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What To Watch For: United States GP (NBC, Live Extra from 2:30pm ET)

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After a weekend of rain, rain and more rain, we’ve made it: United States Grand Prix race day, and the possible coronation of a three-time world champion.

Lewis Hamilton arrived in Austin knowing that victory with teammate Nico Rosberg in second place would clinch him a third world title with three races to spare, but heads into the race as blind as the rest of the field after seeing FP2 and Q3 get washed out completely.

The rain is set to subside before the race, and although the drivers will unquestionably be running on wet and intermediate tires (the latter at a push), the grand prix is going to happen.

It was Rosberg who seized the advantage in qualifying earlier today, posting the fastest time in Q2 and taking pole after Q3 was cancelled. Hamilton will start alongside him on the front row of the grid, with the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat looming behind.

You can watch the United States Grand Prix live on NBC and Live Extra from 2:30pm ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

2015 United States Grand Prix – What To Watch For

THREE THE MAGIC NUMBER FOR LEWIS

Lewis Hamilton’s task today has been made simpler by the fact that closest title rival Sebastian Vettel has a grid penalty, leaving him 14th for the start. As such, beating Nico Rosberg should be enough to clinch him a third world title in Austin – and that’s hardly something he’s struggled to do this year.

A third world title would put him on par with Ayrton Senna and Jackie Stewart, and also make him the first British driver to successfully defend the championship. As I wrote earlier this week, winning it on US soil will only make things all the sweeter.

As an aside: Hamilton has never won a world title in sunshine. Interlagos 2008 was a downpour, and Abu Dhabi was won under the night sky. Number three could be another wet one if he clinches it today.

CAN NICO END HIS DROUGHT?

Using the word “drought” in Austin this weekend is irony personified. Alas, Nico Rosberg enters today’s race hoping to end a win drought that dates all the way back to the Austrian Grand Prix in June, some four months ago.

The German driver has struggled to match Hamilton in recent weeks, and although victory here would only be delaying the inevitable title success for his teammate, Rosberg will be hungry to end the rut at COTA.

RED BULL UP FOR A FIGHT

Mercedes may still be top dogs even in wet conditions, but Red Bull showed in qualifying that it could put up a fight to the Silver Arrows at the front. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat have ran well in the wet before, and from the second row of the grid, they could yet spring a surprise.

For Ricciardo, it will be important for him to pick up some big points in what has been a difficult season. Slipping behind Kvyat in the drivers’ championship will have done little to help his standing in F1, and although the smile will remain, he needs to unleash his inner Honey Badger soon.

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY

Although the rain is set to ease during the race, conditions will still be treacherous at the start, setting the stage for an almighty battle between the drivers out on track. Real ‘wet’ races in F1 have been quite sparse in recent years – let’s hope today’s US GP makes up for that.

Quite how the weather will have affected attendance figures remains unclear, but it’s hard to believe the three-day figure of over 250,000 will get even close to being matched this year. Austin has kept its smile regardless, though, which has been wonderful to see.

ROSSI AT HOME

After all these years, Alexander Rossi will finally race in the United States Grand Prix today. The American driver becomes the first to race at home since Scott Speed back in 2007, and will be hoping to use the weather to his advantage in his star-spangled Manor.

That said, this has been about as ‘Alexander Rossi’ a weekend as you could have imagined: lots of promise, only for something to get in the way (namely the weather). Regardless of his end result at COTA, today is arguably the biggest of his career to date.

STARTING GRID FOR THE 2015 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
4. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
5. Sergio Perez Force India
6. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
7. Felipe Massa Williams
8. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
9. Fernando Alonso McLaren
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus
11. Jenson Button McLaren
12. Pastor Maldonado Lotus
13. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari*
14. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
15. Valtteri Bottas Williams*
16. Felipe Nasr Sauber
17. Alexander Rossi Manor
18. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari*
19. Will Stevens Manor*
20. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso**

* grid penalty
** missed 107% cut, given dispensation to race by stewards

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBC and Live Extra from 2:30pm ET on Sunday.

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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