Friday, November 9, 2018

Friday Five: Motegi, São Paulo, Phoenix

A pair of champions will be decided at Motegi and one of them enters the weekend as a deadlock. Formula One makes its one trip to South America. The drivers' championship might be decided but the constructors' championship is still on the line, though that could be wrapped up this weekend. Meanwhile, NASCAR shook things up during the week and all that we thought was decided at Texas was washed away on a Wednesday.

Super GT
Two championships will be decided this weekend at Motegi with both GT500 and GT300 titles on the line.

There is currently a tie atop of the GT500 championship. The #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda of Jenson Button and Naoki Yamamoto are tied with the defending champions, the #1 Lexus Team KeePer TOM's Lexus of Nick Cassidy and Ryō Hirakawa on 67 points. Each team has won the last two races with the #100 Honda taking victory at Sportsland SUGO and the #1 Lexus winning the most recent race at Autopolis. Button and Yamamoto hold the tiebreaker with two runner-up finishes to one for Cassidy and Hirakawa.

Yamamoto and Cassidy battled for the Super Formula title a few weeks ago and Yamamoto won the title after winning the Suzuka finale with Cassidy finishing second. Yamamoto could join Pedro de la Rosa, Satoshi Motoyama and Richard Lyons as drivers to win the Super Formula and GT500 championships in the same year. Cassidy and Hirakawa could join Masahiko Kageyama, Érik Comas, Satoshi Motoyama, Ronnie Quintarelli, Masataka Yanagida and Tsugio Matsuda as drivers to successfully defend a GT1/GT500 championship.

Twelve points behind the leaders is Yuhi Sekiguchi, who will drive the #36 Lexus Team au TOM's Lexus with Kazuki Nakajima. These drivers won the 500-mile race at Fuji. Nakajima missed the second round of the season, the 500-kilometer race at Fuji due to FIA World Endurance Championship commitments. Tomoki Nojiri and Takuza Izawa trail by 17 points and the drivers of the #8 ARTA Honda won the third round of the season at Suzuka.

Honda has not won the GT500 title since 2010 with Takashi Kogure and Loïc Duval driving for Weider Honda Racing.

In GT300, the #55 ARTA BMW of Sean Walkinshaw and Shinchi Takagi lead the championship with 60 points. The #55 BMW swept the Fuji races this season and finished fourth at Autopolis. Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou have not finished on the podium yet this season but the drivers of the #65 K2 R&D LEON Racing Mercedes are second in the championship, 12 points behind the #55 BMW.

Koki Saga and Kohei Hirate have also not won this season but the drivers of the #31 apr Racing Toyota has two runner-up finishes and a third-place result. Saga and Hirate are 14 points back. A point behind Saga and Hirate are the defending champions Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsua Kataoka in the #0 Goodsmile Racing with Team Ukyo Mercedes. The #0 Mercedes had a second at the 500-mile Fuji race and third at Sportsland SUGO.

Yuichi Nakayama and Morio Nitta have won twice this season, including the most recent race at Autopolis but the drivers of the #96 K-Tunes Racing LM Corsa Lexus only have 44 points. The final drivers with a shot at the title are Buriram race winners Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Hironobu Yasuda with the #11 Gainer Nissan on 42 points.

This finale is scheduled for 53 laps, 250 kilometers and to start at 11:30 p.m. ET on Saturday November 10th.

Brazilian Grand Prix
The penultimate round of the Formula One season is the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton is coming off clinching his fifth World Drivers' Championship two weeks ago at Mexico City. Only once has Hamilton won the race immediately after clinching the world championship and that was 2015 season opener from Australia after he won the championship in the 2014 finale from Abu Dhabi. In Hamilton's prior two times clinching the championship before the finale he has not won another race that season. In 2015, he locked up the title in the United States and finished second in the remaining three races. Last year, he locked up the title in Mexico and finished fourth and second in the final two races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi respectively.

Hamilton's only Brazilian Grand Prix victory was in 2016. Meanwhile, three-time Brazilian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel has locked up second in the championship. Vettel won last year's race from Interlagos and he could join Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Reutemann, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen, Juan Pablo Montoya and Nico Rosberg to win the Brazilian Grand Prix in consecutive seasons.

