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.

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.