Although Saturday night's NASCAR race in Richmond is expected to be the most important race of the weekend because it will determine the lineup for the Chase for the Championship, the Formula One circus is at Monza for the Italian Grand Prix and, as they say, there is news.
Lewis Hamilton, rumored to be leaving McLaren-Mercedes to drive for Mercedes in 2013, was fastest in second practice (1:25:290) and edged teammate Jenson Button by .038 seconds.
Ferrari teammates Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were third and fourth quickest, followed by Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes. They were followed by Kimi Raikkonen, Paul Di Resta, Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez and Michael Schumacher.
Red Bull's Mark Webber was 11th fastest; World Champion Sebastian Vettel was 13th.
Schumacher drove his Mercedes to fastest time in first practice today. Although he didn't start from pole because of a penalty, Schumacher set fastest time at Monaco in May, so there's definitely life in the veteran yet and the rumour mill (a.k.a. Twitter) is already in overdrive with speculation that he will replace Massa at Ferrari in 2013 with his place at Mercedes going to - as mentioned above - Hamilton.
Sunday's Italian Grand Prix (TSN, 7:55 a.m.) is the 13th of 20 events on the 2012 Formula One calendar. Alonso leads the standings by 24 points over Vettel and 32 over Webber. Raikkonen and Hamilton complete the top five.
Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond could turn out to be a lot more exciting than just about any other race this season because of the importance of the result to so many of the competitors.
The Federated Auto Parts 400 is the last race of NASCAR’s “regular season" — the 26th race of the 36-race season. The remaining 10 races will make up the Chase for the Championship, which will be a 10-race shootout between the Top Ten drivers in points plus two “wild card” drivers whose seasons haven’t perhaps been as consistent as those up front but who have wins to their credit.
At the end of the Chase, because of the process of elimination, the final race for the title could come down to two or maybe three drivers, as has been the pattern in the past.
But Saturday night’s race at Richmond will decide the fate of as many as eight drivers, so if you only watch one NASCAR race a year, I suggest this be it.
Here are the names of the eight drivers in contention:
Tony Stewart is the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and he currently holds down tenth place in the standings. He won’t drop out of the playoffs if Richmond turns out to be a disaster — like if he crashes out on the first lap, or something calamitous like that — but his hold on tenth is precarious and he would have to depend on being a wild card to make the Chase. Having said that, he’s won at Richmond three times previously, so he knows his way around.
Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon are close to the Top Ten and any one of them could slide into tenth place in the points with a good result — if Stewart should happen to screw up. Kahne and Busch are currently wild car drivers but that could change once the race starts.
Meantime, Ryan Newman (who surprisingly signed a new contract for 2013 with Stewart-Haas Racing Thursday), Joey Logano, Marcos Ambrose, Paul Menard and Carl Edwards are also mathematically in the hunt but they will only get in "if" — and there are a thousand “ifs.”
For instance, here is the scenario required for Menard to make it:
He has to win AND Busch has to finish 34th or worse (with no laps led) AND Gordon has to finish 22nd or worst (with no laps led). If Busch or Gordon bumps Stewart out of the top ten, that will eliminate Menard.
So, although those last five drivers might squeeze in, it’s highly unlikely and, in the end, one of Kahne, Busch or Gordon will probably be eliminated and join the rest on the sidelines.
Having said that, Richmond is a short track race and anything can happen.
See what I mean when I say it will be an exciting race?
See George's TV Listings for Race Fans on this site for practice/qualifying/race times and channel(s).
When I said it was a surprise that Ryan Newman had re-signed with Stewart-Haas for 2013, it’s because that team is short of sponsorship at this point. Office Depot won’t be on Tony Stewart’s car in 2013 and the U.S. Army has not re-upped to back Newman’s car.
The only fully sponsored Stewart-Haas Cup car for next year is Danica Patrick’s and she has the support of Go Daddy. Perhaps there's a deal in place with Go Daddy, or else Stewart has already got new sponsorship and is just waiting for the opportune moment to make the announcement(s).