DIEZ: 2011 racing season wrapping up

The 2011 racing season is in its final days.

The NHRA wrapped their season at Pomona last weekend, IndyCar sadly finished on a tragic note with the death of Dan Wheldon in October, and the Formula 1 finale in Brazil is next Sunday.

Today's NASCAR Nationwide race will determine the champion of that series. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. only needs a decent finish to take home the title, while Elliott Sadler needs a good finish and a disaster for Stenhouse if he is to win. Tomorrow will see either Carl Edwards or Tony Stewart is crowned Sprint Cup Champion.

Since instituting the Chase for the Championship playoff format in 2004, NASCAR has tweaked it a number of times, but this year it provided all the drama that they had hoped for from the beginning. The combination of the new point system and the wild-card spots for race winners made things interesting leading up to the Chase and even more interesting in the last nine races.

I wish that there were more drivers involved in a close points race. But with just three points separating Edwards and Stewart going into the race, it is entirely possible that as little as one point could determine this year's champion. And if they tie, Stewart will secure his third title based on the number of wins. Critics have complained that Stewart should have the points lead by virtue of his four wins, but he has also had a few bad races. Edwards has finished in the top 15 in every Chase race, including a few where he battled back from a bad day to get a decent result.

To my mind, it shows that NASCAR has achieved a pretty good balance between wins and consistency, but we can probably expect a few more tweaks for next year. One nice thing about the new point system is that it is simple. I recall in years past trying to figure out all the combinations of finishing positions in the final races that would lock drivers in or out of contention. It was enough to make my brain hurt.

Fortunately, the only oddball thing that has to be thrown into the finishing position calculation this year are the extra points for leading a lap, leading the most laps and winning.

ESPN is going all out on their coverage of NASCAR's Sprint Cup season finale, with 72 cameras including in-car HD cameras riding with both contenders, two high-up cameras isolated on the pair, and robotic cameras covering their garage stalls in case behind-the-wall repairs are needed by either one. The NASCAR Countdown show will include features on both Stewart and Edwards, as well as a salute to outgoing five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

IndyCar is well into their off-season, with teams starting to gear up for a new chassis and new engine manufacturers for next year. Dallara has begun deliveries of chassis, with Penske driver Will Power and Target/Ganassi pilot Dario Franchitti testing last week at Barber Motorsports Park. Power said that the new car is definitely faster than the old chassis, and he turned a lap three-tenths of a second faster than his pole time at this year's race at the track. New engines are in the pipeline as well. HVM Racing, Bryan Herta Autosport, and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will be running the Lotus/Judd engine, examples of which are just starting to come off the dyno. The engine is reported to be 45 pounds lighter than the competing Chevy and Honda powerplants.

The wheels came off of Sebastian Vettel's bid to eclipse Michael Schumacher's mark for wins in a Formula 1 season. Actually, it was only one wheel, the right rear. The tire went flat on the first lap of the Abu Dhabi race last weekend, putting Vettel out and giving rival Lewis Hamilton the victory. With only next week's season finale in Brazil remaining on the schedule, about the only question is whether Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso will be able to make up a ten point deficit and take second place in the points away from McLaren's Jensen Button.


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