Race Weekend Review: Nov. 18-20

Written by George Webster on .

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway
Jimmie Johnson grabs the lead on the final restart to win his seventh championship

Nov. 20, 2016: This race was the stuff NASCAR was hoping for when they devised the “Chase” method of determining the Sprint Cup series champion. With eight laps to go it looked like the champion would be decided in a race between Carl Edwards and Joey Logano but they crashed together bringing out a long red flag period while they cleared up the track. On the restart, which was to go into “overtime” jimmie Johnson had emerged as the likely championship winner with Logano his only challenger with a hope of winning the title. But, on the restart, Johnson, who had started the race from the back of the field, shot out into the lead ahead of Kyle Larson, who had led for 132 of the race’s scheduled 267 laps and he broke away from the field while Logano faded back to fourth behind Kevin Harvick. Jimmie Johnson won the race by a half-second margin over Larson.

Thus Johnson became only the third NASCAR Cup driver to win the series championship seven times – the other two being Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. Earnhardt won his seventh championship back in 1994. Johnson’s win here also claimed the title for his car owner Rick Hendrick.

The hype surrounding the Chase for the championship overshadowed the race itself. Four drivers of the 40 who started the race remained in contention for the championship after the original field of hopefuls had been pared down by three rounds of eliminations which left Joey Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch to fight it out in the finale here at Homestead.

In qualifying for the race, the four Chase contenders qualified a disappointing ninth (Busch) to 14th (Johnson) while Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski won places on the front row. It looked like we were going to see a race in which the Chase contenders were to run mid-pack while others ran up front and took the win.

More bad news for the Chase prospects when Johnson’s car rain into grief with the tech inspectors and he was relegated to the back of the field for the start.

However, by lap 33, after one caution and restart, Johnson had already worked his way up to eighth place while the other three Chase contenders were all running up in the top five. As might have been expected, Harvick was fast, leading in the early stages for a total of 79 laps. Carl Edwards also took his turn in the lead during these early laps.

But just before half-distance Kyle Larson took over. Running a high line right up against the outside wall he charged up into the lead on lap 118 and after that he traded the lead with Edwards. Early in this period of Larson dominance, Kyle Busch, who had been running in fifth, suddenly shot down into the pit lane for new tires He had thought that he had detected a tire failure and without waiting until he went a lap down he took his medicine and pitted for fresh tires. When he came back out, he was a lap down and it turned out that the crew could not find any problem with his old tires.

Fortunately for Busch the rest of the leaders eventually had to make green-flag pit stops as well and he regained his place on the lead lap– and then a caution came before he had to make another green-flag pit stop – which would have left him a lap down again. Instead he took that restart in eighth place and on the lead lap. Before long he was up to fourth place and in contention again.

Busch was running in third – behind Larson and Edwards and just ahead of Logano when the fifth caution flew on lap 253 –only a few laps before the scheduled finish on lap 267. Unfortunately for him, he had a bad pit stop and he dropped to sixth behind Johnson while Edwards and Logano came out in second and third behind Larson. For the restart Larson chose the high line which put Edwards and Logano one behind the other on the lower line.

Now it looked like the championship would go to either Edwards or Logano because the other two were too far back to make a run to the front in the few laps remaining.

The restart. Both the front row cars got away well but Logano was even faster and he ducked down towards the apron to make a pass on Edwards. Edwards deeked over to the left to block him but it was a moment too late and, instead of forcing Logano to back off, they collided. Edwards spun wildly, first down onto the apron and then right up to the outer wall collecting another car on his way. Behind them, carnage broke out. Edward’s car was junk and Truex’s Toyota was a ball of fire. In all, NASCAR listed nine cars that were involved. They put out the red flag while the lengthy cleanup was completed.

Edwards, to his credit, kept his composure and did not point fingers, accepting the blame – or at least his share of the blame. In truth it was a racing incident – fueled by the incredible pressure cooker of the Chase in the final run to the checker in the final race. Logano had somehow managed to survive the wrecking with minimal damage. After the red flag was withdrawn Logano came to the pits for a check up and he was lucky that everyone on the lead lap behind him also came into the pits.

On the restart on lap 257, Logano was in the second row behind Johnson on the bottom and again he went for the lead but before he could make anything of it, Ricky Stenhouse spun bringing out another yellow and putting the race into overtime.

For this restart, Busch was back in 13th place after making another pits stop while Edwards was out of the race. This left the race for the championship to Johnson and Logano who once again lined up one behind the other on the lower line while Larson, who was still the race leader, took the preferred upper line for the start.

On this restart Johnson surged ahead into the lead, leaving Larson and Logano in his dust. Indeed, as Johnson charged around the two laps to claim the checker, Logano faded back to fourth behind Harvick.

