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Race Weekend Review: November 15-16-17, 2019

Race Weekend Review: November 15-16-17, 2019

FIA Formula 1 Heineken Grande Premio do Brazil at Interlagos
• Verstappen wins from the pole, Hamilton penalized

São Paulo, Brazil, Nov 17/19 (GRW): Max Verstappen started from the pole and he was in command all the way to the checker at lap 71. He led 57 of the race’s 71 laps, only giving up the lead when he pitted. His semi-teammate Pierre Gasly won in the Toro Rosso car, making it a one-two finish for the Honda engine. It might have been a three-Honda finish had Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Alexander Albon not been punted off the course by a charging Hamilton. Albon dropped to the tail of the lead lap cars after his off and he was scored in 14th place,

Hamilton was given a five-second penalty which dropped him to seventh in the official finishing order and elevated Carlos Sainz (McLaren) to third. Given that this penalty was slow in being announced, Hamilton stood on the podium and accepted the third-place trophy only to have this all taken away later.

In qualifying, Verstappen won the pole over Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton qualified in third place ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Albon and Gasly – the top six grid positions gong to the six drivers in the top three teams as usual.

At the start, Hamilton got past Vettel into second place behind Verstappen. Behind them the order was Bottas, Albon, and Gasly – all on the soft tires. On lap eight Daniel Ricciardo tangled with Kevin Magnussen but both continued albeit towards the back of the field.

The order remained unchanged at the front until Hamilton pitted on lap 20 and Verstappen came in on the next lap. This elevated Vettel into the lead for the next four laps until he pitted. As this cycle of pit stops came to an end, the order was now Verstappen, Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Albon and Leclerc.

With those early pit stops it was no surprise when the drivers started coming in for a second cycle of pit stops. Bottas started this round of pit stops on lap 41, followed by Hamilton and Vettel soon after. Bottas came out just behind Leclerc and he was pressing him for position when smoke began wafting out of the rear of his car. He soon slowed and pulled off on the side of the track – out of the race.

At first the Bottas car was covered with a local yellow but then the race management decided to send out the Safety Car so they could tow the Mercedes to a safer position. The race leader Verstappen came into the pits for fresh tires, swapping his medium tires for softs. Hamilton stayed out and inherited the lead. However, Verstappen was able to rejoin the field in second place and, after the lapped cars were given a wave-around, he closed right up on the rear of Hamilton’s car.

When the restart was given, Verstappen charged past Hamilton into the lead by the second turn and Albon passed Vettel for third. Leclerc had fresh tires and he too passed his teammate Vettel but Vettel repassed him almost immediately. Unfortunately, as he went past him, Vettel moved over the left and Leclerc held his line, resulting in Vettel’s rear tire touching Leclerc’s front tire. Leclerc’s suspension broke immediately, ending his race. Vettel’s rear tire was also punctured and it was soon flailing around destroying the car’s bodywork until he too pulled off the course and stopped.

This brought the Safety Car out again, this time with five laps remaining. Given that one might expect that the race was never to go green again, it seemed unwise for anyone to pit for fresh tires at this time. But Hamilton came in and he switched from the medium to the soft tires for this final dash to the flag. This left him in fourth place behind Verstappen, Albon and Gasly (all Red Bull-Honda cars).

When the race was restarted with a couple of laps left to run, Hamilton quickly charged past Gasly, dropping him to fourth. Then he closed on Albon. Albon took the wide racing line thought a corner but Hamilton steered in to clip the apex and pass him on the inside. When Albon, on his racing line turned in to the apex, Hamilton had not completed the pass but he was unable to back out of the situation and the two collided. Albon dropped to the rear of the lead-lap cars while Hamilton got going again in third place behind Gasly.

On the final lap, Hamilton closed up on Gasly but the Frenchman found enough power in his Honda engine to hold off Hamilton out of the last corner to take the flag a mere 0.062 seconds ahead of Mercedes driver. Of course, Hamilton’s penalty, which dropped him to seventh place in the official results, made his close third-place result null and void.

Photo F1 Brazil podiumMax Verstappen of Red Bull Racing and second placed Pierre Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso celebrate on the podium (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images/Red Bull)

“It’s an incredible feeling right now and to win today was a huge Team effort,” said Verstappen. “It was a crazy race with a lot of action and fighting but luckily we always had the pace to counter back and overtake Mercedes in every scenario. It wasn’t easy out there but the Team made all the right calls, especially at the end to pit for the soft tires during the Safety Car which gave us the win today.”

