Looking back at the weekend’s motor-racing action, including the controversial NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Richmond, Va.; new Cup driver Kyle Larson and Formula One’s Italian Grand Prix, five things come to mind:
1. The Chase field likely won’t be changed ... but still. NASCAR Nation is in a lather about whether Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers of Michael Waltrip Racing intentionally made self-harming moves late in Saturday’s race in Richmond to vault teammate Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase for the Cup, costing Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon spots in the title playoff. Even if NASCAR finds wrongdoing, the sanctioning body probably won’t change the 12-driver Chase field. Yet NASCAR did feel compelled to issue a statement that it’s reviewing the matter, an unusual step. That’s a signal penalties could be coming.
2. If NASCAR issues penalties, it could affect the Chase early on. Bowyer and Truex are 15 points behind top-seeded Matt Kenseth to start the Chase this Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. If NASCAR docks either Bowyer or Truex any points for the Richmond ruckus, the Michael Waltrip Racing drivers could be in a deeper hole before the 10-race playoff even gets underway. With Bowyer and Truex looking for the first Cup championship of their careers, that would be a steep price for helping a teammate.
3. The controversy won’t hurt NASCAR. The Chase format was rolled out in 2004 partly to keep the end of NASCAR’s season and its championship relevant amid the onset of the NFL season. Now, with the series and the Chase embroiled in controversy, it can only help the sport stay in the headlines. Of course, if the hugely popular Dale Earnhardt Jr. can stay near the top of the Chase standings for at least a few weeks, that won’t hurt, either.
4. Kyle Larson and Tony Stewart. The 21-year-old Larson, a versatile driver who made his mark in sprint cars and midgets before moving to stock cars, recently was tapped to drive the No. 42 Target Chevrolet next year in NASCAR’s Cup series. But he’s still driving sprints and won the World of Outlaws race Sunday in Antioch, Calif. That’s all well and good, but one couldn’t help but think about how Stewart suffering a shattered right leg in a sprint-car crash last month that ended his NASCAR season. And Jason Leffler was killed in a sprint-car race in June. Racers race, but the folks at Target can be forgiven if they’re a bit fidgety about Larson’s non-NASCAR races right now.
5. Sebastian Vettel is appears unstoppable. The German is cruising toward his fourth consecutive Formula One world championship and the Red Bull driver is only 26. His start-to-finish win in the Italian Grand Prix means Vettel has won an astonishing half of the 12 races this season, giving him a sizable 53-point lead over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the title standings with seven races remaining. Alonso summed it up: “It’s not an easy task to close down a 53-point gap in the few remaining races.” Make that a near-impossible task.