Weekend wrapup (cont.)
IT'S GETTING TIGHT IN FORMULA ONE
Lewis Hamilton's lead over Felipe Massa is down to just five points after Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix after Massa was moved up to seventh-place because of a post-race penalty to Sebastien Bourdais.
The race stewards judged Bourdais was at fault when his car made contact with Massa as Bourdais exited the pit-lane. The Ferrari driver served a drive-through penalty for earlier causing Hamilton to spin.
Hamilton said he committed an error after losing his pole position to fellow front-row starter Kimi Raikkonen while indicating that he was not happy that Massa was not punished more heavily.
"You can always look back and wish you did something else," Hamilton said afterwards. "I made a mistake and I paid for it. This sort of thing happens: you've just got to keep your head up and keep going.
"We [he and Massa] both got the same penalty, but I didn't hit anyone and he did. I guess that's just the name of the game."
Before learning of Massa's second point being awarded because of Bourdais's penalty, Hamilton was hopeful it wouldn't have an impact on the battle for the World Championship.
"I don't think it makes any difference," Hamilton said. "I lost one point today, which I guess is damage limitation, and we'll move on to next week.
"We will still be just as competitive, and we're going to make sure we win the last two races - not at any cost, but we plan on winning."
The final rounds are set for China and Brazil, with the next race in Shanghai on Sunday.
Meantime, Fernando Alonso said he will do what he can to help Ferrari's Massa beat Hamilton for the title after Alonso won the last two grand prixs for Renault, including Sunday at Japan.
"Yes, without doubt; if I can help, I will help Massa," said Alonso, a two-time world champion from Spain.
Alonso would love to pay back Hamilton after last year, when the two were at McLaren, where the relationship was so bad they stopped speaking to each other midway through the season.
Alonso now has scored more points (35) than any other driver in the six races since the German Grand Prix in July. Hamilton has 26 and Massa 25 in the same period.
"We are now maybe just behind Ferrari and McLaren and this is completely amazing," Alonso said.
When told that Hamilton had been issued a drive through penalty in the race, Alonso got a bit of delight in his misfortune.
"I agree," Alonso said. "I don't know what he did but it's good he's punished anyway."
When it comes to acrimony, Formula One is the best. These guys hate each other so bad it makes Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick look like best friends.
SPEED SLOWED BY ROAD RAGE
If Scott Speed expects to make it in Sprint Cup next season, the former Formula One driver needs to control his road rage.
Speed was involved in an ugly incident at Toledo Speedway Sunday in the season-ending ARCA RE/MAX Hantz Group 200 with fellow title contender Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Speed had earlier been turned into the wall by Stenhouse and decided to get his revenge while throwing away the ARCA championship at the same time.
Speed had entered the race with a 90-point lead over Stenhouse and had the ARCA title all but locked up. After pitting for repairs from the first incident, Speed dropped to the rear of the field and waited for Stenhouse, a Roush Fenway Racing development driver on the restart. He made a sharp right turn and put Stenhouse's Ford into the Turn 1 wall. Speed's Toyota bounced back to the inside wall in a mangled heap.
ARCA officials parked Speed for the remainder of the race and Justin Allgaier become the ARCA champion after winning the race.
Speed was already on probation in ARCA for several incidents earlier this season.
Speed, who will attempt to qualify at Martinsville next weekend in Sprint Cup for Team Red Bull, took refuge in an ambulance in the track's infield following the crash and was later transported to an area hospital complaining of a headache. Stenhouse finished 25th and Speed was 34th.
"I kind of expected the retaliation," Stenhouse said. "Scott is a good race-car driver, but he doesn't have his head on properly. He got into me at the second Salem race of the year -- and he's run over just about everybody this season. It's a disappointing way to end the year."
Speed finished third in the ARCA standings after throwing away a championship.
"He was on my bumper and he pushed me flat out until I hit the wall," he told Speed Channel. "And then the car was undrivable. It was so bad from hitting the wall. I couldn't do anything with it. He started it ... he ain't going to win this championship with that attitude. Honestly, it's just ARCA, that's just how it is."
Speed has a lot to learn. It's one thing for Harvick and Edwards to have a shoving match in the garage area, but for Speed to make an intentional move on the race track is not only dangerous, but just plain dumb.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"I'm so frustrated with that. It's unbelievable how good my car drove out in front. It was on rails. And it was like having the best car, and then like having the worst car, when I was five or six cars back. That's just going to come down to track position and I think Jeff Burton and those guys played a great race. They had a great car and they won the race. Hats off to them. But I was really frustrated with that."
