Jamie McMurray wins under caution at Talladega (VIDEO)

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With traditional plate racing stalwart Dale Earnhardt Jr. running second to Jamie McMurray on the final lap of today’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, it appeared everything was set for a thrilling finish.

But instead, McMurray won under caution after Austin Dillon, running third, snapped loose in front of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Turn 2 and then spun into the oncoming car of Casey Mears, who hit and sent the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship leader into the air briefly before he came back down right-side up.

Dillon would keep his car rolling back to the garage, and the incident ensured that McMurray would score his first Sprint Cup victory since the 2010 fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He led the final 16 laps in a race that was remarkably clean by Talladega standards and came off without the dreaded “Big One.”

“I felt like I was pretty patient all day, and I saw the 17 [Stenhouse] and 88 [Earnhardt] coming on the top, and it just seemed like the top was the best place to get hung out rather than be hung out on the bottom,” McMurray explained to ESPN. “Fortunately, I was able to get myself into position.

“I don’t know how the last lap would’ve played out. I could see the 88 trying to set me up, trying to figure out where he could get a run on me. But when I saw the caution come out behind me – I honestly wanted it to end under green, but at the same time, [I was like], ‘Throw a caution and I’m OK with it right now.'”

He would get his caution, which robbed Earnhardt of the chance to make one final assault for victory at the track where he’s triumphed five times in his career – but not since the fall of 2004.

“We were kind of forming our run around the middle of [Turns] 1 and 2, and I think we had a really good head of steam coming off of 2,” Earnhardt said. “Then they got together behind us and that was that. I was gonna try something down the back straightaway but I never got the chance.”

Meanwhile, the two main Chase contenders, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, were unable to have a say in the outcome. Johnson led a race-high 47 laps but finished 13th, while handling problems forced Kenseth to swallow a 20th-place result – and also caused him to lose the points lead, which Johnson now holds by a margin of four points going into next weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Stenhouse posted a strong third place result, with Paul Menard also having a good run to fourth. Kyle Busch rounded out the Top 5 after falling to the rear of the field when he was unable to get to his pit box during an early stop and had to come back a second time for service.

Hamilton leads first Monaco F1 practice, Button makes solid return

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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s ongoing battle for supremacy in Formula 1 continued during first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday morning as the duo locked out the top two positions.

Hamilton and Vettel have won four of the opening five rounds of the 2017 season and look set to enjoy a season-long fight for the championship, representing Mercedes and Ferrari respectively.

Hamilton drew first blood in Monaco, turning in a best lap of 1:13.425 around the tight streets of the principality to finish two-tenths clear of Vettel at the top of the timesheets.

The session saw Mercedes and Ferrari run close once again, yet Red Bull was also able to get into the mix at the head of the field with Max Verstappen finishing third-fastest, three-tenths of a second off the pace. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was fifth-fastest.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth in the second Mercedes, but Kimi Raikkonen was less able to match his teammate’s pace, coming home seventh for Ferrari, half a second down on Vettel’s time in the same car.

Toro Rosso and Force India both had impressive sessions as both teams got their drivers into the top 10. Daniil Kvyat was sixth for Toro Rosso as teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. was ninth, sandwiched by Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon for Force India.

Jenson Button’s first running in a 2017-spec F1 car was impressive as he finished 14th for McLaren ahead of his one-off grand prix return. The Briton turned in 31 laps in total and lapped less than two-tenths of a second slower than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, proving he has lost little of his touch over the winter.

Running in Monaco continues with second practice live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Thursday.

Sebastien Bourdais released from IU Methodist hospital; begins rehab

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais only posted just yesterday that he was “unable to go for a run” – his spirit and humor clearly not affected despite sustaining multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in his crash during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 18 GEICO Honda on Saturday.

On Thursday, his post revealed even better news: he’s been released from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and will be set to fly home soon to Florida for his rehabilitation.

Bourdais’ place in the race at Dale Coyne Racing will be taken by James Davison, but judging by this first round of leaving, the Frenchman is keen to begin the recovery process as quick as humanly possible.

Bottas remains confident he can close gap in F1 title race

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MONACO (AP) Valtteri Bottas has put his recent bad luck behind him and remains confident he can close the gap in the Formula One title race at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver’s fledgling Mercedes career has been a topsy-turvy one since he joined from Williams as a replacement for F1 champion Nico Rosberg.

He drove brilliantly to win his first career race at the Russian Grand Prix after securing his first ever pole position in Sochi last month. But two weeks ago he was undone by engine problems in practice for the Spanish GP and then failed to finish because of a turbo issue late in the race.

“It’s one to forget for sure. It’s been a bit up and down for me this year,” Bottas said Wednesday at the Monaco GP. “Bad result, good result.”

His other results so far are two third places and one sixth place, putting him 41 points behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and 35 behind three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes teammate.

“The gap to Sebastian, to Lewis, is bigger than I was hoping for this year. But things can change quickly,” Bottas said. “What gives me confidence is that there is still 75 percent of the season left. I feel my best races are ahead this year. I feel I’ve done a good job in some races, but I feel there is more to come to be at a consistently good level.”

Although Bottas has impressed with this speed, he has yet to show the hallmarks of a genuine title contender.

His magnanimous approach goes somewhat against that.

Bottas showed his team ethic by allowing Hamilton past him in Bahrain so that the British driver could chase after Vettel.

He did so again in Barcelona, holding up Vettel for a crucial few laps. That allowed Hamilton to gain some precious seconds on Vettel’s chasing Ferrari. Hamilton won a thrilling race, Vettel was second and Bottas got nothing – except praise for his efforts.

It is a difficult situation for Bottas, who is on a one-year contract and has the added pressure of the demanding Hamilton as a teammate. With 55 race wins to his name, Hamilton is clearly the No. 1 driver, even though the team has not officially said so.

Over the past three years, Hamilton was on an equal footing with Rosberg as they fought each other for the title. This led to tensions and fall outs.

The 27-year-old Bottas is not relishing the prospect of finding himself in a similar position. But it might become inevitable if he does manage to close the gap on Hamilton and turn the title race into a genuine three-way battle.

“I can’t even imagine how it can be after a few years with a teammate battling for the title always. There is respect both ways (with Hamilton), which is good,” Bottas said. “(We are) just enjoying working together and hopefully that will help us in this close fight with Ferrari. It is a team sport anyway, so we need to push forward together.”

It’s hardly the talk of a driver desperate to win the title.

F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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From the streets of Monte Carlo, Monaco, comes the crown jewel of the Formula 1 season (all times for the weekend via NBC or NBCSN here) this weekend, the Monaco Grand Prix.

And here with the pre-race updates from the paddock are NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales, along with the race crew from the F1 on NBC team who are on site in Monaco.

This is an interesting weekend for Monaco, given the Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battle for race wins and the championship so far in 2017. There’s also the question of whether someone can spring a surprise in Monaco, as has been done on several occasions over the years.

Here’s the show, below: