NASCAR points observations through 11 races

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Taking the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season in chunks, we’re now two races away from the regular season halfway mark, with nine winners from the first 11 races. Once we hit Race 13 at Dover first weekend in June, that’s the official halfway point of the regular season.

Here’s how the points, Chase-wise, shook out post-Kansas:

AND GORDON MAKES NINE

Finally, right? The way Jeff Gordon and the Alan Gustafson-led 24 team have been running to start 2014, it was only a matter of time before they finally went to victory lane. Now it’s a likely battle between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth to make it to 10 winners this year.

THE NINE ARE SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE TOP 30

Five of the nine race winners are in the top six, with Kenseth in second the lone interloper. But with Brad Keselowski 11th, Denny Hamlin 12th, Kevin Harvick 15th and Kurt Busch 28th, they wouldn’t necessarily be in Chase positions at the moment given their current standing – Busch in particular.

NEXT TO WIN? 

With the All-Star race this weekend, the next points-paying race is the Coca-Cola 600 in two weeks. It’s traditionally been a strong track for Johnson, Kenseth and Kasey Kahne, and you’d expect one of those three could break through.

THAT FREAKY MOMENT P27 IS DANICA AND P28 IS KURT BUSCH

For one week anyway, Danica Patrick is 27th in points and her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Busch is 28th. Busch has run better than he’s finished; the reverse is true for Patrick, but she posted one of her best career NASCAR races Saturday night in Kansas with a career-best seventh place finish.

ROOKIE BATTLE REMAINS TIGHT

Kyle Larson in 13th and Austin Dillon in 14th in points are separated by only 12 points, a gap that increased by seven this weekend. What was a deep rookie class in terms of numbers to start the year isn’t anywhere near these two performance-wise. The other six rookies entered fall anywhere from 29th to 39th in points, and Justin Allgaier in 29th is 108 points behind Dillon.

POINTS: Through 11 of 26 regular season 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.