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Race Weekend Review - November 9-10-11, 2018

FIA Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix at São Paulo
Hamilton takes the win after Verstappen’s challenge is thwarted

São Paulo, Brazil, Nov 11/18 (GRW): Now that the 2018 championship question is resolved we can get down to simply watching the remaining races in their own right. In Brazil it looked like we might see a battle between the two protagonists, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, but Vettel lost touch from the start and it was the young Dutchman, Max Verstappen, challenging Hamilton for the win.

In the end it was Hamilton taking the checker by a 1.5-second margin over Verstappen. Kimi Räikkönen finished ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Vettel.

In qualifying, Hamilton had won the pole ahead of Vettel. Lined up behind them were Bottas, Räikkönen and Verstappen. The other driver of the dominant six was Ricciardo, who had to start back in 11th place after he was given a five place grid penalty for the use of an “additional power unit element”.

On the start, things were immediately stirred up. Bottas pushed up to take second behind Hamilton dropping Vettel back to third. But Verstappen was on a charge and by lap three of the 71-lap race he had passed both Räikkönen and then Vettel to take over third place behind Hamilton and Bottas. But he was not done and on lap 10 he passed Bottas. Meanwhile Ricciardo had been making good progress forward and he was up into sixth place, giving the dominant three teams all of the front six places in front of the other, lesser teams.

Verstappen’s chances looked good. Hamilton pitted on lap 19, handing over the lead to Red Bull driver. Hamilton dropped to sixth place initially. Verstappen pitted for fresh tires himself on lap 35 but he passed Hamilton and Ricciardo to regain the lead by lap 40. Now it looked like Hamilton was having some tire problems and that Verstappen might well be able to hold him off and take the win. He had never won two consecutive Grands Prix before.

Unfortunately, soon after this, Estaban Ocon, who had gone a lap down to Verstappen was able to catch Verstappen up and made a move to pass him to regain his lost lap. As they wound through a series of curves, their front wheels touched and Verstappen spun. By the time he got going again, Hamilton was through, back into the lead.

F1 Brazil VerstappenSecond place finisher Max Verstappen looks on in parc ferme.. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Verstappen was furious. The stewards eventually gave Ocon a ten-second penalty for the incident – even though many observers thought that perhaps Verstappen should have given way to Ocon with a wider arc – especially given that Ocon was no challenge to him. But the damage was done. Verstappen was now five seconds back of Hamilton and – in spite of the appearance of blistering on Hamilton’s tires, the best Verstappen could do was to close up to within 1.5-seconds at the finish. It did look like this incident with Ocon had cost him an almost certain win.

Verstappen displayed his displeasure on the podium alongside Hamilton and third-place Räikkönen but there was nothing to be done.

“I didn’t expect the Red Bulls to be in the race like that today, I thought they’d be in a similar pace to us, but they were quite a bit quicker,” said Hamilton. “We struggled with the tyres in the first stint and they were able to manage the tyres better than us. In the second stint, I was on the Medium tyre and had an issue with the engine, so I was really just trying to bring the car across the line. Max passed me which was painful, but then they had an issue and all of a sudden I was back in the lead. I was on the radio, telling my engineers “I don’t want to give it up, tell me what I need to do” – I was pushing so hard at the end, taking every risk to bring it home with a win. This is a high, but I want to stay on that wave and win the next race as well.”

This result clinched the constructor’s championship for Mercedes, their fifth such championship in five years.

There is one more Grand Prix in the 2018 season, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in two week’s time on Sunday November 25.

Click HERE for the full results of this week’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

 Photo MENCS PhoenixKevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford, pits after having a tire deflate during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 (Credit - Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 ISM Raceway
Kyle Busch Wins; all three of the Big Three qualify for the final four at Homestead

Phoenix, AZ, Nov 11/18 (GRW): Here at the Phoenix one-mile oval there were a lot of lead changes, ups and downs, and two red flag sessions but, in the end, it was the kind of result we had been expecting all along. The Big Three – Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex – who had been dominant throughout the season came out of Phoenix heading for Homestead as three of the four drivers who would contest the championship there. The fourth driver to qualify for the Homestead confrontation was Joey Logano who had qualified by virtue of his win at Martinsville two weeks earlier. Harvick had won last week at Texas but his win was ruled ineligible for championship purposes when they found an illegal spoiler on his car in post-race inspection. Fortunately for Harvick his fifth-place finish here was good enough to qualify him for the final on points.

