Coke Zero 400 - Practice

Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally break 34-race restrictor plate track drought Saturday at Daytona?

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. once was the undisputed king of restrictor plate racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

From 2001 to 2004, Earnhardt won seven plate races. Five came at Talladega Superspeedway (including four in a row from 2001 to 2003).

Two other wins came at Daytona International Speedway: the 2001 Pepsi 400, an emotional homage to his father, who was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 less than five months earlier, as well as the 2004 Daytona 500.

But Junior has not won a plate race in nearly nine years, the last being in October 2004 at Talladega.

Add it up and he hasn’t won a restrictor plate race in his last 34 attempts!

Sure, he’s come close with three runner-up and three other third-place finishes at Daytona, and a runner-up at Talladega, but the fact remains he isn’t the plate racer he once was.

And no one knows that better than Junior.

“We’ve come awfully close trying to win the 500 in the last few years,” Earnhardt said during his weekly media availability Thursday at Daytona. “We’ve been finishing well, but haven’t really been able to figure out what I need to do to get into first place on the last lap.

“We’ve had no problem finding our way to the front, but not been able to overtake the leaders. So, I think we might need to try to be at a better position sooner, where we’re not having to have to do so much right at the end of the race and not have an opportunity to challenge for the win.”

As he prepares for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400, Earnhardt knows what he has to do in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – both in the race itself as well as for the remainder of the season as he once again continues to chase his first Sprint Cup championship.

“Maybe throughout the race trying to be a little more proactive toward improving track position, being a little more aggressive just trying to improve track position might be in our best interest if we want to try to have a shot at winning,” Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt was aggressive earlier this season, with finishes of second (Daytona 500), fifth, seventh, sixth and second (Fontana) in his first five starts. In fact, Earnhardt even was No. 1 in the Sprint Cup standings after Fontana – albeit for just one week.

But in the last seven weeks, Earnhardt hasn’t had the same kind of performance as earlier in the season, battling inconsistency and, surprisingly, engine issues in at least two races.

As a result, he’s dropped from third to a season-low of seventh before climbing back to sixth place in the weekly standings the last two weeks.

He’s looking to climb back up even further Saturday and has his strategy already set in his mind.

“Being aggressive and trying to get track position or make track position happen or move forward, just mentally aggressive, not out there driving in the side of everybody, more so, just trying to force myself to take a few more chances,” Earnhardt said.

One other thing that Earnhardt, who hasn’t won a race now in more than a year, will likely change for Saturday: to make what he hopes is his race-winning kick a little bit sooner than he typically does.

“You just continue to leap frog one at a time, but that one guy you aren’t successful with (as a drafting partner) you go all the way to the back,” he said. “It’s a gamble, but maybe if you want to win the race, I’ve got to be further ahead than fourth on the last lap.

“We had enough race car to win the (Daytona) 500 and just ran out of laps. I need to be a little further forward to be able to have that shot.”

(By the way, in case you want to take a trip back memory lane to see Junior’s last plate race win, here it is:)

James Key notes similarities between Toro Rosso, Mercedes 2017 F1 cars

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 26: Scuderia Toro Rosso Team Principal Franz Tost, Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz of Spain and Scuderia Toro Rosso and James Key, Technical Director of Scuderia Toro Rosso unveil the Scuderia Toro Rosso STR12 in the pitlane during previews to F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 26, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Scuderia Toro Rosso technical chief James Key has noted the similarities in the design between his team’s new Formula 1 car and Mercedes’ W08 EQ Power+.

Toro Rosso unveiled its new STR12 car on Sunday in Barcelona prior to the start of pre-season testing on Monday, with the team’s striking new livery being the biggest talking point.

After returning to current-year power units courtesy of Renault, hopes are high at Faenza that Toro Rosso could be the surprise package of F1 in 2017, particularly given the change in the regulations.

Speaking to reporters following the STR12’s launch, Key was quick to note that Toro Rosso appeared to have coincidentally gone down a similar path to Mercedes when it came to interpreting the new regulations.

“I looked at the Mercedes and thought: ‘Ah, OK. They’ve got our front suspension’. Most people will say we’ve got Mercedes’ front suspension,” Key said, as quoted by Reuters.

“The nose is similar, the front of the side pods is similar, even the bodywork of the sidepods is similar. Let’s just hope the engines are similar!”

Despite being on the same wavelength as the three-time reigning constructors’ championship-winning team, Key admitted he felt a twinge of disappointment.

“On the one hand we were pleased to see someone else has done a similar thing; on the other hand we were disappointed that we weren’t the only team to think of something,” Key said.

