Jr Richmond spin LAT

Jr Richmond spin LATAs an old B.B. King song goes, "If it wasn't for bad luck, you know I wouldn't have no luck at all." Nine races into the season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows the feeling.

Earnhardt finished 30th Sunday at Richmond International Raceway – the fifth time he's ended up 30th or worse this season. Everything that could have gone wrong did in the Toyota Owners 400: a speeding penalty, colliding with his teammate (Jimmie Johnson), cutting down a tire and going for a spin. Afterward, Johnson and Earnhardt talked it over, with Johnson telling Earnhardt he didn't even know the 88 was there before the two made contact coming off Turn 2.

"Just terrible luck," Earnhardt said of his day. "I don't know what to do, but we were probably going to finish anywhere around 10th to 15th, not all that awesome, but we just have such terrible luck."

It wasn't all bad. On Friday, Earnhardt made it to the final round of qualifying and earned the 12th starting position. But after moving forward on one run, the speeding penalty knocked Earnhardt outside the top 20, where he found himself stuck.

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"We're supposed to run two yellow lights [on the dash], then when you get in the curve we go up to two orange," Earnhardt said. "I had two yellow and one orange, I was pretty conservative but they said we sped. We're real aggressive with our lights, we need to be maybe a little more conservative just so we can get through a couple of these races without issues like that. But all I can do is run the lights like the dash is programmed."

Before the car was torn up, Earnhardt admitted he was happy with how it had reacted to changes. The team was planning on using strategy to try and get to the end by staying out longer as the leaders began to pit, which worked until Earnhardt and Johnson collided, resulting in the cut right-rear tire that brought out the caution. He finished two laps down.

"Car took it well," Earnhardt said of the damage. "Tore the sway bar off it, so we finished the race without a sway bar, but still, luck this year is just awful. I don't know what else we need to do. We're out there taking care of ourselves and running along and something always seems to bite us."

Last Tuesday, Earnhardt announced this season would be his last in the Cup Series, but he's not content to just ride around. Performances like Sunday's are not going to cut it when Earnhardt says he wants to run well and win a few races before this year is over.

"[Crew chief] Greg [Ives] told me last week we weren't looking at them anymore," Earnhardt said of his position in the points. "We're just going to try win a race. We're so far back – if you're sitting 15th, 16th, 17th, probably can't help but look at points then.

"We're sitting so far back we just got to get this thing to where we can finish. Put some races together. I'm just going to concentrate on trying to get about five or six races put together in a row [of] top-15s. See what the points look like after that."

logano richmond gettyIt took Joey Logano all afternoon to drive from the back of the field to the front in Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Logano started from the rear after a post-qualifying transmission change, but when the checkered flag waved after lap 400, the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford was at the head of the field, having held off a banzai charge from teammate Brad Keselowski during a 19-lap green-flag run.

Logano took the lead for the first time on lap 384, after restarting behind six cars that had stayed out on old tires under caution for Ryan Blaney's contact with the Turn 3 wall on Lap 377. On fresh rubber, Logano made short work of the cars in front of him and passed series leader Kyle Larson for the top spot with 16 circuits left.

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Keselowski had a faster car, having led 110 laps, but he also had more difficulty getting through traffic after the final restart. By the time Logano took the checkered flag, Keselowski had narrowed his teammate's straightaway lead to roughly three car-lengths before running out of time.

The 26-year-old from Connecticut won his 18th race in his 300th start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It was his first victory of the season and his second at Richmond.

Logano and Keselowski had stayed out under the penultimate caution on lap 367 and appeared vulnerable to the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch until NASCAR called the final yellow five laps after the restart on lap 377.

Of the cars that came to pit road on Lap 378, Logano was first off and lined up behind the six cars that stayed out – those of Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan and Cole Whitt. Busch drew a penalty for a commitment line violation and went to the rear of the field, eliminating one of the contending cars.

