Kevin Harvick/Tony Stewart

NASCAR’s 2013 Sprint Cup Homestead goodbyes

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Several drivers will be changing teams or facing an uncertain future in the sport after Sunday’s Ford Ecoboost 400, the season finale for the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Here’s a brief look at what they’ve accomplished in their runs with their current squads:

Kevin Harvick, Richard Childress Racing (2001-2013)

Harvick leaves the only Cup team he’s ever known. He’ll start his 466th and last race with RCR on Sunday third in the points, and seeking back-to-back wins to close out his 13-year run. He has 23 career wins and one on Sunday would tie the most he’s achieved with the team in a single season (5 in 2006). Harvick has twice finished third in the points (2010, 2011) with RCR.

Kurt Busch, Furniture Row Racing (2012-2013)

No Cinderella story in the Chase, but the fact Busch has taken the Denver-based operation to another level and raised its stature in the garage is no small accomplishment. A best finish of second in 41 starts and in 2013, his only full season with the team, has 11 top-fives and 16 top-10 finishes. He has recovered from his career wilderness.

Ryan Newman, Stewart-Haas Racing (2009-2013)

Newman will start his 180th race for SHR before both Harvick and Busch join the team in 2014. The Indiana native has three Chase berths and four wins in his tenure; he carried the team this year with Tony Stewart’s injuries costing him his season and with Danica Patrick learning the ropes in her first full-time season.

Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip Racing (2010-2013)

It’s been four methodical seasons for Truex and MWR; never great, but progressive improvements over the last two years in particular. His 144th and last start with MWR comes after one prior win (Sonoma this year) and a myriad of bad circumstances that have seemed to conspire against him in 2013.

Jeff Burton, Richard Childress Racing (2004-2013)

One of NASCAR’s all-time class acts and great quotes, Burton signs off his 10-year run at RCR with his 338th start for the team this weekend to make way for Newman’s arrival. His four wins were achieved from 2006 through 2008, the latter year of which he was a bona fide title contender before fading to sixth at year’s end.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (2006-2013)

He’ll start his 253rd and final, for now, NASCAR Sprint Cup race with EGR and the word “unfulfilled” probably the best descriptor of his NASCAR career. The open-wheel ace has never truly starred in NASCAR except for a handful of races; two road course wins and one Chase appearance all he has to show in his seven full seasons.

Mark Martin, Stewart-Haas Racing (2013)

Martin’s possible final act in Sprint Cup – it’s hard to say for sure as Martin is NASCAR’s equivalent of Brett Favre – has been a good one. Martin served as a mentor and team developer at Michael Waltrip Racing before moving to SHR to fill in for the injured Tony Stewart. He’s run partial seasons since 2005, save for three Hendrick years from 2009 through 2011. Is this finally the end?

Bobby Labonte, too, has already signed off at Phoenix. There may be others from some of the smaller teams, but this is a big list of those leaving their current seats before 2014.

Raikkonen drops five places on Monaco grid after gearbox change

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen will drop five places on the grid for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after being hit with a penalty for changing his gearbox.

Raikkonen qualified sixth for Ferrari on Saturday, but will now start from 11th on the grid after the team made the change on his car following final practice earlier in the day.

The change on Raikkonen’s car came short of the six consecutive races that it is required to last, prompting FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer to refer the case to the stewards, who duly handed Raikkonen a five-place grid penalty.

Ferrari struggled to match the pace of Red Bull and Mercedes in qualifying as Sebastian Vettel could only finish fourth.

Raikkonen did qualify sixth behind Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, but will now have to fight his way back up the order in Sunday’s race.

“The whole weekend has been quite tricky, but this morning the car felt a bit better and for qualifying we improved even more,” Raikkonen said.

“For sure we did the right things, but we struggled to make the tires work as we wanted. They were too much on the edge of the grip, the rear was slipping or the front was sliding and in a track like this when you don’t have a consistent good grip you lose a lot of time because of that.

“Obviously we are not happy of where we end up and the penalty due to the gearbox change for sure doesn’t help, but we’ll try to make the best out of it.

“We cannot predict what will happen tomorrow, for sure the race it’s not going to be easy, but usually many things happen here, we’ll try to get the most, to do the right calls in case of safety car and to take the right decisions.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Karam: “From Carb Day to ‘500 race day for the Gas Monkey Energy car”

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, a past champion in both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series who finished ninth in his first Indianapolis 500 with DRR in 2014 at age 19, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month. Here’s his fourth entry, after Carb Day and with tomorrow’s Indianapolis 500 now set to launch. You can read his firstsecond and third blogs here.  He’ll run the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing. 

Wow, it’s the weekend of the 100th Indianapolis 500. And I’m ready to go.