“There are many different concepts out there, actually.”

Toro Rosso finished seventh in last year’s constructors’ championship, having spent the latter part of the season largely hamstrung by the 2015-spec Ferrari engine it was using.

Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat return for another year with Toro Rosso in 2017, with the first public running of the STR12 coming in the next few days at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Formula 1 gets colorful: Here are all 10 liveries for 2017

© Getty Images
© Getty Images
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Following Scuderia Toro Rosso’s launch of the new STR12 car on Sunday night, the Formula 1 grid is now set ahead of the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona on Monday.

All 10 teams have sported cars that are quite the deviation from their predecessors, as forced by the overhaul of the technical regulations for the new season.

While the changes are mainly in place to make the cars quicker on-track, they also look more visually appealing than the 2016 grid – even if the debate over the ‘shark fin’ is set to rage on.

F1 has also got more colorful, with a number of teams sporting big livery changes that will make cars easier to pick out when you tune in across NBC Sports this season.

Here is what the grid will look like for F1 in 2017.

Mercedes W08 EQ Power+

2017 Silver Arrows Collateral Day Photography - Steve Etherington
© Mercedes AMG Petronas

Red Bull RB13

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© Red Bull Racing

Ferrari SF70H

© Scuderia Ferrari
© Scuderia Ferrari

Force India VJM10

© Sahara Force India
© Sahara Force India

Williams FW40

© Wil
© Williams Martini Racing

McLaren-Honda MCL32

 (Photo by McLaren F1 via Getty Images)
© McLaren F1 via Getty Images

Toro Rosso STR12

© Scuderia T
© Scuderia Toro Rosso

Haas VF-17

© Haas F1 Team
© Haas F1 Team

Renault R.S.17

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Sauber C36

© Sauber
© Sauber

Toro Rosso reveals STR12 F1 car with striking new livery

© Scuderia T
© Scuderia Toro Rosso
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Scuderia Toro Rosso has completed a busy launch week for Formula 1 by unveiling its new STR12 car that will race in 2017.

As rumored, Toro Rosso presented a car with a drastically different livery to the one that has been present for much of its time in F1, varying from the dark blue and red colors the Red Bull sister team has been known for.

Now a metallic blue becomes the primary color for the car, with silver and red highlights being used for the Red Bull branding.

Drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat were on-hand to unveil the STR12, which sported a radical new look to fall in line with the new technical regulations in F1 for 2017.

Most noticeable on the car is the addition of a ‘shark fin’ to the engine cover, something that the majority of teams have ran with for their launches so far.

The team also released a launch video showing the STR12 enjoying its first on-track test.

Toro Rosso ended last year seventh in the constructors’ championship, but suffered a dip in form towards the end of the season after sticking with 2016-spec Ferrari power units.

For 2017, the team will once again link up with Renault and use current-year engines, giving it the chance to compete throughout the campaign.

Sainz was one of F1’s unsung heroes through 2017, leading Toro Rosso’s charge following Max Verstappen’s promotion into a Red Bull seat four races into the year.

After spending the middle part of the season regaining his confidence after moving in the opposite direction to Verstappen, Kvyat looked much stronger in the final flyaways, doing enough to secure a seat with Toro Rosso f0r 2017 in the process.

The STR12 has already completed a filming run at Misano in Italy, but will hit the track publicly for the first time on Monday with the start of pre-season testing in Barcelona.

Marc Marquez dislocates shoulder during private Honda MotoGP test

PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 15:  Marc Marquez of Spain and the Repsol Honda Team rides during 2017 MotoGP pre-season testing at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on February 15, 2017 in Phillip Island, Australia.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
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Reigning MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez suffered a dislocated shoulder during a private test earlier this week, the Repsol Honda team has confirmed.

Marquez, 24, was testing with Honda at the Jerez circuit in Spain when he suffered a crash on the second day of running.

The Spaniard sustained a dislocated shoulder, but Honda confirmed that it does not expect him to miss the next private test in Qatar prior to the start of the season.

“Medical checks show neither further damage nor any other injuries, and the rider from Cervera should be fit to finish preseason testing ahead of the first race of the season,” a statement reads.

“Today was a productive day, as we were able to do many laps and to work on our bike well. We did most of the work we had planned, which is good,” Marquez said of his test day.

“I crashed in the afternoon and dislocated my shoulder, but luckily it was nothing serious. Now I’ll have some rest back at home and get ready for the next test, in Qatar.”

The new MotoGP season gets underway on March 26 with the Qatar Grand Prix.