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Race Weekend Review – September 14-15-16, 2018

Formula 1 2018 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, Marina Bay, Singapore
Hamilton overpowers Vettel to win the race and extend his points lead

Singapore, September 16/18 (GRW): Sebastian Vettel, standing on the third step of the podium after the race was glum – and for good reason. He had just had his hopes of closing the gap to championship points-leader Lewis Hamilton dashed. Indeed Hamilton’s win had increased his lead in the points standings by ten points, giving him a 20-point advantage.

F1 Vettel SingaporeSebastian Vettel on the podium (RUDY CAREZZEVOLI/Ferrari)

Coming into Singapore, Ferrari’s chances looked good because Mercedes had a reputation of having difficulty on this street circuit. But the reality was anything but this. In the final round of qualifying Hamilton set a blistering pace beating Max Verstappen’s time by 0.3 seconds and leaving Vettel in third place half a second slower.

At the start of the race, Hamilton shot out into the lead but Vettel was able to get past Verstappen to take over second place behind Hamilton. The Safety Car came out on the first lap after Ocon was pushed off into the barriers by his teammate. Vettel held his position ahead of Verstappen through the caution and after the green came out again.

On lap 14 of the 61-lap race, the Ferrari team called Vettel in for faster tires. Mercedes brought Hamilton in on the very next lap – Valtteri Bottas and Verstappen came in on the next two laps. When Verstappen came out of the pits he was alongside Vettel but he managed to scoot ahead and regain his original position on the track ahead of the German.

This produced the race order: Kimi Räikkönen, Daniel Ricciardo, Hamilton, Verstappen, Vettel and Bottas. Given that the front two had not yet pitted – and the expectation that there would be no more pit stops for tires, this , in effect, returned Hamilton to the lead over Verstappen with Vettel in third.

Much as the broadcasters tried to inject a note of uncertainty and hope for those behind Hamilton, after this the race was to wind its way to the end with no further changes in position among the front six. The closest thing to something happening was when, mid-race, Hamilton was baulked by two back-markers – Romain Grosjean and Sergey Sirotkin – letting Verstappen close right up behind him. But Hamilton eventually got past and Verstappen, in turn, was baulked as well and the gap returned to the three or four seconds it had been before.

When the checker fell on lap 61, Hamilton had a lead of nine seconds over Verstappen and 40 seconds over Vettel. Perhaps Vettel could have charged harder in the closing laps but all he would have done would be to make the gap to Verstappen a bit smaller and risk his soft tires giving out completely.

Hamilton SingaporeFormel 1 - Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Großer Preis von Singapur 2018. Lewis Hamilton (Daimler AG)

With six Grands Prix left to be run and with first place being worth ten points more than second, there is better than a mere mathematical possibility of Vettel catching Hamilton for the title - but, realistically, it is difficult to imagine any scenario now that would see Hamilton losing the 2018 title to Vettel.

The next Grand Prix is the one at Sochi, Russia, on Sunday, September 30

Click HERE for the results of the Singapore GP.

INDYCAR Dixon sonomaScott Dixon with his family and the Astor Cup on stage after winning the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship at Sonoma Raceway -- Photo by: Chris Owens/IndyCar

Verizon indyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma
Hunter-Reay dominates the race; Dixon clinches his fifth Indy car title

Sonoma Raceway, Sept 16/18 (GRW): The final race of the IndyCar season was at the Sonoma Raceway and, with double championship points on offer, Alexander Rossi had a somewhat realistic hope of catching the points leader Scott Dixon and winning the championship. Even if the probability of Rossi beating out Dixon for the championship was slim pickings unless Dixon failed to finish the race, it made for good copy – good pre-race publicity.

Dixon qualified second quickest, starting alongside the pole winner Ryan Hunter-Reay while Rossi was starting back in sixth place. Rossi’s challenge for the title ended in the first corner of the race. Somehow, he misjudged and slid into the back tire of his teammate Marco Andretti. This deranged his front wing and punctured the right front tire. Rossi had to creep back around the 2.4-mile course under green to the pits for repairs. This dropped him to the back of the field a lap down on the rest.

After that, Rossi drove full out in an effort to make up his lost lap and to catch up with Power. His chance came when Graham Rahal’s car stopped on course bringing out the race’s only caution. This allowed Rossi to get back on the lead lap and eventually he was able to work his way up to fifth place while Dixon was running steadily in second place behind Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay drove a flawless race, starting on the pole and leading the entire race except when he gave up the lead for pit stops – leading 80 of the race’s 85 laps. As the race wound down, Rossi was passed by Andretti and Sebastien Bourdais leaving him to finish in seventh place – and leaving Dixon to clinch his fifth Indy car championship.

