My racing weekend could be summed up by one sentence: I didn’t see that coming.
Denny Hamlin surrendering a padded lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in the final laps at Phoenix due to bad fuel mileage? I didn’t see that coming. Sebastian Vettel becoming just the second driver in Formula One history to rally from third in the standings to the World Championship in the final race of the season? I didn’t see that coming.
It was one of those weekends why we dig this sport. The unexpected happened, which is one of the most appealing aspects of motor racing.
Here are the facts after the Kobalt Tools 500 Sunday at Phoenix: Hamlin leads four-time reigning champion Jimmie Johnson by 15 points entering the season finale this Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. 2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick is third, 46 points behind. It’s the closest three-way Chase with one race remaining.
Now to the opinions. It might be a good idea for Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Ford, to keep a low profile heading into South Florida this week. Ford crowed after the Texas race Nov. 7 that crew chief Chad Knaus may have lost a fifth consecutive title for Johnson by essentially firing Johnson’s crew mid-race and replacing it with the crew of Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon.
Karma bites, Mike. Johnson finished fifth at Phoenix after he went the distance on fuel. Hamlin scrambled to finish 12th, despite leading most of the race, after pitting for a splash of fuel late in the race. Knaus calculated the gas gamble correctly; Ford didn’t gamble and lost.
The end result was that Hamlin is rattled. He ripped his team after the race by saying, “Like I said, I did my job.” Not exactly a rousing vote of confidence or rallying of the beleaguered troops by a wise veteran. More of the impetuous Denny we thought had grown up. And at just the wrong time.
Johnson has Hamlin on the ropes, and he’s talking a bit of the smack of a man who knows it.
Hamlin pledges a pedal-to-the-metal approach at Homestead. He’s going to need it, as there are only two guaranteed routes to the championship for him, either winning the race or finishing second and leading the most laps.
My money still remains on Johnson to hoist the Cup for the fifth straight year. Who is your pick, and why?
One final observation about the 2010 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. One race left, three drivers still much more than just mathematically eligible for the title. Taylor Swift may like “Change,” but are you sure you still want to change the Chase format for 2011, Brian France?
Formula One’s twist in the tail at Abu Dhabi was even more dramatic than NASCAR’s in Phoenix. Vettel entered the season finale in third place, 15 points behind leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
But Vettel, 23, became the youngest F1 World Champion in history by winning the race while Alonso finished seventh. Vettel’s Red Bull teammate, Mark Webber, entered this race just eight points behind Alonso but saw his first world title slip through his grasp after finishing eighth.
Ferrari ruined any chance Alonso had of winning the world title by calling Alonso into the pits while running fourth on Lap 14, two laps after Webber. The strategy completely backfired, and since most overtaking in Formula One is done in the pits rather than on the track, Alonso got the shaft.
Alonso’s reaction was diplomatic, but the response in Italy was not so kind. In a sign of just how important Ferrari and motor racing are in Italy, government ministers called for the resignation of Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo due to Ferrari’s flawed strategy with Alonso.
The IndyCar world still is buoyant over the announcement Nov. 12 that Chevrolet would return to the series as an engine manufacturer starting in 2012. But Paul Dalbey at More Front Wing insists the hard work is just beginning for the series after this momentous victory of Chevy’s return.
And Tony Johns at Pop Off Valve wondered aloud if Fiat will join Honda and Chevrolet as an IZOD IndyCar Series engine manufacturer.
The engines of MotoGP are quiet after the season-ending Valencia Grand Prix on Nov. 7 and two days of 2011 testing last week at Valencia. But the series medical report still makes news, with two Red Bull Indianapolis GP winners at the center.
2008 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Valentino Rossi underwent surgery today to repair a shoulder damaged in April in a motocross training accident. Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Rossi suffered a compound fracture of his lower leg in a practice crash in June, but his shoulder bothered him more during the second half of the season than his leg.
2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa will not require further surgery to repair the collarbone broken in a crash in early October at Japan, ending his hopes of catching eventual World Champion Jorge Lorenzo in the standings.