What’s happened to defending Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski?

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After a great start to the season, defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski has had nothing but struggles over much of the last nine races.

First off, after being as high as first in the standings earlier in the season, the Michigan native fell four spots, from ninth to a season-low 13th place in the rankings after finishing 33rd at Kentucky on Sunday.

Keselowski is now 145 points behind points leader Jimmie Johnson. But on the plus side, Keselowski is only 14 points out of the top 10 (teammate Joey Logano sits in that position, 131 points behind Johnson).

Keselowski began the season with a pair of third-place and two other fourth-place finishes in the first four races. But in the last nine races, starting with Richmond, he has four finishes of 30th or worse (Richmond, Darlington, Charlotte and Kentucky), three other finishes between 15th and 21st (Talladega 15th, Pocono 16th, Sonoma 21st), a 12th-place showing (Michigan) and just one top10 outing (fifth at Dover).

And let’s not forget that Keselowski has not won even one race on the Sprint Cup side this season.

By comparison, he had three wins by this point last season (including winning at Kentucky), which would stake him to an eventual series-high five wins across the entire 2012 campaign en route to his first Sprint Cup title.

While Keselowski had lots to boast about last season, there’s not been a great deal up to this point. After Sunday’s race, about the only positive thing he had to say after being clipped by Kurt Busch on Lap 47, spending over 100 laps in the garage to repair the damage on his race car, and then managing to return to the event in its latter stages was the fact he finished 33rd instead of potentially as low as 40th (which is likely where he would have wound up if it hadn’t of been for his team repairing the damage to his car).

“It is a wreck,” Keselowski said of the incident with Busch. “Wrecks happen. It takes a chain of events to get there. We had the bottom lane on two or three restarts in a row and got shuffled back a little bit. We were trying to (be) patient because it looked like we will get the whole race in before rain and there was no reason to be very aggressive. Apparently I am the only one that got that memo. It is one of those deals.

“I’m really proud of my guys and how hard they worked to get me back out. We picked up seven spots so it was definitely worth all the work. We just need to start finishing where we deserve to be.”

There’s an interesting irony to all this, though: Keselowski finished second in the trucks series race on Thursday night at Kentucky, rallied to win the Nationwide Series race on Friday, and then had such terrible luck in Sunday’s rain-delayed event.

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.