Lewis Hamilton just needed a few more laps last Sunday to reel in Formula 1 leader Max Verstappen. Hamilton closed to within two seconds of Verstappen’s Red Bull when the checkered flag flew and had to settle for second. It was just as well he didn’t get the win, as the subsequent disqualification would have hurt that much more. Four cars underwent post-race inspection and two — Hamilton’s Mercedes and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari — failed ride-height specifications. Both were disqualified. Quality control principles tell you that if 50% of the sample fails, the whole field should be inspected, but that didn’t happen. The DQ put a serious dent into Hamilton’s quest to take third place in the point standings from Sergio Perez, while Leclerc’s loss of points allowed McLaren to close in on Ferrari in the constructors’ points battle. McLaren did move into fourth in the standings at COTA, overtaking Aston Martin by six points. With four races remaining on the schedule there are 104 possible driver points and 176 constructor points on offer. This weekend’s race is in Mexico City, the highest-altitude track on the calendar at 7,349 feet above sea level. ESPNews will broadcast qualifying at 2 p.m. today and Sunday’s race airs at 1 p.m. on ABC.
It was another bittersweet day for Joe Gibbs Racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway last Sunday. Christopher Bell took the win in his JGR Toyota, but his two teammates and fellow championship contenders Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. did not finish. A mechanical failure and crash took Hamlin out and Truex’s engine expired a lap later. Kyle Larson looked to have a good chance to sweep the Round of 8, leading 96 laps until an uncharacteristic error finished his day. Trying to avoid a slowing Ryan Blaney entering the pits, Larson hit the sand barrels at the end of the pit lane, causing a red flag to clean up the mess. Blaney suffered minor damage but finished second to stay in contention for the championship round. With Larson and Bell locked in, two of the remaining six championship contenders will qualify for the final round at Martinsville on Sunday. Going into the race, William Byron is 30 points above the cut line and Blaney 10 above. Tyler Reddick is minus 10 points, Truex and Hamlin both 17 below, and Chris Buescher 43 points in arrears.
Eleven former winners are in the field for the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville. Larson won there earlier this year while Bell and Byron split last season’s races. Hamlin is the most prolific Martinsville winner with five, while Truex has won three of the last eight Cup races there. Non-playoff winners at the .526-mile “paperclip” include Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick. Opening odds favor five-time winner Hamlin at 11-4 with Larson 7-1, Byron 15-2, and Truex 9-1. Blaney’s odds are 12-1, with Reddick at 15-1, Bell 20-1, and Buescher 22-1. If one of those drivers wins, the non-winner with the most points will continue to Phoenix. But if a non-playoff driver wins tomorrow, the top two contenders in points will advance to the championship round. So, stage points and a solid finish will be the priority, especially for those drivers currently below the cut line. The USA network will air Cup qualifying at 10:20 a.m. today followed by the Xfinity series’ Dead On Tools 250 at 12:30 p.m. Sunday’s Xfinity 500 airs on NBC at 11 a.m.