Click HERE for the results+points after the Brazilian Grand Prix

The next GP, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, will be the final race of the 2019 season; it will take place in two weeks time, on Sunday, December 1.

PHOTO HMS MENCS BuschKy Trophy 111719Kyle Busch celebrates in victory lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 (Sean Gardner/Getty Images) 

NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 AT Homestead-Miami Speedway
• Kyle Busch wins the race and the series championship

Homestead, FL, Nov 17/19 (GRW): Kyle Busch had not won a Cup race this year since Pocono in early June but, here at Homestead, he and his team got their act together and once Martin Truex fell back after a pit stop mistake, he was in charge. In the end, he led 120 of the race’s 267 laps, including the final 45 laps of the race. This gave him the race win and, by the championship rules, the 2019 series championship as well.

His teammate Martin Truex had looked like being a strong contender for the championship until his crew changed tires during the green-flag pit stop cycle a few laps before the end of the second Stage and they put the tires on the wrong sides of the car – the rights on the left and vice-versa. The car was completely uncompetitive with the tires like this and he had to pit immediately to fix the problem. He came out a lap down in 13th place – the ‘lucky dog’. A few laps later and the yellow flag came out after John Hunter Nemechek crashed but Truex had already unlapped himself on his fresh tires.

Now he started to reel in Harvick and Busch who were running at the front. By the time the second Stage ended on lap 160, he had moved up to fourth place behind Busch, Hamlin and Kyle Larson. He fell back a bit on the restart but soon he was back up in fourth place behind Busch, Hamlin and Harvick.

By the time the final round of Green-flag pit stops began on lap 214, he was in second place behind Harvick. Hamlin, who had been in third place was having a serious overheating problem and he had to pit to have this attended to, dropping him a lap down.

Harvick pitted, leaving Busch in the lead ahead of Truex with just over 40 laps remaining. In these final laps, Truex was able to close up a bit on Busch but it was not good enough. Busch took the checker by a 5-second margin over Truex – and claimed the 2019 championship, his second Cup title. Erik Jones finished in third place, making it a one-two-three finish for Joe Gibbs Toyotas while Harvick was fourth in his Ford Mustang.

“We have a great race team and a great owner,” Busch said after climbing from his car. “We have the best sponsor in sports. I just can’t say enough and thank everyone enough. … There’s always your doubters, always your haters. But you know what? This one’s for Rowdy Nation.”

Click HERE for the results of this, the final MENCS race of the 2019 season.

PHOTO HMS NXS TReddickOnTrack 111619Tyler Reddick races during the Ford EcoBoost 300 (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) 

NASCAR Xfinity Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

• Reddick wins again, his second championship in a row

Homestead, Fl, Nov 16/19 (GRW): Last year here in the Xfinity Series finale, Tyler Reddick rode the high line up against the wall all day and it took him to the race win and the 2018 series title. This year he was with a different team – Childress – but he used the same tactic and it once again gave him the win and the championship title.

Reddick qualified on the pole with another playoff contender, Cole Custer alongside him. The other playoff drivers were Christopher Bell, who started from seventh place and Justin Allgaier who started 16th.

The first two Stages in this race were just 45 laps (or 68 miles) long so these Stages could easily be run their full distance on fuel. However, when the yellow flew on lap 34, many of the front-running cars did make a stop. Hence, when the first Stage ended, the cars which had not pitted already had to stop while those who had pitted under the previous yellow could stay out and take over the leading places for the restart. On this restart, after the pit stops, Custer was in second place behind Austin Cindric but ahead of his championship contenders Bell, Reddick and Allgaier.

Unfortunately for Custer he had come out of the pits with a loose wheel and he had to make a second pit stop under green to fix this – dropping him almost two laps behind Cindric, the race leader. Reddick moved up to take the lead on lap 105 of the 200-lap race and he led until he seventh and final yellow flew on lap 124. Bell beat him out of the pits to take over the race lead – and he led the next 28 laps until a final round of green-flag pit stops took place.

This saw Reddick take the lead when Bell pitted early in this green-flag cycle but Bell regained the lead when Reddick and Custer pitted a few laps later. Soon Custer and Reddick raced past Bell, dropping him to third. Fifteen laps later Reddick dove low under Custer and he took the lead. In these final 19 laps, Custer kept Reddick in his sights but he had to settle for a second-place finish one second behind. Meanwhile, Bell faded back to fifth to finish behind Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson. Allgaier, the fourth playoff contender in this finale, ended up in 14th place.