Ferrari is currently one victory away from tying McLaren for most Brazilian Grand Prix victories at 12. Kimi Räikkönen was responsible for Ferrari's tenth Brazilian Grand Prix in 2007, which clinch the Finnish driver his lone world championship. He sits on 236 points and is nine points ahead of his fellow countryman Valtteri Bottas. Max Verstappen's victory in Mexico has him 11 points off Bottas. Verstappen has finished on the podium in the last three races and he has finished the top five in all seven races since the summer break. Daniel Ricciardo on the other hand has retired from four of the last seven races and his best finish is fourth. Ricciardo has 146 points.

Nico Hülkenberg has 69 points and a 12-point cushion over Sergio Pérez. Kevin Magnussen is in ninth on 53 points with Fernando Alonso on 50 points. Esteban Ocon is one point outside the top ten with Carlos Sainz, Jr. a further five points back.

The battle is in the World Constructors' Championship. Mercedes leads Ferrari with 585 points to 530 points and if Mercedes leaves Brazil with at least a 43-point lead, the German manufacture will have captured its fifth consecutive title. The title would put Mercedes in sole possession of fifth all-time in constructors' championships and Mercedes would join Ferrari as the only constructors to win five consecutive titles. Ferrari won six consecutive from 1999 to 2004.

Red Bull is third on 362 points. Renault sits on 114 points, 30 points ahead of Haas. McLaren has 62 points and it opened the gap over Force India. Sauber jumped Toro Rosso at Mexico and sits on 36 points and has a three-point edge over Toro Rosso. Williams rounds out pack on seven points.

The Brazilian Grand Prix will take place at 12:10 p.m. ET on Sunday November 11th.

NASCAR Cup Series
The biggest news in the NASCAR world was the penalty handed down to Kevin Harvick after his Texas victory. Harvick's #4 Ford was found to have violated regulations related to the spoiler. The penalty has stripped Harvick of his automatic berth to the Homestead finale with a shot at the championship and it has cost him 40 points. Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers has also been suspended for the final two races of the season.

Joey Lognao remains the only driver locked into the finale and at least two drivers will make the finale based on points. After the penalty, Kyle Busch leads on points with 4,128, three ahead of Martin Truex, Jr. Logano is third on 4,119 points and Harvick sits on the bubble with 4,103 points. Kurt Busch is on the outside by three points and Chase Elliott is now only 17 points out after the penalty. Aric Almirola is 35 points on the outside and Clint Bowyer trails Harvick by 51 points.

Harvick has the most victories at Phoenix in the Cup Series with nine, including the race held this March. Ironically, Harvick's victory came the week after his car was found to be illegal after a victory at Las Vegas. Harvick is tied with Jimmie Johnson for most top five finishes and most top ten finishes at Phoenix with 15 and 20 in the respective categories.

Despite Harvick's record, he does not have the best average finish amongst active drivers at Phoenix. That belongs to Elliott, who has an average finish of 6.8 after five starts. Elliott has four top ten finishes in five starts with his worst result being 12th. Elliott has finished second and third  in the last two Phoenix races. Kyle Busch has six consecutive top ten finishes at Phoenix and he led 128 laps in the spring race before finishing second to Harvick.

Kurt Busch has seven top five finishes at Phoenix, one fewer than his brother, but 18 top ten finishes, equal to his brother. Almirola has only three top ten finishes in 15 Phoenix starts and two of those have come in the last two races, including a seventh place finish in the spring. Truex, Jr. has the second worst average finish amongst championship-eligible drivers at 16.5, only Bowyer is worse at 18.4. Truex, Jr. does have nine top ten finishes at Phoenix including top five finishes in the last two races. Bowyer finished sixth in the spring, ending a streak of nine consecutive finishes outside the top ten at the track.

Logano won the 2016 autumn race at Phoenix but he has finished outside the top ten in the last three Phoenix races.

The NASCAR Cup race will be held at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday November 11th.

NASCAR Grand National Series
Cole Custer clinched a spot in the Homestead finale with his second career victory last week at Texas. Custer led 16 laps from third on the grid.

Tyler Reddick leads the championship with 3,105 points, 20 points to the good. Elliott Sadler is 13 points above the cutline with Daniel Hemric a point behind Sadler. Justin Allgaier is the first driver on the outside, 12 points behind Hemric. Matt Tifft is 14 points on the outside. Christopher Bell has won six races, most in the series and he is 34 points on the outside. Austin Cindric rounds out the field of championship drivers, 61 points behind Hemric and with his only way to advance being victory at Phoenix.

