Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2016 Formula One Predictions: Revisited

Today is the final day of November and before we start the final month of 2016, let's look back on the Formula One predictions made for 2016 seeing as the season that wrapped up a few days ago.

1. There Will Be At Least Four Race Winners and One Will Be a First Time Winner
Correct. I got this one on the money. The Mercedes were locks. The other two weren't. I thought 2016 would be the year Ferrari could take the fight to Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel would threatened for the championship. That didn't happen. The Red Bulls were on the heels of Mercedes all season. I didn't see Max Verstappen's early promotion coming and sure enough he won his Red Bull debut with Daniel Ricciardo picking up a victory in Malaysia. Ricciardo could have won Monaco as well. I thought the first time winner could have been Valtteri Bottas or Sergio Pérez or Nico Hülkenberg.

2. Nico Rosberg Will Not Lead Germans in Victories
Wrong. Like I said above, I thought Ferrari could take the fight to Mercedes this season and I thought the championship would come down to Lewis Hamilton and Vettel. That wasn't the case. Ferrari took a big step back from 2015 but Rosberg didn't fade.

3. There Will Be At Least One Incident Where a Mercedes Retires Because of Contact With Another Mercedes
Correct. And wasn't it a doozy. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton coming together at Barcelona still has us talking. Was it Rosberg's fault for blocking and being in the wrong engine mode? Was it on Hamilton for trying to pass him in the grass? And it nearly happened again in Austria! Hamilton was able to continue and Rosberg limped home dragging his front wing.

4. Alain Prost Will Still Have A Share Of Second All-Time In Victories After the 2016 Season
Wrong. Once again, I didn't think it would have been as much of a run away. I thought the season would mostly be split three ways with Hamilton, Vettel and Rosberg all getting five to six victories and the other races being split by the rest of the field. I didn't think Hamilton could win eight races in a season let alone ten.

5. Haas F1 Scores At Least One Points Before Hungary
Correct. The team had eight points after Australia. Romain Grosjean's drive in the team's debut was exhilarating and then Grosjean backed it up with a fifth at Bahrain. The team had 28 points by Hungary. They only scored one point after Hungary but it was a great start of the season for Haas. Now can they pick it up for year two?

6. Manor Scores At Least Two Points
Wrong. Manor scored one point thanks to Pascal Wehrlein's tenth at Austria. That was it. The team was quicker than last season but was still toward the back and didn't have the pace to work their way through the middle of the pack. The teams best races outside of Austria was Brazil, where both cars appeared to have a shot at points in the rain and Abu Dhabi, where the teammate ran each other off course but both finished on the lead lap.

7. McLaren Will Be At Least the Second-Best British Constructor
Correct. To be fair, I made this prediction before Renault bought Lotus and there were still four British constructors on the grid. Once the purchase was complete, Williams, McLaren and Manor were the three British constructors left on the grid and being the second-best of those three wasn't all that impressive but McLaren didn't make a noticeable improvement over 2015.

8. A Driver That Has Never Had a 100-Plus Point Season Scores 100 Points or More
Correct. Max Verstappen did it and not only did he break the 100-point plateau, he scored 204 points in his sophomore season. And the good news is Verstappen wasn't the only one to score over 100 points for the first time in his career in 2016. Sergio Pérez ended up with 101 points.

9. There Will Be At Least Two Driver Changes During The Season
Correct. The first was unexpected as Fernando Alonso hurt his back after he barrel rolled in Melbourne and Stoffel Vandoorne substituted for him at Bahrain and he scored a point on his debut. The other was Rio Haryanto being benched by Manor after Germany and replaced by Esteban Ocon.

10. At Least One Driver Who Didn't Score in 2015 Scores At Least 21 Points
Wrong. The closest of those drivers was the Kevin Magnussen and he only scored seven points.

11. A Track On the 2016 Schedule Announces It Won't Be On the 2017 Schedule
Semi-correct? It appears Hockenheim won't be back in 2017. The original deal was Hockenheim hosted the German Grand Prix in even-numbered years and the Nürburgring hosted odd-numbered years but since Nürburgring has negated its responsibility in the deal, Hockenheim doesn't have to take over hosting the German Grand Prix yearly. Hockenheim was on the provisional schedule but it appears it won't return and Interlagos may not return in 2017. Let's not forget that Singapore and Malaysia appear to no longer fancy Formula One. Singapore has a deal through 2017 and Malaysia's deal is through 2018. After the longest season in Formula One history in 2016, the series could fall back to more reasonable schedule lengths in the near future. We will have to wait and see before confirming.

(Update: It has been confirmed that Hockenheim will not be on the 2017 Formula One schedule).

12. Formula One is Agreed to be Sold Before End of 2016
Correct. Liberty Media Corporation has agreed to buy Formula One from CVC and now we gaze into the horizon, uncertain of the future will be.

Let's say seven and a half eight of 12 right now. I will be honest; I am most surprised the first one was correct. Not so much that four drivers would win but there would be a first time winner. There are some good drivers in Formula One who have yet to get to feel the glory of standing on the top step of the podium. I thought it was a stretch but we were bound to have a flukey race where things go wrong for the usual front-runners and someone sneaks through. That happened to be Barcelona and Barcelona just happened to be the first race for Max Verstappen at Red Bull and it just happened he was in the right place on that day.

Don't forget to catch out revisited predictions for IndyCar and NASCAR.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Since I Wrote About Lewis, I Will Write About Nico

You would think if you were writing the day after the World Drivers' Championship was decided you would be writing about the World Drivers' Champion but that wasn't the case as the runner-up got all the spoils yesterday. Nico Rosberg is clubhouse leader to become the champion we all will forget next to Jody Scheckter and Alan Jones.

Scheckter and Jones both won a title but when you think late-1970s, early-1980s Formula One, Gilles Villeneuve is mentioned before those two but his death during his prime probably adds to his mystique. Heck Ronnie Peterson, Carlos Reutemann and maybe even John Watson are more synonymous with that era than Scheckter and Jones. Rosberg sits somewhere along those two in the background of those with glory but not holding the imaginations of the populous. 

It is hard to like Rosberg because it feels like nobody likes Rosberg. On the podium in Abu Dhabi, while fighting back tears he directed his message to the team to get ready for the celebration and turn the music on because he would soon be there to join them. Once he navigated his way back to the garage, ignoring his commitment to do the post-race press conference, he enters and the team isn't there awaiting his arrival. The champagne had already been opened and the team was off in clusters chatting and drinking but more like it was an office Christmas party than a championship celebration. Rosberg wanted to know where the music is. He wanted a raucous celebration. The music was playing. It was "Sympathy for the Devil." 

Despite wanting to celebrate, an official ushered him with his wife by his side to the pressroom for him to do his post-race comments. Queen's "We Are The Champions" played in the garage while he was across the paddock. 

It felt like the team didn't even want to embrace him. Was "Sympathy for the Devil" Rosberg's choice? Was the man in the black hat taking on the role of black hat compared to his white-hatted teammate? Or was the team sending a message about how it feels having him as champion? 

After all Rosberg is a man of wealth and taste. He is a silver spoon, German by choice, raised in Monaco, talented driver who doesn't seem real. He comes off as someone with no real life experiences. Does he know what it means to struggle? Does he know what sacrifice is? The last three years hasn't helped him. Before this reign of Mercedes dominance, Rosberg had won three times, had 11 career podiums, four pole positions and his best finish in the championship was sixth. Since then he has won twenty times, finished second in the championship twice and the third year proved to be the charm and he ended up winning the world championship. 

His choice to be German arguably is the reason he became world champion. Had he decided to be Finnish like his father or taken the neutral nationality of Monegasque, he might be out of Formula One. Mercedes bought Brawn and Mercedes wanted German drivers. They wanted a German at McLaren after the Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen spells and Adrian Sutil was high on the list because he was a pal at the time with Hamilton but Mercedes' entry knocked world champion Jenson Button out of a seat and the British team swooped in to pick up the British champion. 

Mercedes wanted Germans and it brought the national hero Michael Schumacher out of retired and paired him the only German of respect and that just happened to be Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel was tied with Red Bull and was on the precipice of something great. Nico Hülkenberg was just entering Formula One but the manufacture returning to Formula One after five-and-a-half decades away couldn't have a rookie leading its return. It would have been too much pressure on Hülkenberg. Nick Heidfeld had experience but we had seen all he could be. Heidfeld was reliable but not great. The same could be said of Timo Glock. Rosberg just happened to be the best of a mediocre batch of Germans and it kept his career alive. Had he been Finnish, maybe Heidfeld would have looked much better to Mercedes or Mercedes ties its hitch to Hülkenberg as their young German to go toe-to-toe with Vettel. Had he been Finnish, Rosberg would have been Heikki Kovalainen, only Kovalainen had won a grand prix by the start of the 2010 season. 

