1. The NASCAR race at Phoenix didn’t solve anything. Carl Edwards, who led the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship by three points over Tony Stewart going into Phoenix, flew out of Phoenix leading the championship by three points over Tony Stewart. It will all come down to the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday.
2. World Champion Sebastien Vettel suffered a flat tire and spun out of the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi on the first lap and that was all she wrote for Lewis Hamilton, who inherited the lead and led the rest of the way.
3. World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb wrapped up his eighth consecutive championship on Friday (take that, Jimmie Johnson) and then, heading for the final stage, he collided with a car that wasn’t even in the rally.
4. Other racing results, but first . . .
Just about the only reason to continue watching Formula One races this season evaporated about 10 seconds into Sunday’s Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi when something caused pole-position winner Sebastien Vettel’s right-rear tire to lose all its air and he spun off the Yas Marina Circuit, handing second-place starter Lewis Hamilton a gift victory.
Fernando Alonso, who really earned his money this weekend by charging up from fifth on the grid to second by the end of the first lap, finished in exactly that position for Ferrari while Jenson Button, Hamilton’s McLaren-Mercedes teammate, was third.
Except for the first lap excitement, it was a largely uneventful Grand Prix. Full story and results here
Mark Webber finished fourth for Red Bull-Renault, Felipe Massa fifth for Ferrari, Nico Roseberg sixth for Mercedes, Michael Schumacher seventh for ditto, Adrien Sutil and Paul di Resta eighth and ninth for Force India, and Kamui Kobayashi tenth for Sauber.
"Way to go, boys," an elated Hamilton said over the team’s radio on the cool-down lap. "I'm glad I could do it for you. I want to dedicate this victory to my mom: happy birthday – and thanks for coming."
It was the first time Vettel hadn’t finished a race since last season at Korea, when his car suffered engine problems. It also ended a remarkable string of 19 consecutive races in which he had scored points.
So far as the tire is concerned, Pirelli, the manufacturer, said it would conduct an investigation but had no immediate theories and suggested they may never find the cause.
Vettel had won his second consecutive World Championship three races ago at Japan. Although some people have argued that F1 races continue to be worth watching because drivers are fighting for their jobs for next year and so-on, the only real reason (other than simply enjoying F1) has been to see if Vettel could match, or beat, a couple of records.
On Saturday, during qualifying, he matched Nigel Mansell’s single-season record for poles – 14 – and can beat that record in two weeks at Brazil.
(However, in 1992, Mansell won pole 14 times in just a 16-race season – pretty close to total domination in that category. Vettel now has 14 poles in 18 races, with one to go. But a record is a record and there will be keen interest in qualifying at the final race in Sao Paulo.)
The other record Vettel had a chance of equaling was Michael Schumacher’s most-wins-in-a-season – 13, set in 2004. Vettel had 11 going into Abu Dhabi and had his sights set on a tie but the flat tire put an end to that.
Hamilton has not had a good season to date, colliding not only with his own teammate (in Canada) but also several times in recent races with Felipe Massa. To say he was excited to win his third race of the season, the 17th of his career and No. 175 in the history of Team McLaren would be an understatement.
"I feel fantastic," he said. "After Sebastien went off and I got the lead (he'd been second off the line behind Vettel), it was just a matter of managing the tires and managing the gap (back to Alonso). The team did a great job on pit stops and I'm just very, very happy to be back up here.
"It was one of my best races – I said that to myself as I slowed down. I’m ecstatic, very happy to be back up here. I can get on my flight tonight and smile!"
Alonso, who’s been on the podium 10 times in 2011, agreed that he nearly caught Hamilton just before the second round of pit stops but that there had been bad luck when Ferrari called him in.
"The last pit stop, we were two seconds slower than the McLaren," he said. "We had some traffic coming into the pits, there was an HRT in front of us, but then at the end of the day it was a good fight and a good day for us. It was quite enjoyable."
Button, who’d finished third at Abu Dhabi for the third consecutive year, explained that he'd had problems with his KERS system throughout the race, losing it and then getting it back, and that had created anxiety every time he went to put on the brakes.
"Any time I went into a corner, I didn't know what I was going to get. Would the KERS help with the braking (through engine braking), or not? At the end of the day, though, I'm fairly happy."
With NASCAR wrapping up it's season next weekend in Florida, the Grand Prix of Brazil in two weeks will bring down the curtain on the 2011 racing season.
– If Williams is seriously considering hiring Kimi Raikkonen in place of Rubens Barrichello for 2012, Barrichellos’s performance Sunday might make them stop and think again. He started 23rd and finished 12th (he was nearly in the top ten) and if you don’t think that’s all that big a deal, it is.
I guarantee that anybody out of F1 for two years is not going to be able to waltz back in and be on pace. It took Michael Schumacher an entire season to get back into the groove and he’s a seven-time world champion.
Williams doesn’t have that much time to waste if it has designs of getting back into the top grouping.
Although Barrichello carried the Williams flag well, their young driver, Pastor Maldonado, had an embarrassing day. He kept getting into people’s way and that’s a no-no in F1.
Oh, by the way, both McLaren and Ferrari, who employed Raikkonen, are egging Williams on to make a deal with him. If he’s that good, who don’t one of them sign him up?
