UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX WRAPUP

Kimi Raikkonen wins in Austin; delays Hamilton's title

Kimi Raikkonen had a big win. Chuck Flournoy

It was a gorgeous Sunday in Austin with everything looking as though it was set up perfectly for Lewis Hamilton and the Silver Arrows of Petronas Mercedes AMG. Starting Second on the grid was the number 7 car of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Ferrari had rolled the dice and placed Kimi on the Ultra Soft tires to start the race- opposite of what the rest of the top five had chosen. The gamble paid off as Kimi was able to take the lead through turn one. Lewis harassed Kimi for several laps but settled down knowing that Kimi would have to pit sooner due to his softer tires.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel who needed to stay within 7 points of Lewis to stay in the World Championship hunt, suffered a spin from 5th to 15th place after contact with Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, seemingly dashing any hopes of postponing Lewis’ 5th title.

Ricciardo’s chances of a podium finish ground to a halt as his engine failed, putting the entire grid into a Virtual Safety Car (VSC)  situation- which requires drivers to slow down and maintain gaps. The radio call to Hamilton was to do the opposite to Raikkonen- pit if he stays out, stay out if he pits. Raikkonen made a dodge towards pit lane but pulled away at the last moment as Hamilton went in for fresh tires. This caused Hamilton to lose only 9 seconds behind Raikkonen as opposed to the normal 20 due to the grid being slowed by the VSC.

Raikkonen pitted a few laps later leaving Hamilton in the lead. The race once again looked like it was Hamilton’s to lose, but the radio call from Ferrari to Raikkonen told him not to worry, Hamilton would have to pit again.  

During this action at the front Sebastian Vettel methodically made his way up to fifth place, meaning that Hamilton would have to at least finish second to win the title this day.

The prescience of Ferrari then came to pass as Hamilton’s tire blistered and he went in for fresh rubber at lap 38. When he came out he was in third place by 9 seconds and 12 from first. He quickly closed the gap leading to a furious battle between the top 3 of Raikkonen, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. On the second to last lap a slight error by Verstappen allowed Hamilton to pull alongside but brilliant defense by the Dutchman caused Hamilton to run wide thus preserving the positions. Vettel managed to pass Hamilton’s teammate Valteri Bottas into 4th place as Kimi crossed the line first.

Kimi Raikkonen scored his first victory in 113 Grand Prix to the uproarious cheers of the crowd. In so doing, he also managed to pass his Finnish countryman Mika Hakkinen into 15th on the all-time wins list. Sebastian and Ferrari live to fight another day and the championship moves on to Mexico City where now Hamilton only needs to score a further five points to win the championship regardless of any other outcomes.

 

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Keep an eye on Alex Bowman this weekend. Image via: Wiki Commons.

For the first time since July 1984, NASCAR returns to one of its most popular cities in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Super Speedway. This track is a 1 1/3rd mile concrete oval that was dormant for nearly ten years and was only used as a testing facility. So it came as a bit of a surprise last season when it was announced that this track would be getting a date. For a lot of drivers, this will be a brand new racetrack, but we will see practice and qualifying, so that will be a huge help for the newcomers that haven't raced here before. Back when the Xfinity and Trucks ran here, this track featured a lot of first time winners. Back in 2008, future NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski shocked the world by jumping in Dale Jr's car and capturing his first win here. There will be a lot of veterans like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick who have plenty of experience at this track, but it will be tough to compare. It should be fun with everyone coming into this race with minimal knowledge.

Last week, Kyle Larson continued his hot streak by winning the All-Star Race. Overall, while Larson and his Hendrick teammates probably enjoyed the race, the feedback from crews and fans was less than positive. As I was walking through the garage area and talking to a few crew members, a lot of them were very critical of the 450 horsepower motor and the tall spoiler to try and keep the cars bunched up. When I asked one of the crew-members what he thought about the package he told me, "Oh it's awful. The track is terrible, the package makes it impossible to pass and it's super hot out here." On green flag runs, it was the same as it ever was as the lead car would pretty much take off and the only time there was really any "pack racing" it came after there were restarts. The whole race was well-intentioned and the fans showed up as it was nearly a capacity crowd, but the whole thing just didn't make any sense. From the start time being in the nearly 100 degree heat to the wacky full-field invert at the end of each stage. Let's hope that next season's All-Star Race is a lot more concise.

In Silly Season news this week, Truck Series regulars GMS racing announced that they would be fielding a full-time cup series team. The team is currently owned by Allegiant Airlines CEO Maurice Gallagher and his son, Spencer, who used to drive for them in the Xfinity Series. This move seemed to come from out of nowhere as there was never any indication that this was a move they were exploring anytime soon after they turned down the opportunity to purchase Furniture Row Racing in 2019. This is certainly a great sight for the sport as there will be more new teams on the track and with their close relationship with Chevy, it wouldn't be a surprise if they step in and help this team become competitive. The favorite to drive their car has to be 2020 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Sheldon Creed. He has easily been their best driver in trucks, and it would make the most sense for him to get the promotion.

This week at Nashville, the driver that I have winning is Alex Bowman. Now while this is a brand new racetrack and he has a grand total of zero starts here, this track suits his driving style perfectly. With the inclusion of this track, there are now four tracks with a concrete surface. Nashville, Bristol, Dover and Martinsville. At the three of the tracks they have run at, he has shown a lot of speed, including a victory at Dover this season and a top ten finish at Bristol. This is also a track where crew-chief Greg Ives said Bowman has gravitated towards during testing. In an interview with Sirius XM Ives was quoted as saying "we used to have a lot of fun testing there," so this is clearly a track that they both enjoy going to. Another big factor going into Sunday will be just how fast these Hendrick Motorsports cars are, they have finished 1-2 over the last four points races. He has watched his teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have immense success, and now this week I think he is due for a third win of the season. Look for the bright purple #48 Chevy to go to victory lane this week at Nashville.

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