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Weld Your TV to NBCSN and Strap in for Super Sunday of Racing

Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice for race fans this weekend: Get all of your weekend chores done Saturday. Load up on your snacks and beverages of your choice. Tell your non-racing friends and family you’ll see them Monday.

And then lock your television on NBCSN starting Sunday morning and prepare for a long, glorious haul of racing bliss – with a ton on the line in every series you’re watching.

Let’s look at this cornucopia of horsepower from a chronological perspective as it is broadcast Sunday on NBCSN:

7:30 a.m. (ET): The coffee is hot, and the orange juice is chilled. Fresh donuts may be on the counter. Your eggs and bacon may be in the frying pan. It’s time to get this petrol party started with Formula One and the Singapore Grand Prix.

This is one of the coolest events on the F1 calendar because it’s a night race on the other side of the world. The government of Singapore pays the GDP of a small nation to host this race and then piles on even more cash to light the entire circuit. It creates a spectacular scene against the Singapore skyline.

But this race also has more than visual heft. The Singapore Grand Prix starts a stretch run of seven “flyaway” races away from F1’s European motherland that will decide a taut World Championship race. One of those races is the United States Grand Prix on Oct. 22 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes leads Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari by just three points, 238-235, after winning two weeks ago at the last European race of the season, on Ferrari’s home turf at Monza.

The ebb and flow of what has become a compelling, two-man title fight is swinging toward Hamilton. He has won three of the last four races, including at Spa and Monza in succession.

Ferrari must strike back soon or see any chance of Vettel winning his fifth World Championship slip away. The all-important Constructors Championship also could be out of reach for Ferrari, as Mercedes leads the Scuderia, 435-373, mainly due to the weakness and bad luck of Ferrari No. 2 Kimi Raikkonen compared to Hamilton’s Mercedes wing man, Valtteri Bottas.

Vettel has won this race four times, more than any other driver. But three of those wins came during his reign of terror with Red Bull. His only win with Ferrari came in 2015.

Hamilton has won on the streets of Singapore twice, in 2009 with McLaren and 2014 with Mercedes.

Heat could play a big role in this event even though it takes place at night. Air temperatures in the 90s, mated with humidity pushing 80 percent, will push the fitness of the drivers and the cars to their limits.

3 p.m. (ET): Hopefully you’ve taken the five hours between the end of the Singapore Grand Prix and the start of the first round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs to tidy up any yard work, check on your NFL fantasy team and say good night to your family and friends.

It’s time to strap in to your chair and hang on for 8 ½ straight hours of excellent racing.

The NASCAR postseason gets underway with the Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, with 16 drivers eligible to win the championship. The field will be trimmed to the top 12 drivers after Oct. 1 at Dover, to eight drivers after Oct. 22 at Kansas and then to the final four after Nov. 12 at Phoenix, setting up a one-race showdown for the title in the season finale Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami.

In past editions of the NASCAR Chase, er, playoffs, points were reset at the start, with bonus points added for wins during the regular season. Points also were reset this year, with an important distinction: Drivers earned bonus points based on their performances in the stages that comprised NASCAR’s new race format this season, and those points carry through the entire playoffs.

Martin Truex Jr. dominated the regular season, helped by amassing more stage points than any other driver, and enters the playoffs with a 2,053-2,033 lead over second place Kyle Larson. More importantly, Truex has a 43-point gap – nearly an entire race’s worth of points when factoring in stage bonus points – over eighth-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr., so it’s almost certain Truex will breeze into at least the third round and is a safe bet to be in the final four at Homestead.

That doesn’t rob suspense. That rewards a race team for kicking butt during the regular season, increasing its relevance. NASCAR catches grief for its ever-changing playoff system, but this formula has worked this year, folks. The competition has been intense during the stages, and Truex’s Furniture Row Racing team figured out early that hard racing throughout every stage could pay dividends in the postseason.

So if Truex seemingly is a lock for Homestead, who will be his other three dance partners in the winner-take-all final showdown? Toyota teams have shown the most consistent speed this season in Cup, so it’s hard to bet against Kyle Busch, third in the standings entering the playoffs at 2,029 points.

Kyle Larson showed revived form and an ability to win on tracks other than big power 2-mile ovals with his unlikely and gritty victory last Saturday night on the ¾-mile bullring at Richmond. Larson might be the most talented pure driver in Cup along with Busch, so I think he’ll pull out a big result when needed somewhere in the next nine races to put a Chevrolet in the final.

The fourth driver? It’s tough to omit seven-time and reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, but Hendrick Motorsports cars just haven’t shown enough speed to stay with their rivals in recent weeks.

Four-time Big Machine Brickyard 400 winner Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus can “flip the switch” for the postseason like few other drivers – just look at last season. But something gnaws at my brain saying that won’t happen next year.

Denny Hamlin is an obvious choice. He’s in a Toyota and earned a big victory two weeks ago at Darlington. But that win was “encumbered” due to an illegal rear suspension, so who knows the true speed of that car?