"The caution came out," Logano said of the final yellow. "The boys had a great stop which gave us good track position to pass the cars that stayed out. We were able to have a good start, work our way past those cars and tried to take off the best I could. I knew the 2 (Keselowski) was so much faster than everybody, and I had to get out there as quick and as far as I could.

"He was on his way to catch me. I think he was catching me a couple tenths a lap. That was all I had inside the car, and I burned them up early trying to go. I'm proud of the effort of the team. We executed under pressure today and brought a car home that was a fifth-to-10th-place car to Victory Lane."

For his part, Keselowski was philosophical about the way the race unfolded.

"I was just hoping for another restart or the race to get extended for another 10 laps," Keselowski said. "I think we had a ton of long-run speed today. That short run at the end ... half the field came, half the field didn't. I just got stuck in a lane of cars that didn't go.

"By the time I did, he (Logano) had a whole straightaway on me. I got it down to a couple of car-lengths at the end. All and all, I'm happy for Team Penske with the 1-2 finish. We'll take it and move on."

Virginia native Denny Hamlin ran third, but his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota couldn't match the speed of the Team Penske Fords. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. recovered from a brush with the Turn 3 wall to come home fourth on older tires, holding off fifth-place Kevin Harvick over the final green-flag run.

The first major incident of the day happened late when Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson got into each other, causing damage to Junior's No. 88. He finished 30th, while Johnson placed 11th.

The Monster Energy Series hits the track again next weekend at NASCAR's biggest track for the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, FOX). Keselowski is the defending winner.

Erik Jones richmond LATErik Jones has experienced this movie before, and it seems to be growing a little old.

A lap 5 crash in Turn 3 of the Toyota Owners 400 ended Jones’ day before it began at Richmond International Raceway. Even worse, it junked a car that had shown speed in practice by running the fastest lap in Saturday's early session in addition to leading the way in the best 10 consecutive lap average category.

Worse yet, Jones has shown the ability to contend with the leaders in each of his nine races to date. But rarely have the results shown it.

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"It sucks," Jones said. "We've been getting a lot of stage points, been running up front and should have had a lot of good finishes. I think we had another good racecar today, one that could have gotten up into the top 10, got us some more stage points and got us a good finish out of it.

"Guys just – there's got to be more respect shown. I mean, we're lap 1 and three-wide running people into the wall. It's really frustrating."

The No. 77 Toyota slammed the outside wall after cutting a left front tire, the result of having been sandwiched into the wall a few laps earlier. Jones was on the outside of a three-wide group, including the No. 5 of Kasey Kahne, on whom he put the blame for running him into the wall.

"That's unfortunate, it's 400 laps," Jones said. "I just wish there was a little bit more patience at times, it's frustrating. I was just trying to get this race going and we're racing hard. It's a bummer. We cut a left front a couple laps later and got into the wall, our day's over. Those guys get to keep racing. It sucks. But we'll just have to move on."

The first driver out of the race, Jones will be credited with a last-place finish, 38th. It's his second DNF of the season. He has just one top-10 in nine races.

"Just a heartbreaking day," Jones said. "It's not what we wanted, but we'll just have to come back next week, bring another fast race car and try to run up front again."

 31I1419Sebastian Vettel played down his radio message and gesture at Felipe Massa after being held up by the Williams when fighting for victory on the final lap of the Russian Grand Prix.

Having lost out to Valtteri Bottas at the start of the race, polesitter Vettel was chasing down the Mercedes and had closed to within a second at the start of the final lap. Bottas was able to use DRS behind Massa – who was being lapped – and dived down the inside of his former teammate into Turn 2. Vettel couldn't follow the Mercedes through and then was stuck behind Massa through the long left-hander at Turn 3, exclaiming on team radio, "What was that?!" and raising his middle finger.

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However, the German was less angry after the end of the race, saying he was just unsure of where Massa was going to let him past.

