other than the addition of da Costa, the only other driver change will occur at Andretti Autosport as Charles Pic will be replaced by American Matthew Brabham. The 20-year old ran Indy Lights in 2014 and won one race on the IMS road course. Katherine Legge will be da Costa's teammate at Super Aguri. Jaime Alguersuari runs his second race in three years for Virgin. Ho-Pin Tung will drive for China Racing despite it initially being announced Corvette factory driver Antonio García was going to replace him. Tung was going to have Asian Le Mans Series duty, however, the ALMS round from Thailand was cancelled, allowing Tung to run Putrajaya. 

Sébastien Buemi is fresh off clinching the World Endurance Drivers' Championship at Bahrain for Toyota and he will be looking for his first points in Malaysia. The e.dams driver failed to score points in three Formula One starts and two GP2 starts in Malaysia however that was on the Sepang International Circuit. Bruno Senna's day ended after two corners at Beijing. He is looking to complete his first lap in Formula E competition as is Jarno Trulli who failed to get off the grid. Trulli's teammate Michele Cerutti finished a lap down at Beijing. Trulli GP is the only team yet to score in Formula E.

NBCSN will broadcast the final round of the 2014 Formula One season with pre-race beginning at 7:00 a.m. ET and the race at 8:00 a.m. ET Sunday.

Fox Sports 2 will show the Formula E Putrajaya ePrix live at 1:00 a.m. ET Saturday. Fox Sports 1 will rebroadcast the race at 4:00 a.m. ET. The race will be broadcast on Fox after NFL games this weekend. Check local listing for when the your local Fox affiliate will be airing the race.

1. Over or Under: 14.5 cars finishing on the lead lap in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
2. Over or Under: 0.5 points scored by Conor Daly this weekend?
3. Over or Under: 3.5 podiums for British drivers in GP3?
4. Over or Under: 62.75 MPH average speed of the Putrajaya race? Beijing was 61.2 MPH.

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Zero cautions involved a Chase driver at Homestead.
2. Under: There were zero green-white-checker attempts in the Truck race.
3. Under: One Lexus RC F finished in the top five at Motegi.
4. Under: There were no red flags during he WTCC weekend at Macau.
5. Over: Four Fords were in the points in Wales Rally GB.
Last Week's Over/Unders from Thursday
1. Under: Seven nationalities were represented across the four class winners at Bahrain.
2. Over: Volvo and Holden each won at Phillip Island.
3. Under: Eight drivers are eligible for the Stock Car Brasil title entering their season finale.

1. Lewis Hamilton wins his second world championship.
2. Jolyon Palmer and/or Stefano Coletti score a fastest lap at Abu Dhabi.
3. Someone gets their first victory of the GP3 season in the season finale. 
4. We see some rain in the Formula E race.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Ryan Newman wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship (Wrong).
2. Matt Crafton wins the Truck series title (Correct)
3. James Rossiter holds on to take the GT500 title (Wrong).
4. Sébastien Loeb gets at least one podium at Macau (Wrong).
5. Andreas Mikkelsen will finish ahead of one of his Volkswagen teammates in Wales Rally GB (Wrong as Mikkelsen retired).
Last Week's Predictions from Thursday
1. There will be a new LMP2 championship leader after Bahrain (Correct).
2. Jamie Whincup clinches the title at Phillip Island (Correct).
3. Cacá Bueno gets his first victory of the season at Salvador (Wrong).
Overall: 3/8. Running Tally: 28.5/53

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Chip Ganassi Racing's 2014 Season

The ninth 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season team review brings us to a team that ended the season on a roll, winning three of the final four races, Chip Ganassi Racing. After another season with a slow start, the now Chevrolet powered team ended on a high note despite Scott Dixon being unable to defend his title.

Scott Dixon fell short of defending his championship
Scott Dixon
The Kiwi's title defense started well at St. Petersburg with a fourth place finish. At Long Beach, Dixon was leading late but couldn't stretch the fuel mileage and ended up 12th. He scored his worst career finish at Barber Motorsports Park this season when he came home in third position behind the Andretti Autosport 1-2 of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti. One of these years he will get to the top step of the podium in Alabama.

