Halfway through the Chase, nothing is decided

Tony Stewart, who won the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, was 24 points back after the Chase's...

Tony Stewart, who won the 2011 Sprint Cup championship, was 24 points back after the Chase's halfway point last year. (REUTERS)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:39 PM ET

TORONTO - The NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship is now at its midway point after the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The good news in all of this is that there are only five more races left on the seemingly endless 36-race Sprint Cup 2012 schedule.

The bad news is that nothing, really, is even close to being decided.

Brad Keselowski came out of Charlotte with a seven-point lead over Jimmie Johnson and a 15-point lead over Denny Hamlin.

Lurking 28 points back is Clint Bowyer, who won for the second time in this Chase on Saturday night in the No. 15 Toyota.

For those keeping track, it would take a collapse of historic proportions for anyone behind Bowyer to overtake the top four for the championship.

It is not, however, beyond reason to suggest that Bowyer could leapfrog Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin to win it all in the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway on the third Sunday in November.

Remember, last season Tony Stewart was fifth the championship, 24 points back of leader Carl Edwards after Charlotte.

By the time the Chase got to Homestead, Stewart had made up all of that deficit and ended up tied with Edwards at the finish of the Ford 400.

His five Chase wins were the tie-breaker and Stewart claimed his third Cup crown.

The one difference is that Edwards went into the Chase with only one win over the first 26 races and he was shut out in the final 10.

This year, Keselowski has three regular-season wins and has added a pair in the Chase — at Chicago and Dover.

However, with three of the final five races on 1½-mile, or intermediate ovals, statistics favour Johnson, but throw in the short tracks at Martinsville and Phoenix, the advantage goes to Hamlin.

All of this means Keselowski cannot afford any more 11th-place finishes like Charlotte if he is going to bring Roger Penske his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

VETTEL BACK ON FORM

A month ago, almost everyone in the Formula One paddock was singing the praises of Fernando Alonso for his ability to take a less-than-perfect Ferrari F2012 to the top of the driver’s championship.

Three grands prix later there is back-to-back world champion Sebastian Vettel in his usual habitat on top of the standings for Red Bull Renault after consecutive wins at Singapore, Japan and Korea.

Now comes the final four races and the focus is on how Red Bull plans to keep Vettel in place for his third championship.

This week, Red Bull boss Christian Horner announced he would not issue team orders to Mark Webber to help Vettel with his goal.

If you believe that, there is plenty of ocean front property in Arizona waiting for you to purchase.

Watch for Webber to block Alonso at every opportunity from here on out until the final race at Interlagos in Brazil.

FINISH LINES

F-1 fans in the U.S. will have a new television network broadcasting the series in 2013. NBC Sports, which also carries the IZOD IndyCar Series and NHL hockey, among other sports, outbid current host SPEED-TV for the rights. TSN is the Canadian rights holder for F-1 and will continue to air the races live in this country ... Speaking of broadcast rights, Fox has extended its NASCAR rights through 2022 in a 2.4-billion US deal ... A milestone of sorts was passed at the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion forcing him to miss the race. It marked the first time in 33 years that an Earnhardt was not on the grid at the fall classic and the first time in 51 years a native of North Carolina has not been in the starting line-up for a Cup race ... There looks to be a major re-organization in overseas sports car racing. Just a month after North American sports car fans saw a merger of the ALMS and GrandAm series, it looks like the European-based DTM series and Japan’s Super GT series will merge in 2014 bringing Honda, Toyota and Nissan to the series that already features German powerhouses Mercedes and BMW.

RANT

A year has passed since the horrific crash at the IZOD IndyCar finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that claimed the life of England’s Dan Wheldon.

I was an eye witness to the 15-car wreck on Lap 11 at LVMS and let me say it will never be one of the highlights of my career in journalism.

On this day, however, I choose to remember Wheldon as the fun-loving, ultra-talented race car driver, husband and father who never seemed to have a bad day.

One memory, especially comes to mind.

It was in the aftermath of his second Indianapolis 500 win in 2011, when he learned even this triumph would not be enough to secure him a full-time IndyCar ride for the rest of the season.

There would be no pouting for Wheldon, though, and when it was agreed he would be the test driver for the new Dallara chassis he was as happy as if he had won the Indy 500 all over again.

It was through his efforts that the Dallara — named in the DW12 in his honour — has been a success in IndyCar.

His most precious legacy to his two sons and wife Suzie, however, will be the joy be brought to millions of fans.

INDYCAR DRIVERS HIT PETIT LE MANS

The season finale of the American Le Mans Series season goes Saturday morning at Road Atlanta with a couple of IZOD IndyCar champions on the grid.

American Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won this season’s IndyCar championship on the final day of the season at Fontana for Andretti Autosport, will jump into an SRT Viper GTSR for SRT Motorsports in the GT class with Canadian Kuno Wittmer and Germany’s Dominik Farnbacher as co-drivers for the 10-hour Petit Le Mans endurance race.

The team marks the return this season of the factory-backed SRT Viper to the ALMS.

Also in the race will be four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500-winner Dario Franchitti who will team up with his brother Marino Franchitti in the Level 5 Motorsports Prototype Challenge class car.

“We’re thrilled to have Dario and Marino Franchitti with us to close out the season,” team owner Scott Tucker said. “We’ve had a great year, and we are looking forward to another strong effort at Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans. And, having the Indy 500 champion on your side is always a plus.”

For Dario Franchitti it will be the third ALMS start of his career having an LMP2 class win at the 2007 12 Hours of Sebring with his then Andretti Green Racing teammates Bryan Herta and Tony Kanaan and a sixth place finish at the ALMS Grand Prix of Long Beach the same season.

FERRARI SIGNS MASSA TO NEW CONTRACT

After a season of speculation about whom would replace Felipe Massa in the second Formula One Ferrari next season, the team announced it decision Tuesday: It will be Felipe Massa.

Massa signed a one-year contract to be Fernando Alonso’s teammate at the Italian team’s headquarters in Maranello following a surge in his results in the past three races.

It was his podium finish in Japan last week that cemented the deal.

“I feel very strong now, to be honest,” he said. “To put everything together is really nice, so the most important thing is to go in the car and have fun.

“If you are not happy you cannot do the job.”

 


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