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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Unexpected Racing Champions

ONE: An Unexpected Champion

What a huge weekend for Brad Keselowski. He won at Darlington Raceway, in both series, for the first time (and for the first time since 1975 for Penske) but the real question is can he turn this into some much needed momentum for the stretch run?

“Moments like today are just so refreshing,” said Keselowski of his win. “They recharge your batteries so much because the season is such a death march, especially when things aren’t going well, and this is a complete battery recharge for myself and for our team. It makes going to the racetrack fun knowing that you’ve won and you can win.”

And Keselowski is a driver who can parlay a hot streak into significant results. He did just that in 2012 on the way to his first (and to date only) Cup championship. Could he challenge NASCAR’s Big Three for the title this season?

Let’s not forget, either, the case of Tony Stewart in 2011 when he basically said he didn’t deserve to even make the playoffs after a winless regular season. Five wins in ten races later and he was the champion. So if anyone outside of Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Busch is going to get it done, Keselowski might just be the driver. He’ll be one to keep an eye on as the playoffs get under way, that’s for sure.

TWO: IndyCar Finale

Following IndyCar’s first visit to Portland International Raceway since 2007, it comes down to one final race at Sonoma Raceway to determine who will win the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series crown. And unless there is a very strange set of results to somehow give either Will Power or Josef Newgarden (both -87 points) a ridiculously unlikely way back in, the championship comes down to two drivers: Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi. The wily Kiwi veteran, Dixon, already has four titles to his credit and he will be seeking a record fifth title (2003, 2008, 2013, 2015) while American Rossi is seeking his first IndyCar title in just his third full season. Sonoma, incidentally, will be just his 50th open wheel career race.

And after three straight season finales at Sonoma, this will be the fourth and final time before the wine country circuit loses its spot on the schedule to Laguna Seca in 2019. This time last year (and indeed in 2016) it was Simon Pagenaud who won the race but notably in 2017 we went caution free from green to checkers. In 2016, we saw just one caution for three laps while in 2015 we saw four for 14 laps. All that is to say, don’t expect many yellow flags this Sunday in what is likely to be a compelling battle between the veteran and young pretender. I’ve said it all year so I’ll say it one more time – if you’re not watching IndyCar, give it a try.

THREE: Huge Win for Hamilton

Just seven races remain on the 21-race 2018 Formula One schedule and it was an excellent race day for Lewis Hamilton at Monza last weekend. Over the past couple races, Ferrari have looked to be the faster car but this past Sunday it was the reigning champion who got it done after a first lap spin for Sebastian Vettel following contact with (yes, you’ve guessed it) Hamilton. All season long, we’ve seen a back-and-forth tug-of-war style battle with Hamilton accounting for 6 wins and Vettel five making it 11 wins out of 14 between the top two drivers.

“We know we have to work even harder than they are to close the gap or to make sure we deliver results like this more often,” said Hamilton. “Today could have easily been the other way round, we could have lost a lot of ground.” As things stand, the British driver is 30 points ahead and has more than a full race lead but given the recent speed from Ferrari, this battle is far from over.

“There’s still seven races to go and there’s still loads of points,” noted Hamilton. “and trust me we are not being complacent at all.”

FOUR: Next Up, The Brickyard

Next up for the final race of the regular season, we head to arguably the most famous track in all of motorsports: Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This will be a milestone quarter century of races at IMS with the streak stretching back to the inaugural event in 1994; it was a race won by Jeff Gordon, just the second victory of his career at the time.

This time last year, Kasey Kahne won a morale-boosting victory, the 17th and likely final win of a 15-year career that will end (at least at the Cup level) in 11 races time. Sunday’s 400-miler will also mark the first time that the Brickyard has held the pre-playoff cutoff event. Given the lack of luster associated with this race in the past 10 years or so, it will be interesting to see if the schedule change has a positive impact on the crowd or if we’ll see a sparse spattering of fans amidst the Brickyard’s wide swathe of seats.

We’ll likely see no real playoff drama so is this another week where Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex dominate – much as they have the rest of the year? Or will there be another Kasey Kahne-esque surprise? As always, there’s only one way to find out.

FIVE: What’s your Job?

And finally this week, there is a truckload of NASCAR content produced each day to satiate the voracious appetites of perhaps the most plugged-in fanbase in all of sports. And let’s be fair… much of it is pretty blasé. But I did really enjoy this one below when some of the drivers answer what they say when they’re asked what they do for work. Shout out to “forklift driver” Martin Truex Jr, in particular.

There are some fun answers in here and it’s always interesting to see a different side of the drivers away from their “day” job. Hope you enjoy it.

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