Rosberg isn't going to go down as an all-time greats. His name won't be tossed about with Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna. With new regulations approaching Rosberg could fall back to Earth. His ascension up the record books could stall somewhere near Nigel Mansell's 31 victories if it even gets that high. 

As much as I ripped Rosberg's career a part in the previous 811 words, I believe Rosberg is a good guy. Those tears yesterday weren't some acting job to make people believe he cared. It has been a long and difficult road for him. Only Mansell had raced more seasons before winning his first title. There were probably times at Williams when the world championship didn't seem possible for Rosberg. He embraced his wife in parc fermé and had her by his side after he got down from the podium. This was their moment as much as it was his. 

Rosberg might not be the inspiring driver like Clark, Fangio and Senna but he isn't a hack. Sure, it seemed like there was never a driver who tired harder to throw away a championship than he did this year. He nearly caused a war after Barcelona... and again after Austria... and he tested how hard the stewards would bite by violating the radio regulations at Silverstone. He got nipped but was never mangled. He could have been disqualified after either Austria or Silverstone but he wasn't. Had he been, the world championship wouldn't have been his and history would probably have him as a driver in position to be champion only to throw it all away because he didn't have the confidence to win it without taking his title rivals out with him. He still is that driver who is shaky when challenged only now he has the hardware on his mantel. 

Maybe Rosberg can change his legacy over whatever time remains in his career but it may already be cemented. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Can Lewis Catch Michael?

Nico Rosberg took the World Drivers' Championship with a second-place finish to his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. One teammate jumped another in GP2. The top three drivers in GP3 entering the final weekend of 2016 scored a combined total of four points the entire weekend. Felipe Massa and Jenson Button said goodbye. So did José María López but in a different series and in a different country. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Can Lewis Catch Michael?
Lewis Hamilton may not have picked up his fourth World Drivers' Championship this season but his ten victories in 2016 has vaulted him to second all-time in Grand Prix victories with 53. He trails Michael Schumacher by 38 for the all-time lead.

Since joining Mercedes in 2013, Hamilton has won 32 times for an average of eight victories in those four seasons with a median of ten. If Hamilton keeps up on his median at Mercedes, he will surpass Schumacher sometime during the 2020 season but to expect him to win ten races a season for another four seasons considering he has had double-digit win totals for three consecutive seasons is unrealistic. As of today, only seven times has a driver had double-digit victories in a season. We would be asking Hamilton to have double-digit victories for seven consecutive seasons. What Hamilton has done already is monumental. Any more just adds to his legend.

With new regulations coming for 2017, Mercedes is still expected to be one of the top teams but to expect the dominance of the last three years to continue at the same rate seems highly unlikely. Formula One ebbs and flows and it is bound to slip away from Mercedes just as it slipped away from Red Bull after four consecutive drivers' and constructors' title and from Ferrari after the Schumacher-era of dominance at the turn of the 21st century.

With all that said, can Lewis Hamilton catch Michael Schumacher?

As stated before, Hamilton trails Schumacher by 38 victories. Schumacher's final victory was the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix and it came when he was 37 years old and just over four months away from his 38th birthday. Hamilton turns 32 years old on January 7th, four days after Schumacher's birthday. Let's say Hamilton races to the same age as Schumacher did in his first Formula One stint, that would mean Hamilton would run six more seasons and take him to the 2022 season. He would have to average 6.333 victories a season to catch Schumacher by the end of 2022. While that seems doable considering his last three seasons, it should be noted that prior to the 2013 season the most race Hamilton had won in a season was five in 2008 and his current average through ten seasons is 5.3 victories a year with a median of four victories.

If Hamilton reverts to four victories a season for the next six seasons, he would end 2022 with 77 victories, 14 behind Schumacher. If he gets five victories a season to 2022, he would be on 83 victories and within shouting distance of the all-time record.

Few drivers make it to 37 years of age in Formula One. Kimi Räikkönen is 37 years old and will turn 38 years old late in 2017. Felipe Massa and Jenson Button retired from the series at the ages of 35 and 36 respectively this year. Fernando Alonso will turn 36 years old next July but his future in Formula One is cloudy beyond 2017. Rubens Barrichello's final start came when he was 39 years old and Jarno Trulli was 37 years old when he made his final start, as was David Coulthard. It isn't so much can Hamilton race until he is 37 but can Hamilton remain at this top level for the better part of a decade or will the likes of Max Verstappen, Lance Stroll, Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz, Jr., Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne force him out of a top seat when he starts to slip in performance?

While the record for most Grand Prix victories is a daunting task for Hamilton, there are plenty of other records within his grasp and he is already at the top of many categories in the record book. He has 61 pole positions, third all-time behind Schumacher's 68 and Ayrton Senna's 65. He is third all-time in podiums with 104, two behind Alain Prost and 51 behind Schumacher and he has finished on the podium in 55.32% of his starts, behind only Dorino Serafini (who finished second in his only start), Luigi Fagioli (six podiums in seven starts), Juan Manuel Fangio, Nino Farina and José Froilán González. Hamilton has matched the record of 17 podium finishes in a season the last two seasons. Hamilton has scored the most points in Formula One history, although that is an inflated statistics as more points are awarded and awarded to more positions than any other era of Formula One.

Hamilton has led a lap in 99 grand prix; only Schumacher has more at 142 grand prix. He has led 2,990 laps; only Schumacher has more at 5,111 laps. He has won 32 times from pole position, only Schumacher has done it more at 40 times.

Regardless of whether or not Hamilton gets 91 victories or more, his name already covers the record books as much as the likes of Schumacher, Senna and Fangio. It is not likely Hamilton will reach Schumacher but he doesn't have to for his greatness will already be known.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about Rosberg but did you know...

Pierre Gasly clinched the GP2 Series championship with a feature race victory and Prema Racing teammate Antonio Giovinazzi finishing fifth and sixth in the two races.

Charles Leclerc clinched the GP3 Series championship after title rival Alexander Albon retired in the first race from Abu Dhabi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about some of what happened from Abu Dhabi but did you know...

Alex Lynn won the GP2 sprint race from Abu Dhabi.

Nick de Vries and Jake Hughes split the GP3 races from Abu Dhabi

Gabrielle Tarquini and Mehdi Bennani split the WTCC finale from Qatar.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Supercars end its season on the street of Sydney's Olympic Park one final time.
The 25 Hours of Thunderhill features names such as Unser, Herta, Eversley and Braun.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday Four: Another Persian Night

The final weekend of November sees four championships wrap up their 2016 seasons and all will take place in the Persian Gulf, most of the races occurring under the lights. Three championships will be decided and a theme of the weekend is battle between teammates for top honors.

Formula One
The 21st and final round of the longest Formula One season takes place at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. The Mercedes teammates enter with Nico Rosberg looking for his first title and to join his father Keke among the few drivers to win the World Drivers' Championship. Lewis Hamilton looks to ascend to another atmosphere with his fourth championship.

Rosberg has 367 points from 20 races with Hamilton sitting on 355 points. Rosberg clinches the title with a podium finish. The teammates cannot finish tied on points if Hamilton wins the race. If Hamilton finishes second and Rosberg finishes seventh, Hamilton would win on tiebreaker based on third-place finishes. Each driver would have nine victories and four runner-up finishes while Hamilton would have four third-place finishes to Rosberg's two. The only other possibility for a tie would be Hamilton finishing fourth and Rosberg finishing outside the points and Rosberg would win on that tiebreaker with four runner-up finishes to Hamilton's three.

Rosberg won last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with Hamilton finishing second. Hamilton has won at Yas Marina twice, in 2011 and 2014 with the latter clinching him his second world title. Rosberg has started on pole position the last two years at Yas Marina. Hamilton has started on pole position twice at Yas Marina but he has retired from both of those races. Hamilton has finished ahead of his teammate in the world championship in eight of his previous nine seasons. The lone exception was 2011 where Jenson Button finished second and Hamilton finished fifth.

Daniel Ricciardo is locked to finish third in the championship but the battle is for fourth with Sebastian Vettel five points ahead of Ricciardo's Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen. Kimi Räikkönen could finish ahead of Verstappen but he is 14 points behind the Dutchman. Sergio Pérez is seventh in the championship on 97 points, 12 ahead of Valterri Bottas. Nico Hülkenberg sits in ninth on 66 points. Fernando Alonso rounds out the top ten on 55 points.

Felipe Massa heads to his final Formula One race sitting 11th in the championship on 51 points. This will be 252nd grand prix entry and he will be trying to start his 250th grand prix. Five points behind Massa is Carlos Sainz, Jr., who has finished sixth in two of the last three races. Romain Grosjean sits on 29 points and is four points ahead of Daniil Kyvat.