– After he dropped out, Vettel stayed with the team for the rest of the race (good) but didn’t present himself for a pit interview (bad). Racing drivers are always ready to answer questions when things go well but tend to make themselves scarce when things are not so good. They owe their popularity to their fans, who want to hear their heroes speak either way. Sebastien should know that by now.
– Social note: Pro golfer Rory McIlroy and his sweetie, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, watched the race together and broke into big grins when they saw that the cameras were on them.
Kasey Kahne won the Sprint Cup race, with Carl Edwards second and Tony Stewart third (full story, results here), but the real story of the weekend wasn’t so much the race or the Chase but the difficulty drivers had running the "new" Phoenix International Raceway.
Although there was much fanfare last spring when International Speedway Corp. announced that Phoenix would be renovated, at the end of the day they didn’t do much beyond paving the place. The basic layout is still there; they just added some banking coming out of the second turn and that is where the problem lies.
There is a yellow line that determines the lower limit of the speedway. All drivers in all races this weekend were told they couldn’t run below that yellow line, particularly in turn two.
Now, we all wonder about some of the penalties handed out by the stewards in F1, but at least they’re usually pretty consistent and it also shows that they’re on the job.
NASCAR’s drivers were cutting below that yellow line all weekend and not one of them was given a penalty, although Elliott Sadler put himself out of the Nationwide Series championship on Saturday by getting a big run down the backstretch courtesy of cutting below that line and causing a great big wreck.
Now, in true NASCAR fashion, Sadler blamed Jason Leffler, who hit him, for the accident. It’s always the other guy, have you noticed? And Leffler, good soldier that he is, accepted the blame.
But I don’t know what either was taking about.
Sadler went below the line and re-entered the race track (yes, he was out of bounds) halfway down the backstretch. He arrived, out of nowhere, right in front of Leffler. Is Leffler supposed to slow down? Hit the brakes? Of course not.
Sadler was offf the race track and had no business cutting up in front of Leffler like that and NASCAR should have disciplined him for it. That, at least, would have sent a message to the Sprint Cup drivers on Sunday that you can’t do that.
Which NASCAR didn’t do and the Sprint Cup drivers were pulling that little stunt all afternoon.
Anyway, Kahne’s victory Sunday was a big boost for the Red Bull racing team, which will be out of business after next weekend unless somebody buys it (Jacques Villeneuve, perhaps?).
Other than the good-news story of Kahne’s win, and the Chase story of Edwards and Stewart arriving three points apart and leaving three points apart, the race was routine.
– While Kasey Kahne was winning the race, his teammate, Brian Vickers, continued running into just about everybody else on the speedway, and notably Matt Kenseth. Observers are saying that if Vickers wants a ride next season, he should be behaving himself and showing prospective employers what a good driver he is.
I suggest Vickers knows his career is over and so he’s taking the remaining races to settle any and all scores he might have in his payback file.
– Ex-IndyCar driver and Indy 500 champion Sam Hornish won his first career NASCAR race on Saturday when he finished first in the Nationwide contest. He was a little excited.
It’s interesting that Hornish also won his first Indy car race at Phoenix. And both times, he drove a yellow car.
Team owner Roger Penske said he was thrilled for Sam and that his plan now is for Hornish to run a full Nationwide schedule in 2012 and to try for the championship. Nice. But does that mean Brad Keselowski won’t be in a Penske Nationwide car?
– Kyle Busch is the new Danica Patrick. NASCAR and its television partners always seem to key in on an individual to the detriment of others and to the irritation of fans. It used to be all Danica, Danica, Danica. Now it’s all Kyle, Kyle, Kyle. Will Danica make a comeback in 2012? Stay tuned.
– Sebastien Loeb won his eighth World Rally Championship on Friday, then was driving to the 19th stage of the Wales Rally GB when he collided with a rental car being driven by two fans who were going to the same place.
Nobody was injured in the crash but Loeb’s Citroen had radiator damage and so he couldn’t continue.
"We are world champion so no problems," said Loeb. "I moved to the side (of the road) but we are in (Wales) and he is not (Welsh), so he went on the wrong side and we crashed."
– In the NHRA finals at Pamona, Calif., Matt Hagan won the Funny Car title (after disposing of Jack Beckman, Cruz Pedregon and Robert Hight) while Del Worsham came out on top in Top Fuel, defeating Spencer Massey first and then Tony Schumacher. Both victories were worth $500,000.
Funny Car driver Melanie Troxel had a close call in eliminations. She’d finished her pass against Pedregon and shut everything down and popped the chute when the engine somehow re-started and her car crashed through a fence and into the side of a trailed in the paddock.
Nobody, including Melanie, was hurt.
She told John Oreovicz of ESPN that, "I've never had anything like that happen before. The fuel was off, the ignition was off, but I know it can happen with the motor turning over with the clutch welded like that. You're turning the cylinders over but I wouldn't have thought there was enough fuel in the cylinders to do that.
"Once it fired up, I really didn't have very many options about where to go. I could have hit race cars and tow vehicles, or a fence and whatever was on the other side. I just got lucky there were no racers or no fans on the other side of that. I just hate that someone else's equipment got torn up. That's a terrible feeling but the good news is nobody got hurt."