Much will be made of Johnson’s seventh championship but it may be that this comes at the time when we are starting to see a changing of the guard with young drivers like Larson, Elliott, Erik Jones and William Byron coming to the fore for the next era of NASCAR racing – just as Earnhardt won his final championship when the next wave of drivers – like Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett and, later Dale Junior and Matt Kenseth – were taking over. If you doubt this, look at the ranks of the junior touring series which are filled with exceptional youngsters who will soon be moving their way up into the Cup series.

Despite the TV commentator’s declaration that there was a fantastic crowd, this had to be tempered somewhat. There are only a limited number of seats here and it was far from a sellout. This downward trend in audience has to be troubling.

This was the final race of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series. Indeed there will be no Sprint Cup series next year, the telecommunications sponsor having bowed out at the end of this season. So far, we do not know who next year’s title sponsor will be – there’s talk that NASCAR will go it alone without a series sponsor until they find a suitable one. However the 2017 season schedules have been out for a long time and we know that racing will return to the Daytona International Speedway next February for Speed Weeks. The invitation-only “Unlimited” (once called the “Busch Clash”) will be run on Saturday, February 18th while the “Daytona 500" will be held on Sunday, February 26th.

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NASCAR Xfinity Series Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway
Suárez wins the race and the series title

Nov. 19, 2016: In the end Daniel Suárez, the Mexican driver, won the Homestead Xfinity race and in so doing won the series championship – the first ever in NASCAR for a foreign driver. He had started on the pole and he did lead for 133 laps of the race’s 200 laps but this win was not quite a walkover for him.

 When the fifth caution of the race came on lap 138, there had only been six green-flag laps since the previous caution. Suárez’ crew chief opted to not change tires, saving the two remaining sets for later. Despite being on slightly older tires he was able to retain the lead for a while but Justin Allgaier, another championship contender, passed him for the lead on lap 152. Then another championship contender, Erik Jones, passed Allgaier for the lead six laps later dropping Suárez to third

Suárez’ tire gamble started to pay off when the next caution flew on lap 160. This yellow came after Elliott Sadler, a championship contender who had been running in seventh place hit the wall. Suárez beat everyone out of the pits to regain the lead while a stubborn lug not dropped Jones to third behind Allgaier – and Sadler was way back in 15th place.

Now Suárez still had another set of fresh tires while his main challengers – Jones and Sadler – had only low-mileage scuffs available if another caution came. On the restart Jones made a charge and was soon up into second place challenging Suárez for the lead. Had the race run the rest of the way green Jones might have had a chance to pass Suárez for the lead and for the championship. But another caution did come – with eight laps to go. Everyone came in for a tire change – whether to sticker tires (for Suárez) or scuffs (for Jones). Sadler’s team tried a Hail Mary strategy and put on only two scuffs.

This put Sadler to the front of the field ahead of Suárez for the restart but there was a complication. The No. 14 car of Cup journeyman Cole Whitt did not pit when everyone else did and thereby he became the race leader, albeit on old tires and in an uncompetitive car. On the restart the inevitable happened – Suárez was lined up behind Sadler on the bottom row while Jones and Allgaier were behind Whitt on the top row. Sadler made a good start with Suárez right behind him while Whitt spluttered and baulked the whole of the top line preventing Jones and Allgaier from keeping up with the their championship rivals.

Suárez made quick work of Sadler, passing him before half-way on the first green-flag lap and he cruised home with an ever-increasing lead over the field, taking the checkered flag a second ahead of Ty Dillon, while Sadler finished in third. The start line kerfuffle left an angry Jones finishing back in ninth place while Allgaier managed a bit better, finishing in sixth place. Two Cup interlopers, Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon finished fourth and fifth behind Sadler.

Jones had come into the chase with a pre-Chase season record of four wins, the most of any Xfinity regular but he had had mixed results during the year and he was in sixth place in the points. Sadler, with two wins, was leading the regular season points tally ahead of Suárez who had just one win. Sprint Cup regular Kyle Busch had won eight Xfinity races during the pre-Chase season and two during the Chase. Of this year’s Xfinity stars, only Jones has plans to move up to Cup full time next year. He will be running as a teammate to Martin Truex in the Furniture Row team.

Suárez also won the owner points title for Joe Gibbs with the No. 19 truck.

The next race in the Xfinity Series will be the 2017 season-opener at Daytona on Saturday February 25.

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NASCAR Camping World Trucks Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway
Byron wins the race but Sauter wins the championship

Nov. 18, 2016: William Byron, Kyle Busch’s star driver in the truck series won the Homestead finale, making it his seventh win of the 2016 season but Johnny Sauter’s third-place finish was good enough to earn the series championship for him. Byron had been eliminated from the Xfinity Chase when his engine blew while he was leading at Phoenix the previous week – had he won that race, his win here at Homestead would have made him the champion. Instead, he ended up fifth in the driver points standings while Sauter goes on to the awards banquet as the champion.

Of the other three drivers still competing for the championship at Homestead, Matt Crafton ended up in seventh place, with Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters in eight and ninth behind him.