Dixon didn't qualify well for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and contact with Will Power put him in the kitty litter and a lap down. He was able to score fastest lap and get back on the lead lap but at that point it was too little too late. He started in the middle of row four for the Indianapolis 500 and had worked his way to the front before hitting the turn four wall on lap 168. An average first race in Detroit was followed by a stellar run from 22nd to fourth in race two and that wasn't even his most impressive drive of the season. We will get to that in a moment.

A top five at Texas was followed by two rough races in Houston. He got into the turn nine barrier and collected his teammate Charlie Kimball and he had brake issues in the second race. He had to start 15th at Pocono but he methodically worked his way up to fifth. He would have finished second at Iowa if it weren't for Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden pitting under the final caution and charging past Dixon dropping him to fourth. The Toronto doubleheader treated him much better than Houston as he finished fifth and seventh North of the Border.

Then Dixon ran the race that will define his career. After having to start dead last at Mid-Ohio, Dixon proved he was the undisputed king of fuel mileage as he went on to smash the record for furthest back a winner has come from at the famed track. The record was eighth, Dixon made it 22nd. The wave of momentum continued until the end of the season as he would finish fourth at Milwaukee, win Sonoma after holding off Ryan Hunter-Reay and finish second at Fontana behind his teammate Tony Kanaan.

Scott Dixon's 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 3rd (604 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 4
Top Fives: 11
Top Tens: 12
Laps Led: 97
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 5
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 9.176 (6th)
Average Finish: 8.277 (2nd)

The Brazilian ended 2014 on a high note with a victory
Tony Kanaan
Speaking of the Brazilian, his first season with Ganassi proved the 39, going on 40-year old still has it. He finished sixth at St. Petersburg and was collateral at Long Beach thanks to Josef Newgarden and Ryan Hunter-Reay coming together. He started last at Barber but did what he does best, gaining 14 spots and coming home in ninth. He quietly finished tenth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but struggled in Indianapolis 500 qualifying, ending up on the inside of row six.

Kanaan entered as the defending Indianapolis 500 winner but it became clear early he was not going to make it back-to-back triumphs. He ran out of fuel at the end of a stint and tore up the gearbox during the process. He returned at Belle Isle and score his first podium with Ganassi with a third in race one followed by a ninth in race two. He'd finish behind Dixon in sixth at Texas and was in contention for victory in Houston 1 only to have Graham Rahal run into the back of him coming to the final restart. In race two, he had a tire rub drop him out of contention for a top five but he was able to manage a tenth place finish.

For the second consecutive year, Kanaan found himself in position to win at Pocono but for the second consecutive year, the cookie didn't crumble into his favor. After deciding to go off sequence to try and stretch fuel, it backfired on him and they had to make an extra pit stop and just missed out on a top ten with an 11th-place finish. Then came Iowa. He dominated Iowa. No one could hold a candle to him all night as he led 247 of 300 laps. Until Hunter-Reay and Newgarden put on new tires. Then Kanaan was a sitting duck and a victory turned into a third place finish in the blink of an eye. Toronto would feature two more podiums, a third in race one and a second in race two after stalling on lap one but still no victory and it appeared Kanaan was never going to get a victory.

Mid-Ohio ended with a first corner accident and the focus shifted to Milwaukee. At the famed mile Kanaan had nothing for the Penske drivers Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya but he was able to come home third, his fourth podium in five races. Kanaan tried to go off sequence on fuel again at Sonoma and just like Pocono it didn't pan out as he ended up 13th. Heading to the season finale, it appeared likely Kanaan was going to have his third winless season in four years. However, Kanaan put together a fantastic race fending off his teammate Dixon, Ed Carpenter and Montoya on his way to victory in the season finale.

Tony Kanaan's 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 7th (544 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 6
Top Fives: 6
Top Tens: 12
Laps Led: 407
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 6
Average Start: 9.235 (7th)
Average Finish: 9.277 (9th)

Ryan Briscoe fell short of expectations in 2014
Ryan Briscoe
Boring. That is what Ryan Briscoe's season was. He finished tied for tenth in the championship with Sébastien Bourdais but the Frenchman won the tiebreaker thanks to his victory in Toronto 1. Briscoe came close to victory once all year. At Belle Isle 1 when he was off sequence and ended up in the lead with 16 laps to go but it was false hope as he had to make another pit stop. His lone top five was fourth at Pocono.

