Brad Keselowski

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.

With Hamilton non-score, Rosberg could win maiden F1 title this weekend in Mexico

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates finishing in second during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg will venture to Mexico for this weekend’s grand prix knowing that he could be crowned Formula 1 world champion for the first time on Sunday.

Rosberg has long insisted that he is taking his bid for the drivers’ championship ‘one race at a time’, and after finishing second to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the United States Grand Prix, he is one step closer to a maiden crown.

Rosberg arrived in Austin, Texas with a 33-point lead in the drivers’ championship, meaning he could afford to finish second (and even third once) in the remaining four races and still win the title.

Rosberg battled back from a poor start to finish second at the Circuit of The Americas, meaning his lead now stands at 26 points with three races to go.

Mathematically, it means that Rosberg can in fact win the championship in Mexico this weekend, but only if he wins and Hamilton retires or finishes outside of the points.

Should Hamilton not score and Rosberg win, his lead would rise to 51 points with 50 remaining from the races following Mexico in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg has only been in a position to clinch the championship once before in his F1 career: the 2014 season finale in Abu Dhabi, where he lost out to Hamilton.

Naturally, Rosberg’s main aim in Mexico will simply be beating Hamilton on-track, having been left frustrated after failing to do so in Austin.

“I just feel that it’s a pity that it didn’t work out with a win this weekend,” Rosberg said.

“I was going for that. It would have been awesome here in America but it didn’t work out.

“Lewis did a great job this weekend, all the way through, qualifying and race so it just wasn’t to be.

“I’ll live with second place now and next race is another great opportunity.”

Sainz stars with charge to P6 at COTA, enjoys late battle with childhood hero Alonso

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo leads Felipe Massa of Brazil driving the (19) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW38 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Carlos Sainz Jr. produced one of the stand-out displays in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas to finish sixth, matching his best result of the 2016 Formula 1 season so far.

Sainz qualified 10th for Toro Rosso on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas, but rose up to P8 in the early stages after Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas dropped back due to contact.

Sainz managed to jump Felipe Massa at the second round of pit stops to run seventh before Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen retired, handing the Spaniard fifth.

After seeing off pressure from Massa, Sainz went wheel-to-wheel with his childhood racing hero, Fernando Alonso, in the final two laps, but was unable to keep the McLaren driver back.

Nevertheless, Sainz was delighted to finish sixth, particularly when Toro Rosso predicted he would finish outside of the points.

“I think we put on everything we could do. Our predictions were P12 or P13 because [we were] starting on super-softs,” Sainz told NBCSN.

“But we made it last, close to Williiams, on softs, created a good gap to Fernando. We got a bit lucky with the safety car. Suddenly we were ahead of Williams and McLaren. With softs it would be difficult.

“We committed to go to the end. I did all I could until the end. I just had to hold on to it!”

Sainz’s result was made all the more impressive by the fact he was racing with a year-old Ferrari power unit that had been significantly outdeveloped by the rest of the grid.

“You cannot mind. The team and I are evident with how Fernando passed me – it was evidence was the second worst engine overtook us like they were the best one!” Sainz said.

“To hold onto P6 here, after this weekend, with the long straights was just amazing.”

The result matches Sainz’s sixth-place finish at the Spanish Grand Prix in May as his best of the 2016 season.

Lewis Hamilton ‘petrified’ of car failure throughout USGP

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win on the podium during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton felt “petrified” of suffering a car failure during Sunday’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas amid memories of his Malaysia heartbreak.

Hamilton’s hopes of winning a fourth Formula 1 championship in 2016 were dented in Malaysia earlier this month when his engine failed while leading the race by 20 seconds.

Hamilton arrived in Austin 33 points behind Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship, having not won a race since the end of July.

Hamilton scored pole on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas before a good start in Sunday’s race saw him surge clear early on.

Despite coming under light pressure from Daniel Ricciardo at the beginning and Rosberg in the closing stages, Hamilton remained in control to pick up his fifth USGP victory.

“This one feels great. I feel super chilled right now,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“It’s not an ecstatic feeling; it’s more mellow and relieved the car made it.”

With the memory of his retirement in Malaysia still in his mind, Hamilton was wary of another issue on his car rearing its head in Austin.

“The whole race I was petrified the car wouldn’t make it. I was dreaded by the sound I heard in Malaysia,” Hamilton said.

“Lose power, or a gear, or gearbox or something. It was weighing on me the whole race. It’s the longest afternoon but we got the job done.”

Hamilton cut Rosberg’s lead in the drivers’ championship to 26 points, but would not be assured the title even if he won the remaining three races of the season. Rosberg can be assured of the title with two seconds places and a third.

However, Hamilton isn’t dwelling on the points permutations: “I just want my car to keep going! But I need to do the job. I can’t control what happens with these guys. This is a relatively easy feat. Staying ahead and winning races is my target.”

Brembo cites disc issue for Gutierrez’s USGP retirement

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – Esteban Gutierrez felt a brake issue was the primary culprit for his retirement on Lap 17 from Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, and Brembo has confirmed this was likely a disc issue.

Brembo released a statement regarding the retirement:

“In relation to what happened to the driver Esteban Gutierrez of Haas F1 Team during the United States Formula One Grand Prix, Brembo regrets that the withdrawal of the driver at the end of lap 17 was caused by a possible issue connected to the braking system.

“After a first analysis of our technicians present at Austin, it would seem that in correspondence with the front left wheel a problem in the dragging area of the disc has been identified.

“It will be Brembo’s responsibility to carefully investigate, in collaboration with the team, the causes that led to the technical issue.”

Haas has had a number of brake-related issues this year, but team owner Gene Haas reiterated a commitment to Brembo over the weekend.

Gutierrez told NBCSN’s Will Buxton after the race he thought for sure it was a brake failure.

“Yes, it was,” the Mexican said in the immediate aftermath. “We think one of the discs broke. Not what we wanted for a race weekend. Not easy to accept either. Difficult start of the weekend and it was not going to be easy. We went on. We did a great qualifying, optimizing what we had. We pushed to the maximum. We got into the top 10 the first few laps. Aggressive strategy. At some point lost the brakes. Fortunately didn’t run into the barrier (in Turn 11).

“It’s very disappointing but we have to continue focusing on the positives. I want to thank everyone for the enthusiasm and support all weekend. I’m sorry for all of you who were here to support us and ensure we are doing our best.”

Gutierrez’s teammate, Romain Grosjean, got a point on Haas F1’s home soil with 10th place.

A Brembo carbon brake. Photo courtesy Brembo
A Brembo carbon brake. Photo courtesy Brembo

Coincidentally, I guess, I caught up with Brembo F1 brake engineer Andrea Pellegrini earlier this weekend on Friday, who explained that Circuit of The Americas is a low-energy braking circuit, and only requires more braking capability than Silverstone, Spa, Suzuka and Interlagos.

He explained the initial temperature of the carbon brakes is about 400-450 degrees Celsius, with a peak temperature of over 1,000 degrees.

“You don’t want it too high to avoid the wear, and not too low, because it’s complicated. There’s initial bite and friction. Every disk has a special cooling dedicated to different circuits. Austin is a medium circuit in energy for the brakes,” he told NBC Sports.

A list of more information from Brembo is linked here.