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Race Weekend Review – October 27-28, 2018

FIA Formula 1 Gran Premio de México at Mexico City
Verstappen wins the race while Hamilton clinches the championship

Mexico City, Oct 28/18 (GRW): Coming into the Mexican GP Lewis Hamilton had such a big points lead over Sebastian Vettel that if he finished this race seventh or higher, no matter where Vettel finished, he would win the championship title. As it turned out, it was not a great race for Hamilton. He started third on the grid behind the two Red Bull cars and one place ahead of Hamilton. Tire woes kept him from racing strongly and he finished in fourth place while Vettel came in second. But this did no much matter – it was good enough to sew up the championship for Hamilton with two more races to go. This is his fifth F1 world championship title, equalling the great Juan Manuel Fangio’s number. The only driver who has won more F1 championships is Michael Schumacher with seven.

"Honestly, it’s very hard to realise it at the momen," said Hamilton. "It’s something I dreamed of, but I never in a million years thought I’d be standing here today a five-time World Champion. I never knew that was going to happen and I am just so grateful to everyone who has helped me be here. I want to say a big thank you to all the fans here for making the Mexican Grand Prix as special as it is. And I want to say a big thank you to my team. Bono said on the radio – the Championship wasn’t won here, it was won through a lot of hard work and through a lot of races."

Aside from that, there was a race with podium winners and all that. Max Verstappen, who started behind Ricciardo, took the lead into the first corner and dominated the rest of the race, scoring a repeat win, having won here a year ago.

There was great anticipation before the race about what might happen in the first turn at the end of the long front straight. The two Red Bulls – Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had qualified one-two with almost identical times. Hamilton and Vettel were lined up behind them on the grid with the other two – Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen – in the third row. While the Red Bull cars were demonstrably quicker around the complete lap, it was thought that the Mercedes and Ferraris behind them would be quicker from the start to the front corner. Would all six leading cars arrive there simultaneously? At the start Verstappen jumped out into the lead with Hamilton charging forward past Ricciardo to take over second place – and the rest of the front runners came through the first corner without incident.

As expected, once Verstappen put in a couple of laps in the lead, he was able to pull out a gap ahead of Hamilton negating any chance the Brit had to use his DRS boost to catch the Dutchman. Ten laps into the race Verstappen had a six-second lead over Hamilton - who was starting to struggle on his ultrasoft tires. Hamilton was the first to pit – on lap 11 of the 71-lap race – but he was followed by Bottas pitting on the same lap. Ricciardo came in on the next lap while Verstappen pitted on lap 13, leaving Vettel to take the lead over his teammate Räikkönen – neither of the Ferraris having yet pitted.

Verstappen charged past Räikkönen back up to second place and he regained the lead when Vettel pitted on Lap 17, as did Räikkönen. This initial round of pit stops over, the order was Verstappen, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Vettel Bottas and Räikkönen. It looked like this might be the only round of pit stops in the entire race and that the rest of this race would see these six run around in this order until the checker. Close, but not quite the whole story.

The first surprise was when Vettel closed in on Ricciardo and passed him for third place - then he had Hamilton in his sights. Hamilton’s tires were losing grip and on lap 39, he went wide and Vettel Was through into second place. On lap 47 Hamilton and Vettel both pitted for fresh tires and on the next lap Verstappen and Bottas came in as well. By now Verstappen had 26-second gap over Ricciardo, so he did not give up his lead over Ricciardo in second place – ahead of Vettel, Räikkönen, Hamilton and Bottas – all well spaced out behind the leader.

It looked like the race would carry on to the finish like this but there was more to follow. On lap 62 – with just ten laps to go – Ricciardo pulled off the track, his race done. This brought out the Virtual Safety Car. Verstappen was worried that his car might suffer a similar fate and he turned down the power – but he had a huge gap over Vettel and the rest behind him that, even at a slightly slower pace, he easily maintained his lead to the finish, crossing the line 17 seconds ahead of Vettel. Räikkönen was third while Hamilton and Bottas were fourth and fifth – Bottas finishing a lap down.

PHOTO F1 MEX PODIUMOn the podium: Vettel, Verstappen,  Räikkönen ( Ferrari Media)

How the rest of the runners finished is academic; they were in a different race (if you must know how they fared, check out the results appended below).

The next race is the second to last one and it is at Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Sunday, November 11.

Click HERE for the full results of the Mexican Grand Prix.