He had a good year. Ten top tens, only four drivers had more but Briscoe was never at the front. He pieced together a season of finished sixth through tenth with a few finishes on the outside looking in. But he rarely put a wheel wrong. He completed the second most laps all season, running all but 21 of 2395 over 18 races (he finished a lap down at Texas and 20 down at Long Beach). Briscoe is a competent driver. He is probably more talented than he gets credit for but after being gift-wrapped a seat at one of the top two teams in IndyCar when Dario Franchitti retired, he failed to produce the quality results a seat like that should yield. It may have cost him his job.

Ryan Briscoe's 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 11th (461 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 10
Laps Led: 5
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 4
Average Start: 10.444 (8th)
Average Finish: 12.235 (14th)

Passing was a theme of Charlie Kimball's season
Charlie Kimball
While Charlie Kimball finished two positions behind Briscoe in the championship, his season was anything but boring. He was awful in qualifying. Just awful. Only Sebastián Saavedra and Carlos Huertas were worse in qualifying. However, Kimball turned it into a game. He would start in the back but work his way to the front. No one made up more positions than Kimball in 2014 as he averaged gaining 3.888 positions from his spot on the starting grid.

Kimball put together a few sensationalized drives. He went from 23rd to fifth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, 20th to third in Belle Isle 2, 19th to fourth in Houston 2, 16th to 4th in Toronto 2. He made up double-digit positions from his starting position on seven occasions. You have to wonder how much better Kimball would have finished in the championship if he started in the top ten more than three times. Another place to look for improvement is ovals. His best oval finish in 2014 was tenth at Texas and Iowa but he failed to finish on the lead lap in the other four ovals.

Charlie Kimball's 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 14th (402 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 10
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 16.411 (21st)
Average Finish: 12.5 (14th)

Best Finishing:
Scott Dixon- 6 (STP, LB, Bar, Tex, MO, Son)
Tony Kanaan- 6 (Det 1, Iowa, Tor 1 & 2, Mil, Fon)
Ryan Briscoe- 3 (500, Hou 1, Poc)
Charlie Kimball- 3 (GPOI, Det 2, Hou 2)
Best Qualifying Position:
Dixon- 9 (LB, Bar, GPOI, 500, Hou 1, Iowa, Tor 2, Son, Fon)
Kanaan- 7 (STP, Tex, Hou 2, Poc, Tor 1, MO, Mil)
Briscoe- 2 (Det 1 & 2)
Kimball- Never was the top qualifying Ganassi driver.

It's amazing to think that Ganassi Racing's four drivers all finished with double-digit figures in the top ten column. Dixon and Kanaan will be championship contenders in 2015, it's just a matter of if Kimball can take that next step and if Briscoe stays with the team. Briscoe could be replaced by Sage Karam, who finished ninth on debut in last year's Indianapolis 500 driving for Dreyer & Reinhold Racing on loan from Ganassi.

Can Ganassi avoid getting caught asleep for the first half of the season like they have become prone to doing the past two seasons? Starting on a good foot could be the difference between a championship for this team. In 2013, Will Power ended on a high note, winning three of the final five. Ganassi ended winning three of the final four and had at least one car on the podium in the final seven races. Charlie Kimball has to improve his qualifying results. If he can do that, another win could come his way. If Briscoe does stay on, he has to get multiple podiums to save his job. Karam is waiting in the wings and is highly touted. Unless Briscoe gets multiple podiums and is in contention for a victory or two in 2015, it will be very easy for Ganassi to sack Briscoe for a second time.

If Chevrolet's aero kit comes out of the box ahead of Honda's, 2015 could look a lot like 2009 with Penske vs. Ganassi every single weekend. It could be a very long season if that is the case and like most things IndyCar, people will be pissed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

We are going back nearly 11 months to my initial predictions on the 2014 NASCAR season before an engine had even fired. Let's see what I got right and what I got wrong.

1. This Is Going To Be Dale Earnhardt, Jr's Year
I won't say I got this one wrong. Earnhardt, Jr. did will his second Daytona 500, did win multiple races in a season for the first time since 2004 and he was solid all year. Sure he didn't win the championship and was eliminated after the second round of the Chase but this season was one of the top of his career. If it wasn't for the Chase, he would have been fourth in the Championship.

