Martin Truex wins at Sonoma, breaks 218-race winless streak

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Having won Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, maybe NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. might start thinking about competing in the 2014 Formula One race that’s to be held in his native New Jersey.

After all, if he can conquer the 12-turn, 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma, running an F1 race in his home state might be a natural evolution.

Truex proved that road course winners do come from Joy-zee with a dominating performance in Sunday’s Sprint Cup event (led 51 of 110 laps), snapping a 218-race winless streak for the Mayetta, N.J. native.

Truex was clearly emotional when interviewed by TNT in victory lane after the race, several times brushing back tears and his voice cracking at times. It was also an early birthday present to himself: he turns 33 on June 29.

“I can’t put it into words,” Truex told TNT. “The team, they’re just phenomenal. We went 200-plus races without a win. It feels damn good.”

In seven previous starts at Sonoma, Truex’s best finish was eighth in 2011. Four of his other starts there resulted in finishes of 20th or lower, including 22nd in last year’s race.

Ironically, Truex becomes the ninth consecutive first-time road course winner at Sonoma.

It was only the second-ever Cup win for Truex, whose first win came at his “home track,” Dover International Speedway, in 2007.

Since then, the two-time Nationwide Series champion (2004 and 2005) switched teams, moving from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010.

Sunday’s win makes it two wins in a row at Sonoma for Michael Waltrip Racing. Teammate Clint Bowyer won last year’s race. It was also MWR’s first win as an organization in 2013.

In 16 races thus far this season, Truex has four top-five finishes including Sunday’s win and two other top-10 showings.

But perhaps the best news of all for Truex and his fans is that with the win, he moved back into the top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings.

There are 10 more races remaining for him to solidify his position in the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. If he does make the Chase, it would be only the third time Truex has done so in his Cup career (2007 and 2012).

“Today was just our day,” Truex said. “It was just our time and the car was flawless. We’re going to get a bunch of them now, I can tell you that.”

For his sake, let’s hope that’s the case. He said something similar about winning a bunch of races after his first win at Dover – and then it took six years before he’d get his next one.

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.