While the result – so far at the championship race is concerned – turned out to be straightforward, it was anything but a routine race. There were 17 lead changes in the race and ten yellows including two which included a red-flag session. Kyle Busch had not looked like a favourite to win the race when he qualified sixth quickest but he took the lead on lap 144 of the 312-lap race and led for 81 laps. After that he took the lead twice more, most importantly, he passed Erik Jones for the lead coming out of the second-last caution on lap 290 and he held the lead the rest of the way to the checker. Of course, this made him eligible for the Homestead championship musical chairs but he would have easily qualified on points anyway. In all, he led for 116 laps, the most of any driver.

Harvick led for 73 laps and he finished in fifth place, good enough to qualify for the Homestead finale. His prospects had looked grim when he started the race because he had only a four-point margin to keeping him above the cut line. In the race, he ran into trouble early when he had a flat left-front tire and he had to pit immediately even though the pits had already been closed in anticipation of the end of the first Stage. This dropped him to the back of the field a lap down for the restart. When the second caution flew on lap 97, Harvick got his lap back. This caution was caused when Joey Logano crashed due to a flat right-front tire (there was a pattern here) and he was unable to continue. His Martinsville win made this academic because he was already assured a place in the final four at Homestead.

The third caution came on lap 134 and Harvick was able to use this to regain his place near the front – in second place after the others had pitted. Harvick never regained the lead again but he was able to keep the leaders in sight. Near the end of the race, he was in sixth place behind his teammate Kurt Busch, who also had hopes of qualifying for the Homestead championship shootout. Had Busch been able to somehow win the race and thereby qualify for the final four, it might have pushed Harvick out on points – so Busch was not willing to concede to his SHR compatriot. This scenario was looking like a possibility when Busch stayed out during the seventh caution (on lap 263) which saw him up into second place behind Jones for the restart. But after Hamlin tangled with Busch on the first green-flag lap causing Busch to crash out of the race, this intra-team rivalry between Busch and Harvick was ended. After that, Harvick was able to stay in the top five the rest of the way, good enough to qualify him for the final four at Homestead.

The finishing order of the race was Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and Harvick. Truex finished down in 14th place, still on the lead lap, but his points cushion was good enough to take him forward to Homestead without any dramatics here.

Asked If he had thought everything had gone wrong when he had his problems resulting from the tire failure, Harvick said, “ I never really thought about it like that. I just thought about my main job was to try to get it back to the pits without crashing into the wall or having a tire blow out and rip the fenders off. I felt it go down going into Turn 1 and just kind of tried to nurse it into Turn 3 and back around. I couldn't get down over there, and I just drug everything all the way around. I drug the splitter off. It never really handled as good after that, but we made some adjustments to our car and got ourselves back in contention there in the second stage staying out, and it worked out okay.”

The four drivers eliminated at the end of this Round of 8 were Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Almirola and Clint Bowyer.

The 2018 MENCS title will go to the playoff driver who finishes highest at Homestead, next Sunday, November 18.

Click HERE for the full results of this week’s MENCS race from Phoenix.

 Photo NXS PhoenixChristopher Bell poses with the winner's decal on his car in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Whelen Trusted To Perform 200 at ISM Raceway (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Whelen Trusted To Perform 200 ISM Raceway
Bell victorious in a must-win race to qualify for the championship finale

Phoenix, AZ, Nov 10/18 (GRW): Christopher Bell, the 2017 NCWTS champion, by all accounts should have been the hands-down favourite to win the Xfinity title this year. He had already won six times before this year, more than any other driver in the series. But, coming to the starting line for the Phoenix race, his chances looked grim. This race was the third race in the three-race Round of 8 which would determine the four drivers who would advance to the Homestead race the following week to fight it out for the 2018 title. In both the previous two races in this round Bell had been crashed out of the race after another competitor had run into him. Now it was do-or-die, he had to win here – and because his car had failed inspection, he had been unable to qualify and he was starting from the back of the field.

All that was bad news for Bell. The silver lining in this was that he was arguably the best driver in this year’s field of drivers and he might still pull it off if he could somehow win this race.

In the end it worked out for him. He took the lead on lap 108 of the 200-lap race and he led the rest of the way through three cautions to take the checker ahead of Daniel Hemric and Matt Tifft. Of course, this win changed him from someone on the outside to one of the four playoff finalists who would compete for the title at Homestead the following week.

In the race, John Hunter Nemechek started from the pole and he led the first 20 laps before Justin Allgaier took over the lead until the end of the first Stage at lap 45. He resumed the lead when the race restarted and he led right through to the end of the second Stage on lap 90 . Things were looking good for Allgaier by now. But, when the race restarted after this Stage, Allgaier was back in fourth place behind Nemechek, Bell, and Hemric. After his start at the back of the field Bell had calmly moved up through the back markers and he was up into the top ten by lap 42.

