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Race Weekend Review – October 6-7, 2018

FIA Formula 1 Honda Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit
Another Mercedes one-two finish builds an almost insurmountable points lead for Hamilton

Suzuka, Japan, October 7/18 (GRW): Lewis Hamilton started from the pole and, with his teammate Valtteri Bottas right behind, they led every lap of the 53-lap race even when they made their pit stops. The two Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo both had problems but they finished third and fourth ahead of Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen. Sebastian Vettel finished a distant sixth.

This result gave Hamilton 25 points towards the championship while Vettel, his only real challenger, earned only eight points in Japan. Given Hamilton’s already massive points lead, this saw him leaving Japan with a 67-point lead over his rival. If Hamilton were to win the next race at Texas, Vettel would need to finish in second place to keep his championship hopes alive. In other words, given the recent performances of Hamilton and Vettel, it is hard to imagine any scenario other than Hamilton winning the title again this year.

PHOTO Suzuka RedBull podiumTop three finishers Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen celebrate on the podium after the Formula One Grand Prix of Japan. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

“There’s still 100 points available, so we have to try and focus and never be complacent,” said Hamilton. “The team has done such an amazing job the last few weekends, we need to bring the same focus and performance and keep pushing. The harmony in the team and the performance of every single individual in the team is the best it’s ever been. But we’ve always got areas that we can improve on, collectively and for me personally, so we will keep pushing and keep raising the bar.”

Vettel’s bad weekend started in qualifying when, in the third round, his team misjudged the tire choice for the changing wet and dry conditions and he failed to record a competitive time, ending up ninth quickest. He was elevated to eight when Estaban Ocon was penalized three places for ignoring the red flag.

At the start, Vettel and Räikkönen were vying for position when Verstappen went wide and returned to the track, hitting Räikkönen. The stewards assessed him a five second penalty for this which he served later during his single pit stop for tires. Magnussen’s HAAS had a tire failure on the opening lap and left quite a bit of debris on the track – so the Safety Car came out. Vettel had vaulted up into fourth behind Verstappen after the Dutchman’s altercation with Räikkönen. Now, when the track went green Vettel tried to pass Verstappen and they came together. Vettel spun and lost several positions, falling to the back of the field. The stewards reviewed this incident but did not ascribe blame to either driver.

Räikkönen made his pit stop for tires on lap 17 and the other leading cars each made their pit stops soon after that. None of them were to make another pit stop. After this cycle of pit stops was completed, the order was Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen (having served his penalty), Ricciardo and Räikkönen. Ricciardo had had a mechanical failure in the first qualifying round which left him starting in 15th place, but by now he had done a good job of making up positions.

Vettel was soon up to sixth but that was the best that he could do. And the rest fo the race ran out the clock in that order. No one ever serious challenged Hamilton in either qualifying or in the race – a championship-style performance.

There are four more races in the 2018 F1 championship, the next is in two week’s time at COTA in Austin, Texas on Sunday, October 21.

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

 MENCS CheckeredFlagChase Elliott takes the checkered flag to win the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway.(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Monster Energy Cup Series Gander Outdoors "400" AT Dover International Speedway
Elliott is the surprise winner at Dover after the favourites have problems

Dover, DE, Oct 7/18 (GRW): With 100 laps to go in the 400-lap race, it looked like Kevin Harvick was going to win it all – but then things started to go bad for him and the other likely winners and, in the end, Chase Elliott cycled into the lead during the fourth caution on lap 394 and he was able to hang on to take the checker in overtime. This was his second Cup win this year, the first coming at Watkins Glen in August.

The whole finishing order was unexpected: Denny Hamlin in second, Joey Logano in third, Erik Jones fourth and Kurt Busch fifth. As for the Big Three drivers, Harvick was sixth, Kyle Busch eighth and Martin Truex 15th.

“We had a (speeding) penalty there, early, and fell behind,” said Elliott in Victory Lane. “Luckily, I had a good enough car and a good strategy to get back. Man, what a day. Just thanks to those guys, man for the perseverance and good adjustments throughout the day.”

If we pick up the action at Lap 300 we see the pattern that had been established. Harvick was leading, having dominated the race with 290 laps led. His teammates Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola were second and third. Kyle Busch was struggling back outside the top ten; he had a problem with his track bar adjuster which prevented him from fine tuning the handing as a run went on.

A few laps later, the pit window being open and the drivers started coming into the pits for their planned final pit stop. Harvick came back in for a second time with a broken valve stem, falling a lap down. Meanwhile Kyle Busch was penalized a lap for speeding during his pit stop.