-- Jeff Gordon after finishing eighth at Lowe's Motor Speedway Saturday night.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK, THE MINI-SERIES
"Well, I feel like the rule is pretty clear. You don't go below it. You don't race below it. I feel like it is unclear as to what is exactly being forced below it. In my opinion, the No. 01 (Regan Smith) was forced below the line. The two didn't make contact. He was on the inside of Tony (Stewart) and he had no other choice than to move away from Tony and that sends him below the line. In my opinion, the No. 01 wins the race.
"I feel like Tony did what he had to do. In the car, everyone would have done what Tony did. Everyone would have done what the No. 01 did. Neither one of them were wrong or right. What's curious is when are you forced? Show me some video. I want to know what's forced and what's not. I feel like that was being forced. He can't sit there and hold his line, he's going to wreck Tony and probably wreck himself. That's ridiculous to expect someone to be that bullheaded about a situation like that and put everyone in jeopardy just to not be accused of passing below the line. I don't think he went down there, he didn't pull down there and then go by Tony. He was forced down there.
"That wasn't his choice. He made a great move to go high and fake Tony high. He went underneath Tony when there was enough room for his car to be there and race, and Tony came down and forced him under the line. And so if that's not being forced, and what I don't understand is that everyone that saw it didn't ask the same question. How is that not being forced?"
-- Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s vehement support that Regan Smith was the rightful winner at Talladega Superspeedway.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK III
"I feel really good. I would have felt better if we would have won tonight and been about 30 points back or 40, but we're not going to give up."
-- Greg Biffle, who is third in points, 86 behind the leader after finishing seventh Saturday night.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK IV
I'd rather have the lead. The only reason you wouldn't want the lead is because you're messing yourself up in your head. If somebody give us a hundred points a day, I'd take 'em. Having a hundred points ain't going to make us run poorly at Martinsville. That's not going to determine our level of success. We're going to do that. There's going to be some things that happen to every team that you can't control. But the things that we can control, we set that destiny, not the points that we have. We're just having fun. We're paying attention to us. We're not going to get caught up in the point thing. We're paying attention to it, but we're not going to get caught up in it. If we don't win the championship, our year's not a failure. We weren't one of the teams that set the bar up there. We're just laying it out there, having a good time."
-- Jeff Burton on being second in the Chase, 69 points out after winning Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
INDY LIGHTS CHAMP GETS UPGRADE TO INDYCAR
Raphael Matos has been successful in every form of racing he has competed in, winning nine championships in 11 seasons throughout his career. The 2007 Firestone Indy Lights Champion hopes to add an IndyCar Series title to that list in the future after he was named the driver at Luczo Dragon Racing last week.
The team is co-owned by Jay Penske and Steve Luczo and ran a limited six-race schedule in 2008 with Tomas Scheckter as the driver. Scheckter qualified in the top 10 three times and was in contention for a top-five finish in the Indianapolis 500 before a broken drive shaft knocked the team out with 44 laps remaining. As the team prepares for an 18-race schedule in 2009, Penske decided to change drivers.
What is important about Matos getting this ride over some more established veteran drivers is the Indy Lights series needs to form a logical path into the IndyCar Series. Indy Lights is the developmental series for IndyCar, but in past seasons success in Indy Lights did not equate into a full-time IndyCar ride.
In 2007, Alex Lloyd of England dominated the series and won the championship. He was signed as a developmental driver for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing but competed in just one race -- the Indianapolis 500 -- in 2008. Hideki Mutoh successfully moved up from Indy Lights to IndyCar in 2008, winning the Bombardier Rookie of the Year title for Andretti Green Racing. Matos hopes to accomplish that in 2009 for Luczo Dragon.
"It is important for the League to have the Indy Lights champion placed with an IndyCar team," Matos said. "The main reason you do the Indy Lights series is because you want to be in an IndyCar someday. If you don't get an IndyCar ride it doesn't make much sense to be in Indy Lights."
Penske, the youngest son of legendary team owner Roger Penske, believes Matos is a driver who can win IndyCar races in his rookie season and is capable of winning a championship in the next couple of years.
Also, while Luczo Dragon will enter the season as a one-car team, Penske is open to adding a second car to the 93rd Indianapolis 500. "We have to do it with a partner to get it done effectively, but we are considering it," Penske admitted. "We are looking for somebody who has experience at the Indy 500 that can provide additional value. We need additional sponsorship to do it but it would be a good step for Luczo Dragon Racing if we can work that out."
What I'm Looking Forward to This Weekend
A trip to Martinsville Speedway means the last "drive to a race" of the season. Located 110 miles from my front door, Martinsville gives me a chance to drive up on Friday and drive home on Friday night. After skipping Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, the return trip comes Sunday morning for 500 laps around the paper-clip shaped short track -- a quaint little track nestled away in the Brushy Mountains of southern Virginia.