Jenson Button heads to his final grand prix before take a sabbatical from Formula One in 2017. This will be Button's 308th grand prix entry and he will attempt to make his 305th start. Button will tie Michael Schumacher for second all-time in entries but will be one behind the German in the starts column. Kevin Magnussen has seven points. Felipe Nasr sits on two points after a ninth-place finish at his home race in Brazil finally got Sauber on the scoreboard. Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein and McLaren-reserve Stoffel Vandoorne are tied on one point. Esteban Gutiérrez, Marcus Ericsson and Esteban Ocon all have one final shot to get points this season.

The 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be held at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 27th.

Three drivers could leave Yas Marina as GP2 champion.

Prema Racing teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Pierre Gasly are 1-2 in the championship with the Italian holding a seven-points advantage with 197 points to 190 points after a victory and fourth-place finished at Sepang while Gasly finished outside the points in the first race that weekend and finished third in the sprint race. Giovinazzi has won three of the last six races and has four podium finishes in that time frame while Gasly has a victory, a second and a third in the last six races.

Giovinazzi started the season with five finishes outside the points in the first seven races but the two races he did score were at Baku where he won both races. Gasly started the season with four finishes outside the points in the first seven races but had two runner-up finishes and a third-place finish.

Russian Time's Raffaele Marciello trails his fellow Italian by 39 points. He has not won a race this season but has two runner-up finishes and four third-place finishes. For Marciello to win this title, he will have to win a race. The most points he could score without a victory is 38 points.

ART Grand Prix's Sergey Sirotkin sits fourth in the championship with 135 points and won twice this year. Racing Engineering's Jordan King and Norman Nato are tied on 122 points and each driver has won twice. Trident Racing's Luca Ghiotto is coming off his first career GP2 victory and has 111 points and he is four points ahead of MP Motorsport Oliver Rowland. DAMS Alex Lynn has 105 points and has two victories. Campos Racing's Mitch Evans rounds out the top ten with 89 points and has won once.

Race one for GP2 will be at 9:40 a.m. ET on Saturday November 26th with the final race of 2016 scheduled for 5:20 a.m. on Sunday November 27th.

Like GP2, three drivers are fighting for the championship in the GP3 finale.

ART Grand Prix drivers Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon are 1-2 in the championship with the Monegasque leading the Thai driver by 29 points. Leclerc has won three times but not since the feature race at Spa-Francorchamps six races ago. Albon has four victories but Leclerc has an average finish of 2.875 in feature races to Albon's 4.5. Trident Racing's Antonio Fuoco trails Leclerc by 45 points and the only way he can win the championship is by winning the feature race, finish in the top two of the sprint race and score all the bonus points for pole position and fastest laps and Leclerc scores fewer than three points. The fewest points Leclerc has scored in a race weekend this year is 16 points.

Arden International drivers Jake Dennis and Jack Aitken are fourth and fifth in the championship on 121 points and 119 points respectively. Dennis has won two of the last five races while Aitken has finished on the podium in four of the last five. ART Grand Prix's Nyck de Vries has 108 points and he won the sprint race at Monza three races ago. Koiranen GP's Matt Parry sits on 82 points, nine ahead of ART Grand Prix's Nirei Fukuzumi. DAMS Jakes Hughes and Jenzer Motorsport Arjan Maini round out the top ten on 69 points and 50 points respectively.

American Santino Ferrucci sits 12th in the championship on 34 points driving for DAMS and is 14 points behind Ralph Boschung, who will not compete this weekend. Ferrucci's best finish this season was third in the sprint race at Spa-Francorchamps but has only scored in five of 16 races and has not finished in the points in the last four races.

GP3 will race at 3:25 a.m. ET on Saturday November 26th and at 4:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 27th.

World Touring Car Championship
José María López has already locked up the World Touring Car Championship but the final round of the 2016 season from the Losail International Circuit marks the final round of his WTCC career as he will focus on Formula E and joins Toyota's FIA WEC program. The Argentine driver has won three consecutive championships and has won 29 of 69 starts, leaving him second all-time in WTCC in victories behind only his Citroën teammate Yvan Muller's 48 victories.

Muller is second in the championship on 235 points but has only one victory this season. He is 31 points ahead of Honda's Tiago Monteiro, who has won twice this season. Honda's Norbert Michelisz is fourth in the championship on 190 points, ten ahead of another Honda driver in Robert Huff. Mehdi Bennani is four points behind Huff with Lada's Nicky Catsburg five points behind the Moroccan. Tom Chilton has 145 points and is in eighth with Gabriele Tarquini and Tom Coronel rounding out the top ten on 116 point and 109 points respectively.

The final races of the WTCC will take place at 1:20 p.m. ET and 2:35 p.m. ET on Friday November 25th.

1. Over or Under: 6.5 cars within a minute of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix winner?
2. Over or Under: 5.5 retirements during the GP2 weekend?
3. Over or Under: 4.5 points scored by Santino Ferrucci?
4. Over or Under: 399.5 points being José María López's final total for the 2016 season?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Three laps separated the GTE-Pro winning #95 Aston Martin and the GTE-Am winning #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche.
2. Under: There were seven cautions in the Cup race at Homestead.
3. Under: Only two championship ineligible drivers finished in the top five of the Xfinity Series race.
4. Over: GMS Racing led 76 laps in the Truck race and Kyle Larson led all 76 laps.
5. Over: Hyundai drivers scored 40 points in Rally Australia.

1. One of the top six in the championship retire from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
2. At least one GP2 race features two drivers from the same country on the podium.
3. Charles Leclerc wins one of the GP3 races this weekend.
4. Citroën puts two cars on the podium in each race from Qatar.

Last Week's Predictions 
1. All point leaders entering Bahrain leave Bahrain as champions (Correct. The #2 Porsche, #95 Aston Martin and #83 AF Corse Ferrari all left as champions).
2. We get our seventh different winner in the last seven Homestead Cup races (Correct. Jimmie Johnson won at Homestead for the first time in his career).
3. There is caution in the final ten laps of the Xfinity Series race (Correct. The final caution came with ten laps to go).
4. Two of the four Truck championship eligible drivers finish outside the top five (Correct. Actually, three finished outside the top five; Matt Crafton in seventh, Christopher Bell in eighth and Timothy Peters in ninth).
5. Jari-Matti Latvala gets his first podium finish since Rally Finland (Wrong. Latvala finished ninth in his final rally with Volkswagen).
Last Week: 4/5 Overall: 25/45

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

2016 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

The NASCAR season is just behind us and with Thanksgiving a day a way, it is time for the annual tradition of looking back on predictions made 11 months ago.

1. Kyle Busch Leads Joe Gibbs Racing Solely in Cup Victories
Correct! Busch won four races while Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards each had three victories and Matt Kenseth won twice. I will be honest; outside of his Daytona 500 victory, I can't recall anything Hamlin did during the season and I remember watching Watkins Glen a race he won. Then again, I don't recall either of Kenseth's victories.

2. At Least One Penske is Eligible For the Title at Homestead
Correct! Joey Logano was eligible for the title and finished second in the championship to Homestead. I really thought both Penske drivers would be in the final four after the first round of the Chase but then Keselowski had his accident at Kansas and engine failure at Talladega. It was another really good year for Penske but the title was just out of its grasp.

3. Ryan Blaney Scores More Top Tens Than Chase Elliott
Wrong! Chase Elliott easily took Rookie of the Year honors with ten top five finishes and 17 top ten finishes while Chris Buescher finished as second-best rookie because he qualified for the Chase with a victory at Pocono, though it was one of his two top fives and two top ten finishes. Blaney had three top five finishes and nine top ten finishes. The spotlight wasn't too hot for Elliott and Blaney had a respectable season but there is some room for improvement.

4. At Least One Driver Under-24 Wins A Cup Race
Correct! Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher each won a race while under the age of 24.

5. At Least Five Cup Races Feature a Rain-Delay
Correct! Las Vegas, both Texas races, both Pocono races and the August Bristol race all had rain play a role. Both Pocono races were pushed to Monday. The Bristol race was pushed to Sunday and there was a caution for rain during that race. The start of Las Vegas and both Texas races were pushed back and the fall Texas race ended prematurely due to rain. And this isn't even including the rain-delayed Showdown that moved from Friday night to just before the All-Star Race on Saturday.

6. Tony Stewart's Average Finish is Worse Than 16.0
Correct. His average finish was 18.3 with a victory, five top fives and eight top tens from 28 starts. He finished on the lead lap only 15 times. That kind of went how I expected. It wasn't going to be pretty. It wasn't going to come close to Jeff Gordon's farewell. After the delayed start to the season because of an offseason injury, it just felt the 2016 season wasn't going to be special.

7. Martin Truex, Jr. Doesn't Finish in The Top Twelve of the Championship
Wrong! He finished 11th in the championship and probably should have finished slightly higher. Truex, Jr. had a very successful season in year three for Furniture Row Racing and in the team's first season with Toyota and unlike half of Joe Gibbs Racing, he had a memorable season. Truex, Jr. arguably had one of the best seasons in NASCAR this year. He annihilated the field in the Coca-Cola 600, leading 392 laps of 400 laps and won the Southern 500 and finished second in the Daytona 500 by about three inches and led 1,809 lap, the most in NASCAR. Damn.

