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All square between Kenseth, Johnson with three to go in Chase

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Martinsville Speedway was where Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson (an eight-time Martinsville winner) would dominate and second-place Matt Kenseth (who has never won at Martinsville) would try to minimize the points damage.

But instead, both men will be heading to Texas Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 tied atop the championship. Kenseth’s runner-up finish to race winner Jeff Gordon was enough to erase the four-point deficit he had going into today to Johnson, who led 123 laps before turning in a fifth-place result.

The two were the class of the field in the first half, but Kenseth faltered in the middle stages, dropping as far back as 16th place. However, the 2003 Cup champion was able to climb back up the pylon during a rash of caution periods and re-claimed the lead at Lap 374.

Kenseth held the point through pit stops under yellow with 83 laps remaining and stayed up front until Gordon’s late challenge. Gordon eventually took the lead for good with 21 laps to go and Kenseth was left to duel with Clint Bowyer for second – a duel that he would win by inches on the final lap.

While admitting disappointment at not being able to hold off Gordon, Kenseth knew that the weekend had been a successful one in regards to the championship.

Only three events remain in the season at Texas, Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 10), and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 17), and Kenseth feels confident of his chances.

“I always feel [the loss is] on me because they put me there and gave me the shot, but overall, what a great weekend,” he said. “I really felt like if we came out of here in the [Chase] lead or tied or close to it, I really felt like we got what it takes to race in the last three races.

“I feel like when my team is at its best and we do everything right, I feel like we can race anybody at these next three tracks.  I feel good about that. Anything can happen, but man, we’re in it, and we’re going to three really good tracks, so hopefully we can perform here the next three weeks and have a race.”

As for Johnson, he found himself stymied repeatedly on restarts in which he’d have to line up on the outside. On several of those occasions, he would lose multiple positions before finally getting to the inside line and work to get the spots back.

After the race, he said that he expected his championship battle with Kenseth and Gordon – now third in the Chase after his triumph this afternoon – to continue being the dogfight it has been.

“It’s been a great battle with the 20 car [Kenseth] and the 24 [Gordon] has really shown that he wants to be a part of this deal,” Johnson said to ESPN. “There’s no other way I’d want to go racing for a championship, and it’s exactly what the fans want to see.”

Rosberg struggles to P7 in Monaco: ‘I had no confidence out there’

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg claims to have lacked confidence with his car in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after finishing in a lowly seventh for Mercedes.

Rosberg started the race from second place on the grid, but was forced to give his position up to teammate Lewis Hamilton after pole-man Daniel Ricciardo opened up a big lead early on.

Hamilton ultimately went on to win the race, while Rosberg continued to struggle for pace in the wet conditions before the track dried out, dropping behind Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel.

Rosberg lost another place in the pits to Fernando Alonso after making the switch to slick tires, and spent the remainder of the race languishing behind the McLaren driver.

On the final lap, Rosberg lost P6 to Nico Hulkenberg on the run to the checkered flag, giving Hamilton a 19-point swing in the championship.

Despite still leading the drivers’ standings by 24 points, Rosberg admitted he was unsure why he was so slow in Monaco.

“I don’t know what the reason was. It was just very difficult out there on the intermediates,” Rosberg told NBCSN after the race.

“I just had no confidence out there, so I had to stay quite far away from the limit.

“Then after that, I had to let Lewis past to give him the chance to win, because with my pace I wouldn’t have had the possibility.

“So gave that a go, and then of course he did win, so good for the team.

“For me, I lost out a lot in the pit stops and everything, so that was disappointing.”

The result ends Rosberg’s record of having won every race he has finished in 2016.

Perez elated by Monaco podium, hails Force India tire calls

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India celebrates on the podium during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sergio Perez produced one of the stand-out performances of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix to score his third podium finish for the team and the fourth in its history.

Perez started seventh in Monaco, but rose to third once all of the drivers had made the switch to slick tires after jumping Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg in the pit stops.

The Mexican managed his tires well in the second half of the race and even looked capable of claiming a shock victory at one point.

Ultimately, he had to settle for third behind Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo, but was delighted with the result.

“I’m extremely happy because my team has done a tremendous job with the strategy, with the calls, with the pit stops,” Perez said.

“It’s been an amazing day for us, my their podium with the team, a special one to have in Monaco, especially in these race conditions.

“I want to dedicate this podium to our boss, Vijay Mallya. He has been very supportive during these times, and I really want to dedicate this one to him.”