"I obviously tried everything to catch Valtteri and maybe I thought there might be some opportunity on the back straight," Vettel said. "I was sure [Felipe] would lift around Turn 3 – it's flat out – and let me by, so I wouldn't lose much time. But then I think I just wasn't sure what he was going to do and I ended up losing a bit more than I was hoping for.

"But it doesn't matter. This is the man of the race today – big congrats to Valtteri, it's his first grand prix win, so it's his day."

Responding to Vettel's radio complaints, Massa said he wasn't surprised to hear the criticism, telling Radio Bandeirantes: "I let him by on the right side and he didn't want to go [through]... And I think that complaining is part of his job."

vettel bottasVettel was keen to ensure the incident did not overshadow the final race result, saying Bottas was the best performer in the race and fully deserved his maiden grand prix victory.

"In the first stint, we were just not quick enough to stay with him. At the end of the day we can talk about my race but today is Valtteri's day. He drove a fantastic race, he had incredible pace.

"Also, if you look all weekend where he's been compared to his teammate, so he's done a superb job – it's his day and he deserves to win today because he drove better than all the rest of us. So... it's not easy to swallow. I would have loved, obviously, to come back but that's the way it was today."

 ONZ2522Valtteri Bottas admits he will take a big confidence boost from his first victory in Formula 1 after his win in the Russian Grand Prix.

bottas trophyStarting from third place on the grid, Bottas got ahead of the two Ferraris on the run down to Turn 1 and pulled away in the opening stint before coming under pressure from Sebastian Vettel late in the race. Eventually holding on to win by 0.6s, when asked how big the first win will be in terms of his confidence, Bottas replied: "I think a lot!

"Obviously I always knew I can do good results, if everything goes right. I always trusted my ability but it's nice to get a confirmation that this kind of results are possible – everything is possible. It's definitively good to continue from here.

"It's going to take a while [to sink in]. I have to say that I'm not normally that emotional, but hearing the Finnish national anthem is something quite special for me, so it felt good. It's a little bit surreal, obviously it's the first win, hopefully first of many!"

With Vettel closing in toward the end of the race, Bottas locked up and lost nearly two seconds at Turn 13. However, the Finn composed himself and says he was never too concerned by his advantage coming down.

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"It was OK, the main thing was the lapped cars. Getting through the traffic was the main worry for me, especially at the end of the race as we definitely lose more time with these cars when following other cars. You start to lose some lap time when you're two or three seconds behind them, especially in the middle sector, in those medium-speed corners. That was quite tricky and I wasn't quite happy at times, but I always knew that Seb and Kimi [Raikkonen] would have the same problem that I was having with those guys, so, in the end, it was OK."

"I also had one lock-up, maybe 10 or 15 laps from the end, which hurt the pace a little bit, but apart from that it was OK. I did ask for a bit more of radio silence from the guys on the pit wall, just for me to get on it and focus. It was nice and quiet and that helped."

 

abbott phx 0417 07833Simon Pagenaud did a lot of winning en route to last year's Verizon IndyCar Series title, but a couple of key goals remained on his agenda – with a victory on an oval track prime among them. At Saturday night's Phoenix Grand Prix, the Frenchman crossed that one off the list.

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"I was very emotional at the end of the race, because I've been running after this – the desire to be good on ovals for me was really strong," Pagenaud said. "I wanted to come to America and I wanted to embrace the sport, embrace the ovals, and show that I could do the job. Obviously, it took a few years."

Pagenaud admitted that the declining frequency of oval events on the IndyCar calendar made his acclimation to them that much more of a challenge: "Unfortunately, we don't race on ovals that much. We only race I believe like five ovals a year. When you don't have any background on oval racing, not even Indy Lights, it was difficult to learn the job and learn what it took to win a race on an oval.

"So understanding the strategy, understanding placement of the car with the turbulences compared to the guy in front of you, is very difficult to understand. The biggest thing I think is to understand what the car needs to be like to be good throughout the race, give you the confidence to attack and be good in traffic."

pagenaud packWhile acknowledging that the timing of the caution flag that put him in front of teammate Will Power to stay had been a key advantage, Pagenaud reckoned he'd had the car to beat anyway.