8. JR Motorsports Wins at Least Seven Second Division Races
Wrong! JR Motorsports did win five races, three by Elliott Sadler, one by Chase Elliott and one by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Justin Allgaier didn't pick up a victory but finished third in the championship after having 27 top ten finishes. Next year, JR Motorsports will have four cars as the team retains Sadler and Allgaier, promotes William Byron from Trucks and accepts the demoted Michael Annett.

9. A Driver Breaks a 50-Race Winless Streak in the Grand National Series
Correct! Elliott Sadler won at Talladega after a 66-race drought. Aric Almirola ended a 72-race drought at Daytona in July. Michael McDowell got his first career victory in the series in his 94th start.  Ty Dillon did not win a race in 2016 and he has not won in his last 80 starts.

10. Ryan Reed Scores at Least Two Top Tens But Zero Victories
Correct! Reed had a staggering seven top tens, including a fifth-place finish at Road America that fifth in Wisconsin was his best finish of the season and it was his third career top five finish, his first not at Daytona.

11. The Average Age of the Top Five in the Trucks Championship is Under 28.8 Years Old
Wrong! The average age of the top five in the Trucks championship was 30.6 years with Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell, Timothy Peters and William Byron making up the top five. Had the championship been decided like it had been in every prior Truck season, Daniel Hemric would have finished in the top five and 40-year-old Crafton would not have, dropping the average age of the top five to 27.6 years. Close but no cigar.

12. There Will be at Least One National Touring Division Race With More Than Two Drivers Not From North America
Correct! And I am glad it happened and I am glad who the drivers were. The drivers participating might not have been the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean, who all expressed interested in running a NASCAR race during 2015 but didn't. It happened at Mid-Ohio where four drivers from outside of North American participated. The top finisher of the four was Israel's Alon Day ahead of Australia's Owen Kelly and Kenny Habul and Brazil's Nelson Piquet, Jr. Two races later, Road America featured three Australians (Kelly, Habul and James Davison), Day and Scotsman John Jackson.

Eight-for-12, 66% is pretty good and I got a few that seemed like stretches such as the rain delays and the last one about international drivers.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Is NASCAR on to Something... or is MotoGP?

Jimmie Johnson won his seventh NASCAR Cup championship. Audi ended its run with a 1-2 finish and led by Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval. Mark Webber finished his career on the podium. Audi wasn't the only manufacture to exit in style. There were two other first time champions crowned in Florida. You can win a race despite causing a red flag. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is NASCAR on to Something... or is MotoGP?
The Chase might be a terrible way to decide a champion but you have to ask if NASCAR is on to something? It guarantees the title will go down to the final race and the format makes it likely that it won't be decided until the final lap. In the current environment with a million different streams people can tune in to, the Chase gives people a reason to tune in for the final race.

Should that be the norm in all forms of motorsports? Maybe the best finisher of four shouldn't be the way to decide it but should series make it so two, three or four drivers are in contention until the end? Four allows for margin of error. With two, one could have an engine failure after 15 laps and people will have a reason to tune out. Three is better but four is enough that there is no way one driver pulls away with it early and causes people to turn it off because the result seems to be a foregone conclusion.

The best-of-the-final-four format doesn't work for all series. Formula One will crown a champion next Sunday and if you took the top four after Brazil and put them on a level playing final, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, who have combined to win one race this season could leave as championship despite Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg each having nine victories. One terrible weekend for Mercedes and Vettel could be champion despite not winning a race and finishing on the podium in less than half the races.

In IndyCar, the top four after Watkins Glen were Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves. Pagenaud's lead was so great and he had such a successful season after the penultimate round that even if he didn't show up and Dixon or Castroneves scored the maximum of 104 points they couldn't win the title because Pagenaud would win on tiebreaker based on his five race victories. Of course based on what happened Pagenaud still would have been champion under the Chase format but if Dixon and Castroneves had known they had a realistic shot at the title entering Sonoma, they probably would have prepared and raced differently and who knows if they would have been able to take the fight to the Frenchman.

While NASCAR has made this change to guarantee the champion will be decided as late as possible, ratings continue to drop. If the lack of drama wasn't the reason why people watched, then what could be done to bring people back? IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One all had the championship decided in the season finale but arguably MotoGP had the best season in terms of on-track action and its championship was decided with three races to go. The general belief is people don't like when the championship is decided early and while that might be true, it isn't the be-all end-all.

I appreciate Leigh Diffey's engagement on Twitter and when asking the rhetorical question of whether fans like it when the championship is decided with four races remaining in the season, I thought to myself if people love the series, they will watch regardless of when the title is decided. MotoGP had nine different winners in 18 races, three of which were first time winners. Five different teams from four different manufactures were victorious.

Marc Márquez might have clinched the title at Japan with Australia, Malaysia and Valencia still to run but MotoGP isn't hurrying to change the format. You never knew what would happen next and that is why people should tune in. Márquez threw away Australia and opened the door for Cal Crutchlow to take his second victory of the season. Andrea Dovizioso always seemed in control in a wet Malaysia but the race feature splendid runs by Héctor Barberá and Loriz Baz. Jorge Lorenzo dominated in Valencia but Márquez, Valentino Rossi, Andrea Iannone and Maverick Viñales had a spirited battle for the final two podium spots.

For the last 12 years, NASCAR has been focused on making sure the championship fight is exciting and what people tune in for that NASCAR has negated making sure the racing is exciting everywhere the series goes, giving people a reason to watch regardless if the championship is a runaway or a tight battle. Since the inception of the Chase, we have been trying to make sure the bigger picture is exciting but have failed to realize success is creating something that makes people tune into every race and in turn makes the bigger picture exciting by the sum of its parts.

A great championship battle helps attract viewers but the goal should be to grow the fan base that can be counted on to watch every race. NASCAR hasn't done that. NASCAR has lost more working class white people in the last eight years than the Democratic Party. If there is a series to model after, it is MotoGP because it always gives you a reason to watch even if the hardware has already been accounted for.

Champions From the Weekend
The #2 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas won the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with a sixth-place finish at Bahrain.

The #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørenson won the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers with their victory at Bahrain.

By finishing third in GTE-Am, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas won the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers.

Daniel Suárez won the NASCAR Grand National Series championship with his victory at Homestead.

Johnny Sauter won the NASCAR Truck Series championship by finishing third at Homestead.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about some of what happened from Bahrain and Homestead but did you know...

The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Will Brundle and René Rast won in LMP2 at Bahrain and the team ended the season with three consecutive victories. The #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche of Patrick Long, David Heinemeier Hansson and Khaled Al Qubaisi won in GTE-Am.

Andreas Mikkelsen won Rally Australia in the final rally for Volkswagen.

Laurens Vanthoor won the FIA GT World Cup at Macau despite causing a red flag for a flip.

António Félix da Costa won the Macau Grand Prix.

Coming Up This Weekend
The World Drivers' Champion will be decided at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
GP2 and GP3 titles will also be decided at Abu Dhabi.
The WTCC season concludes in Qatar.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Five: Sakhir, Homestead, Coffs Harbour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ten Races Tony Stewart Should Do In 2017

We already touched on Tony Stewart's NASCAR career ending this weekend but his racing career isn't over. When retiring in any field the cliché is the day after your final day is the first day of the rest of your life and in a way that is true for Tony Stewart. He is now open to racing whatever he wants with no greater responsibility dictating his schedule.

He is going to continue to race and he will probably do lots of dirt racing but Stewart now has a chance to do races he couldn't in recent years. Looking at the 2017 calendar, Stewart could almost do a global tour running some of the different great series. Here are ten races Stewart should participate in next year and the Indianapolis 500 is not one of them because that ship has sailed and is never returning.

24 Hours of Daytona
This isn't a new race for Tony Stewart but the infrastructure of this race has changed drastically since the last time Stewart participated in 2007. Where could Stewart compete? With the new arrival of the DPi class I think it will be tough for him to find a seat this year, as space will be limited. However, maybe he could find room in a GT entry and with Stewart-Haas Racing moving to Ford, maybe a third Ford GT could be entered by Chip Ganassi Racing and feature Stewart with either other all stars such as Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan or FIA WEC drivers such as Andy Priaulx and Stefan Mücke.

Rally Sweden
We have seen what Tony Stewart can do on dirt but what can he do on snow? After his return to Daytona, he could fly up to Sweden for the legendary race and he would get to experience Sweden in February. We have seen Romain Dumas, Stéphane Sarrazin and Robert Kubica all compete in rallying while running circuit races, why couldn't Stewart give it a go now that he is retired?

