Roger Diez: Formula 1 championship locked up
One championship was locked up last Sunday. Both Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari pilot Sebastian Vettel finished well down the order after pitting to repair damage from a first-lap collision. Vettel ended up in fourth place, the last car on the lead lap, while Hamilton came in ninth, a lap down. With two races left, Hamilton has a 56-point lead, enough to secure his fourth Formula One drivers’ championship, tying him with Vettel. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won the race, a high point in an otherwise disappointing season for the 20-year-old. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen joined him on the podium, finishing second and third respectively. With both drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships decided, the excitement in the final two races will be to see if Bottas can make up 15 points on Vettel to take over second place in the standings, or if Raikkonen can overtake Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who’s in fourth with a 14-point margin. The series races in Brazil in two weeks and wraps up the season Nov. 26 in Abu Dhabi.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup title is still very much alive, thanks to the elimination component of the playoff format. All we know for sure at this point is Kyle Busch will advance to the championship round at Homestead as a result of last Sunday’s Martinsville win. It took a series of late-race cautions and an overtime restart for Busch to put himself into position to take the win as half the field wrecked behind him. The outcome would’ve been different if NASCAR officials had used a bit of common sense and black-flagged Joey Logano’s wounded No. 22 Ford, which was pouring smoke from the wheel wells. It was inevitable a tire would blow, and sure enough it did, bringing on a caution that bunched the field and changed the race’s outcome. Chase Elliott looked like a sure winner until Denny Hamlin dumped him on a restart, engendering some hard feelings among Elliott, his crew, and fans. Elliott expressed his displeasure by running Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota into the wall on the cool-down lap and had angry words with him later. And one Elliott fan attempted to assault Hamlin in the pit lane after the race, but was hustled away by security. The last-lap melee left the two drivers at the tail end of the eight still in championship contention — Hamlin seventh, 72 points behind leader Martin Truex Jr., and Elliott eighth, 90 points back.
Texas Motor Speedway is the next race for the Cup teams, with air time at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Although Truex has proven himself the driver to beat on mile and a half tracks, he has never visited victory lane at Texas. As is the case at many tracks, Jimmie Johnson is the most prolific Texas victor with seven wins. Only seven other active drivers have posted wins there. Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Ryan Newman each have two Texas victories, while Logano, Kurt Busch, and Kasey Kahne have posted one win apiece. The No. 48 team members of Johnson has been off its game of late, but this may be where they step it up. Jimmie won the Texas race in April, and has won four of the last six. But his young teammate Elliott, still smarting from having the Martinsville victory snatched away, is going to be highly motivated. And all of the Gibbs Racing Toyotas will be strong, including the No. 78 satellite team of Truex. Nor can you count out the Penske Fords or Kevin Harvick or Kurt Busch, also Ford-mounted. And Kyle Larson has something to prove with his Ganassi Chevrolet as well. It looks to be an exciting race.