Bell soon passed Nemechek for the lead – and he led the rest of the way to the checker. Coming off the final yellow with 38 laps remaining he easily stayed ahead of Hemric and Tifft the rest of the way to the finish. Allgaier ended up in 24th place, a lap down.

Of course, this win gave Bell a ticket to the final four playoff at Homestead the following week. Cole Custer’s win at Texas had also given him an automatic spot in the Homestead shootout. Nemechek had won at Kansas, the first race in this three race Round of 8, but, as a part-time competitor in this series, he was ineligible to compete for the Xfinity championship. The other two playoff contenders moving forward to Homestead are Hemric and Tyler Reddick who finished sixth at Phoenix. The four drivers who were eliminated at the end of this round were Elliott Sadler, Tifft, Allgaier and Cindric. Allgaier’s failure to qualify for the finale shootout has to be especially galling given that had had won five Xfinity races so far this season. By rights given their performance so far this year, one of either Bell or Allgaier should have become the champion. Bell lucked into the finale and he may yet win the title. Allgaier was cruelly excluded from his legitimate chance to contest Bell for the laurels.

“I’ll be honest, after Kansas and Texas, I just kind of accepted that we weren’t going to be able to get there,” Bell said. “I just came over here with a ‘Let’s have fun’ attitude. To start in the back, we didn’t really make our way up front that fast. I kind of got stalled out once I got into the top 15.

“I knew this thing was really fast, because (on Friday) in practice, it was really good… I’m just thankful for my team. They brought probably the best car we’ve had all year here this weekend. It’s a pleasure to drive ’em, and a race car driver is only as good as his race car. This thing was unbelievably fast.”

The Homestead Xfinity finale will be run next Saturday, November 17.

Click HERE for the full results of this week’s Xfinity race at Phoenix.

 Photo NCWTS PhoenixSheldon Creed, driver of the #2 AM Ortega/United Rentals Chevrolet, Brett Moffitt, driver of the #16 KOBE Toyopet Toyota, and Noah Gragson, driver of the #18 Safelite AutoGlass Toyota, race during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway
Moffitt takes the lead after a late-race restart for the win

Phoenix, AZ, Nov 9/18 (GRW): Kyle Busch Racing driver Noah Gragson came into this race with a question mark over his head. So far in the season, he had won the pole five times but he had only won one race. It seemed like somehow he lacked the ability to turn that qualifying speed into race wins. Here at Phoenix, he won the pole yet again but would he be able to follow through with a win at the end of the race?

In the race, Gragson led the first 32 laps of the 150-lap race before Brett Moffitt took over for the next 16 laps and he won the first Stage. Both Gragson and Moffitt had problems during this yellow-flag round of pit stops and had fallen well out of the top ten for the restart – a restart which saw Harrison Burton take command and lead for the next 46 laps through to the end of the second Stage.

On the restart after this second round of pit stops, John Hunter Nemechek took the lead ahead of Grant Enfinger, another championship hopeful. But Gragson was lurking right behind these two in third place while the eventual winner Moffitt restarted in seventh place. Nemechek brought out the next caution a few laps later when he spun his truck on lap 129. Given that the race was only 150 laps on the one-mile oval, they red-flagged the race for the cleanup so that there would be some laps of green-flag racing left for the fans.

On this restart, Gragson, who started at the front alongside Enfinger, took the lead with Moffitt in third place behind them. This was followed almost immediately by a fifth (and final caution) on lap 144. When they lined up for this restart with just three laps to go to the checker, Gragson was first with Enfinger alongside. Moffitt and Burton were in the second row. But, when the flag dropped, Moffitt shot ahead out of the second row to take the lead over Gragson and that was the way they took the checker. Burton finished in third place ahead of Enfinger and Stewart Friesen.

This race was the third race in the Round of 6. Of the six playoff drivers contesting this round the top four would move on to fight it out for the title at Homestead the following week. Two drivers – Johnny Sauter and Justin Haley – were already locked in by virtue of their wins in the first two races in this Round. Moffitt’s win here at Phoenix also locked him into the final while Gragson’s points total was good enough to give him the fourth slot at Homestead. Enfinger and former champion Matt Crafton were eliminated from the championship finale.

“We’re focussed on Homestead already and we just knew that we had to have a smooth night”, said Moffitt. “When the 98 (Grant Enfinger) got up there obviously we started worrying and that’s when we knew we needed to win.”

There is only one more race in the truck series this season. It will be at Homestead next Friday, November 16 and whichever of the four championship finalists finishes highest will become the 2018 NCWTS champion.

Click HERE for the full results of this weeks truck series race at Phoenix.

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