Nico Rosberg has never looked weaker in this F1 title fight

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Nico Rosberg has seen his fortunes take a dramatic turn for the worse over the past four months. After winning the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in July, he seemed to be on top of the world and well in the fight for his maiden F1 world championship. Since then though, he has grown increasingly weak, and is now staring down the barrel of a huge defeat to Lewis Hamilton at the top of the standings.

Rosberg’s win at Hockenheim capped off something of a perfect 10-day period. In that time, he had got married, seen Germany win the FIFA World Cup, signed a new long-term deal with Mercedes and scored pole position on home soil. By winning his home race, he had increased his championship lead to 14 points and appeared to have Hamilton under the thumb.

Yet Lewis has since found his feet after a difficult run of bad luck. Ever since the Belgian Grand Prix that saw the two drivers clash out on track, Hamilton has been in fine fettle, with Rosberg left reeling. He may have 10 second-place finishes in 2014, but Lewis has 10 wins – that’s a 70 point difference just there.

Let’s see how attentive you have been this season. Two questions:

1. When has Lewis Hamilton fought back and passed Nico Rosberg for a race win this season?

2. When has Nico Rosberg fought back and passed Lewis Hamilton for a race win this season?

Starting with question one, the answer is on three occasions: Italy, Japan and Austin. At each of those events, Hamilton was left with a task of catching Rosberg, and he managed it. In Bahrain, he started from second place on the grid before eventually beating Rosberg at the finish, and he also managed to beat the German driver to third place in Hungary despite starting from the pit lane.

The point is that Lewis has fought his way back into races many times this season. Even when Rosberg won in Germany, Lewis had charged from P20 to the podium. They have been performances worthy of a world champion.

Now to question two. The answer? Never. Not once has Rosberg fought his way past Hamilton for a race win this season. For three of his four wins, Nico has started ahead of Lewis, with the fourth coming in Australia when the Briton retired in the early stages of the race.

But has Rosberg had the opportunity to do exactly that? Yes. In fact, he has squandered nine chances to pass or re-pass Hamilton and take a race win or big result this year – Malaysia, Bahrain, China, Spain, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Russia and Austin. It is not the makings of a champion, that is for sure.

As the season has wore on, Rosberg has been made to look all the more average. Although the margins between Hamilton and himself are by no means great at the checkered flag, they are still enough. When Lewis has been presented the chance to outpace and beat Nico, he has done it. Rosberg simply hasn’t.

So with two races to go in the 2014 F1 season, Nico needs to change that. His hopes appear to be precariously pinned on Lewis hitting trouble in Abu Dhabi and retiring from the race, allowing the German driver to claim a controversial double points victory. It would be an incredibly hollow way to win a championship, and would spark outrage in the F1 community. However, it seems to be his best chance.

If Rosberg suffers yet another defeat in Brazil next weekend, he will trail Hamilton by at least 31 points heading to Abu Dhabi. That means Lewis could afford to finish third in the final race with Nico winning and still win the title. In fact, Lewis can finish second in both races and will be champion by three points, assuming Rosberg wins at Interlagos and Yas Marina.

Of course, that isn’t Lewis’ style. He’ll be gunning to finish the season with seven straight wins. Should he do so, his winning margin at the end of the year would be at least 47 points, making it look like a very comfortable win indeed – and in reality, it has been quite comfortable for Lewis in recent weeks.

Nico Rosberg must turn it around now, although it may already be too late as his fire for the 2014 drivers’ championship begins to fizzle out.

NHRA: Funny Car driver J.R. Todd looks to snap slump, make history at U.S. Nationals

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In addition to being the most gratifying achievement of his NHRA drag racing career, winning the 2018 NHRA Funny Car championship was also the hardest thing J.R. Todd has ever done.

That is, until he tried to defend the title in 2019 – which has now become the hardest thing Todd has done behind the wheel.