Will Power finished in third place ahead of Simon Pagenaud and Andretti. Pato O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion made a notable debut in Indy car racing. He qualified fifth quickest and after a difficult first stint in the race, he ended up with a ninth-place finish

Before and during the race much was made of Rossi’s chances of beating Dixon for the series title.  In the end Dixon was crowned champion with 678 points to Rossi’s 621 while Hunter-Reay was third with 566 points.

This was the final race in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar series.

Click HERE for the results of the Sonoma Indy car race.

MENCS Penske 500Team Penske including Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BODYARMOR Ford, celebrate their 500th win after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series SouthPoint 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 16, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Keselowski beats the favourites in overtime; his third win in a row

Las Vegas, NV, Sept. 16/18 (GRW): Brad Keselowski, the eventual winner, qualified for this race in 13th place and he was not a factor in the first Stage but after that his fortunes changed. He came to the fore in the second Stage and won it. In the final 107-lap Stage he ran at the front, sparring with Kyle Larson. The race was supposed to run for 267 laps but it saw six cautions after lap 213 and two overtime restarts which reduced the field and saw both Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in trouble and out of contention for the win.

Picking up the action with the eighth yellow which was brought out when Kyle Busch spun his car on lap 233, a front-of-field pack of Keselowski, Martin Trues, Joey Logano, Larson, Ryan Blaney and Jimmie Johnson set the stage for the remainder of the race. On this restart Larson gained the advantage over Keselowski and Logano but on lap 248 Denny Hamlin crashed bringing out caution number nine. Keselowski and Logano powered past Larson on this restart but seven laps later the yellow flew again when both Johnson and Alex Bowman had tire problems and left debris on the track. As the laps now counted down to the scheduled finish, the order for the next restart was Keselowski, Blaney, Logano, Larson and Truex. Now we were in overtime going green on lap 363. Blaney spun his tires and Logano shot forward to challenge his teammate Keselowski side-by-side - but then there was another crash involving Kurt Busch and four others – and another caution, number 12. The race was red-flagged to clean up the mess of five wrecked cars.

Meanwhile, the Indy car race at Sonoma, which was scheduled to be broadcast in the United States on the same NBC channel, was delayed in hopes of letting the NASCAR race finish before the Indy car broadcast started. This plan fell apart and, after a delay, they started the Indy car race before the NASCAR race was able to reach finality – a messy way to start the broadcast of this important race.

Keselowski lined up alongside Logano for the restart – and he made a great start pulling out ahead of everyone and then several car lengths ahead. He cruised around - petal-to-the-metal – for those final two green-flag laps and took the checker at the end of lap 272 – some five laps beyond the scheduled finish of this race.

Logano had fallen to fourth behind Larson and Truex while Blaney finished in fifth place right behind him. Kyle Busch, despite his problems went home with a seventh-place finish. Harvick was no so lucky, crashing out of the race on lap 148 and being credited with 39th in the final standings.

So far as the championship points standings went, the Big Three were still up there with Truex and Busch one-two but now Keselowski had become a genuine contender in third place ahead of Harvick and Logano. Keselowski’s emergence as a threat with his three consecutive race wins late in the season is a big story - but, so too, is the other story of his win here. Keselowski’s win at Las Vegas was declared to be the 500th win by the Penske racing organization since its inception. I’m not sure whether they are counting all the race wins that Roger Penske, the race driver, scored before he fully organized his professional racing operation. Whatever, 500 wins for Penske, however they count it, is a remarkable feat – and another reason why he has to be considered to be the most important figure in motor racing in America in his era – an era which has not been completed yet.

Click HERE for the results of the MENCS race at Las Vegas.

 NXS LVMS ChastainRestart 091518 resizeRoss Chastain, driver of the #42 DC Solar Chevrolet, leads on the final restart during the NASCAR Xfinity Series DC Solar 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sam Wasson/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR Xfinity Series DC Solar 300 at Las Vegas
Chastain dominates on his way to his first ever NASCAR win

Las Vegas, NV, Sept 15/18 (GRW): Ross Chastain, who has been racing full-time in the Xfinity Series since 2015 finally won a race – and he did it in convincing fashion, leading 180 of the race’s 200 laps and winning all the Stages on the way. This was his second race in the No. 42 Ganassi car and he made good advantage of this top-class machinery.

His only serious competition came from Justin Allgaier who finished second, 1.6 seconds behind. Cole Custer, who had started from the pole for the fifth time this year was third. Christopher Bell was fourth and Elliott Sadler fifth. Austin Cindric, who had started on the front row alongside Custer was ninth. Alex Labbe, who finished in 16th place, was the last car to finish on the lead lap.

