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Keep Your Eyes on the Skies at IMS, Watch for The Big One at Talladega This Weekend

The race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and MotoGP World Championship continue this weekend, with the rubber meeting the road on four and two wheels.

But another intense motorsport championship that captures attention around the globe will decide its champion this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – in the air.

The Red Bull Air Race World Championship is at IMS for the second consecutive year, with practice and qualifying Saturday and racing Sunday.

While air racing isn’t as well known in America as NASCAR or the Verizon IndyCar Series, this unique form of motorsport deserves your attention.

Fourteen Master Class and six Challenger Class pilots are flying this weekend on a course above the IMS oval infield. Planes race solo, against the clock, at low altitude while exceeding 200 mph, navigating a low-level slalom track marked by 82-foot-high, air-filled pylons called Air Gates. Each timed run is 2.5 laps after a standing start from the runway in the IMS infield, navigating a total of 19 Air Gates.

Pilots turn as quickly and efficiently as possible, pulling up 10 G’s in some turns before flying toward the next gate. Penalties are assessed for hitting the Air Gates, for speed and altitude violations or for not flying in the proper formation through certain Air Gates. The quickest pilot against the clock in each round wins.

Read the first sentence from the previous paragraph again. 10 G’s. Ten. Freaking. G’s. Indy cars and Formula One cars top out at about 6 G’s in corners. The Space Shuttle only hit 3 G’s during its ascent from Cape Kennedy.

These planes are insanely quick. And their ability to change direction makes an F1 car look like a dump truck on a winding road.

Four of the 14 pilots in the Master Class are mathematically eligible to win a World Championship at IMS, including American Kirby Chambliss. Leader Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic is just four points ahead of second place Yoshihide Muroya of Japan.

If Muroya overhauls Sonka to win the title, it would cap a sweet year for Japan at the Racing Capital of the World. Another fast, talented dude from Japan won the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil last May, Takuma Sato. Taku will be at the track this weekend to meet Yoshi and cheer him from the ground.

We want you to see this race live. It’s insanely cool. These words don’t accurately describe the speed and maneuverability of these aircraft, which feature tons of carbon fiber and other technology.

But if you can’t make it to IMS Saturday or Sunday, watch the NBC Sports Network coverage of this race at 7:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday. Red Bull does a fantastic job of production and presentation, with ghost planes showing the gap between rivals, cameras mounted inside the cockpit showing the strain of the G-forces on the pilots’ bodies, behind-the-scenes features and more.

The drivers of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will hold their collective breath as they enter the second race of the second round of the playoffs.

Why? The race is at Talladega. The home of The Big One. The place where multi-car pileups due to the tight packs spawned by restrictor-plate racing can ruin a contender’s championship dreams.

About the only driver who is breathing easy heading to the 2.66-mile, high-banked track is series leader Martin Truex Jr. He won last Sunday at Charlotte to secure a spot in the Round of 8, which will be decided after the race next weekend at Kansas.

The win was Truex’s sixth of the season and second of the playoffs, continuing the magic carpet ride this season for Furniture Row Racing and Toyota.

But if there’s one place where a Ford driver could punch his ticket to the Round of 8, it’s Talladega. Blue Oval drivers have won all three restrictor-plate races this season, with Kurt Busch capturing the Daytona 500 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. winning the spring race at Talladega and the Fourth of July weekend race at Daytona.

Busch was eliminated from the playoffs after the first round, but Stenhouse is still alive in the Round of 12. It would come as no surprise if he earned a trip to the next round this weekend by sweeping Talladega for the season.

But there’s absolutely no question Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the sentimental favorite this Sunday at Talladega. Junior’s father was a master at Talladega. Junior has won races there. And this will be his last start at the Alabama track.

A five-wide finish, with a margin of victory of a millionth of a second, wouldn’t be as popular with the Talladega faithful as Junior earning probably the only win of his farewell season at the track. The grandstands would be slippery from the tears.

I’ll admit it: I would love to see Junior win Sunday. The Alabama 500 starts at 2 p.m. Sunday on NBC. The big network, not NBCSN.

MotoGP’s title race is hitting the stretch run this weekend with the Grand Prix of Japan at Motegi, as there are just four races to go. Marc Marquez is starting to pull away toward his second consecutive premier class title and fourth MotoGP championship of his career, and the guy is just 24 years old. That’s scary.

Marquez leads Andrea Dovizioso by 16 points and Maverick Vinales by 28 in the standings. Dovi and Vinales will need to somehow find a way to achieve the seemingly impossible and stop Marquez this weekend.

Good luck, boys. You’ll need it.

The Grand Prix of Japan will be televised on beIN Sports at 9:50 p.m. (ET) Saturday, with live coverage of the Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP races.


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