Perez praised the strategy calls made by the Force India pit wall that gave him the chance to keep the faster Ferrari back.

“I think we did the right calls, I think the best tire for us was the softs at the end,” Perez said.

“I was controlling the pace in the beginning. Seb had a lot of pace, he was a lot faster than us.

“I think I was saving my tires. When I needed to push I had the tire left.

“It was an amazing race with all the calls and everything. I’m extremely happy.”

Ricciardo feels “screwed” after Red Bull pit error costs him Monaco win

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Daniel Ricciardo felt “screwed” after a pit stop error from his Red Bull team cost him a likely victory in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Ricciardo led the field away from pole position after the start behind the safety car, building a 13 second buffer to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in the early stages.

Hamilton took the lead thanks to a long first stint, but was due to run behind Ricciardo once all of the drivers had made the switch to slick tires just before half-distance.

However, Ricciardo was left stranded in his pit box for a number of seconds after a communication error by Red Bull meant his slick tires were not ready in time.

Ricciardo spent most of the remaining laps less than a second behind Hamilton, trying time and time again to pass before eventually dropping back in the final laps.

After a strategy error cost him victory in Spain two weeks ago, the usually-amiable Ricciardo was full of frustration on the podium after the race.

“I don’t even want to comment on the race to be honest,” Ricciardo said.

“Thanks to the fans, thanks for sticking out in this weather. From the outside we put on a show. Shouldn’t have been as exciting as it was to be honest.

“Two weeks in a row now I’ve been screwed, so it sucks. It hurts.”

Ricciardo revealed that it was Red Bull’s call for him to pit at the end of lap 32 and make the switch to super-soft tires

“I was called in the box, I didn’t make the call. I was called,” Ricciardo said.

“They should have been ready. It hurts, it hurts. I don’t have anything else to say to be honest.

“We had the speed in the wet on the start. We pulled away, pitted for inters, and we put ourself in a race with Lewis that we didn’t need to be in.

“Then the pit stop was the pit stop. I felt I was the quickest in all conditions. Second place doesn’t show much for it.”

Hamilton lost for words after second Monaco victory, 44th of career

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win on the podium during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton was lost for words on the podium after scoring his second victory in Monaco on Sunday and the 44th of his Formula 1 career.

Hamilton made a risky strategy work in difficult conditions to edge out Daniel Ricciardo in a classic race around the tight streets of Monaco.

The result not only marked the first victory of the season for Hamilton and his 44th in F1 (44 being his car number), but also cut the gap to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship down to 24 points.

“Thank God that today went the way that I hoped,” Hamilton said on the podium after the race.

“Big thank you to all the fans that came out today, really made the weekend, big thank you to my team for providing me with a great car to see it through to the end.

“Honestly, I’m lost for words really. I prayed for a day like this and it came true. I feel truly blessed.”

Hamilton made his ultra-soft tires last 47 laps – almost double the expected life of the compound – to eventually finish seven seconds clear of Ricciardo at the checkered flag.

“I’m telling you that was the longest run, particularly after I stopped for those tires,” Hamilton said.

“It was crazy how long that was and to understand how much you can use the tires, because you don’t know what end they’re going to go.

“I think the last lap was the time they were literally about to drop off, but thank god they stayed on.”

Hamilton took the lead of the race on lap 33 when a communication error at Red Bull left Ricciardo stranded in the pit lane waiting for his slick tires, costing him first place.

Hamilton was full of praise for Ricciardo, who was left bitterly disappointed after seeing the chance for his first Monaco victory pass by.

“Firstly a big congratulations to this guy, he drove phenomenally all weekend,” Hamilton said of Ricciardo.

“Just one of the best drivers I’ve raced against. He did a fantastic job today.

“That was a lot of pressure I was under, it was incredibly close, particularly on the restarts. He did a phenomenal job. I’m looking forward to many more battles with him.

“I’m sure he’s not the happiest because he started on pole, and it’s never good to start on pole and finish second. But he should feel proud of the way he drove.”

Rosberg endured a difficult race, finishing down in seventh place and losing 19 points to Hamilton in the title race as a result.

Although Hamilton is not thinking about the championship race, he admitted that after so many setbacks in 2016, it was nice for things to take a turn for the better.

“I haven’t even thought about that just yet,” Hamilton said when asked about the championship.

“Of course, we’re in the battle, we’re still going. There’s a long, long way to go.

“Just when you feel like it couldn’t get any worse, it gets better.

“I think really the message from today for everyone is never give up.”