Martinsville Update: Yellows, yellows everywhere

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The seventh race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Martinsville Speedway has been filled so far with caution periods, causing the race to take on a ragged sort of character during its first half.

Pole sitter Denny Hamlin only led the first two laps before Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson took the lead at Lap 3. Shortly afterwards, the caution came out at Lap 7 after Carl Edwards spun out Jeff Burton in Turn 3. The resulting stack-up also left some other cars with various bits of damage.

Johnson led the field down to the green for the restart at Lap 20, but on Lap 25, Kyle Busch got to the inside of Johnson and eventually cleared him to begin his turn at the point. Matt Kenseth soon followed his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate past Johnson for second position, and then on Lap 36, he rose to the lead over Busch.

Kenseth and the rest of the leaders began winding their way through lapped traffic just before Lap 50, and a rhythm was found with Kenseth ahead of the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Johnson and Jeff Gordon. As for Busch, he slipped back to fourth while Juan Pablo Montoya made his way into the Top 5 by Lap 80 after starting 13th.

On Lap 88, contact between Edwards and Travis Kvapil sent the latter spinning and would trigger a wave of pit stops under yellow. Kenseth was able to win the race off pit road and keep his lead, with Gordon, Johnson, Busch and Montoya following him out. All of them, as well as the entirety of the Top 10 coming to the restart at Lap 95, took four tires.

Kenseth quickly sped away from Johnson at the green, while Montoya leaped from fifth to third. But Busch dropped back to seventh before the field strung back out to largely single-file action.

However, Johnson would reel Kenseth back in and grabbed the lead at Lap 111 after taking Kenseth on the inside of Turn 1 and emerging from Turn 2 with the edge. Gordon would then take second from Kenseth, making for a Hendrick 1-2 at Lap 125.

Contact between Bobby Labonte and David Reutimann brought out the yellow again at Lap 140. The leaders once again returned to the pits for service, and Johnson managed to get out first to stay on top.

When the green returned at Lap 147, Johnson on the inside line was stronger than Montoya on the outside and got himself out front. Montoya also lost second and third after the restart to a resurgent Gordon and Kenseth.

A problem for Kyle Larson at Lap 166 slowed the race once more and presented another opportunity for pit stops to the leaders. Johnson once again came out first but with another Hendrick teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr.,right behind him.

Burton did not pit under the yellow, allowing him to assume the lead for the restart at Lap 181. Johnson was able to get around Burton, but then a multi-car incident ensued in Turn 1 to force another yellow. Among those taking damage were Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Kasey Kahne, whose car needed to be pulled out of the grass between Turn 1 and 2.

Johnson and Kenseth quickly grabbed the top two spots off the restart at Lap 192, and left Montoya to fend for himself in third. But the yellow would come back again shortly after Lap 200 when Kurt Busch spun out in a Turn 3 battle with Jamie McMurray and then skidded into an oncoming Mark Martin.

The Top 8 stayed out under caution while Gordon led a group of cars to the pits at Lap 205. He would line up 13th for the restart at Lap 210, while Johnson, Kenseth and Montoya again stretched out their 1-2-3 position.

On Lap 217, Kenseth was able to get position on the inside of Johnson and take the advantage from the Chase leader. Another yellow for Kvapil at Lap 219 allowed Earnhardt, who had fallen outside of the Top 10, to come to pit road for service.

Kenseth was able to take the lead off the restart at Lap 223, while Montoya and Johnson fought each other for second behind him. Johnson would lose the battle as well as third and fourth spots before he finally settled to the inside line in fifth behind Joey Logano.

Another Reutimann spin triggered the yellow (stop us if this sounds like a broken record). Under this yellow, Johnson opted to go to the pits along with Kyle Busch and others. Kenseth and the rest of the lead pack stayed out, while Johnson was 16th at the Lap 236 restart.

Two laps later, Clint Bowyer worked his way around Kenseth for the point, and at Lap 250 of 500, he was the leader of the race.

F1’s 2017 can match 2013’s mark of no back-to-backs this week

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One of the interesting nuggets about this 2017 Formula 1 season, as the year has ebbed and flowed between Mercedes and Ferrari on top with the occasional Red Bull surprise, is that a single driver has not recorded back-to-back victories through the first 10 races.

Sebastian Vettel kicked proceedings off at Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix, with Lewis Hamilton then winning his first race of the year in Shanghai in the rain at the Chinese Grand Prix.

From there, it’s gone Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel, Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Bottas and Hamilton heading into this week’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

When looking back in the archives, you only need to look four years ago to 2013 to find the last time a season started with 10 races and no drivers having won back-to-backs Grands Prix – a streak which ran 11 races.

Kimi Raikkonen won at Melbourne to start the year, with Vettel then winning his first race of 2013 in controversial fashion in the infamous “Multi 21” Red Bull team orders fiasco with Mark Webber in Sepang at Melaysia.

Fernando Alonso then won for Ferrari, followed by Vettel, Alonso (that being his most recent Grand Prix win, Spain of 2013), Nico Rosberg, Vettel, Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton and Vettel. Hamilton’s win at Hungary in 2013 was his first win for the Mercedes AMG Petronas team after switching from McLaren.

But from here, Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix, Round 11 of that season, for what was his fifth victory of the season… and promptly ran the table from there. After there were no back-to-back winners in 10 races, Vettel won the last nine consecutively. His radio call after winning at Circuit of The Americas – “cherish these times” because you don’t know how long they’ll last – was particularly prescient as he never won again for Red Bull after 2013, then departed for Ferrari in 2015.