PHOTO MENCS MARTINSVILLE FINISHJoey Logano crosses the finish line ahead of Martin Truex Jr. to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (Sarah Crabill/Getty Images/NASCAR) 

Monster Energy Cup First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway
Logano bumps his way to the win; Truex vows payback

Martinsville, VA, Oct 28/18 (GRW): The Martinsville half-mile oval is the last of the old-time bullrings left on the NASCAR schedule. A lot is made of the NASCAR tradition as a ‘contact sport’ – especially at the short tracks like Martinsville or Bristol. Any long-time NASCAR fan can recall many instances of drivers bumping another car aside – or worse – to gain position. Few can cite an instance when NASCAR penalized a driver for ‘rubbin’. The incident that got me hot was when Dale Earnhardt Sr. got into Terry Labonte and ‘rattled his cage’ at Bristol in 1999 – Labonte spun and could not continue while Earnhardt took the win to a chorus of boos. To me this was blatant, but NASCAR took no action. More recently, NASCAR seemed to declare open season saying, ‘ Have at it, boys’.

So when Martin Truex took the white flag, having recently passed Joey Logano, and Logano refused to give up and closed back up on Truex’ rear bumper and tapped him in the final corner before the checkered flag – sending Truex sideways and letting Logano through for the win – it was sure to be controversial.

Logano drove into victory circle to a shower of boos - but he was undeterred, feeling that the reward – automatic entry into the playoff finale at Homestead, justified his actions. And there is no hint that NASCAR will consider this to be foul play on Logano’s part.

“Just thinking about Miami, man,” said Logano. “That was just a hard, great race and NASCAR racing at its finest. We didn’t wreck each other. We bumped into each other a lot and that is what this sport was built on. I know a lot of fans out there aren’t too happy about it but it is racing and that is what NASCAR is about and what stock car racing is. I am just glad we finally won here.”

Of course Truex saw things differently. “He may have won the battle, but he ain’t winning the damn war. That’s it. I’m not letting him – I’m going to win the championship …

“I was next to him for six laps. I never knocked him out of the way. We were going to race hard for it in my book. I cleared him fair and square. We weren’t even banging doors for me to pass him. He just drove into the back of me and knocked me out of the way. It’s short-track racing, but what goes around comes around.”

While Truex was regaining control, Denny Hamlin passed him to be scored second ahead of him. Kyle Bush was fourth, Brad Keselowski fifth and Kurt Busch sixth.

The Martinsville race was the first of the three-race Round of 8; the next two races will be at Texas and Phoenix and when they are done, only the top four playoff drivers will go on to the Homestead finale. Logano, love him or hate him, has clinched one of those finale playoff spots with his win here. After that, with two more races to be run in the current round, it is anybody’s guess. As things stand after Martinsville, the other drivers, ranked second to eighth in the playoff standings are: Kyle Busch, Truex, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola. Harvick, one of the Big three who were predicted to dominate the post-season playoff race, never figured in this race and finished in tenth place.

The next MENCS race will be at Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday, November 4.

Click HERE for the full results of the Martinsville MENCS race.

 PHOTO NCWTS SAUTER SIXJohnny Sauter poses with the winner's decal on his truck in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Texas Roadhouse at Martinsville Speedway
Sauter dominates the race; his sixth win this year

Martinsville, VA, Oct. 27/18 (GRW): Todd Gilliland started from the pole and led the first 39 laps but after he pitted and handed over the lead to Johnny Sauter, it was Sauter’s race the rest of the way. This win locks Sauter into the NCWTS finale at Homestead. He led 148 of the race’s 200 laps including the final 34 and he led by a comfortable margin most of the way, taking the checker by a five-second margin over second place Brett Moffitt. This was Sauter’s fourth win here at Martinsville. Looking at race wins so far over the season, Sauter has the most with six wins but Moffitt looks like his closest challenger for the title with four wins with his underfunded Hattori team.

“These guys busted their tails – everybody at GMS Racing,” Sauter said. “We came here, and we had done a lot of work with a new setup and we had it all ready to go. And we came here, and it was raining (on Friday) and I was like, ‘Now what?’

“And they said we’d run the old stuff because we couldn’t run that now. Just so proud of everybody at GMS Racing. I’m going to Homestead to fight for a championship. That’s what it’s all about.”

The next three finishers, third through fifth were Myatt Snider, Ben Rhodes, and Kyle Benjamin, none of who are part of the group of six still in contention for the season championship. Noah Gragson, who is in a Kyle Busch Racing truck, looks like having a real shot at the title but he finished back in seventh place here after he started in the second row. He did finish second behind Sauter in each of the first two Stages.

Grant Enfinger, Justin Haley and Matt Crafton are the other three still in contention; they finished 14th, sixth, and 13th respectively. This has been a frustrating season for Crafton, who was the truck series champion in 2013 and 2014 – he has yet to win a race this year.

This was the first race in the three race Round of 6. After the next two races – Texas and Phoenix – the top four playoff challengers will move on to the single-race championship shootout at Homestead.

The Texas Motor Speedway race will be held next Friday, November 2.

Click HERE for the full results of the Martinsville NCWTS race.

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