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NASCAR’s Gordon, IndyCar’s Kanaan disagree over crowd sizes between series

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With the Sprint Cup circus returning to Pocono Raceway this weekend, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon (pictured) was asked Friday about his experience watching the IndyCars’ return to the ‘Tricky Triangle’ last month.

The former “Rainbow Warrior” made clear his appreciation for the quickness of the open-wheel machines, saying that it was “so cool to see those cars doing those types of speeds around this track.” But Gordon also noted something else at Pocono – the difference between the crowd sizes that IndyCar and NASCAR attract to the 2.5-mile oval in Pennsylvania.

“I am very, very appreciative of this sport and this series that we are in because when you drive in that tunnel for an IndyCar race, and you drive in here for a NASCAR race – you get a perspective of how big our sport is,” he said.

He also added: “Sometimes we see the decline or something going flat and we are not seeing these grandstands filled up, but let me tell you, go to an IndyCar race and then a month or two weeks later and come back here. We better be very thankful for all the people we have here. It’s pretty amazing.”

When those comments got back to Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, he issued a cutting response.

“I was at the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 [both at Indianapolis Motor Speedway],” Kanaan said according to Curt Cavin of The Indianapolis Star. “It was the same shock to me.”

Cavin writes that a surprised Kanaan asked twice about the context of Gordon’s comments. For the record, Ryan Newman won last weekend’s Brickyard in front of an estimated crowd of 80,000. Kanaan won the Indy 500 in May in front of an estimated crowd of 250,000.

Now, it’s easy to give Gordon the benefit of the doubt. He doesn’t seem like a guy that we’d expect to bash somebody or something just for the sake of doing so.

He acknowledges that NASCAR’s popularity has dipped a little bit. Also, he probably knows that the fans’ ability to travel to events has been hampered by a rough economy.

Nonetheless, it’s still the most popular form of racing in this country despite those problems. Certainly, that’s something for him and his stock car compatriots to be thankful for.

But after seeing one of his sport’s crown jewels, the Brickyard 400, play out last weekend in front of perhaps one-third capacity at IMS, it may still be surprising to some that Gordon would comment on the topic of crowd size – especially after the noticeable amount of press that was focused on NASCAR’s attendance woes at the world’s greatest racecourse.

What do you think, readers? Were Gordon’s words unflattering toward IndyCar, or was he simply being grateful for NASCAR’s relative prosperity?

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Monaco GP

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Dubbing the Monaco Grand Prix as the ‘jewel in Formula 1’s crown’ may be an overused cliche, yet it also perfectly describes what is unquestionably the biggest event of the sport’s season.

Off-track, the rich and famous come out to see the on-track warriors enter battle at one of the most challenging circuits in world motorsport.

Nico Rosberg remains the championship leader upon arrival in Monaco, and he is also the man to beat around the streets where he grew up after winning the last three grands prix in the principality.

However, with Red Bull riding high after Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton keen to end his win drought, the German is unlikely to have things all his own way.

As ever, MotorSportsTalk editor Tony DiZinno and lead F1 writer Luke Smith have made their predictions for the weekend ahead. Let us know your picks in the comments section below.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg may have won the last three races around here, and Red Bull may have led the way during practice, but I’m backing Hamilton to get back into the title race on Sunday. With rain forecast, it’s about time the three-time champ delivers one of his career-defining drives, dominating proceedings while the rest flounder.

Surprise Finish: Esteban Gutierrez. After such a miserable start to the season, I’m backing Guti to end his luckless streak and score his first points since the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.

Most to Prove: Nico Rosberg. Around the streets he grew up, Rosberg needs to truly prove his title credentials this weekend by defeating Hamilton in a straight fight… which we’re still yet to get this year…

Additional Storyline: Max in the spotlight. After his victory in Spain two weeks ago, Verstappen is the man of the moment. Quite how he manages to cope with the pressure in Monaco and build on this result will be fascinating to see.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. There is nothing on current form that makes me confident in this pick but man if there was a place for Hamilton to make some sort of comeback to his season and erase the negativity after the Spanish GP start dust-up, it’s here.

Surprise Finish: Nico Hulkenberg. Again, nothing on current form suggests any sort of Hulkenberg result is imminent, but frankly, given how poor his run is – he hasn’t even finished lately – he’s gotta be due for some points score. Right?

Most to Prove: Max Verstappen. Yeah, what are you gonna do for an encore, kid? After turning the F1 world on its head two weeks ago with an incredible, near impossible to believe win on debut for Red Bull, how will he follow up this week?

Additional Storyline: Pirelli ultra-soft tire debut. They’re the most popular tire choice and the fascinating element will be just how long they last.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull

Ricciardo takes Red Bull top in second Monaco GP practice

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo proved that Red Bull’s race-winning pace in Spain two weeks ago was no flash-in-the-pan by comfortably finishing fastest in the second practice session for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday.

Ricciardo arrived in Monaco hopeful of emulating teammate Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain, armed with an updated Renault power unit for the weekend.

Fitted with the new ultra-soft tire that is debuting in Monaco, Ricciardo dominated proceedings to finish six-tenths of a second clear of the field in FP2.

A fastest lap of 1:14.607 was enough to give Ricciardo P1 at the checkered flag, firing a warning shot to Mercedes heading into the rest of the weekend.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had eased to a one-two finish in FP1 earlier in the day, but they were forced to settle for second and third in the afternoon.

Verstappen followed closely behind in fourth for Red Bull, while the Toro Rosso pair of Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. impressed to finish fifth and sixth in FP2.

