Verstappen’s USGP podium erased by time penalty for cutting track

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Max Verstappen was poised to stand on the podium in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, but the Red Bull Racing driver was docked five seconds immediately after the checkered flag for gaining an advantage on track to do so.

Courtesy of a 15-spot grid penalty for power unit changes, Verstappen started Sunday’s race only in 16th place, but rose to the top-six within the opening laps, and was into the lead by Lap 21 of the race.

Running fifth into the final six circuits, Verstappen got Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for fourth once Bottas lost a spot to Sebastian Vettel in dramatic fashion at Turn 1. Scuderia Ferrari swapped Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen around, which put Raikkonen third and Verstappen fourth in the final stages of the race.

The Dutchman got within DRS range on the final lap and made one final lunge on Raikkonen for third at the carousel complex, Turns 16, 17, and 18, but was deemed to have cut the track by sticking all his wheels and off course, as his incredible pass of Raikkonen for position was erased.

A five-second penalty was assessed for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.

Verstappen thought he’d finished third but was removed in the FIA cooldown room after the fact, promoting Raikkonen back to the final podium position, and making the second time in 12 months (2016 Mexican Grand Prix) Verstappen had lost a podium after the race actually finished.

The Dutchman expressed his displeasure with the decision in an interview with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton after the race, and although he didn’t mention him by name, Verstappen called out Race Steward Garry Connelly.

“The whole weekend you can run off track everywhere you want… OK, fine, if it’s like that, then that’s the same for everyone. But then I had a good fight with (Valtteri) Bottas and he runs off track, then comes back on in front of me, and I had to overtake him afterwards, but there’s no penalties given,” he said.

“Then I basically fight with Kimi in the last lap… I went maybe 5-10 centimeters off the track, and I think the crowd was loving it. It was really weird to give me a penalty, and also to get it that quick after a race. At least have a talk in the steward’s room. But it looks so bad on TV to pull someone away from the podium. Again, I had the same last year in Mexico… they clearly don’t learn from it. And for the sport, this is killing it. Everyone was loving it. There’s not a good way to kill the sport, and this is it.”

Verstappen said Connelly “knows” that he’s “one particular steward who makes those decisions against me.”

The 20-year-old called for more consistency in rules adjudication after the race.

“At the end of the day just be clear about it. So if you say, ‘OK, that’s fine,’ we’ll do what we like. If you say, stay within the white lines, then we’ll stay within the white lines. It’s very simple.

“But yeah we need more consistency and at the end of the day let us race. At the end of the day it was 5 centimeters and everyone was loving it. It was a great show. Just be consistent. If it wasn’t allowed, OK, that’s fine, I finished fourth. But don’t say everyone else, you can run off the track anywhere you like, and never give any penalties, then I do it, and you give me a penalty.”

Are you a racer looking for the fountain of youth? Try NHRA drag racing

Photos courtesy NHRA
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It used to be that many of the big-name race car drivers routinely raced into their 50s, most notably in NASCAR.

Richard Petty raced until he was 55. The late David Pearson was 54 when he last raced in NASCAR.

But these days, we’re seeing the majority of professional racers calling it quits in their early-to-mid 40s – like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and most recently, Jamie McMurray.

But that’s not the case for competitors in the National Hot Rod Association. Like fine wine, it seems that the kings of the drag strip only seem to get better and more successful with age.

To them, the “r word” is not “retire,” it’s “reaction time.”

Consider many of today’s stars in the NHRA and their respective ages:

* Funny Car legend John Force will turn 70 in May. And while he hasn’t won a championship since 2013, Force remains one of the biggest forces – no pun intended – in the sport.

Fellow Funny Car drivers still seemingly in their prime include Ron Capps (53 years old), Jack Beckman (52), Tim Wilkerson (turns 58 on Dec. 29), Cruz Pedregon (55) and Gary Densham (62).

* In Top Fuel, the winningest driver and record eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will turn 49 on Dec. 25. Those already on the other side of the 50-year-old line include Clay Millican (52), Doug Kalitta (54), Terry McMillen (64), Billy Torrence (60) and Cory McClenathan (turns 56 on Jan. 30).

Chris Karamesines

And let’s not forget the oldest active drag racer on the NHRA professional circuit (albeit part-time rather than full-time), Chicago native Chris Karamesines, who is still racing a Top Fuel dragster at 300-plus mph at the spry young age of 87 years old!

Yes, you read that right, Karamesines is 87 – but could easily pass for 67 – and he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

* Ironically, the slower Pro Stock class is not as well-represented in the 50-and-over group as is Top Fuel and Funny Car, with only two regulars who have passed the half-century mark: four-time champ Greg Anderson (57) and Kenny Delco (65).

But that 50-and-above fraternity will add at least one other member next year when former champ Jason Line turns 50 on July 24. And five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. will turn 50 in 2020.

Jerry Savoie

* Even the easy riders of Pro Stock Motorcycle have several 50-and-over competitors: Scotty Pollacheck (turns 50 on Feb. 8), 2016 champ Jerry Savoie (turns 60 on Feb. 23), Karen Stofer (54), Steve Johnson (turns 58 on Jan. 19) and Hector Arana (60).

Granted, drag racers don’t have the same grueling time spent behind the wheel. Their average run lasts from just over 3.5 seconds to maybe eight or nine seconds.

And unlike driving 400 or 500 laps or miles as in NASCAR, a full four-round race during Sunday eliminations for NHRA racers adds up to one whole mile – or less.

Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers only go a distance of 1,000 feet per run, while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle go a full quarter-mile (1,320 feet) in their respective runs.

In a sense, hitting the 5-0 mark or higher has become somewhat of a fountain of youth for several racers.

For example, Capps won his first career Funny Car crown in 2016 at the age of 51.

The same year, Savoie won his first career PSM title at the age of 57.

And Force won his most recent Funny Car title in 2013 at the age of 64.

Force has already gone on record to say that he wants to become the first major pro champion to win a title at 70 years old – which would also become the 17th championship of his illustrious career as the winningest driver in all NHRA history.

He gets a chance toward doing just that when the 2019 NHRA season kicks off at Pomona, California, on Feb. 7-10.

Follow @JerryBonkowski