British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch
After some time off, Stewart could make a trip back across the Atlantic for the opening round of the British Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch. After years of running stock cars, why not give touring cars a shot and BTCC could be a great place for Stewart to go and let out his aggression. The opening round of the season uses the shorter Indy Circuit at Brands Hatch, meaning there would be plenty of close encounters for Stewart.

Four-Wide Nationals
After coming back from Europe, Stewart could return home and take part in the only four-wide round on the NHRA calendar. Kurt Busch ran in the Pro Stock class a few years ago in Gainesville. It would be another new challenge for Stewart.

24 Hours Nürburgring
Tony Stewart has run some historic race tracks in the United States, from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway to Eldora Raceway and Knoxville Raceway but there are so many great racetracks Stewart hasn't run on and the Nordschleife. Of course to run the 24 Hours Nürburgring he will have to run another VLN race to qualify but that could be arranged. Plus, Stewart would get to experience the exhilarating world of GT3.

24 Hours of Le Mans
If he is going to run a Ford GT at the 24 Hours of Daytona, he mind as well turn it into a chance to head to France. It would be a great way to fill his June and he would get a chance to win at Le Mans fifty years after his hero A.J. Foyt won at Le Mans driving a Ford GT with Dan Gurney.

The Eldora Truck Race
Ever since NASCAR announced a Truck race would be held at Eldora Raceway we have wanted Stewart to give it a go. He may be the promoter but he would have some free time and could have one more go in a NASCAR sanctioned event.

ARCA Race at DuQuoin
Like the 24 Hours of Daytona, the Labor Day weekend ARCA race at DuQuoin is one Stewart hasn't done in quite some time but now he could. He doesn't need to be in Darlington, he could be trying to improve on an already impressive track record. In three DuQuoin starts, Stewart has started on pole position in all three races and finished second, second and first.

Stadium Super Trucks at Surfers Paradise
The 2017 Stadium Super Trucks schedule hasn't been released yet but who wouldn't want to watch Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon go head-to-head over jumps next to the beach?

Andros Trophy at Alpe d'Huez
Why not end your first year of retirement the weekend before Christmas racing on ice in the French Alps? Many great drivers have competed in the Andros Trophy. Alain Prost has won the championship, Yvan Muller won the championship ten times, Olivier Panis competed last year and Simon Pagenaud ran in one round last year.

Stewart will probably not do any of these races next year (maybe the first one) but he will have the time to now and knowing Tony Stewart, he will be busy in 2017.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Team Penske's 2016 Season

We have finally made it to the final IndyCar Wrap-Up and it is the championship winning Team Penske. The team won nine of 16 races, took the top three in the championship and went 4-for-4 in putting drivers in the top ten of the championship.

Simon Pagenaud dominated wire-to-wire
Simon Pagenaud
The Frenchman's 2016 season began with an impressive second-place finish at St. Petersburg, a race he could have won if it had not been for a shuffle of the order on pit strategy. He repeated his second-place performance at Phoenix but unlike St. Petersburg where he was up front all race, Pagenaud started tenth and through a few passes and great pit stops he found himself on the podium. He jumped to the lead at Long Beach on pit stops and kept the lead on a controversial pit exit. Scott Dixon gave him a run for the victory but Pagenaud held on. Barber marked the second consecutive week with a fierce battle, this time with 2006 Atlantic Championship rival Graham Rahal. The American took the lead but in lap traffic Pagenaud fought back and after Rahal clipped the rear of Jack Hawksworth, it was smooth sailing for the Frenchman.

Pagenaud kept up the great run of form in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where he dominated again from pole position. The wave crashed during the Indianapolis 500 but it wasn't in a spectacular fashion as Pagenaud's engine had a misfiring issue and lacked the speed of the front-runners. He had to coast home a lap down in 19th. In the first race from Belle Isle Pagenaud led 35 of 70 laps but when he selected the conservative pit strategy, he lost out to the drivers who ran flat out and despite playing it safe Pagenaud ran out of fuel dropping him from seventh to 13th in the final few corners. In race two, Pagenaud led the first 40 laps from pole position and while he got shuffled back during the pit cycle, he managed to finish second.

The second half of the season looked to have started great for Pagenaud at Road America. He was fast and looked to be the only guy who could challenge Will Power but the same engine misfiring issue he had at Indianapolis caught up with him at Road America and he went from a podium to 13th. He started on pole position at Iowa but had nothing for Josef Newgarden but stayed at the front ending up in fourth. Pagenaud had a lackluster day at Toronto but finished ninth. Mid-Ohio saw Pagenaud on pole position again and he led the first 16 laps but a caution dropped him to the middle of the top ten as a few cars stopped laps prior to the caution. He found himself behind Power after the final pit stop but made a daring pass after the carousel to put himself in position to inherit the lead once Conor Daly stopped and pick up his fourth victory of the season.

Entering the final quarter of the season, Pagenaud had yet to put a wheel wrong but at Pocono he started 14th and was mired in the middle of the pack most of the race until he got into the barrier exiting turn one, his first retirement since the 2015 Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Just when it appeared the championship may have been slipping from his grasp, Pagenaud rallied for a fourth at Texas after it appeared he would finish a lap down in the back half of the top ten. At Watkins Glen, Pagenaud jumped Power on a pit cycle and instead of trying to charge to the front, he sat back and made it difficult for Power. Power tried to go off strategy and ended up having an accident. Pagenaud cruised to a seventh-place finish. Pagenaud entered the finale with a 43-point lead. He won pole, he led 76 laps and Power's race was spoiled by a mechanical issue causing him to slow on circuit. Pagenaud won his fifth race to cap off his championship season.

Simon Pagenaud's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 1st (659 points)
Wins: 5
Podiums: 8
Top Fives: 10
Top Tens: 12
Laps Led: 406
Poles: 7
Fast Sixes: 9
Fast Twelves: 10
Average Start: 4.00
Average Finish: 6.125

Will Power gave it his all but fell short of his second championship 
Will Power
After writing Simon Pagenaud's section, it kind of feel Pagenaud's season is intertwined with Power's. Power won pole position for the season opener at St. Petersburg but had to sit out of the race because he wasn't well from anything from an inner-era infection to a concussion after an accident in Friday practice. He returned for Phoenix and without passing a car on track went from ninth to third thanks to tire punctures and great pit stops. He started sixth at Long Beach but couldn't get to the front to battle with the leaders and settled for seventh. At Barber, he had a hard fought battle with Josef Newgarden for third and ended up being knocked off the podium with a late pass by the American.

Power was spooked by Alexander Rossi at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and left the Australian spinning and falling from the top ten to hanging on for a top twenty finish in 19th. Power's Indianapolis 500 never seemed to go his way. An unsafe release in the pit lane dropped him down the order and he stretched his fuel 36 laps on the final stint to finish tenth. A loose wheel nut caused Power to retire from race one at Belle Isle. Race two saw Power benefit from the race not going off strategy like it did the day before and he ended up victorious.

The good form continued at Road America where Power led 46 of 50 laps from pole position on his way to victory. A late charge got Power to second at Iowa. Power's final pit stop at Toronto occurred simultaneously with Newgarden bringing out a caution. Everyone else had to stop and it moved him to the front of the line. Once he got by James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan made his final stop, Power cruised to his third victory in four races. Mid-Ohio was covered above with the fierce battle with Pagenaud and Power ending up second.

While Pagenaud's race ended early at Pocono, Power's car improved over each stint and with help from better fuel mileage than the Hondas and Ryan Hunter-Reay's engine had a hiccup after he had passed Power for the lead, he went on to lead the final 36 laps and take the victory. At Texas, Power couldn't find any more speed to get him to the front and was stuck at the back of the top ten all race and finished eighth. You could argue he overthought Watkins Glen and ended up in barrier. Sonoma's mechanical issue was the final nail in his coffin.

Will Power's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 2nd (532 points)
Wins: 4
Podiums: 7
Top Fives: 8
Top Tens: 11
Laps Led: 139
Poles: 2
Fast Sixes: 8
Fast Twelves: 10
Average Start: 5.4375
Average Finish: 8.00

Hélio Castroneves had another solid season
Hélio Castroneves
The Brazilian ran at the front the entire day at St. Petersburg only to get passed for the final podium position by Ryan Hunter-Reay in the closing laps. He started on pole position at Phoenix and had a tire puncture while leading entering turn one. He had to coast around back to the pit lane and despite the incident managed to finish 11th. Castroneves started on pole position again at Long Beach but lapped traffic caused him to lose the lead and dropped him to where he would finish, third-place. Barber was a lackluster day as he started and finished seventh.

A timely caution put Castroneves on the podium and he finished second to his teammate Pagenaud in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Things appeared to be going his way in the Indianapolis 500 as he timed a pit stop just before a caution came out and another caution saved him from pitting under green flag conditions to replace a rear wheel guard. However, he could only manage 11th-place as some stretched fuel. Castroneves was the top of the conservative runners in the first Belle Isle race. He finished 5th, over 40 seconds behind Sébastien Bourdais but the top four were covered by 4.7 seconds. Race two appeared to be Castroneves' to lose as he held a comfortable lead but a caution just before his final pit stop dropped him to one of the final cars on the lead lap and he finished 14th.