We had Carb Day on Friday with all 33 drivers on the track for the final one-hour practice before the big race. As it did on Monday, the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevy felt good on Carb Day. It handles great in traffic. In fact, we stopped early in practice as the car felt very good.

Now, it’s the countdown for the world’s biggest race. I’ve been waiting some nine months to get back in a race car. And last year, my race was short at Indy (went out first turn of the first lap), but I’m back and feel great about Sunday’s classic race.

For the last two years, we have run the same configuration of chassis for me. I have become accustomed to it now. Now I don’t have the experience of a Scott Dixon or a Tony Kanaan. I don’t know if it’s our car or setup, but it is good in race trim. It’s the best kind of feeling I’ve had in a car here.

I think many of the other guys should fall off in the race. I think a lot of cars up front will fall back, and some guys don’t look good in race trim. It’s hard to pass. I feel like there will be a big pack. Guys who can get through the middle of corner should be good in the race.

It’s funny how things change here over the course of the month. I think there was one day in practice last week we tested, and we weren’t bad. I was eighth. I liked how the car was, but we made a big geometry change and then I was lost. We were 16th or 20th. The car was awful, and I couldn’t pass a soul. I felt like I was in Indy Lights car and getting the doors blown off. “Man, this will be an awful month,” I thought.

I told our guys that we need to go back to the car we had on Monday. We did, and right from the get-go it was better. We worked with it a bit. I was passing on demand! I could drive behind all five Andretti cars. This is a great race car. Obviously we missed it in qualifying.

After that bad day, I was telling you about being down in the dumps. I said, “Well, this stinks. I’m gonna run mid-pack and try make something out of it.” Then Monday happened and it was like a light switch went on. I felt super good. When you’re passing people it’s incredible… I passed guys who have won this race before.

And we have a strong team too. We have 90 percent of the same crew as my first year with Dreyer & Reinbold – Kingdom Racing in 2014. We have a good pit box, right at pit in. I can just focus on squaring it up every time. The guys are working so hard.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

I expected to go to the finals again Friday in the Pit Stop Challenge. We got a tough call when we were put in the right lane – the asphalt lane. There wasn’t any grip there and I spun the tires out of the pit stop. The crew was fast but tires spun. I feel badly for the crew because they did a great job. I thought we could win it. Penske and Ganassi always bring it. I wanted to take the top dogs down Friday.

I’m a big believer in keeping the morale up at the team. Earlier this week, I was just wiping down my mechanic’s bike. He has a bike he rode to the track. I said “Hey, it’s the little things. You work for me and I work for you.” They love that stuff. They’ll be laser sharp focused for Sunday. We can make up time in the pits. Hopefully, by halfway, I can be where I need to be.

I have a shot at this race. I’ve been nervous since Monday. If you actually have a chance to win this race, it’s an incredible feeling. The 100th Indy 500 in general makes you feel good.

So how about becoming the youngest Indy 500 winner in history, and doing so in the 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?”

Now that’s a great story, and I hope to pull it off this Sunday.



Kvyat escapes penalty despite failing technical check after Monaco qualifying

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Daniil Kvyat of Russia driving the (26) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo on track during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Daniil Kvyat has escaped exclusion from qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix despite his Toro Rosso car failing a technical check.

Kvyat qualified ninth in Monaco on Saturday, and was due to start the race from eighth on the grid after Kimi Raikkonen was given a grid penalty for a gearbox change.

However, Kvyat looked set to be excluded from qualifying when his car failed a front floor deflection test after the session.

“A front floor deflection test was carried on car number 26 [Kvyat],” FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer wrote.

“The vertical deflection under a vertical load of 4000 Newton exeeded 5mm.

“As this is not in compliance with Article 3.17.5 I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration.”

However, the stewards confirmed that Kvyat’s car had failed the test due to damage sustained during qualifying, prompting them to allow him to keep P8 on the grid.

“The team produced evidence that the car suffered an impact which reduced the downforce and resulted with a slower lap time than in Q2,” the stewards said.

“Therefore whilst technically the car failed to pass the deflection test, the stewards have decided not to impose any penalty. However the team is reminded that further tests will be conducted and that future failure of the test may not result in the same decision.

“The FIA technical team is requested to further study the telemetry produced by the team and provide a report to the Stewards if appropriate.”

Kvyat spoke of damage to his car that may have contributed to the floor failing the technical check after qualifying.

“I’m not happy with my qualifying today,” Kvyat said.

“I think I hit a curb hard in the third sector during my last run and I don’t know if this is maybe the reason why we lost a bit of time in Q3.

“The car certainly behaved differently compared to Q2, so we now have to analyze this, because we could’ve finished in a higher position than P9. It’s quite disappointing as we know we have a strong car with huge potential.

