Weekend wrap: Lewis Hamilton captures USGP; Chase tempers boil over again in Texas

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It’s starting to feel inevitable now.

Lewis Hamilton picked up his fifth consecutive Grand Prix victory yesterday in Austin at the United States Grand Prix, and in doing so, his grip on this year’s World Championship has tightened even further.

Only two things are keeping the battle between Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg alive – the fact that double points will be on hand for the season finale in Abu Dhabi and the potential for another reliability issue from Hamilton’s powerful-but-not-bulletproof Mercedes W05.

But while Hamilton can’t clinch the title next weekend at Interlagos, it’s looking more and more like he’ll vanquish his German rival and capture his second world championship trophy.

Additionally, Hamilton’s second career win in Austin also enabled him to create more history for himself, as he broke Nigel Mansell’s record and became the all-time wins leader among British F1 drivers at 32 (and likely counting).

MotorSportsTalk colleagues Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno were on the ground all weekend at the Circuit of the Americas, and had everything covered from there. You can see all of their reports linked in the following Paddock Notebooks from the past few days.

MORE: USGP Friday Paddock NotebookUSGP Saturday Paddock NotebookUSGP Sunday Paddock Notebook

Another race, another rumble.

The hyper-intense atmosphere around the Chase for the Sprint Cup and an aggressive late move by Brad Keselowski triggered the second post-race fight in four weeks, this time involving Keselowski and Jeff Gordon.

While Jimmie Johnson celebrated his fourth win of the season following a pair of green-white-checkered attempts, Gordon sought out Keselowski in the pits afterwards following contact the two made during the first of those GWC runs. The run-in caused Gordon to fall back before he suffered a tire failure and spun out; he ended up finishing 29th.

Then, while Gordon expressed his displeasure at third-place finisher Keselowski, runner-up Kevin Harvick then pushed Keselowski in the back, which led to Gordon lunging for and grabbing Keselowski’s collar. As Harvick backed away, the brawl began and a crew member for Kasey Kahne (one of Gordon’s teammates) appeared to get several punches in on Keselowski before it was all over.

Keselowski said he didn’t want to wreck Gordon but would not back down from his aggressive ways. Gordon called Keselowski a “dips—“ and wondered aloud how the Team Penske driver had ever managed to win a championship. And Harvick, seemingly the instigator in all of this, declared that if Keselowski was going to race as hard as he did, he’d better be ready to “man up.”

Now, NASCAR has yet another mess to deal with.

It bears noting that the Texas fracas came at the end of Keselowski’s four-race probation stemming from his role in last month’s post-race fight at Charlotte.

That opens the question of whether NASCAR will hammer Keselowski after this episode or if they’ll go with another option – which could mean penalties for everyone involved (including Gordon, Harvick, and the Kahne crew member) or nothing at all.

The madness overshadowed another big shift in the Eliminator Round going into its final race next weekend at Phoenix. Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin had to fight hard for their respective finishes, but they’re now sitting atop the Chase Grid.

Meanwhile, things are getting tighter behind the cutoff. Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth are both one point behind Gordon for the last advance position, while Keselowski and Harvick’s finishes enabled them to pull within five and six points respectively.

And with a chance to race for the championship on the line next weekend in Arizona, things are likely to get even more nuts.

Much like Hamilton in F1, Chase Elliott has been putting a stranglehold on the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. That continued Saturday at Texas.

Elliott was unable to replicate his inaugural NNS victory there from the spring, but he really didn’t have to. Another steady race from the 18-year-old yielded a fourth-place finish and helped him extend his already commanding lead in the standings even further to 48 points; he can now clinch the title in the penultimate race of the year next weekend in Phoenix.

Barring mechanical disaster for Elliott in the final two races, he will become the first rookie ever to claim the NNS championship.

And to be truthful, that outcome has seemed inevitable (there’s that word again) since Kansas. If you recall leading up to that race, Elliott had been continually putting small amounts of points between himself and teammate Regan Smith.

Then, in the Heartland, Smith suffered a broken sway bar arm and was relegated to a 22nd place finish that stretched his deficit behind Elliott from 26 to 38 points (Elliott finished 10th that day).

