Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray

Crossroads for Burton, Labonte, as a new wave of NASCAR talent due to arrive

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Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte are more than likely in their last years as full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers. It’s somewhat sad, but also fairly predictable.

Burton announced his departure earlier this week from Richard Childress’ No. 31 Chevrolet at the end of the year at age 46. Labonte, 49, has had his consecutive starts streak snapped earlier this year, has missed a race due to injury and will be replaced full-time in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Toyota by AJ Allmendinger in 2014.

It’s likely the beginning of another sea change in NASCAR where the veterans who’ve raced in Cup since the ‘90s get phased out and a fresh batch come in.

The last one really came in about a decade ago, starting in 2004 and going through 2006. There, within those three years, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott and Ricky Rudd began to wind down their careers from full-time to partial schedules. Martin, of course, remains as fit as ever as a part-timer and Terry Labonte still runs a handful of restrictor plate races, but the other four’s driving days are over.

In those years, a new crop of drivers including Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. have all emerged as race winners and consistent Chase qualifiers, although none yet has a Cup championship. They also all entered at a point when sponsorship levels were at its highest, and allowed them to make the jump from the Nationwide and Truck ranks.

Starting this year in 2013, and for the next I would say two or three years, you’ll begin to see a drawdown of some the drivers who entered in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, and a new emergence of drivers.

Burton said earlier this week the series needs “new blood,” desperately.

“Oh, my God, yes,” was Burton’s response when asked whether the sport will be in good hands with the next new wave. “One of the things that the lack of sponsorship has created through these economic issues is opportunities for young drivers. We’re on the beginning edge of seeing a lot of new drivers coming into this sport.  I’m, you know, I know nobody believes this when I say it, because I’m 46 years old and I’m one of those guys that everybody wants my seat, but it’s time.

“It’s time for us to have some new drivers come in.  We really haven’t had a lot of new drivers coming into the Cup series or even into the Nationwide or Trucks.  You look around and you see, obviously, the name that’s everybody knows, the Dillons, and the obvious ones, Blaney and Morrisons, Jeb and Larson.  Everybody knows those.”

Burton says the expectations have changed for new drivers too, not only in terms of their on-track goals but their off-track marketing prowess.

“When I came in, the goal was to win Rookie of the Year, which was a big deal because the class I came in with Rookie of the Year, if you go back and look at who that was, that was an unbelievable class, and to finish 20th in the points. That was our goal.  I get the feeling that when these kids come in today, it’s like we’ve got to make the Chase, you know?  And it’s just a different expectation.  Sometimes we put too much on them.  We need to let them grow.  We need to let them make mistakes without so much pressure.  But it’s just so hard because everybody wants to be successful.”

The lack of available opportunities for youngsters coming up the last few years have made for a, with due respect to these winners, lackluster streak of official NASCAR Cup Rookies-of-the-Year. The last three winners are Stephen Leicht, Andy Lally and Kevin Conway, none of whom races in Cup full-time anymore. Lally, though, has returned to sports car racing where he is a star with privateer Porsche teams Dempsey and Magnus Racing.

But now, with the official arrival of Kyle Larson, the likely arrival of Austin Dillon, and others including but not limited to Parker Kligerman, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr., waiting in the wings between Nationwide, Trucks and regional NASCAR series, a new wave of drivers is coming. It will be fascinating to watch how things evolve.

Magnussen scores breakthrough points for Renault in Russia

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Kevin Magnussen believes that his charge to seventh place in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix was no less than Renault deserved as he score its first points since its return to Formula 1 as a constructor in 2016.

Renault last raced in F1 with its own team back in 2010 before taking over the Lotus operation at the end of last year.

The French manufacturer has said that 2016 is very much a year of rebuilding, yet the chiefs were known to be disappointed with its point-less start to the season.

Magnussen made the most of a messy start to charge from 17th on the grid to eventually finish the race seventh, marking Renault’s first F1 points as a constructor since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The result was also Magnussen’s first top 10 finish since the 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix when he finished ninth for McLaren.

“Feels good. It’s nice to finally get points on the board, and not even just one,” Magnussen told NBCSN after the race.

“I’m really happy. I think the whole team deserves it after the hard work and tough races. We have points on the board now, so it gives us a bit of a boost.”

Magnussen made up a number of positions on the first lap when a number of drivers got caught up in incidents before maintaining his placing throughout the race.

“First lap was really messy, we knew it would be difficult with something like that,” Magnussen said.

“Everyone was spinning and hitting the wall. I went outside all the front wings. But we made it up just before Turn 1 and 2, and gained it back into Turn 3. The guys in front didn’t finish.

“In the end of the day, a bit lucky but we made the best of it and we deserved.”

Grosjean hails ‘great job’ by Haas after returning to points in Russia

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Romain Grosjean ensured that Haas’ first Formula 1 points drought lasted just a single race by finishing Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix in eighth place.

Grosjean gave NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas’ eponymous operation a fairytale start to life in F1 by scoring points in its first two races in Australia and Bahrain.

However, Haas came back down to earth with a bump in China two weeks ago when both Grosjean and teammate Esteban Gutierrez failed to score, spending the entirety of their races outside the top 10.

Grosjean started 15th in Russia and struggled with the setup on his car all weekend long, but a messy first lap for the cars ahead allowed him to make up a number of positions.

Grosjean found himself running P8 in the closing stages of the race, and managed to soak up the pressure from a charging Sergio Perez to hold onto the position at the flag and pick up another four points for Haas.