After winning a career-best six wins en route to his title last season, Todd has had a rough campaign in the first 17 races of the current season, having earned just one win (Las Vegas) and two runner-up finishes.

In addition, he’s failed to make it out of the first round six times, and was stopped in the quarter-finals eight other times.

And as he prepares for next week’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in suburban Indianapolis – the biggest race of the season – the 37-year-old Todd is mired in a difficult slump. Since losing to Ron Capps in the final round at Richmond, Todd has dropped from second to eighth in the Funny Car standings, unable to get past the second round of the nine subsequent events.

That’s why Todd is hoping for a major turnaround at the U.S. Nationals, the final qualifying race for the upcoming six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

J.R. Todd (Photo: NHRA).

A massive 416 points (the equivalent of more than three wins points-wise) out of first place, Todd needs to start a big comeback if he hopes to do well in the playoffs, and the U.S. Nationals is the perfect place for him to do so. Todd comes into this year’s race having won the last two Funny Car crowns at Indy in 2017 and 2018.

If he can make it three in a row, Todd will make NHRA history. To date, only two drivers – Top Fuel greats “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Tony Schumacher – have won three in a row at Indianapolis. But no Funny Car driver has ever done so, not John Force, Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme or anyone else.

“That’s some pretty elite company right there with Big Daddy and Tony Schumacher,” Todd told NBC Sports. “Really you try not to think about things like that and just focus on the mission at hand – and that’s to win the race.

“When you do that, then you can enjoy all the accolades that come with it. I have the two trophies that I can look at every day – and it’s an awesome reminder of what we’ve done. It was a dream of mine as a kid to go there and race in the U.S. Nationals as a professional someday and to have won it is still kind of a surreal feeling.”

Todd, who lives in nearby Lawrenceburg, Indiana, wants to be the first Funny Car driver to pull off that achievement — and at his home track, to boot.

“It’s the biggest race of the year and the one that everyone wants to win,” Todd said. “To go back there and win there three years in a row would be pretty special.

“For me, it’s the race I grew up going to as a kid. I have a lot of family and friends that go there. I live five minutes from the track, so it means everything to me.”

In a sense, his situation this season is kind of deja vu for Todd. Last season, he won two races earlier in the season (Las Vegas and Houston), then went into a slump much like the one he’s currently in.

But starting with last September’s win at Indianapolis, Todd went on to win four of the final seven races of the season — including three in the playoffs — to motor on to the championship.

What makes Todd’s success at Indy all the more unique is that while he’s a long-time drag racer, he only switched to Funny Car prior to the 2017 season. That means in just two seasons, the former Top Fuel pilot has not only twice won the sport’s biggest race, but also the championship.

The team Todd races for, Kalitta Motorsports, has a history of starting to hit its stride just before the playoffs begin in Funny Car. From 2014 through 2018, the organization has won 13 Funny Car races beginning with the second-to-last regular season race at Brainerd, Minnesota through the six playoff races. That’s 13 of 40 races, roughly 33% of the races that NHRA has won.

In addition to Todd’s two U.S. Nationals wins, Team Kalitta also won the Funny Car event in 2014 with now-retired driver Alexis DeJoria.

I knew coming over to drive the DHL Toyota Camry that we would have some good opportunities to win races,” Todd said. “For whatever reason, it seems like we pick up a lot of momentum at that time of year. We’re hoping we can keep that trend going this year.”

In a sense, the U.S. Nationals – the 18th and final regular season race of the overall 24-race NHRA schedule – are to the NHRA what the Daytona 500 is to NASCAR or the Indianapolis 500 is to IndyCar.

“It sets the tone for the next six races,” Todd said of the playoffs. “The U.S. Nationals are a marathon. It’s the one race where everyone brings out their best stuff because it’s so important.  So much of that preparation then carries over into the Countdown.

“If you ask drivers that haven’t won Indy before, I think they’d trade pretty much any win for that one.”

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