Earnhardt, Jr.'s season was much better than the final position in the championship shows. Will we remember 2014 for what Earnhardt, Jr. did? Probably not but he definitely showed he isn't going away any time soon.

2. Stewart-Haas Racing Will Be Average
Had Kevin Harvick not won the championship, I would probably be typing my argument as to how Stewart-Haas Racing was average in 2014 but when you win the championship, despite how contrived the system may be, it's been a good year.

You have to give Kevin Harvick his due. Five victories, lead the most laps in 2014 with 2,137 laps led, had the most poles with eight, 14 top fives and 20 top tens. You can't take that away from Harvick.

The other three Stewart-Haas drivers though is another story. They were all average, if not slightly below average. Sure, Kurt Busch won at Martinsville in March but he had a better season in IndyCar than he did in NASCAR. Six top fives and 11 top tens over 36 races and it will say he finished 12th in the 2014 championship but if you add up all the points he scored from 36 races, he would have been 20th.

Tony Stewart's season was difficult before the off-the-track problems came in August. Before missing three races, Stewart was sitting 19th in the championship and was going to have to win to make the Chase. He didn't win before the Chase and he didn't win during the Chase, ending a streak of 15 consecutive seasons with a victory. But all good things must come to an end. He ended 2014 with three top fives, only one of those coming after returning at Atlanta. He had seven top tens and one pole position. Both top five and top ten totals were career lows and he finished 25th in the championship.

Danica Patrick ended up 28th in the championship with three top tens, triple her total from her rookie season. She scored a career-best sixth place finish at Atlanta and tripled the amount of laps led in a season from her rookie season from five to 15. Her average starting position improved from 30.3 to 22.8 and her average finished jumped from 26.1 to 23.7. She was running at the finish of 32 races and her total amount of lead lap finishes skyrocketed from 12 to 19.

If Kevin Harvick was out of the equation, Stewart-Haas Racing would be lost in the wilderness. Harvick is the only thing that kept Stewart-Haas' season from being a disaster. I think things will improve in 2015 but how much will they improve and can they counter any decline Harvick may have off his championship?

3. Matt Kenseth Will Recover From Losing The Title
Kenseth was in contention for the title in the final race and after winning seven races in 2013, the Wisconsin came up with naught in 2014. However, despite not ending up in victory lane, he did score 13 top fives, one more than 2013 and 22 top tens, two more than 2013. He was also running at the finish of 34 races, one more than 2013 and finished 30 races on the lead lap.

This wasn't just a rough year for Kenseth, this was a rough year for Toyota as the manufacture won two of 36 races, the lowest for the manufacture since their first season in Cup seven years ago when they went winless. The bar has been set really low for Toyota heading into 2015. Joe Gibbs Racing will be expanding to four cars in 2015 as Carl Edwards moves to the team from Roush Fenway Racing. The question is how does this expansion affects the Gibbs organization. We have seen plenty of teams expand but not get the results. Of course, Stewart-Haas expanded in 2014 and they left with the championship but we've seen Childress expanded to four cars on multiple occasions and not get a title. We have seen Roush shrink from five cars and once threatening NASCAR's infrastructure to three cars and barely making any noise on the NASCAR radar.

4. There Will Be A First Time Winner But It Won't Be A Rookie
I got A.J. Allmendinger right. I didn't pick Aric Almirola but he did win a rain-shortened restrictor plate race, which is open to anybody. I am glad Almirola won because I think he has more talent than he gets credit for and if he wasn't royally screwed by Joe Gibbs Racing at Milwaukee in 2007, his career might look completely different. Would he have been in the final four at Homestead? Probably not but I think because Gibbs screwed him over, Almirola's development was stunted, he was rushed into Cup and it took him five years before he was able to make a full-time jump into Cup.

Allmendinger won at Watkins Glen after a fierce battle with Marcos Ambrose. He was in position to advance to the second round of the Chase before a poor result at Dover while Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne got their acts together. My question is was the making the Chase really worth it to Allmendinger and Almirola? Almirola was pretty much done once his engine failed at Chicago and Allmendinger had a slim ray of hope entering Dover but knew he was going to have not put a wheel wrong and hope the opposite for those trailing him.