Sadler and Allgaier are the only active drivers to have won Grand National Series races at Phoenix. Sadler's one victory was in the spring of 2012 with Allgaier's victory coming in the spring of 2017. Allgaier has seven consecutive top ten finishes at Phoenix. Sadler has only one top five finishes in his career at Phoenix. He started fourth in the autumn 2014 race.

Bell has finished fourth in both his starts at Phoenix. Hermic has finishes of seventh, fifth and sixth in his three Phoenix starts. Hermic's teammate Tifft has also made three Phoenix starts and he has finishes of 12th, 11th and seventh. Reddick finished tenth in the spring race and this will only be his third career Phoenix start. Cindric made his fifth Phoenix start in the spring and he finished a lap down in 16th.

Custer has good results at Phoenix. He has starts of ninth, third and third and finishes of 21st, seventh and eighth.

The 200-mile race from Phoenix will start at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday November 10th.

NASCAR Truck Series
Justin Haley joined Johnny Sauter in the Truck series finale after Haley took victory at Texas when Todd Gilliland ran out of fuel on the final lap. This gives GMS Racing two drivers in the final four as the team looks for its second title.

Sauter leads the championship with 3,128 points and he is 19 points ahead of Brett Moffitt. Moffitt is 22 points to the good and he is two points ahead of Haley. Noah Gragson sits on the bubble with 3,105 points and he is 18 points ahead of Grant Enfinger. Matt Crafton is 23 points behind Gragson.

Haley has 12 consecutive top ten finishes while Sauter's 11th place finish at Texas was his first finish outside the top ten since he finished 16th at Eldora. Moffitt has three top five finishes in the Chase and he trails only Haley, who has four top five finishes in the last five races. Gragson has three top ten finishes in the last five races but he has not had a top five finish since Michigan. Enfinger's Las Vegas victory is his only top ten finish in the last five races. Crafton has not won in the last 33 races. His most recent victory was last year at Eldora.

The penultimate Truck race of the season will take place at 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday November 9th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 91.5 minutes elapsed time for the Motegi race?
2. Over or Under: 0.5 retirements on lap one?
3. Over or Under: 14.5 stage points for Chase Elliott?
4. Over or Under: 20.5 being the worst finishing position for a championship eligible driver?
5. Over or Under: 3.5 starting position for the race winner?

Last Week's Over/Unders 
1. Over or Under: 0.5 cautions involving Joey Logano and/or Martin Truex, Jr.? (Under: Neither were involved in a caution).
2. Over or Under: 35.5 caution laps? (Over: There were 54 caution laps).
3. Over or Under: 4.5 championship-ineligible drivers finishing in the top ten of the Truck race? (Over: Six championship-ineligible drivers finished in the top ten).
4. Over or Under: 3.5 riders within ten seconds of the MotoGP race winner? (Over: Four riders were within ten seconds of Marc Márquez).
5. Over or Under: 2.5 Spaniards in the top five of the Moto2 race? (Under: Zero Spaniards finished in the top five).
6. Over or Under: 2.5 riders in the top ten of the championship not scoring points at Sepang? (Over: Arón Canet, Gabriel Rodrigo and Jakub Kornfeil did not score points at Sepang). 
7. Over or Under: 113.5 being the sum of the winning cars at Pukekohe? (Over: The sum was 114 with Shane van Gisbergen in car #97 and Scott McLaughlin in car #17 winning the two races).
Last Week: 2 Unders; 5 Overs. Overall: Unders 23; Overs 19

1. There will be at least one European race winner this weekend.
2. The race lap record is broken by at least a half-second.
3. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. all remain championship eligible after Phoenix.
4. The top three finishers combine to lead at least 170 laps.
5. There will be fewer than six cautions.

Last Week's Predictions
1. There will be more than 16 lead changes (Wrong! There were exactly 16 lead changes).
2. A championship-eligible driver that is not Christopher Bell wins the race (Correct! Cole Custer won the race).
3. The Truck series race winner is under the age of 30 (Correct! Justin Haley is 19 years old).
4. Valentino Rossi gets back on the podium (Wrong! Rossi fell from the lead and finished 18th).
5. The pole-sitter finishes the race but does not finish on the podium (Correct! Álex Márquez won pole position and finished seventh).
6. The final lead change does not come on the final lap of the Moto3 race (Correct! Jorge Martín led the final five laps).
7. Craig Lowndes gets a victory (Wrong! Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin split the races).
Last Week: 4/7. Overall: 24.5/42