I’m taking a long shot as the fourth member of the Homestead dance party: Kurt Busch.

Remember him? Busch punched his ticket to the playoffs in February by winning the season-opening Daytona 500 for Stewart-Haas Racing and has disappeared since.

Busch is 12th in playoff points with 2,005, 14 behind fourth-place Brad Keselowski. But Busch has been sneaky good the last three races, with three consecutive finishes of fifth or better. Look for the Busch brothers to take half of the spots in the title decider.

6:30 p.m. (ET): There’s no doubt this is a special Sunday of racing. But there’s also no doubt the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma is the true BIG ONE of this great day.

SEVEN drivers have a mathematical chance to win the series championship in the season finale for the Verizon IndyCar Series, thanks to double points. That’s nearly one-third of the field!

Of those seven, five have a truly realistic shot – leader Josef Newgarden (560), Scott Dixon (557), Helio Castroneves (538), Simon Pagenaud (526) and Will Power (492).

All five have a compelling case on the scenic road course in the California wine country. On the surface, it appears that Chevrolet and Team Penske have the best shot. Newgarden, Castroneves, Pagenaud and Power all drive for the powerhouse team, surrounding Dixon and his Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Newgarden is trying to win his first championship as a capper to his majestic first season for Penske. He slipped up with an unforced, uncharacteristic error by crashing into the pit exit wall at the last race, Sept. 3 at Watkins Glen, where he could have shed some of his pursuers with a strong finish.

Castroneves is the storybook choice. This could be his last race in the series, as he’s rumored to be headed to full-time sports car racing and an Indy 500 start next season. Helio has won three Indianapolis 500s but never a CART or IndyCar championship, so he is the sentimental pick.

Pagenaud is the defending champion and dominated last year to win at Sonoma with the title on the line. He also led the open test Thursday at Sonoma and wouldn’t mind to exact a little revenge on teammate Newgarden after their controversial clash late in the race last month at Gateway.

Power is, well, Power. He has won this event three times and still is arguably the fastest pure road racer in the series. Power will be among the limping wounded this weekend at Sonoma, as he injured his knee in a surfing accident in his native Australia. But count him out at your peril.

Still, I get a sense David will beat Goliath; Dixon will slay the Penske giants and earn his fifth IndyCar Series title, further cementing his status among the all-time gods of the sport.

Dixon has won this race three times, so he knows and likes Sonoma.

And they don’t call Dixon the Iceman for nothing. He will be impervious to all pressure and will turn the screws tightly on Newgarden, who is in the midst of his first real title chase.

Dixon also has experience in tight title races. He ended up tied with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015 but won the championship based on more victories over the season.

2008 Indianapolis 500 winner Dixon won’t need that tiebreaker Sunday. He will win the title, and it’s probably time to buy more acreage next to IndyCar’s Mount Rushmore so Dixie’s face can be carved into the side of that hill in a few years.

I can’t wait for this race.

9:30 p.m. (ET): The Red Bull Air Race finishes its 2017 season over two speedways – on Sunday at the Lausitzring in Germany and Oct. 14-15 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The penultimate race from the Lausitzring will be cap a great day of racing Sunday on NBCSN, and like the Verizon IndyCar Series at Sonoma, the championship race in the premier Master Class looks to be a corker heading into Indy.

Martin Sonka of the Czech Republic won Sept. 3 at Porto, Portugal, to take a four-point lead over Canadian Pete McLeod. American Kirby Chambliss fell from the lead to third, seven points behind Sonka, as Arizona resident Chambliss aims for his third title in the world’s most prestigious airplane racing series.

Japanese pilot Yoshihide Muroya is fourth, 10 points behind Sonka, and will need a strong performance in Germany to stay in title contention as 15 points are awarded to the winner of each race, with second earning 10 points, third 9 and down to 1 point for 10th.

In the Challenger Class (think Indy Lights or the NASCAR XFINITY Series), American Kevin Coleman is 10 points behind leader Florian Berger of Germany. That should safely put Coleman into clear title contention at IMS, as the Challenger Class has a unique format to determine its champion.

Each pilot in the Challenger Class must fly a minimum of four races during the eight-race season. Each pilot’s top four scores are added, with the top six coming to IMS for the final. It’s not winner-take-all in the finale for the Challenger Class in past seasons. Points earned at IMS are added to the existing totals for the top six, determining a champion.

It's understandable if you’re tired by the time this exciting form of racing, in which pilots exceed 200 mph and pull upward of 12 Gs during maneuvers, comes on NBCSN. But brew a fresh pot of coffee and check it out.

I’ve covered racing as a reporter and PR person for nearly 30 years, and it takes something special for a series new to me to grab my attention and provide consistent enjoyment. The Red Bull Air Race has done just that this year as I’ve learned more about it: It’s breathtaking, tight racing between incredibly skilled competitors.

In other words, it’s a perfect fit and finale for what might be the best Sunday of racing all year.

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