“Having said this, I’m confident for tomorrow, we have a good chance of scoring points and we will fight hard for them.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

Carpenter’s “Team America” trio optimistic of big race day at Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Josef Newgarden, driver of the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet,  drives  on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS – Conor Daly’s made a big deal about his partnership with Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee’s brand new T-shirt company, ShirtsforAmerica.com this month.

Fellow young American Sage Karam made waves and created running jokes about his own lack of shirts last year.

Yet neither of those two drives for the team you could accurately dub as “Team America,” this month, in Ed Carpenter Racing.

With Josef Newgarden, JR Hildebrand and team owner/driver Ed Carpenter, there’s a three-headed monster of freedom coming from Rows 1, 5 and 7 in Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Newgarden carries the team’s best hopes with a car, the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet, which is considered by many in the paddock as one of the leading contenders to win Sunday’s race.

The 25-year-old American won the Freedom 100 here in 2011 but that would pale in comparison to anything he’d pull off on Sunday, if he pulls it off.

“I got spoiled the first year I was here,” Newgarden told NBC Sports. “It couldn’t go much better that. But I haven’t had a race here anything close to that since.

“It’d probably be similar, times 10, for the Indy 500. Yeah there’s a great crowd then. But if it were to happen on race day, it would probably be sensory overload.”

Frankly he’s due for a result of any note here given his past four starts have ended 25th, 28th, 30th and ninth. But Newgarden made the key point that finishes in the Indy 500 don’t matter at all unless it’s a win; he’s also got a specially designed Brett King Designs helmet that features a tribute to inaugural 1911 Indy 500 winner Ray Harroun.

“I feel like nothing matters here unless you win,” he told me Monday after the final full day of practice.

“Man, the worst place you can finish here is second. Third is great for points. But it’s another year you didn’t win. Winning is the only thing acceptable at this place.

“It’s more heightened here. People remember who won the Indianapolis 500 and they don’t remember anything else. You come here to win this race.

“It’s a balancing act, but if it came down to it, I’d go for the win over points, because it’s the Indianapolis 500.”

A guy who of course famously went for the win, and lost, was one of Newgarden’s teammates in JR Hildebrand, in 2011.

The driver of the No. 6 Preferred Freezer Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet rolls off 15th on Sunday and sadly his runner-up finish of five years ago still is the first thing that is associated with the talented, still only 28 years old Californian out of Sausalito, who now lives in Colorado.

But the last two years have seen Hildebrand end best of the one-off entries, 10th and eighth, and neither time with the best pit crew.

Now he’s armed with a better crew and arguably an ace in the hole from the engineering side in Steve Newey, who ironically, was a co-owner of the winning car that beat Hildebrand in 2011. Newey was with Bryan Herta Autosport at the time, as the two watched Dan Wheldon’s No. 98 car fly past the semi-stranded JR.

“It’s been interesting working with new guys,” Hildebrand told NBC Sports. “It’s been engineering by committee, in large part because Josef is a legit title contender, so they’ve wanted continuity for his program.

“But here, Steve has been great. He has given a great feel for what goes on at this place. After this extra car effort now the last couple years, I have the best crew now in these three years.”

Both Hildebrand and Carpenter are happier with their cars in race trim compared to what they’ve shown thus far in qualifying. Carpenter starts his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet from the same position – 20th.

“I feel really good with the balance in race trim. It’s been frustrating here and there to not get speed out of it,” Carpenter told NBC Sports.

“But last year we all dealt with cars hard to drive, that were unpredictable and inconsistent. Now they’re consistent and predictable.

“Yeah I qualified better last year, but this year I am more comfortable with our car going into the race to legitimately get up front, much more so than last year.”

Here’s another nicer element of the year for ECR at Indy compared to last year – they’ve been clean.

Massive accidents for both Newgarden (airborne) and Carpenter (heavy Turn 2 plus some air) contributed to a nightmare month in 2015 and yet this month, they’ve all been clean.

Carpenter was also quick to hail Newgarden’s growth and development as he’s ascending into the top tier in the series, and really the only younger driver (south of 30 years old) who’s done so consistently in recent years.

“I think Josef gets better all the time. He’s entering the prime part of his career,” Carpenter explained.

“The biggest difference I’ve noticed here is his confidence, in himself and the car at this track. He’s been one of the guys to beat every time this month. Confidence is building. Car is fast.”

How does Carpenter balance the dilemma of wanting to win an elusive first ‘500 himself versus either of his teammates?

“That’s what good about teammates and having strong ones. It helps at the same time,” he said.

“There’s a couple times this week I thought about taking cars to shop and swapping paint jobs. His is so fast!

“But I’d never do that. I’m so happy that our cars are well prepared. We’re going for it.”