Brian Vickers to attempt grueling dual road-course weekend

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Brian Vickers loves to race, any time, anywhere. He also loves to travel.

He’ll get more than his share of both this weekend, as he’s the only driver who will attempt to race in Saturday’s Nationwide Series Johnsonville Sausage 200 (no, we’re not making that name up) at Road America and then double up by competing in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

That’s 202 miles around the 4.05-mile Road America layout in the heart of Wisconsin’s Dairyland, the longest road course in NASCAR, and another 219 miles (350 kilometers, hence the name) at Sonoma’s 1.99-mile track in California’s wine country, the shortest road course in NASCAR competition.

Grand total: 421 miles of racing — barring any green-white-checker finishes that may take one or both races into overtime.

That’s the easy part.

There’s another 2,180 miles that Vickers must traverse to get from Road America to Sonoma. Let’s also not forget the 950 miles from Charlotte to Road America, and then the roughly 2,750 miles from Sonoma back to North Carolina.

Add it all up, between racing and flying and Vickers will cover approximately 6,300 miles in a race car and airplane.

Just reading that distance is enough to tire someone out, let alone go through it like Vickers will.

“I’m looking forward to both of them,” Vickers said on NASCAR’s weekly media conference call Tuesday. “It’s going to take a little different mentality and technique going from Road America which is a little bit faster place to Sonoma which is a slower, more technical road race, but I’m up for the challenge and excited.”

It will be the first time racing at Road America for Vickers, while he’s raced seven times previously at Sonoma. Not only did he win the pole there in 2009, he had his best career finish there last year, with a strong fourth-place showing.

Vickers has to be at Road America: the driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing is competing on a full-time basis and for the championship in the Nationwide Series. Sonoma is an added bonus, a track he just loves to run on. Even though Jason Bowles will qualify the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota for Vickers in California, because of the driver change Vickers will have to start Sunday’s race from the back of the pack.

“Obviously missing qualifying at Sonoma and starting last is not going to help, but there are benefits,” Vickers said. “I think there’s opportunities at Sonoma to get to do a little bit different pit strategy. Knowing that you don’t really have track position to protect kind of can create opportunities. We’ve been there in the past where we’ve had either bad qualifying or something happened during the race and we had to come in and pit or penalties on pit road, like last year we had the penalty on pit road and had to go to the back and we worked our way back up to fourth, but as much as it hurt us, it also created opportunities.”

Even though its his first time on Road America’s 14-turn serpentine track (Sonoma has only 12 turns), Vickers hopes a strong finish will help him make a significant climb back upward in the Nationwide standings. After being ranked as high as third, wrecks in his last two races have plummeted Vickers to 10th in the series.

“Obviously setting up for a track that long, you have a lot of give and take, right?” Vickers said. “You get a little bit here but you give up a little bit here when you make a change in the setup. The longer the track, the worse that is.

“I would say the hardest thing for myself and I think a lot of guys going into this weekend is that we’ve never seen it. Most of the guys have not raced there, there’s a few that have. I believe maybe Sam Hornish has run there in other cars, Max Papis and a few guys, but most guys have not, including myself, and the hardest part is going to be just learning a new four‑mile race track.”

He’ll get to practice there Friday and qualify Saturday morning before Saturday afternoon’s race. With a 5:20 pm ET start, the field will have to hustle to the finish line: Road America does not have lights.

According to NASCAR, Vickers and 13 other drivers will be first-timers at Road America. The others are A.J. Allmendinger, Alex Bowman, James Buescher, Landon Cassill, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Mike Harmon (if NASCAR allows him to race after surrendering for arrest late Monday on burglary and theft charges), Parker Kligerman, Kyle Larson, Johnny O’Connell, Travis Pastrana, Regan Smith, Dexter Stacey and Derek White.

Not to be a Debby Downer, but for Vickers’ sake let’s hope there’s no rain delays or postponements at either place. It was just two weeks ago that Joey Logano tried to do a Saturday-Sunday twinbill, competing in a Saturday night Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway and then a Sunday afternoon matinee race at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.

While Logano had the best intentions, Mother Nature had other plans. The Iowa race was eventually postponed to Sunday morning due to rain, so Logano had to fly back to Pocono in the middle of the night. Ryan Blaney filled in for him at Iowa that Sunday morning, finishing ninth — very respectable given it was Blaney’s first Nationwide race of the season, and that he was thrown into it literally at the last minute.

As for Logano, the redeye flight didn’t seem to impact his Pocono performance too much: he finished 10th. Vickers can only hope for so much.

Bottas joins F1’s Finnish stars with Russian GP win

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One has a new Finnish iceman on top of the podium.

Valtteri Bottas kept his cool under pressure in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix to claim his first F1 victory, swooping past Sebastian Vettel for the lead on the first lap, and keeping the hard-charging German behind him on the final lap.

“When I drive, there’s not much emotion in there,” Bottas said after his win. “I’m just trying to get everything right and get every lap, every corner perfect.”

Bottas joins an illustrious list of Finnish winners, including Kimi Raikkonen who joined Bottas on the podium after finishing third. Raikkonen has long been nicknamed “The Iceman” for his cool demeanor, but Bottas showed he can be just as chilled. Long considered a potential winner, he’d made the podium 11 times before with Williams and Mercedes, but the top step was always just out of reach.

Bottas doesn’t go in for wild celebration, but he radiated calm satisfaction with a job well done.

“Hearing the Finnish national anthem is something quite special for me,” he said. “I always trust in my ability but it’s nice to get a confirmation.”

Just like Raikkonen, Bottas can occasionally get irritated by well-meaning advice from his team over the radio, and that happened Sunday.

“I had to ask for a bit more radio silence from the guys on the pit wall,” he said, “just for me to get on it and focus for it, and to feel a bit more like home. Nice and quiet, and that helped.”