Kimi Raikkonen finished seventh in a difficult session for Ferrari that saw Sebastian Vettel hit the wall twice. The German driver escaped any serious damage, but could only finish ninth overall. Sergio Perez split the pair, while Jenson Button rounded out the top 10 for McLaren.

Much like FP1, the session was interrupted by a handful of on-track incidents. Romain Grosjean sustained damage to the front of his car after hitting the wall at the exit of the tunnel. Rio Haryanto also required repairs after a similar error, clattering the rear of his Manor into the barrier.

It proved to be a session to forget for Renault as both Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen hit trouble. Palmer missed the first hour of running due to an issue on his car, while Magnussen shunted his front-end at the final corner, prompting a Virtual Safety Car period.

Practice and qualifying in Monaco takes place on Saturday, with Friday being the traditional ‘off’ day.

Vettel reflects on early success in wake of Verstappen’s victory

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 15: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing is congratulated on his first F1 win on the podium by Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 15, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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In the wake of Max Verstappen’s shock maiden grand prix victory in Spain two weeks ago, four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel has reflected on his own early success in the sport, saying it can be “difficult to grasp”.

Verstappen became the youngest winner in F1 history at the age of 18 in Barcelona, breaking Vettel’s record that had stood since the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.

Both drivers were members of the Red Bull junior programme, making their way through Toro Rosso before racing for the energy drink giant’s senior F1 team.

When asked by NBC Sports in Wednesday’s pre-Monaco FIA press conference for his thoughts on Verstappen’s success, Vettel noted that at the same age he was only racing in Formula 3.

“I was in Formula Three so I can’t possibly share…” he said.

“But yeah, in both cases probably the circumstances were very new. It wasn’t an expected win, probably little bit less for me at the time.

“Still, I think your first grand prix win is something. You’re over the moon. Something very difficult to grasp.

“I’m sure he felt now how it was and he wants to do it again. That’s how I felt back then.

“It’s up to all the rest of us to ensure it doesn’t happen too often.”

Verstappen has been subject to a great media focus in his native Netherlands after becoming the nation’s first grand prix winner.

“Yeah, it was pretty crazy in Holland,” Verstappen said.

“The first Dutch winner I think it’s always very special, so I can call myself now the youngest and the oldest – something I’m the oldest in!

“Luckily, I didn’t go out too much in Holland on the streets, just enjoying my time a bit with family and friend but of course hopefully we’ll see more fans [at races], that’s for sure.”

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: What’s next for Max, Mercedes, Ferrari?

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 25:  The Drivers Press Conference with Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing, Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP, Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari, Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Manor Racing, Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1, and Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain and Renault Sport F1 during previews to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 25, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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As we prepare for arguably the biggest weekend on the motorsports calendar, with the Monaco Grand Prix, the 100th Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 all in a row this Sunday, we do have to take a look back on some of the bigger stories that have occurred in the last few weeks.

Luckily, Stefan Johansson has checked in with another new installment of his blog, in an interview with Jan Tegler.

And the last Grand Prix two weeks ago in Barcelona, where the Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates crashed into each other on the opening lap, then Max Verstappen took his maiden Grand Prix victory, provided no shortage of story lines.

Let’s talk the Max factor, first. Johansson was quick to praise Verstappen’s racecraft, but also made the note that the nature of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya can lend itself to surprise race scenarios.

“I think he did a phenomenal job and no doubt, he’s the future of Formula One. But Barcelona is also a track which maybe more than any other track on the calendar lends itself to a scenario like this,” Johansson writes. “Don’t forget, Pastor Maldonado won a race there too under very similar circumstances, when Alonso was chasing him the entire race but could not find a way past.

“The speed difference between the Ferraris and the Red Bulls wasn’t large enough to make passing realistic. As long as Verstappen didn’t make a mistake – and full credit to him for being mistake-free – all he had to do was drive his own race. He didn’t have to fight for the win the way he might have had to at another track. Still, he did a sensational job.”

Johansson added a line that Verstappen’s now former teammate at Scuderia Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz Jr., got almost no love in the immediate aftermath despite a career day of his own with a sixth place finish.

“On the other hand, Carlos Sainz has gotten almost zero credit and he also did a sensational job. He finished 6th in a car that’s clearly not anywhere near as competitive as the Red Bull. But that’s F1. The media build guys like Verstappen way up. Then if they fail, they bury them just as fast.”

How Verstappen got in the win situation to begin with came courtesy of the controversial first lap contretemps between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the Mercedes teammates.

So what did Johansson think of the proceedings?

“I really think it was just a racing incident,” he writes. “A combination of things came together in a fraction of a second, literally. I don’t think there was any intent from either driver to do anything particularly sinister. It was a chain reaction triggered by Rosberg’s lack of power.

“My argument has always been that you race fairly and you should leave at least a car width if someone gets a good run on you. But that’s not the ethic these days. So the nature of racing now means that this can happen. You act on instinct with these rules in place and in this case, I don’t think you can blame one or the other. It was a racing incident.”

Proof, then, that not every incident needs a single person or driver to take the full blame.

Beyond Red Bull and Mercedes, there is Ferrari, a team near and dear to Johansson’s heart considering he used to race for the Scuderia.

But with results not coming at all – the team won three Grands Prix last year but has got off to a less than perfect start to 2016 – the question is when will Ferrari win again?

Johansson makes the point that good relationships need time to blossom, build, gel and take time.

“When Ferrari was winning everything (1999-2004) they had a dream team that will probably never exist again in Formula One. Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Rory Byrne and Michael Schumacher – these are some of the best guys ever in F1 and they all made a pact to stick together and drive Ferrari forward through thick and thin. That’s what made them successful,” he writes.

Can Ferrari turn it around? We’ll see starting this weekend in Monaco.

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.