Did making the Chase give Almirola and Allmendinger any benefit that the likes of Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer didn't get? To me, no. For the first half of the Chase we heard every week how great Larson was running and it was justified since his worst finish was sixth in that time frame but once Almirola and Allmendinger were eliminated they faded into the middle of the pack just like they had been for the first 26 races other than the one Sunday they each got to stand in the spotlight.

5. The Rookie Class Won't Disappoint
Kyle Larson sure didn't disappoint. Eight top fives, 17 top tens, a pole and finished the best of the rest. Three runner-up finishes in his first season is pretty impressive for Larson considering his fellow class of 2014 member Austin Dillon was running in as with a Truck and Grand National championship to his name while resurrecting the number three with help from his grandfather. Larson smoked Dillon all season. Other than the Daytona 500 pole-position, Dillon season looked like a typical rookie season but it lacked any sparks unlike Larson's.

As for the rest of the rookie class. Justin Allgaier's best finish was 15th, Micahel Annett's best finish was 16th, Cole Whitt's best finish was 15th, Alex Bowman's best finish was 13th, Ryan Truex lost his ride in September and Parker Kligerman lost his ride before he even finished all the candy in his Easter basket. All these drivers have talent but their lack of results is from a mixture of average equipment and for mostly lack of experience. Allgaier and Annett both entered with a fair amount of Grand National experience. Whitt dove in with just over a season of Grand National experience and one season in Trucks. Bowman had one season of Grand National experience under his belt. The most starts Truex had made in a Grand National season was 17. One year of Nationwide experience is never going to be enough even if you throw a driver into a team such as Hendrick Motorsports.

The treatment Kligerman received is the biggest shame of them all. He had his ride pulled out from underneath before the month of May. His career has been snake-bitten with rides being taken from him no matter how well he is running. And to be honest, I think of all the class of 2014 members, Kligerman is second in talent behind  Larson. It was disappointing seeing the likes of Milka Duno and Timmy Hill getting rides in the Nationwide and Cup Series while Kligerman was on the sidelines, pitching in for NBCSN's NASCAR show. Hopefully someone smart will get him a ride for 2015. Twenty-four year olds should be in cars, not in front of TV cameras.

6. NASCAR Will Not Limited Cup Drivers Participation In The Nationwide Series
I got this one right and I am disappointed I am. NASCAR has to do something. What did we just talk about with Parker Kligerman? Talented driver with no ride while others with less potential are rounding out field. The #54 Gibbs Toyota and #22 Penske Ford would be excellent seats for the likes of Kligerman, Truex, Bowman and Kevin Swindell to get more seat time and show what they got in solid equipment. We don't need to see Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano passing around Grand National series victories like a bong in a college dormitory.

If they aren't going to adopt my idea to limit Cup drivers moonlighting in the lower two division, then please consider the following. Make Cup drivers who want to moonlight run for start-and-park teams. Instead of having a groomed Grand National car waiting for them, make them walk to the farthest garage and hop into Derrick Cope's car or Mike Harmon's car. Have a rule that Cup drivers can't run a Grand National car that is owned or affiliated with a Cup team. At this point, any decision they make that deters Cup drivers from moonlighting for majority of the schedule is a step in the right direction.

7. Iowa Speedway Will Get A Cup Race In 2015
Wrong! I think Iowa Speedway will get a Cup race someday. I think NASCAR could turn it into a triple header weekend with three races under the lights and eventually the fact Iowa can't hold 100,000 people won't bother NASCAR because we are seeing more and more tracks removing seats. They could probably get Iowa's capacity up to 45,000 through the help of temporary seats and NASCAR would be happy with that.

If I had to guess how Iowa gets on the schedule, Dover loses their Chase race, a road course is moved  into the Chase (whether it's Sonoma, Watkins Glen or Road America somehow gets on the schedule remains to be unseen) and Iowa slots in right after Charlotte as the first race in June.

8. Jimmie Johnson Will Be Knocking On The Door For A  Seventh Title
He made the Chase but was eliminated after the second round. For Jimmie Johnson, this was a down season with only four victories, 11 top fives, 19 top tens. He will be fine though. I am sure he will return in 2015 and make an even deeper run in this ridiculous Chase format.