You can’t help but think that it was “game over,” then and there.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s race was decided between the two teams that are still battling for the NNS owner’s championship. In the end, Kyle Busch, driving the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, defeated Joey Logano in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford to capture the 100th NNS victory for JGR and pull the No. 54 within 26 points of the No. 22 for the owner’s title.

MORE: Clint Bowyer fills in for sick Elliott Sadler, finishes ninthSadler jumping to Roush Fenway for 2015 season

Other cool stuff

Kyle Busch was able to rally late and win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Texas, while Matt Crafton’s fifth-place finish helped push his lead in the series championship to 23 points…Toyota was triumphant in Shanghai, going 1-2 in the World Endurance Championship’s six-hour race there…Del Worsham took down the legendary John Force in the Funny Car finals as part of the NHRA’s next-to-last race of the season in Las Vegas. Force, who will have sponsorship from PEAK Antifreeze next season, is trying to chase down Matt Hagan in a bid to win his 17th Funny Car title; he’ll face a 21-point deficit to Hagan at the season finale in Pomona, California from Nov. 13-16.

Here are the starting times for 2020 NTT IndyCar Series action on NBC and NBCSN

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Another important tidbit for NTT IndyCar Series fans is out as INDYCAR and NBC announced starting times for the 2020 season. The full television schedule is also included.

There are different starting times at four races in 2020 from 2019. Those include the March 15 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at Circuit of the Americas on April 26, a later starting time for the Saturday night race at Iowa Speedway on July 18 on NBCSN

INDYCAR released the green flag times today for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season that features starting time shifts at four races – St. Petersburg, Circuit of The Americas, Iowa and Mid-Ohio – and the anticipated evening return to Richmond Raceway.

Those four returning races represent the only significant green flag start time changes from a year ago in the 17-race 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, beginning with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg scheduled for Sunday, March 15.

The August 16 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be moved to an earlier starting time and will be broadcast on NBC. Previously, the race was scheduled for 4:05 p.m., but has been changed to a 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time green flag.

INDYCAR’s return to Richmond Raceway on Saturday, June 27 will begin at 8:15 p.m. ET. That is the only new event on the schedule.

Detailed broadcast information for the entire season will be announced at a later date.

Here are the notable changes to the starting times on the schedule:

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which began at 1:40 p.m. ET this past season, will now have a 3:30 p.m. green flag. The race on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., will be celebrating its 10thanniversary as the series’ season opener and be televised on NBC Sports Network.

The AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at Circuit of The Americas on Sunday, April 26, will have a similar shift, moving from a 1:43 p.m. ET green flag this past season to 4:10 p.m. (3:10 p.m. local) in 2020. The permanent road course in Austin, Texas, will play host to the fourth race of the season and be broadcast on NBCSN.

The Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway, set for Saturday, July 18, on NBCSN, will be better accommodated for an evening race under the lights with the green flag moving from 7:15 p.m. ET to 9 p.m. (8 p.m. local).

“The return of a night race for INDYCAR at Iowa Speedway is exciting news for our race fans, sponsors, and the entire region,” Iowa Speedway President David Hyatt said. “The cars look great under the lights, and the competition should be even more fierce given what should be cooler conditions. Our track provides some of the best racing you’ll see anywhere, which will be good for attendance. This will be a can’t-miss weekend for all race fans.”

The return to a true night race at Iowa was the result of fans requesting it. The race will begin at 8:00 p.m. CT on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. And for fans and drivers, it is nostalgic, hearkening back to the first race many of them experienced … a night race on a short track.

The series hasn’t held a race that began after dusk at Iowa Speedway since 2015, and drivers and fans are welcoming it. Not only does it look more vibrant — and create sparks as cars bottom out — it also makes for better racing. Tires grip better when the track is cooler. Fans also avoid sweltering conditions during summer afternoons.

The Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, Aug. 16, will be the only race among the four that moves to an earlier start time. The race, which had a 4:05 p.m. ET start this past season, will shift to a 12:45 p.m. green flag in 2020 and be televised on NBC.

The NTT IndyCar Series heads to Richmond Raceway – the only new addition on the 2020 schedule – for the 11th race of the season on Saturday, June 27. The field will take the green flag at 8:15 ET for the start of the first Indy car race at the .75-mile oval since 2009. The race will be broadcast on NBCSN.