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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.

Ed Carpenter Racing reveals Preferred Freezer liveries for May

driver of the XXX during the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.
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With the calendar shifted over to May, Ed Carpenter Racing has taken the wraps off its pair of Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolets for the pair of Verizon IndyCar Series races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Josef Newgarden’s No. 21 car shifts from the 100th anniversary special commemorative livery for Fuzzy’s Vodka to a primarily blue with white trim PFS entry.

Meanwhile JR Hildebrand, who has had the PFS colors each of the last two years at Indy, will continue in the standard white with blue trim No. 6 car. Hildebrand will run at both the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Ocon set for Spanish GP practice run-out with Renault

Esteban Ocon (FRA) Renault Sport F1 Team Test Driver.
Formula One Testing, Day 1, Tuesday 1st March 2016. Barcelona, Spain.
© Renault Sport
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Defending GP3 Series champion Esteban Ocon will take part in practice for the Spanish Grand Prix next month for Renault.

Ocon, 19, rose to attention in 2014 when he won the FIA F3 European Championship ahead of current Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen.

The Frenchman took part in practice for Lotus in Abu Dhabi that year, and became a member of Mercedes’ development programme in 2015 en route to winning the GP3 title.

Ocon has been loaned to Renault for the 2016 season, with whom he works as reserve driver, and he will now take part in first practice for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 13.

McLaren now targeting regular points after double score in Sochi

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button are now targeting regular top-10 finishes after scoring their first points of the season in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.

McLaren arrived in Sochi with just a single point to its name so far in 2016 courtesy of Stoffel Vandoorne, who deputized for the injured Alonso in Bahrain.

Alonso and Button missed out on a place in Q3 on Saturday, but both ran trouble-free races en route to sixth and tenth place respectively.

The result marked not only the first points of the year for both drivers, but just the second time that McLaren had got both of its cars to the line inside the top 10 since it rekindled its partnership with Honda at the start of the 2015 Formula 1 season.

“We were lucky in Turns 2 and 3 on the opening lap – due to those accidents, we were able to gain some places for free,” Alonso said.

“But, as we saw last year, we can make a good start but then not be able to maintain those strong starting positions. This year, it’s different, we have the pace. To finish sixth, and set the fifth-fastest lap, shows that our car is still gaining pace.”

Alonso was left to run quite a lonely race to P6, but did take one lap late on to turn the engine up to full power and have some fun by stretching the legs of the McLaren MP4-31.

“The car felt good all race. Obviously, we were saving fuel at some points of the afternoon, but, on one lap, I just decided to go for it – to wake myself up a little bit! – and the lap-time showed the potential is there,” Alonso said.

“Finishing in the points should be our regular target from now on.”

Button managed to take P10 from Carlos Sainz Jr. late on to complete an impressive fightback and score his first point since last year’s United States Grand Prix.

“To get both cars home in the points, and at a track which we didn’t feel would really suit our package, is a fantastic result for the whole team,” Button said.

“As the pack dived into Turn 2, I had to back off because it was mayhem. The bollard at Turn 2 is the problem at the start because people are trying to fight through Turns 2 and 3. I think that needs some looking at.

“From there, I was disadvantaged, but the pace was in the car. After that, it was just a case of fighting my way back – which I really enjoyed. It’s difficult to overtake around here, but I was able to make a few moves and enjoy myself.

“I think the next race in Barcelona will be reasonably difficult for us, but there’s no reason not to look forward to targeting another points haul in Monaco.”

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.”