“It was perfect, it came down to us three,” Reddick said of his fellow championship contenders. “And that Stage 3 before the caution (flag) we were battling like we have all year long. It was just awesome we were able to come out on top of the deal. It’s been a lot of fun racing them and I’m looking forward to racing them and a lot of other talented drivers on Sunday (referring to the fact that all three of them – Reddick, Bell and Custer– have been contracted to drive a full-season in the MENCS series next year).”

Click HERE for the results of the Homestead NXS finale.

Photo HMS NGOTS Hill WinnerSticker 111519Austin Hill poses with the winner's decal on his truck in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway
• A fourth win for Hill; Crafton the champion despite never winning a race all year

Homestead, FL, Nov 15/19 (GRW): Matt Crafton came into the season finale here not having won once this year. Indeed, his last win was two years ago at Eldora. This year he had scored in the top five only six times but, despite this, his record was good enough for him to make it into the playoffs and he survived the earlier rounds of elimination races to get a start at Homestead.

Before the race, the pundits had written him off as a contender to win the championship but , in this race, he showed a turn of speed we had not seen from him in a long time – and he hung on to finish second behind Austin Hill. This was good enough for him to win the championship.

He won according to NASCAR’s current rules. Any championship in a series of races is an artificial construct but, IMHO, the current rules are wonky. Yes, Crafton won in accordance with the rules but he still hasn’t won a single race in two-and-half years. It is hard to call that a championship performance. Any one of the other three finalists would have been a more worthy champion based on their performance this year. For my money, Brett Moffitt, who had four wins over the season, had the best overall performance this year – and he wold have been a deserving two-time champion. The rookie Austin Hill, who took over Moffitt’s Hattori Racing entry this year and who also won four times this year, displayed championship performance. Had Hill not had a poor result last week in Phoenix, he, rather than Crafton, would have been one of the final four here at Homestead, and under the rules, his win here would have given him the championship. As I see it Hill, deserved to be champion far more than Crafton with his one-race spurt to a second place finish.

So, how did the race play out? The four championship finalists were Moffitt, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain and Crafton. Friesen started from the pole while Crafton was back in ninth place.

Chastain started from the second row and he took the lead on the first lap. He led the first 28 laps in the 134-lap race until Hill, who had started back in fifth, took over and went on to win the first 30-lap Stage over Chastain, Friesen and Moffitt. Despite the low expectations for Crafton, he was showing a surprising amount of speed and he took this end-of-Stage checker in sixth place.

The first two Stages were only 45 miles long, so given that a truck could go about 90 miles on a tank of fuel, decisions about when to pit for fuel or tires were open.

When the second yellow flew on lap 51, few trucks pitted. At the end of the second Stage a few laps later, it was still Hill in the lead but, by now, Crafton had taken over second place while Friesen had faded back into fifth place behind Chastain and Moffitt. After this round of pit stops, Friesen had gained two places in the pits but Christian Eckes and Ben Rhodes had not stopped this time and they took the green at the front.

Eckes, despite not having stopped this time, was surprisingly competitive and he held on to the lead for 26 laps before Hill got past him.

There was going to have to be another pit stop during the final 74-lap Stage and, as the race went on without another yellow, the race leaders kicked off the round of green-flag pit stops. These green-flag pit stops can be tricky and Friesen got baulked by the other trucks that were coming into pit lane at the same time and, by the time he re-emerged from the pits he had lost a number of positions, dropping to sixth place. Not to say that, had this not happened, he would have been still a contender for the lead; he had clearly lost the winning pace as the race went on.

Once this final round of pit stops was completed, Hill was back in the lead with Crafton in second place. And that’s the way the race finished, with Crafton taking the checker in second place 1.6 seconds behind Hill. Eckes, the 2019 ARCA champion who will be driving for Kyle Busch full time next year, showed promise with his third-place finish. Chastain came in fourth, Moffitt fifth and Friesen 11th.

This was Crafton’s third truck series championship, Ron Hornaday has the most – four.

“I guess I finally got out of the wheelchair and got up on the wheel and got it done,” said Crafton. “One step closer to what Hornaday’s done, and they called us the underdog.”

Also announced here this weekend was the signing of the Quebec youngster Raphael Lessard to a full-season ride in another Busch truck for next year.

Click HERE for the results of the NGOTS finale at Homestead.

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