Chastain started from fifth place but it only took him three laps before he took the lead. After that he led almost every lap in the race. The closest it came to a contest was when Allgaier was able to challenge him coming off the fifth caution on lap 130 and he raced past him into the lead a few laps later. Allgaier led for 14 laps before Chastain drove him down and regained the lead - and, after that he led every lap but one on the way to the win.

This was the final race of the Xfinity regular season. Allgaier was declared the regular season champion with 2039 points to Christopher Bell’s 2032 points. During the season so far Allgaier has won five races and Bell four, making them the odds-on favourites to win the series championship at Homestead. The other ten drivers who qualified to compete for the championship in the seven-race playoff series were Sadler, Custer, Tyler Reddick, Chastain, Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Matt Tifft, Ryan Truex, Austin Cindric and Ryan Reed. Of that group, keep an eye on Chastain who had success here in the Ganassi car. He will be driving this team’s car in all the playoff races, making him a contender to be reckoned with.

The next Xfinity race and the first of the seven playoff races will be the Richmond Go Bowling 250 on Friday evening, September 21.

Click HERE for the results of the Las Vegas Xfinity race.

 NCWTS LVMS EnfingerVL 091418Grant Enfinger celebrates with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series World of Westgate 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images/NASCAR)

NASCAR Camping World Trucks World of Westgate 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Enfinger squeaks out a win in overtime

Las Vegas, NV, Sept. 14/18 (GRW): Grant Enfinger had not led a lap since lap 96 of this 134-lap race but, on the third restart in overtime he grabbed the lead when Brent Moffitt stumbled and he held on to take the checker – at last – on lap 144. But it was no walk in the park for him because he could have lost it on any one of the final three cautions under overtime.

Moffitt seemed to have this race under control in the closing laps. He passed Johnny Sauter for the lead on the lap 124 restart after the race’s eighth caution – ahead of Sauter and Ben Rhodes. Almost immediately Stewart Friesen spun for a third time bringing out the ninth yellow and sending the race into an overtime finish. Moffitt took the lead from Sauter on this restart but, before he could claim the win, another truck spun setting up the second overtime restart with Moffitt ahead of Matt Crafton, Enfinger and Sauter.

When the green flew Moffitt jumped out into the lead again, this time in front of Enfinger, Justin Haley and Sauter. But Timothy Peters spun mid-field and several cars were collected up in the melee. NASCAR opted to stop the race while they cleaned up the wrecked cars and debris. They were already a couple of laps past the scheduled end of the race, so this would help avoid having many cars run out of gas before they could get to the overtime checker.

The debris cleaned up, they got ready for the third overtime restart – with Moffitt still in the lead with Enfinger alongside. The green dropped but Moffitt stumbled and slowed – out of gas – as the rest charged forward. Two laps under green and Enfinger took the checker ahead of Sauter and Haley. Moffitt, who had run short of fuel, was credited with an 11th-place finish, on the lead lap.

This win will ensure that Enfinger moves on to the three-race Round of Six which follows after the next race which is the final round of the Round of Eight. Moffitt, despite his stumble here at Vegas, still looks like making surviving the cut after the next race and moving on to the Round of Six.

Matt Crafton, a former series champion, may be in trouble. After Las Vegas, he is sixth in the elimination standings and in jeopardy of losing out to Ben Rhodes.

As for Friesen, his day started off well and turned to disappointment. He was sixth in the standings after the first playoff race at CTMP – hopefully good enough to carry him forward to the Round of Six after Talladega. Here at Las Vegas he qualified on the front row alongside Noah Gragson and he ran strongly at first – taking the lead three times in the first 100 laps. But then things went sour for him. In the second half of the race he spun three separate times bringing out three cautions and falling out of contention. Somewhat surprisingly, he finished the race in 17th place, still on the lead lap – but he was now on the bottom of the group of eight playoff contenders and in serious danger of failing to make it in the next round of playoff races. He will have to beat out Rhodes and Crafton at Talladega to move on.

Noah Gragson had another disappointing result. He started from the pole and led the first 33 laps. He was still in the top five at the end of Stage 2. Coming off the sixth caution on lap 104 he had slid back to sixth place when he had a tire failure and had to pit under green with no yellow. This dropped him back out of contention and he finished the race in 18th place, a lap down. After Las Vegas, he was still fourth among the playoff contenders, so his chances of making it on to the Round of Six look good – so long as he can avoid trouble at Talladega.

The next NCWTS race is at Talladega on Saturday, October 13, the third race in the Round of Eight.

Click HERE for the results of the NCWTS race from Las Vegas.

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