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.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).