Problems aplenty at Bristol for several Chase hopefuls

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On Saturday night, Bristol Motor Speedway’s usual chaos contributed to yet another dramatic shift in the Race to the Chase. In hindsight, you’re tempted to say to yourself, “As if it wouldn’t.”

Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., and Ryan Newman – all of them trying to cement a spot in NASCAR’s ten-race postseason dash – suffered setbacks in the Volunteer State, as Busch was victimized by a wheel hub issue on his car and the other three were caught in a late-race crash.

Busch had started on the front row and led 54 laps early on, but his right-rear wheel came loose and he was forced to pit under green. After service, he was promptly tagged for speeding on pit road and then made contact with Josh Wise on the track that damaged his car and sent him back to the pits.

Eventually, he was forced to go behind the wall in order for his team to properly deal with the hub problem.

“We didn’t even pit yet, so we had a wheel start to vibrate loose at an odd time,” said Busch, who would make some progress and finish 31st, but fell back to 12th in the Sprint Cup standings at six points out of 10th position.

“I felt vibrations before, but we are leading the race walking the dog and our right-rear is falling off. It’s just kind of how you have to fight sometimes and overcome the obstacles that come your way.”

Even with that turn of events, Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race was playing out to be relatively cleaner than your typical 500-lap romp around the Bristol high banks. At least, until Lap 446.

On that lap, contact between Brian Vickers and Denny Hamlin caused a tire failure for the latter, who then slid up into traffic and started an eight-car incident that involved Keselowski, Truex and Newman.

Truex, who was unable to return to action and finished 35th, said he couldn’t see anything during the incident.

“They just started jamming up and I tried to follow the 29 [Kevin Harvick] through and [the hole] closed up,” he said in the TV broadcast. “We got smashed in the fence and hit a couple of times.

“…We just didn’t have enough gas at the end there and we had to pit, and once you get in the back here towards the end, they start wrecking and you’re an innocent victim.”

Truex wound up falling to 14th in the standings, but thanks to his win earlier this summer at Sonoma, he still maintains hold of a Wild Card spot despite being sidelined before the checkered flag. Newman, who finished 21st on Saturday, has managed to climb into the second Wild Card position.

As for the winless Keselowski, he’s dropped from eighth to 11th in the standings after a 30th-place result – and is now likely steeling himself for what will be a pressure-packed final two weeks of the regular season.

“If you’re not in [the Chase] right now, I don’t care if you’re running eighth or you’re running 13th, every team is worried and concerned – not just mine,” said Keselowski.

“I’m not gonna be out of the worried zone unless I make it or it’s over…We’ve tested at the next two tracks [Atlanta and Richmond] and we’re gonna be very competitive. I feel like this is gonna come down to the last lap at Richmond and I’m ready for that battle.”

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.