A year earlier, the 2012 season set an incredible mark with the first 14 races occurring before a driver recorded back-to-back victories, and again, it was Vettel who was first to win two in a row when he did at Singapore and Japan that season. Prior to that, the campaign opened with seven winners in as many races (Jenson Button, Alonso, Rosberg, Vettel, Pastor Maldonado, Webber, Hamilton) with a handful of those then winning further races from there.

As it sits now, Vettel hasn’t won since Monaco and the Hungaroring in Budapest – a similar low horsepower, high downforce type of track – represents his best chance to win his fourth Grand Prix of the season.

Hamilton, meanwhile, is already a four-time winner this year and a five-time winner in Hungary in his career.

A Vettel win would keep the streak of no back-to-back winners alive, with 11 races without a driver going back-to-back. A Hamilton win would end it at 10 and make him the first driver to put together a streak this year.

Either way, it’s been a refreshing change of pace because here have been the runs drivers have gone on since that 11-for-11 start without back-to-backs in the last five years (three race in a row or more win streaks; there have been several more two in a row streaks):

  • 2013: Vettel wins last nine races in a row (Rounds 11-19)
  • 2014: Hamilton wins four straight (Rounds 2-5), then wins five straight (Rounds 13-17)
  • 2015: Hamilton wins three straight (Rounds 14-16), Rosberg wins three straight (Rounds 17-19)
  • 2016: Rosberg wins four straight (Rounds 1-4), Hamilton wins four straight (Round 9-12), Rosberg wins three straight (Rounds 13-15), Hamilton wins four straight (Rounds 18-21)

Hungarian Grand Prix on NBCSN concludes busy July for F1

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The third Grand Prix for the month of July and fourth in the last six weeks for Formula 1 after races in Baku, Spielberg and Silverstone takes place this week with the Hungarian Grand Prix from Budapest.

After a couple races on CNBC, the channel is simple this weekend: it’s NBCSN for all sessions on TV with free practice two (Friday) and qualifying (Saturday) both live at 8 a.m. ET, with a full one-hour countdown for the race from 7 a.m. ET on Sunday before lights out at 8.

As per usual the NBC Sports App will live stream free practices one and three, with all sessions streamed during the weekend.

The British Grand Prix two weeks ago brings this year’s F1 season to an interesting point. With Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton’s win, it brings him to within just one point of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for the championship lead. Vettel is at 177 with Hamilton now at 176.

And Hungary’s been a place where both drivers have succeeded. Hamilton won here last year while Vettel won in 2015. Overall Hamilton has a record five Hungarian Grand Prix victories (2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016) and will look to match his Canada total with a sixth this weekend. Vettel’s 2015 win is his only triumph at the circuit.

Other Hungarian Grand Prix winners in the field are Daniel Ricciardo (2014), Kimi Raikkonen (2005) and Fernando Alonso (2003).

Beyond the top two, Valtteri Bottas will look to upend proceedings and continue his own title battle for Mercedes. He sits third in points with 154, in a spot of his own well clear of fourth on back and just under a full race distance behind the leaders.

Here’s the schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, July 28, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, July 28, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 2 (Replay): Saturday, July 29, 6:30 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, July 29, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, July 29, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, July 30, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, July 30, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, July 30, 10 a.m.-10:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, July 30, 9:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Formula 2: Sunday, July 30, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Belgian Grand Prix, on August 27, after F1’s traditional summer break.

Robert Hight extends Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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MORRISON, Colo. (AP) Robert Hight beat Tommy Johnson Jr. on Sunday in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway to extend his Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons.

Hight topped Johnson with a 3.995-second pass at 317.57 mph in a Chevrolet Camaro SS for his 38th career victory.

“We definitely struggled through the first few rounds and we were lucky to get those round wins, but I have a great team who figured things out and helped get me to the winner’s circle,” Hight said. “It’s definitely a long-time coming and we hadn’t had much luck, but today we had some luck and we hope this continues throughout the Western Swing.”

Antron Brown won in Top Fuel, Drew Skillman in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown edged teammate and No. 1 qualifier Leah Pritchett with a 3.792 at 319.82. He has three victories this season to push his career total to 64.

Skillman raced to his second straight victory and the fifth of his career, beating points leader Bo Butner with a 6.916 run at 198.15 in a Camaro.

Krawiec topped Matt Smith with a 7.145 at 188.28. The Harley-Davidson rider has two victories this season and 38 overall.

Sauber confirms Matsushita for Hungary test as well

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Honda junior driver Nobuhiro Matsushita will have a run with Sauber F1 Team on the second day of the Hungarian Grand Prix post-race week test, in the team’s C36 chassis.

Sauber’s engine selection for 2018 is up in the air. While the team announced a switch from year old Ferraris to Hondas, this was done under prior team principal Monisha Kaltenborn and rumors have persisted the deal may be off, or wasn’t fully done in the first place.

That Matsushita is running at this test for his first day in an F1 car – Gustav Malja will run on day one – could indicate the Honda switch isn’t yet a dead topic.

“When I was four years old, I was fascinated by Michael Schumacher, watching him racing in Formula 1. Since then my dream was to become a Formula 1 driver,” he said. “I am very excited about my first Formula 1 test and I am really looking forward to driving the Sauber C36-Ferrari at the Hungaroring – it is a great opportunity for me. I hope it will be a productive day for the team as well as for myself, so that I can learn as much as possible. I would like to thank the Sauber F1 Team for making this happen.”

New team boss Frederic Vasseur, formerly of Renault, gave his take on the test.

“I am pleased that Nobuharu has this great opportunity. He deserves the experience of his first test in a Formula 1 car. Ever since his debut in Formula 2 with ART Grand Prix, I have been following his progress closely, and have watched him advance his performance from year to year. With this Formula 1 test, he comes one step closer to his dream of becoming an F1 driver one day.”