‘Dega winner McMurray leads wave of non-Chase drivers

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Jamie McMurray, who won today at Talladega Superspeedway, is not among those racing for the championship in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. But in a race that was labeled going in as the most critical event for those in post-season contention, McMurray and a group of non-Chase drivers stood up and mixed it up toward the front.

When the checkered flag fell in the Camping World RV Sales 500, six of the Top 10 finishers were not Chasers – McMurray, third-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr., fourth-place Paul Menard, sixth-place David Ragan (the winner this past May at ‘Dega), seventh-place David Gilliland, and eighth-place Martin Truex, Jr.

For rookie driver Stenhouse, today’s race marked the best result so far in his Sprint Cup career and continued what has been a noticeable improvement recently in his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team’s competitiveness.

“We struggled throughout the first half of the season, definitely more than I thought we should or definitely more than we wanted to,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot. I think we’re getting better as a team, and I’m learning a little bit more about what we need to do from practice to the race to make our car still fast throughout the race.  It’s been fun the last month or so, and we just need to keep it going.”

Menard was right behind Stenhouse in the final laps after running toward the Top 10 for much of the race. He was hoping a bottom line would eventually materialize to challenge the single-file pack of leaders on the high groove, but it never came through.

“My plan was to wait for somebody else to go to the bottom first and keeping track of where the 20 [Matt Kenseth], the 22 [Joey Logano] and those guys were, and I’d try to pull in front of them when they got to me,” Menard said about his plan.

“I wasn’t going to be the first guy to do that because I’ve done that before and been shuffled out pretty quick.  I was going to wait for somebody else to make the move first and try to piggy-back on.”

The Front Row Motorsports duo of Ragan and Gilliland, who finished first and second respectively at ‘Dega in the spring, weren’t quite able to duplicate their feat this afternoon. But a pair of Top-10s were still good results for the tandem, which will be returning to FRM next season.

Finally, Truex – who has been the subject of recent reports that link him to Furniture Row Racing’s No. 78 machine for next season – was able to pick up his second Top-10 finish in the last five races.

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.