"I think today we had a phenomenal racecar, the best out there by far," he said. "The Penske cars I think were the best all weekend, but I think my car, the Menards car, was definitely a step above everybody else. I saw it very early in the race."

"We were able to save fuel being behind Will, behind Helio [Castroneves]. That helped us to stretch our window. We were a little lucky with the yellow that came out, but that's because we were able to stretch it, and it worked for us.

"My car was very good out of [Turn] Four; I was able to keep a very tight line. Obviously, as you saw, we decided to go with a very low downforce configuration to try to pass people. Despite being low on downforce, we were still able to follow really close in traffic. That's how we were able to make some ground.

"A lot of the backmarkers were very cautious today, which helped as well. Overall, the car was just phenomenal all night long. We kept with it as the track changed as well. I think the last restart also, having so many cars between me and Will, helped. With pace, I was just saving the tires at the end."

Pagenaud reiterated that becoming an oval winner was central to his ambitions to be seen as an all-around IndyCar ace.

"Yes, that's my goal, is to be as complete as possible. I also look up to Dario Franchitti, I think was one of the most complete guys. Helio as well. Dario has been a model for me for a long time. Obviously, my mentor Gil de Ferran. I can't wait to see the text I'm going to get on my phone! I'm sure he'll be very proud.

"We talked about Phoenix last week together. It's been a great relationship. He's been helping me to understand this whole deal. Whether you're on speedway or short oval, it's very different. I won a championship without winning on an oval. Now if I can win on oval, it's going to make life different. That's very important to me."

DJ5R9302Valtteri Bottas secured his first win in Formula 1 with a tense victory over Sebastian Vettel in the Russian Grand Prix.

bottas diveAn impressive start saw Bottas jump the two Ferraris into Turn 1 and he showed good pace throughout the first half of the race and appeared to have a clear path to victory. However, after the pit stops, Vettel closed the gap and then Bottas made an error at Turn 13, locking up and losing nearly two seconds to the German and putting himself under pressure for the final 14 laps.

With Vettel at times just a second behind Bottas, the Finn showed impressive calmness behind the wheel to avoid any further mistakes and secure his first win on his 81st grand prix start, beating Vettel by 0.6s.

"F**k me!" Bottas exclaimed on team radio at the checkered flag. "Took quite a while, huh? More than 80 races. But worth the wait." ONZ1961

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Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium as Ferrari failed to convert its first front row lockout since 2008 into victory, eventually finishing 11s adrift of the race winner with his pace having fluctuated throughout the race.

Lewis Hamilton had a day to forget as he struggled with the balance of his car and was also forced to deal with high temperatures, being told at times his car was "on the limit" while running fourth. The Briton was never in contention for victory and faded from the podium battle in the second half of the race as Raikkonen pulled clear, crossing the line over half a minute behind his teammate.

Bottas' win therefore proved crucial in the championship battles, with Hamilton only losing six points to Vettel. The German now has 86 points and leads by 13 from Hamilton, with Bottas 10 points behind his teammate in third place.

Max Verstappen survived an early scare when a water leak threatened to prevent him starting the race, but Red Bull reacted quickly and managed to implement a fix that held for the race distance. The Dutchman had a lonely run to fifth place after a good start, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo retiring after five laps with a rear brake problem.

Force India took advantage of misfortunate for Williams to secure a strong double points finish, with Sergio Perez leading home Esteban Ocon in sixth and seventh, respectively. Felipe Massa had been running a strong sixth when a slow puncture forced a second pit stop with just 11 laps remaining. The Williams dropped to ninth place and was then used by Bottas to help secure victory.

Under pressure starting the final lap, Bottas picked up DRS from his former teammate on the run to Turn 2, and dived down the inside under braking, leaving Vettel no time to follow him. With Vettel then stuck behind the Williams for the long left-handed Turn 3, the gap grew to over a second and provided the breathing space the Finn needed to hold off the Ferrari.