A country of 5.5 million people, Finland has long punched far above its weight in international motorsport.

Just eight Finns have ever started a Formula One race. Of those, seven have made the podium at least once, five have won a race and three – Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Raikkonen – became world champions.

Last year’s champion, Nico Rosberg, raced as a German but is the son of 1982 champion Keke.

It was his decision to retire in the winter that opened the door for Bottas to move to Mercedes from Williams. In his fifth Formula One season, Bottas now has a car capable of fighting for regular wins and hopes Sunday will prove “the first of many.”

Sitting third in the standings after four races, could a world championship be within Bottas’ grasp?

As he said on the podium, “for me that’s the only goal in my career.”

Red Bull GRC: Speed leads VW, Andretti 1-2 in Memphis opener

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The new Red Bull Global Rallycross season is underway but it’s the same driver who has ended the last two years on top, Scott Speed, who kicks off 2017 in victory lane.

The two-time defending series champion, driving the No. 41 Oberto Volkswagen Beetle GRC for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, led home his teammate Tanner Foust in GRC’s trip to Memphis to kick off the new season. The win is also Speed’s 12th in the series, most in Global Rallycross history. Speed and Foust also won their respective semifinals.

“(Being the winningest GRC driver in history) is a great stat, but those wins are all part of having a great team – starting with Tanner Foust, I have an incredible teammate. The whole Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team just worked this offseason. We put in the work, and when we wanted to stop we worked some more. When you show up to the first race and you put this kind of performance down, it just makes all that work worthwhile. Big shout out to Circle K and Oberto for coming on this year, and obviously Rockstar – thanks so much, guys,” Speed said.

Foust was second in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle, starting his 2017 season one spot worse than he did last year. He swept the Phoenix doubleheader a year ago.

Steve Arpin, in his first race under the rebranded and phased Loenbro Motorsports effort, took the privateer No. 00 Jacob Companies Ford Fiesta ST onto the podium in third place. Arpin was the most consistent threat to the Volkswagen pair last year and has done well to carry that momentum into the start of 2017.

Rookies Mitchell DeJong and Oliver Eriksson finished fourth and fifth in superb efforts for Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE, taking their Nos. 24 and 16 Honda Civic Coupes to top-five finishes in their first weekend as teammates at the Supercars level for the Andreas Eriksson-led team.

Behind them, last year’s GRC Lites champion Cabot Bigham eighth in his first Supercars start for Bryan Herta Rallysport while Sebastian Eriksson limped to seventh in the third Honda with damage in the final. Chris Atkinson retired from the race with three laps to go in the first of two Subaru Rally Team USA WRX-STis, on what was a tough day for that team.

The final only saw eight cars take the start. Mechanical issues knocked Austin Dyne out of the weekend early in his first start with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, while damage on the initial start cost Patrik Sandell any hope of a result in his first final with Subaru.

In the 10-lap final around the 1.18-mile circuit which primarily utilized the Memphis International Raceway oval with a shorter dirt section, Speed and Foust both got the jump on a start, and were never headed the rest of the way.

The battle was for third between Arpin and DeJong, with Arpin taking the Joker on Lap 5 of 10 to move past the 2014 GRC Lites champion in his second Supercars weekend – DeJong debuted at Los Angeles last year.

GRC stays down south for its next race, Round 2 at Louisville, to be held on Sunday, May 21.

F1: Russian Grand Prix post-race interviews (VIDEO)

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The Russian Grand Prix is in the books, with Valtteri Bottas scoring his first career victory at Sochi.  Bottas had both a dynamic start and a dynamic defense for Mercedes against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win in his 81st career start, and fourth with Mercedes since changing over from Williams.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter Will Buxton caught up with a number of drivers either during or after the race. Those interviews are below.

More videos will come in the fourth and final weekend installment of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series. Stay tuned for that in the next day or so on NBCSports.com.

Anyway, Russia post-race interviews are below:

WIN. Valtteri Bottas

2. Sebastian Vettel

4. Lewis Hamilton

5. Max Verstappen

9. Felipe Massa

DNF. Daniel Ricciardo

DNS. Fernando Alonso

Hinchcliffe endures tough night in Phoenix to finish 12th

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James Hinchcliffe, off to one of the best starts he’s ever had in the Verizon IndyCar Series (certainly his best since his two wins in four races to start 2013) endured possibly the most frustrating race of his 2017 season Saturday night at Phoenix.

Down on pace to the Chevrolet cars, particularly those from Team Penske, Hinchcliffe had resigned himself to aim for “best in class,” and he had enough speed to run solidly in the top ten. However, as he explained, poor fuel mileage saw him be the first driver to pit during green flag pit stops, which elongated his final stint and forced him to make a late stop for fuel, dropping him to 12th at the end.

“Man, we just weren’t getting the mileage the other guys were. It’s too bad because the ARROW Electronics car was actually pretty strong,” he told NBC Sports. “We survived that first turn thing; it was unfortunate to see Mikhail (Aleshin) caught up in that.

“And we had decent pace, we were kind of hanging with Scott (Dixon) there in the first stint and ended up just having to pit way before anyone else. And five or six laps a stint compounding, we just never got the yellow at the right time to equalize the field and put us on the same page as everyone else. And at the end, we had to come in for that splash and go.”

Of course, the night could have been much worse, as he barely avoided the first turn pileup that collected five cars after teammate Mikhail Aleshin spun in Turn 2. “It was close, man. I saw Mikhail start to spin and come down, and then Marco (Andretti) hit the brakes and locked up and went around. I was lucky to avoid it, to be honest,” he said of the incident.

Despite finishing 12th, Hinchcliffe held onto fifth place in the standings, 39 points behind new championship leader Simon Pagenaud.

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