He blocked Charlie Kimball at Road America but his only punishment was giving up a position to Ryan Hunter-Reay because Hunter-Reay passed Kimball, partially because Castroneves blocked Kimball. He still finished fifth and ahead of Kimball. Another untimely caution after Castroneves made a pit stop cost him a top five at Iowa and he finished 13th. An early flat tire at Toronto forced him to go off strategy and led to a second-place finish. Castroneves made contact with Scott Dixon at Mid-Ohio and he finished 15th.

Castroneves had a part in the pit lane collision with Kimball and Alexander Rossi at Pocono and he ended up 19th. He made contact with Ed Carpenter at Texas while running in the top five and it caused him to limp home for the final 25 laps of that race. He still managed to finish fifth and on the lead lap despite that. He went off strategy twice at Watkins Glen and ended up finishing third. He started second for the finale at Sonoma but dropped to seventh in the final results.

Hélio Castroneves' 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 3rd (504 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 4
Top Fives: 8
Top Tens: 10
Laps Led: 143
Poles: 2
Fast Sixes: 7
Fast Twelves: 9
Average Start: 4.3125
Average Finish: 7.875

Juan Pablo Montoya makes his second IndyCar exit
Juan Pablo Montoya
After losing the title on the final day of the season in 2015, Montoya started 2016 the same way he started 2015 with a victory despite having steering issues throughout the latter half of the race. Like his teammate Castroneves, Montoya had a tire puncture while leading and it dropped him from contender for the victory to ninth in the final results. He had a solid fourth at Long Beach and was in the top five the entire race. At Barber, Montoya went from 21st on the grid from fifth, benefitting twice for incidents that sent the field ahead of him scattering and opening lanes for him to make up a half-dozen positions in one move.

He suffered a blend line violation in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but recovered to finish eighth. A spin exiting turn two in the Indianapolis 500 on 64 meant he was the first retirement for the race. Montoya bounced back with a third in the first Belle Isle race after going off strategy while his three teammates tried to play it safe. Race two ended two laps prior to halfway after he clipped a barrier while running in the top ten.

At Road America, Montoya fought from 14th on the grid to finished seventh and had a good battle for Josef Newgarden for a good period of that race. A mechanical issue ended what appeared to be a top five finish for him at Iowa. Montoya hit Josef Newgarden, Charlie Kimball, Conor Daly, Ryan Hunter-Reay and the wall itself at Iowa and he finished a lap down in 20th. He half-committed to going off strategy at Mid-Ohio but aborted it and ended up in a worse position and had to settle for 11th.

Montoya struggled at Pocono but through attrition and perseverance he came home in eighth. He didn't do much better at Texas where he finished tenth. He went off strategy at Watkins Glen to go all-out instead of conserving fuel but a spin ruined what could have been a top five and he finished 13th. He ended the 2016 with a third-place finish.

Juan Pablo Montoya's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 8th (433 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 5
Top Tens: 10
Laps Led: 123
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 9.625
Average Finish: 10.875

I have wanted to do the Team Penske review since the day after the season ended because it what was the 50th anniversary season of Team Penske and the 2016 roster of drivers mirrored the accomplished of the famed 1994 roster of Al Unser, Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy. Both seasons saw Penske finish 1-2-3 in the championship. The 1994 trio won 12 of 16 races compared to nine of 16 and Unser, Jr. took the Indianapolis 500 while the top Penske finisher in the 2016 Indianapolis 500 was Power in 10th. Unser, Jr., Fittipaldi and Tracy combined for 29 podiums to the 2016 quartet's 22 podiums. The 1994 group swept the podium on five occasions while the 2016 drivers never swept the podium but put two cars on the podium in seven races. The 2016 crop of characters edges out the 1994 group in pole positions with 11 to ten.

When comparing past and present the past wins 99% of the time because nostalgia kicks in and we believe nothing was better than the past. The truth is they are different and each is impressive in their own right. The 1994 Team Penske came at an era when Penske built its own chassis and it was an era when you could develop an engine such as the Mercedes-Benz 500I. Today, the top and the bottom are closer than they were 22 years ago as engines and chassis are identical. A team can't outspend the others by monstrous amounts in modern-IndyCar. Cars are more reliable than previous years. If anything, Penske's dominance this year wasn't talked about. Each race we entered without an idea who was going to win. That is the mindset we have entering every race. Penske might have had Power, Montoya, Castroneves and Pagenaud but having four great drivers isn't necessarily enough in today's IndyCar where single-car teams and teams that lost a wealthy co-owner two months before the season starts can win a race.

Penske is in a transition phase. Year 51 sees a new American in Josef Newgarden enter to join his championship winning and Indianapolis 500 winning teammates. Montoya will run Indianapolis as he slowly fades to sports cars. Castroneves is 41 and turns 42 next May. Power and Pagenaud have rides at Penske for life. Newgarden is on a leash and after the last few season we have learned that nobody is safe from a sponsor pulling funding out from underneath a team. Even for Penske these are fragile times. When Castroneves takes the path Montoya is on there is no guarantee Penske stays at four cars for that long. On paper, Penske is in prime position to repeat its dominance in 2017 as Ganassi has moved to Honda and aero kits development has been frozen, leaving Honda teams stuck behind Penske.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

1000 Words: Tony Stewart

We enter the final week of Tony Stewart's NASCAR career and the coming Sunday is met with pause to reflect on the three-time champion but also urgency to move on because a champion will be decided and unlike last year when Jeff Gordon had a chance to win a fifth championship in what was billed as the final race of his career, Stewart will not have the same opportunity. He will have a shot to get his 50th victory and become the 13th driver to reach that milestone but even if he does get his 50th victory, it will be second fiddle to a seven-time champion, a back-to-back champion or a first-time champion.

It feels like Stewart is retiring a few years later than he should of. Most athletes hang on too long and drivers, whether it is NASCAR, Formula One, IndyCar, sports cars or dirt cars, are no different. Three years ago, that summer night Stewart broke his leg in Iowa is probably the point of no return. He was 11th in the championship at the time of the accident but had a victory, five top fives and seven top tens in the ten races prior to the accident. His NASCAR season ended prematurely and Stewart never returned to being the same. The fiery personality was still there but it didn't have the same bite when he was barely in the top fifteen.

Then there was the accident in New York, just over a year after he broke his leg in Iowa. A man, Kevin Ward, Jr., died. It is part of Tony Stewart's history. When looking back on his career it shouldn't be skipped over. It happened and pointing fingers won't change what happened that night. The night shouldn't define either man's legacy but not mentioning it wouldn't be right either.

If anything, that night in New York left me scratching my head about why Stewart raced where he did. I understand Stewart is a racer but why there? Why race in a series few had heard of on a track many couldn't find on a map against drivers who did it for a hobby? I could understand him going to a USAC race or a World of Outlaws race but the Patriot Sprint Tour? For a driver of Stewart's stature, there had to be a bottom of what he would consider below him but there wasn't and I doubt even now if there is a bottom for him. He could have chosen more established options against drivers of a high caliber in more professional settings but at his core Stewart knows what it is like to be those weekend warriors whose family members might criticize their costly hobby. He can't leave them because he is one of them.

Tony Stewart was a Dale Earnhardt figure to an untraditional NASCAR market. He wasn't the eighth grade dropout and son of a local racing legend who struggled to breakthrough. Stewart didn't symbolize hope to an entire segment of the population but he was someone middle-class Northerners could get behind. My uncle was a fan of CART but the split, while it left him sour, introduced him to Tony Stewart and those few seasons he ran in the IRL and the Indianapolis 500 were enough for my uncle to latch on. When Stewart left for NASCAR, my uncle followed and surely a million others did as well. Stewart's arrival came at a time where NASCAR's national popularity was climbing and ties to a driver were no longer about what dirt track they originated from but what sponsors pumped money into the car and what one could buy from the shelves. He was someone my parents, my grandparents and my neighbors could relate to especially as he drove the orange Home Depot Chevrolet. It helped that the company adopted the auto industry's "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" mantra and turned his success into deals on bricks and ladders. When Stewart was a winner, everyone could benefit.

Stewart is one of the last speakers in NASCAR but he is probably tired of being the lone voice or one of a few voices that speaks up when displeasured. Brad Keselowski is next in line but he also runs a pretty unpopular stance on concussions and exaggerates when he is slighted, not that Stewart never exaggerated but Stewart knew how to use it for affect. If for the better part of two decades IndyCar had too many voices NASCAR has had too few willing to stir the pot. Look at Formula One this year. When enough drivers and teams expressed disdain for the new qualifying format, the format was dropped and the knockout format was reestablished. In NASCAR, drivers express concerns with the Chase and no changes are made or if changes are made they are in the opposite direction of where the drivers would like to see them to go. Stewart expressed safety concerns about NASCAR's relaxed lug nut policy and it responded with a vice grip. Stewart didn't mind the fines but in an era where budgets are tougher to put together and NASCAR becoming more like every other form of motorsport where a checkbook wins out over results, I feel fewer drivers will speak out or at least they won't be as passionate and easier to silence.