“75 percent is a good score!” Grosjean told NBCSN after the race, citing Haas’ points ratio thus far in F1.

“Very difficult weekend. We did a very good first lap to get around all the incidents. Lost a position at the pit stop. I’m still not 100 per cent happy with the behavior but it should be better for the next race.”

Haas’ biggest strength so far this season has been its strategy calls, but the lack of tire wear in Sochi meant that a one-stop race was the only logical move for all teams to take.

“It was a very close strategy in terms of tires,” Grosjean said. “Everyone knew it would be supersoft, soft.

“But we avoided incidents and pushed where we could. At the end we did a great job.”

Kvyat comes under fire from Vettel, Ricciardo, paddock in Russia

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Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat put himself in the headlines and in the crosshairs for the second consecutive Grand Prix, although this time, his aggression appeared to get the better of him on home soil in Sochi, Russia.

Kvyat barged into Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at Turn 2, which left Vettel driving wounded for the next corner, but the German didn’t even make it much further because Kvyat hit him again at Turn 3.

The second blow took Vettel out of the race, his second first lap retirement in four races.

Kvyat was later assessed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for causing a collision. He ended his race in 15th after the messy day at the office.

While Kvyat could have been excused for going for it in Turn 1 at China two weeks ago, ultimately getting past Vettel inside to Vettel’s chagrin post-race, most agreed he was at fault on Sunday in Sochi for this incident.

Kvyat, meanwhile, was defiant when speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton post-race.

“Obviously in future days we’ll see a lot of clever comments from everyone,” the 22-year-old Russian told Buxton.

“My point of view, I locked my rear wheels. Simple as that. I didn’t brake too late. Ran into his back. Felt like someone pushed me from behind. Car was a bit of out of control.

“The main problem came in Turn 3, not Turn 2, when I think Sebastian had a problem with his car. He stopped very suddenly and I was just two meters behind him, and at that speed there was not much I can do to avoid. I apologize for ruining his race. But I’m human. His sudden deceleration was too much for me at that point at Turn 3.”

Vettel exploded on the radio in the immediate aftermath of the collision but was far more restrained and diplomatic when speaking to Buxton after he got taken out.

“Today it’s fairly obvious, he did a mistake again, obviously, it doesn’t help me now because I’m not in the car,” Vettel said.

“In the end we’re here to race. Massively pumped up. Had a super start, made progress into the second corner and got hit, then a second hit, which destroyed our race.”

Kvyat, meanwhile, continued with his point that he thought Vettel’s sudden slowing was more to blame for the Turn 3 contact.

“Exactly, yeah. Turn 3 is very fast. It wasn’t deliberate. Maybe after the first light contact in Turn 2, maybe there was problem with the car. To be sure he dropped his speed rate suddenly. I still expected to keep him. He was flat out util then.

“The stewards thought I crashed into him deliberately. The penalty was very harsh… but probably fair enough. It cost us points. These things happen and I usually learn from them.”

While Vettel was the main driver taken out in the opening turns, he wasn’t the only one who had his race compromised. Nico Hulkenberg and Rio Haryanto also retired in the melee.

And worse for Kvyat, his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo also got caught up in the scrap. Ricciardo, the usually ebullient Australian, expressed his Kvyat frustration to Buxton post-race.

“It was a first lap incident that shaped the race for us,” said Ricciardo, who finished outside the points in 11th, his first non-score (and non-fourth place) this year.

“From then we tried putting the medium (tires) on it but it didn’t work. Too much damage. I saw the right hand side of the car and there was a lot going on. First lap, and people getting a bit impatient I guess.”

Asked whether he felt Kvyat owed him an apology Ricciardo replied, “Yeah. I expect an apology. He owes it to a few people today.

“I saw a bit of a replay during the safety car. Tried to look at the screens. I have a feeling that’s what happened. I’ll watch again, but it seems, that had us over.

“We’ll see. It’s up to him.”

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner also appeared less than pleased with Kvyat, judging from quotes via Mobil 1 The Grid, and linked below:

When Kvyat was told Ricciardo wanted an apology from him, he replied thusly:

“Probably the whole paddock wants an apology from me, but we’ll speak inside the team after analyzing.

“It’s easy to attack now. Go on, attack me, no problem.”

Hamilton: No doubt I could have won Russian GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP collects his trophy for second from Dmitry Kozak, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia on the podium next to Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says there isn’t a doubt in his mind that he could have won Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix had it not been for a water pressure issue on his car during the race.

Hamilton was forced to start 10th in Sochi after suffering a failure on his power unit after Q2 in qualifying on Saturday.

The Briton made a good start to run fifth at the end of a messy first lap before picking off Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas to sit second behind teammate Nico Rosberg.

The gap between them stood at 12 seconds after the pit stops, but Hamilton was able to whittle this down to just 7.5 seconds with over 20 laps of the race still to run.

However, Mercedes told Hamilton to back off after a water leak emerged on his car, allowing Rosberg to ease to his seventh straight win by 25 seconds.

“Not the easiest first corner but all races have been the same so far,” Hamilton said on the podium after the race.

“Really happy for the team and I’ve got the points.”

When asked if he had the pace to win the race, Hamilton said: “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind I could win it.

“I had the pace, but I had a problem with the engine again so I had to back off. Just trying to look after it.”

Hamilton heads to the start of the European season in Spain on May 15 with a 43-point deficit to Rosberg, but with 17 races remaining in the season, the championship race remains firmly alive.