For most of the race Crafton had been the top-running Chase driver, leading twice for a total of ten laps while Sauter, who had started back in 19th place slowly worked his way forward. On the restart after the third caution – on lap 88 -- he had closed up behind Crafton in third. Crafton was in second place coming off the final restart with 20 laps to go but Sauter soon caught and passed him for position. After that Crafton faded back to finish seventh, while Sauter hung on for third, good enough to give him the title.

This was the first year of the Chase format for the truck series but, even under the previous championship formula, Sauter would have been champion – but by a single point over Byron. Byron aside, Sauter did win the most races, three, compared to Matt Crafton’s two wins and Christopher Bell’s one win.

Keselowski truck driver Tyler Reddick finished second behind Byron, while Cup interloper Kyle Larson was fourth ahead of the second Keselowski driver Daniel Hemric. Daniel Suárez, an Xfinity regular, was sixth.

John Hunter Nemechek, who won the truck race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on Labour Day, was 11th here in the finale, one place behind Cole Custer who he nudged aside to take the CTMP win.

Perhaps the Chase format is designed to completely overshadow the actual race order and results; for sure, the broadcast team took this tack showing only the Chase standings on screen for most of the final third of the race – as if the leader and the race order were of no significance. However, this was a good race in its own right with the lead changing 15 times over the 134 laps. There were four cautions, the last three all brought out by the same truck, the No. 07 of Patrick Staropoli. His second spin came only seconds before we would have seen the dreaded “caution clock” come into effect.

The Homestead venue is a difficult one to attract spectators to given its location at the entrance to the Florida Keys and its being surrounded by water on three sides. As well, the support series usually seem to have trouble getting much of a crowd when they run on the same weekend as the Cup series. No doubt the Chase concept was invented to help overcome these problems but they have not worked for the support series here – this truck race on Friday had perhaps 15 percent of the seats filled while the Xfinity race the next day wasn’t much better.

So that’s it for this year, the next truck series race will be run on the Friday of Daytona Speed Weeks, on February 24th.

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FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit
Audis bow out with a one-two finish; Porsche takes the series championship

Nov. 19, 2016: Audi went out with a bang at Bahrain. After announcing that the marque would be withdrawing from endurance racing after 18 years at the Le Mans 24-hour race, their cars finished here at Bahrain in their final WEC event. However, Porsche captured the 2016 manufacturer’s title.

The No. 8 Audi R18 driven by Lucas di Grassi/Loïc Duval/Oliver Jarvis won the race with the No. 7 sister car driven by Marcel Fässler/André Lotterer/Benoît Tréluyer was second, finishing 16 seconds behind after the six hours of the race.

The No. 1 Porsche 919 driven by Timo Bernhard/Mark Webber/Brendon Hartley finished in third place a minute back from the no. 8 Audi. But it was the No. 2 Porsche which claimed the manufacturer’s title and the drivers’ title for its drivers with a sixth place win even though it finished sixth in this race, three laps down on the race winner.

The No. 6 Toyota TS050 of Stéphane Sarrazin/Mike Conway/Kamui Kobayashi came into the race with a chance of taking the manufacturer’s title but they would have need to win the race outright. Instead they finished in fifth place just behind their Toyota teammates Anthony Davidson/Sébastien Buemi/Kazuki Nakajima in fourth, both a lap down on the leaders.

In LMP2, the No. 26 ORECA 05-Nissan of Roman Rusinov/René Rast/Alex Brundle made a charge from the back to win the class 17 laps down on the race winner and in ninth place overall. The No. 36 Alpine A460-Nissan which had already clinched the title in this class finished third in class a lap down on the class leader.

In GTE-Pro the competition was between the Aston Martins and the Ferraris. The class winner was the No. 95 Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Nicki Thiim/Marco Sørensen. Tthis was their second win this year and it secured the drivers title for them and the manufacturer’s trophy for Aston Martin. A pair of Ferrari 488 GTEs, driven by Gianmaria Bruni/James Calado and by Davide Rigon/Sam Bird were second and third in class. The Ford GTs had had their performance capability clipped by a new BoP ruling after their wins in the previous two races. The best they could do here was a fourth in class for Andy Priaulx/Harry Tincknell.

In GTE-Am, the No. 83 Ferrari F458 of François Perrodo/Emmanuel Collard/Rui Aguas won the class title with their third in class result here. The No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 of Paul Dalla Lana/Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda had been the only team close enough in the points to challenge them for the title but their title hopes were dashed when their car retired mid-race after 84 laps.

This was the final WEC endurance race for the 2016 season. The next WEC race will be the 6 Hours of Silverstone at the UK circuit on April 16th next year.

Photo credits:

NSCS: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
NXS: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
NCWTS: Jerry Markland/Getty Images
WEC: © Gabi Tomescu - AdrenalMedia.com
           

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