As much as we talk about Tony Stewart the personality, we can't forget to talk about Tony Stewart the driver. He was the first man to win the USAC Triple Crown, he won an IndyCar title and he went to NASCAR and won three championships. He ran 1,100 miles on Memorial Day weekend. He dazzled us in a Daytona Prototype on three wheels in the wet. He won the Chili Bowl twice and the Turkey Night Grand Prix once. Despite all Stewart's success across the different disciplines it is hard to believe he exits without a Daytona 500 or Indianapolis 500 victory. It's not that he never came close. He did. I don't think this will hang over Stewart's legacy. He won't be on a Michael Andretti-level at Indianapolis because he only ran the event five times and considering how much he despised restrictor plate racing and how much we realize restrictor plate racing is more of a crapshoot than any other form of racing it will all be forgiven considering he succeeded in places most drivers never dreamt of going.

For IndyCar fans, Stewart is one that got away. Some feel betrayed, forgotten and look on what he has become with anger, jealous and sadness or a mixture of the three. What if he stayed? What if he ran the Indianapolis 500 a few more times? Why didn't he run the Indianapolis 500 a few more times? Stewart's go to excuse in the last decade was he couldn't just do Indianapolis and be successful and many called bullshit as Townsend Bell qualified in the top half of the field and hung around the top ten in the race. If Bell could do it, Stewart could do it. Was he scared? He would say no. Any driver would say no. Fear of failure is the greatest hurdle to clear for a driver who hopes to dabble in different disciplines. In NASCAR, Stewart had reached a stature that he couldn't risk to tarnish each Memorial Day weekend at the race he snuck into as a child. A bad day there would raise questions at his day job, not just of Stewart but fellow drivers questioning their own capability. If Stewart couldn't succeed at Indianapolis, why should they think they could and what does that say about the competitiveness of those in IndyCar?

I am excited for post-NASCAR Tony Stewart. He won't be contesting the Indianapolis 500 but where will he end up? How much dirt racing will he do? Will he take an invitation to drive a sports car in the 24 Hours of Daytona? Would he be serious enough to try Le Mans? What wacky place will he be and what will he be racing and against whom? Sunday will be the end to many but it is the day Tony Stewart has been looking forward to the most since he debuted in 1999: The day he is free to be a race car driver and not have a ten-month responsibility that occupies his weekends.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Fresh Blood

Lewis Hamilton survived a monsoon to win the Brazilian Grand Prix and keep his championship hopes alive while Nico Rosberg finished second, meaning all the German needs at the season finale at Abu Dhabi is a podium to take the world championship. Max Verstappen stole the show with his daring moves and drive from 16th to 3rd in the final 17 laps. One of Hamilton's former teammates and Rosberg's former championship rivals won a championship. Formula E had technical difficulties. NASCAR drivers realize how terrible their championship format is. A few riders have spectacular farewells in Valencia. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Fresh Blood
With Race of Champions be held in Miami this year, a fair amount of Americans will be competing. In fact, five of the 11 drivers announced for the January 21-22nd event are American drivers. You have the familiar American ROC faces of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Travis Pastrana; you have the defending Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi, former NASCAR champion and previous ROC competitor Kurt Busch. And Scott Speed.

Along with the collection of Americans, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan, Felipe Massa, Tom Kristensen, Petter Solberg and defending Champion of Champions Sebastian Vettel have all been announced as competing with at least another five to nine spots to be filled.

The Race of Champions is an event I have enjoyed. It was a great cap to the racing season when it was in December but as the Formula One calendar as expanded to the end of November and with the event coming to the United States, moving to January is a good decision. It won't go head-to-head with the end of football season and it comes at a good dead point in the offseason where Formula One drivers can compete.

As the list of Americans has been announced, I have been pleased but slightly disappointed. Hunter-Reay, Busch and Rossi are all really good drivers and all make a case to be in the top ten active American drivers but there is something missing. Maybe it is because Hunter-Reay, Pastrana and Busch aren't fresh names in terms of Race of Champions. This will be Hunter-Reay's fourth Race of Champions and Busch's second. Pastrana will be in his sixth Race of Champions, which has to be close to the most all-time and while Pastrana literally nearly single-handily won the 2006 Nations' Cup (he was the lone US competitor after Jimmie Johnson got hurt and Scott Speed was ill) I feel there needs to be fresh American blood in the competition.

We get that with Rossi but wouldn't it be nice if Brad Keselowski participated or Kyle Busch or maybe Patrick Long or the Taylor brothers, Ricky and Jordan? The United States has many talented racing drivers and if there are going to be five or six or seven competing in the first Race of Champions held in the United States, then why not have an array of Americans from different forms of motorsports?

Race of Legends
While thinking of the Race of Champions and seeing who has been announced, I thought of Mario Andretti. While he has not contested a major race since 2000, Mario Andretti has not lost the competitive spirit. It was just over 13 years ago he tested an IndyCar at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in place of the injured Tony Kanaan and then when for multiple flips. The running joke has been Mario is always egging his son Michael for another race but here is an event where he could go head-to-head with some of the best in the world and can do it in a stranger's equipment.

The more I thought of it, the more I wondered if Race of Champions could have a "Race of Legends" component to it where retired drivers from different eras. Mario Andretti never raced against Jeff Gordon but Race of Legends would make that possible. You could throw in Carlos Sainz, Bernd Schneider, Mike Häkkinen, Damon Hill and now Mark Webber and maybe a few more. Eight retired drivers would be enough, break them into two groups of four and take the top two from each group for the knockout stage.

Champions From the Weekend
The #39 Team Lexus SARD of Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate won the Super GT GT500 championship with their victory in the final race of the season at Motegi.

The #25 VivaC Team Tsuchiya Toyota 86 of Takamitsu Matsui and Takeshi Tsuchiya won the Super GT GT300 championship with a victory in the final race of the season at Motegi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Hamilton and half the events from Motegi but did you know...

Jorge Lorenzo won MotoGP's Valencian Community Grand Prix. Johann Zarco rounded out his Moto2 championship season with a victory. Brad Binder capped off his Moto3 championship season with a victory.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup race from Phoenix. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race. Daniel Suarez won the Truck race.

Sébastien Buemi won again, this time he won the Marrakesh ePrix.

The #24 Kondo Racing Nissan of Daiki Sasaki and Masataka Yanagida won the first Super GT race from Motegi with the #21 Team Hitotsuyama Audi of Richard Lyons and Tomonobu Fuji victorious in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
FIA World Endurance Championship ends in Bahrain.
NASCAR season ends at Homestead.
The World Rally Championship wraps up the 2016 season in Australia.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Five: São Paulo, Valencia, Phoenix, Motegi, Marrakesh

Two series end their 2016 seasons this weekend and one still has champions to crown with a doubleheader deciding it. Two series head to their penultimate rounds of 2016 and one could crown a champion this weekend while the other will wait until next week. Not all championships are putting a bow on there season. One is just getting started and makes a historical trip this weekend.

Brazilian Grand Prix
The penultimate round of the 2016 Formula One season takes place at Autódromo José Carlos Pace in São Paulo. Nico Rosberg could clinch the World Drivers' Championship with a victory. The German driver has won the last two races at Interlagos. No driver has ever won the Brazilian Grand Prix in three consecutive years. Outside of those victories, Rosberg's best finish at Interlagos is fourth. With 349 points, Rosberg is 19 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton has never won at Interlagos and has three podiums and has finished second the last two years. Hamilton could join Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, David Coulthard and Jenson Button as Brits to win at Interlagos.

Daniel Ricciardo has clinched third in the World Drivers' Championship with 242 points. He has finished third in the last two races after Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel were both penalized for cutting the circuit and blocking respectively. Vettel is fourth in the championship on 187 points, nine ahead of his Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen. Verstappen is ten points behind Vettel. Ferrari has the second-most Brazilian Grand Prix victories with ten, trailing only McLaren on 12 but Ferrari hasn't won in Brazil since Felipe Massa's bittersweet triumph in 2008.

Sergio Pérez and Valtteri Bottas are tied for seventh in the championship on 85 points with the Mexican driver holding the tiebreaker with two third-place finishes to Bottas' one third-place finish. Pérez has eight consecutive finishes in the points. Nico Hülkenberg sits on 60 points with Fernando Alonso rounding out the top ten on 52 points, one ahead of Felipe Massa, who is entering his final Brazilian Grand Prix. Massa's 2008 victory at Interlagos is the most-recent victory of his career.