Then the third caution came out for debris on lap 340. More pit stops. Keselowski only took two tires while everyone else took four and he jumped to the lead ahead of Almirola who had cycled into the lead during the previous green-flag pit stops. Truex was sent to the rear for speeding in pit lane. Now it looked like Almirola, with four fresh tires, had the advantage – and, indeed, on this restart, he quickly passed Keselowski for the lead.
Bowyer who had been in third place for the restart had a tire problem that was diagnosed as a loose left rear wheel. Now a lap down, he got going again only to hit the wall bringing out the fourth yellow on lap 393. Apparently something in the front suspension had broken this time.

Elliott had gotten past Keselowski on the previous restart and now the two of them were lined up for this restart on lap 397. Almost immediately Almirola went up and hit the wall and bounced down in the midst of all the cars bunched up after the restart. He hit Keselowski’s car and, in the ensuing melee, Alex Bowman, Truex and Ryan Blaney were collected. This brought out the red flag while the mess was cleaned up. Truex and Bowman were able to take the ensuing green flag in overtime but they had lost their track position.

Overtime. The final restart came on lap 402 and the final two laps were fairly uneventful with Elliott leading all the way to the checker finishing well ahead of Hamlin, who had taken the restart alongside.

This was the first of the three races in the second elimination round of the playoffs – the Round of 12 – so there are two more races – Talladega and Kansas – to be run before the bottom four playoff contenders from this group are eliminated. As things stand after Dover, the top eight in the playoff standings are Elliott (with his win), Harvick, Kyle Busch, Truex, Logano, Kurt Busch, Keselowski, and Blaney. The four drivers currently below the cut-off line are Almirola, Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Bowman, Of course, the results of the next two races will likely change this order and the drivers to be eliminated will not be determined until after the results of the Kansas race are known.

The next race will be at the Talladega Superspeedway – a track known for its big wrecks which make guessing at the race’s results impossible – next Sunday, October 14.

Click HERE for the full results of the MENCS race at Dover.

 NXS Bell StickerChristopher Bell poses with the winner's decal on his car in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Bar Harbor 200 at Dover International Speedway.(Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

XFINITY Series Bar Harbor "200" at Dover International Speedway
Bell scores a dominant win over Custer

Dover, DE, Oct 7/18 (GRW): Christopher Bell started alongside Daniel Hemric the polesitter but he soon showed his dominant form, taking the lead on the first lap and leading three different times for a total of 110 laps in the 200-lap race including the final 29 laps for the race win.

Cole Custer had a run at the front mid-race and he finished second to Bell. Justin Allgaier was third, Ryan Preece fourth and Spencer Gallagher fifth. Hemric had to settle for a seventh-place finish.

“Whenever you’re back in traffic, this track is so fast.” said Bell. “The concrete, the tires. Everything is so fast and everyone is really fast for awhile until the track rubbers up and gets greasy. It’s hard to do anything until the laps get put on the race track and it starts to widen up. This Camry was so fast on the long-run and especially when I could get the top going. It was really good.”

Asked if he thought it was now his championship to lose, Bell said, “I don’t think it’s anyone’s championship to lose. It boils down to one race. If you look further into that, it boils down to the last pit stop. Do you execute on the last pit stop? Is your last restart good? Are your final 10 laps good? You have to have short-run speed at Homestead. It all boils down to one run to decide who the champion is. I don’t think anyone is a clear favourite and we won’t know that until about lap 100 (at Homestead).”

The first two Stages came quickly – at the end of lap 45 and lap 90 – and the race ran without any other cautions until then. Bell won the first stage and Hemric the second. Hemric was sent to the back of the field for speeding in pit lane during the second end-of-Stage caution. Everyone would have had to pit under green for fuel in the final 110-lap Stage but two more cautions flew giving them an opportunity to pit under yellow.

Custer took the lead coming off the Stage 2 caution and he led for 34 laps until Bell passed Allgaier and then Custer to take over the lead – and he stayed in command the rest of the way to the checker.

This race was the third race in the first round (Round of 12) in the Xfinity playoffs. The top eight in the playoff standings after this race were Bell, Allgaier, Hemric, Custer, Elliott Sadler, Tyler Reddick, Matt Tifft, and Austin Cindric – and they will advance to the second elimination round of three races (Round of 8). The top four from that round will fight it out for the championship in the Xfinity finale at Homestead. The four drivers eliminated after the Dover race were Ross Chastain, Brandon Jones, Ryan Truex and Ryan Reed.

The next race, which is the first of the three races in the Round of 8 will be at the Kansas Speedway in two weeks time on October 20.

Click HERE for the full results of the Xfinity race at Dover.


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