Massa was still trying to close down eighth-placed Nico Hulkenberg at the time but failed to do so, with Carlos Sainz rounding out the points in 10th place ahead of Lance Stroll – who secured his first grand prix finish – and Daniil Kvyat.

russia actionKevin Magnussen finished 13th after a frustrating race for Haas, having been 10th in the opening stint. The Dane was handed a five-second time penalty for cutting Turn 2 at the start of the race – a ruling that cannot be appealed – and dropped behind the Toro Rossos during his first pit stop as a result.

Magnussen's penalty was matched by Stoffel Vandoorne as part of a chaotic Turn 2 that saw Jolyon Palmer and Romain Grosjean collide. Palmer squeezed Grosjean onto the inside curb and was tapped into a spin, with the Renault sliding sideways and then collecting the Frenchman as he tried to go around the outside, taking both cars out.

Vandoorne eventually finished 14th ahead of the two Saubers, but teammate Fernando Alonso registered McLaren's second DNS in succession. After Vandoorne failed to start in Bahrain, Alonso complained of a power unit problem on the formation lap and stopped at the pit entry – forcing an extra formation lap – with a suspected ERS issue. The sight of the Spaniard angrily walking away from his car summed up the current situation for McLaren and Honda in F1 after a further reliability failure.

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36RD1111J.R. Hildebrand drove an inspired race Saturday night, maybe the best of his IndyCar career considering that broken left hand, but after finishing third at Phoenix International Raceway he couldn't wait to give a shout out to his engineer.

Because it was Justin Taylor's introduction into oval-track racing.

"Justin's been awesome, man," said Hildebrand of the sports car veteran who came from the Audi LMP1 ALMS/Le Mans program after it shut down last November. "To come into this whole thing and not know the car, we're at a whole bunch of tracks that he's not seen. Certainly the oval aspect of it, it's a lot to get used to."

And while it was Taylor debut at all left turns, it was also Hildebrand's return to the cockpit after badly breaking his left hand at Long Beach. He raced with a plate and 10 screws but made some great passes in his Fuzzy's Chevrolet to earn the second podium of his seven years in IndyCar.

36RD1143"It feels great for me and for I think on behalf of him (Taylor) and the team and some of the new guys that we've got to just be able to pull it out here," said Hildebrand (pictured), who posted the fastest speed in the open test and maintained that strong form in the race weekend. "We knew we had speed here. It's different to execute in the race in a way that you can stick it on the podium. I think it's definitely the start of good things to come for us. Hopefully we can get on a little bit of a roll heading into the thick of the season."

After sitting out Barber because his doctors said he could only make things worse, the former Indy Lights' champion wasn't about to miss PIR.

"Oh no, I told Ed (Carpenter) and the crew don't worry about finding somebody to drive this car here because I was not going to miss it," said the 29-year-old Californian who had been an Indy only and test driver for ECR before Ed Carpenter hired him to replace Josef Newgarden.
"It's obviously my first time back in the car full-time with aero kits and all this kind of stuff. We're all sort of learning a little bit still as we go along."

But Hildebrand came off the trailer strong and qualified third – splitting the four-car Team Penske armada – and did the same in the race.

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"It starts with just the development work that the team has done as a whole. We come into these places feeling really confident that if we don't touch anything and roll the thing out in qualifying or race trim, that we'll be kind of in the window. That goes a long way."

"I think it's definitely just something that we needed in the team, to be able to come to somewhere we knew we'd be good at. The first couple of races have been a little bit challenging, just getting things dialed in. This is somewhere we looked at on the schedule and knew we would have a fighting chance at it."

So now it's on to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where J.R. incurred an unparalleled when he crashed in Turn 4 heading for the checkered flag in 2011. But it's also a place he's always run strong and Saturday night was good for momentum.

"I think sort of coming away with a good weekend, executing at a high level, getting through everything, definitely builds some confidence going into the month of May," he said. "I love that place."

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