Carlos Sainz, Jr. has 38 points, nine points ahead of Romain Grosjean. Daniil Kvyat is four points behind Grosjean and Jenson Button is four points behind Kvyat. Kevin Magnussen has seven points with Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein and Stoffel Vandoorne are all on one point. Esteban Gutiérrez. Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr and Esteban Ocon are all looking for their first points of the season.

The Brazilian Grand Prix starts at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 13th.

Valencia Community Grand Prix
The final round of the 2016 MotoGP season takes place at Circuito Ricardo Tormo in Valencia. Marc Márquez clinched the title at Japan but since then he retired in Australia and fell at Malaysia to drop him to 11th. Márquez has won twice at Valencia, in Moto2 in 2012 and in MotoGP two years ago.

Valentino Rossi has finished second in the last two races and he has clinched second in the championship with 236 points, 28 points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo. This will be Lorenzo's final race with Yamaha after nine seasons. Lorenzo has won the last three of eight Valencia starts but has retired from the last two Valencia races in even years. Rossi has not won at Valencia since 2004.

Maverick Viñales trails Lorenzo by 17 points as Viñales enters his final race with Suzuki before replacing Lorenzo at Yamaha. Andrea Dovizioso's victory at Sepang lifted him to sixth in the championship with 162 points. He is seven points ahead of Dani Pedrosa, who will return to competition at Valencia after missing the previous three races due to a collarbone injury. Cal Crutchlow sits on 141 points in seventh. Pol Espargaró is eighth with 124 points and he has scored points in 15 of 17 races this season with one retirement and one did not start after an accident at Silverstone. Héctor Barberá and Andrea Iannone round out the top ten on 97 and 96 points respectively.

The Valencia Community Grand Prix will take place at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 13th.

Phoenix International Raceway
The penultimate round of the NASCAR Cup season takes place at Phoenix International Raceway and two drivers are locked into the finale at Homestead. Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards clinched shots at the championship and will be joined by two other drivers.

Johnson is tied for the lead on points in this round with Joey Logano and Kyle Busch on 4,074 points. A point behind those three is Matt Kenseth and two points behind the three-way tie at the top is Denny Hamlin. Kevin Harvick is 18 points behind the leaders with Edwards following him, 25 points off the top. Kurt Busch rounds out the top eighth, 34 points back.

Harvick enters having won six of the last eight Phoenix races and has nine top five finishes in the last 11 Phoenix races. All-time, Harvick has eight victories in 27 Phoenix starts and has an average finish of 10.3. Johnson leads in average finish all-time at Phoenix with 7.8 and has four victories, 15 top fives and 19 top tens in 26 starts. Johnson trails only Harvick in laps led at the track with 977 laps led to Harvick's 1,484 laps.

Edwards has two victories at the track with the Busch brothers, Kenseth and Hamlin each having one victory at the track. Logano is the only Chase driver to have not won at Phoenix and he has the second-worst average finish at Phoenix among the final eight at 14.0 ahead of only Kenseth, whose average finish is 16.3.

The 500-kilometer Phoenix race will take place at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday November 13th.

Twin Ring Motegi
The finale of the 2016 Super GT season will be a doubleheader at Twin Ring Motegi after the Autopolis round was cancelled due to the Kumamoto earthquake in April. Both races will be 250-kilometers in length. Forty-two points are still on the table in both GT500 and GT300. Sixteen teams are still alive in GT500 championship while 14 teams are still alive in GT300.

Twenty points cover the top six teams in GT500. The #1 NISMO Nissan GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli lead with 56 points as they look to take their second consecutive title. They won the first two races of the season but haven't been on the podium since. Despite their lack of podiums, Matsuda and Quintarelli lead the #6 Lexus Team LeMans WAKO's of Andrea Caldarelli and Kazuya Oshima by ten points. Caldarelli and Oshima's best finish was third at Buriram in the most recent round. Suzuka 1000km winners the #38 Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo of Hiroaki Ishiura and Yuji Tachikawa and the #39 Lexus Team SARD of Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate are tied on 46 points. Kovalainen and Hirate finished runner-up in two races this season.

The #19 Lexus Team WedsSport Bandoh of Yuji Kunimoto and Yuhi Sekiguchi won the most recent race at Buriram and trail the #1 Nissan by 15 points. The #12 Team Impul Nissan of João Paulo de Oliveira and Hironobu Yasuda are 20 points back and won at Fuji earlier this season but has finished outside the points in three of six races this season.

After winning the Buriram round, the #25 VivaC team Tsuchiya Toyota 86 of Takamitsu Matsui and Takeshi Tsuchiya with 54 points. Matsui and Tsuchiya have three podiums from six races this year. The #3 NDDP Racing Nissan GT-R GT3 of Jann Mardenborough and Kazuki Hoshino are second with 49 points despite having a victory, a runner-up finish and having scored points in all six races this season. A point behind the #3 Nissan is the #55 ARTA BMW M6 GT3 of Takashi Kobayashi and Shinichi Takagi. Suzuka 1000km winners, the #61 R&D Sport Subaru BRZ of Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi sit on 47 points. Rounding out the top five, ten points behind the GT300 championship leaders is the #31 apr Toyota Prius of Yuichi Nakayama and Koki Saga.

The first race of the weekend will take place at 11:10 p.m. ET on Friday November 11th. The final race of the 2016 Super GT season begins at 11:30 p.m. ET on Saturday November 12th.

Marrakesh ePrix
While most series are coming to an end, the 2016–17 Formula E season has just begun and the series will make history this weekend as the second round of the season will take place on the streets of Marrakesh, the first time the series has visited the continent of Africa.

Defending champion Sébastien Buemi of Renault e.dams won the season opener at Hong Kong and with 25 points he leads the championship over defending vice-champion Lucas di Grassi on 18 points. The ABT Audi Sport driver has a three point cushion over Mahindra's Nick Heidfeld. Nicolas Prost trails his teammate by 13 points. The Andretti Autosport drivers António Félix da Costa and Robin Frijns sit on ten and eight points respectively. Dragon Racing's Jérôme d'Ambrosio has six points

NextEV NIO's Oliver Turvey has four points and he is a point ahead of teammate Nelson Piquet, Jr., who picked up the three points for pole position at Hong Kong. Maro Engel scored two points on his debut with Venturi Grand Prix and his teammate Stéphane Sarrazin rounded out the points in tenth at Hong Kong. Felix Rosenqvist finished 15th at Hong Kong but the Mahindra driver picked up the bonus point for fastest lap.

Jaguar Racing missed out on points in its debut weekend but Adam Carroll finished 12th while Mitch Evans retired. DS Virgin Racing also failed to score points at Hong Kong with Sam Bird following Carroll in 13th and José María López retiring on his debut. Other drivers who have yet to score are Dragon's Loïc Duval, ABT Audi Sportline's Daniel Abt and the Teechetah drivers Jean-Éric Vergne and Ma Qing Hua.

The Marrakesh ePrix will be taking place on Saturday November 12th at 11:30 p.m. ET.

1. Over or Under: 1.5 rounds of qualifying where Mercedes don't take the top two spots?
2. Over or Under: 3.5 retirements at Valencia?
3. Over or Under: 129.5 laps led by Kevin Harvick at Phoenix?
4. Over or Under: 73.5 points for the GT500 champion?
5. Over or Under: 25.5 points scored by American teams at Marrakesh?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: The gap between the #1 Porsche and #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan was 15 laps.
2. Under: Zero Chase drivers finished outside the top 25 of the Cup race. Kurt Busch finished 20th, the worst of the remaining eight drivers.
3. Under: Only two Chase drivers finished in the top five of the Xfinity Series race.
4. Under: Johnny Sauter led six laps in his winning effort at Texas.
5. Over: Shane Van Gisbergen leads Jamie Whincup by 191 points after Pukekohe.

1. Felipe Massa finishes ahead of Valtteri Bottas and finishes in the top six.
2. The pass for the victory comes within the final five laps at Valencia.
3. Kevin Harvick doesn't win at Phoenix.
4. At least one winner in GT300 is a first time winner this season.
5. At least two drivers finish on the podium that didn't finish on the podium at Hong Kong and at least one of the two are in the bottom half of the championship.

Last Week's Predictions
1. The GTE-Am championship is not wrapped up at Shanghai (Correct. The #98 Aston Martin is alive by a point to the 83 AF Corse Ferrari).
2. Martin Truex, Jr. is one of the top three Toyota finishers in the Cup race (Correct. He finished third and was the second best Toyota).
3. The average speed for the Xfinity Series race will exceed 136 MPH (Correct. The race average was 140.992 MPH).
4. A non-Chase driver wins the Truck race (Wrong. Johnny Sauter won again).
5. Craig Lowndes wins at least one race and is on the podium for at least one other at Pukekohe (Wrong. He neither won nor finished on the podium in one of the four races).
Last Week: 3/5 Overall: 18/35