David Ragan celebrates his win two months ago at Talladega.

Excited about NASCAR’s Chase changes, Ragan looks for more David vs. Goliath success in 2014

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Ever since he became a full-time Sprint Cup driver in 2007 at the age of 21, David Ragan’s performance has been kind of stuck in neutral – not by choice, mind you.

But for whatever reason – with the exception of a career-best 13th-place finish with Roush Fenway Racing in 2008 – Ragan has finished consistently between 23rd and 28th in the other six of his seven Sprint Cup seasons.

That’s hopefully going to change in 2014. After winning at Talladega last spring (Ragan’s second career Sprint Cup win), being pushed to the finish line by Front Row Motorsports teammate David Gilliland, it gave the entire team a David definitely can beat Goliath kind of confidence.

And if 2014 goes the way Ragan hopes, there’ll be a lot more giant killing to do during the 36-race Sprint Cup season.

“That was a big day for our team and me and David (Gilliland) personally,” Ragan said recently. “A 1-2 finish was something to be proud about. It was an opportunity for us to continue to build our brand.

“Definitely, a lot of good things came from that. It gives our guys motivation that if we all execute the plan we have, that we can win another one if the stars align right and if we put ourselves in the right position. We can’t win races running 20th or 25th, but if we can get to that top 10 or top five, we can win a race. We can win some this year at several different tracks. You’ve got to win one before you win two and before you win three.”

The Unadilla, Ga., native has seen a completely different side of the Sprint Cup world since joining Front Row in 2012 after his contract was not renewed by Roush Fenway when enough sponsorship couldn’t be found.

After five seasons with one of Sprint Cup’s premier teams, signing up with Front Row kind of brought Ragan back to his roots of working with smaller teams before he got his big break with Roush in 2005.

“I’ve kind of matured and opened my eyes up a little bit,” Ragan said. “I was a young guy, 19 years old, when I started at Roush. You come in and it’s a fast-paced world, I’m running Nationwide races and Cup races and traveling to 30-40 sponsor appearances a year.

“You don’t really see the big picture. You have tunnel vision, where you see what you’re doing that given time. That makes it tough and it was tough for me to learn at a young age, so coming to Front Row, a little smaller organization and not as many commitments outside of the race track, you do get a chance to step back and see what’s important in the real world.

“Definitely, my profession and career as a race car driver, I want to be successful and win races, but it’s also important to have a good family, your friends, your loved ones, spend some time with your old grandparents and things. You kind of see what’s going on. That’s probably the difference in between 19 years old and 28 years old.”

Had NASCAR expanded the field of the Chase for the Sprint Cup from 12 to 16 last season, Ragan would have made the 10-race playoffs by virtue of his Talladega win. Even though he didn’t make the Chase, Ragan believes there’s plenty of carryover from last season that can serve as motivation for his efforts in 2014.

“The opportunity to have a few more guys in the Chase is great,” Ragan said. “I think the way it’s going to happen, when you have teams being eliminated from the actual championship contention, that’s a good format, in my opinion.

“To have a Front Row Motorsports capable to make the Chase, you have to step your game up. You’re not going to be able to goof off for nine races and win the championship. You’re going to have to be competitive every single race and win some races throughout the year. Winning is all we want to do, it’s what the fans want to see and I think NASCAR has given us what everybody wants to see.”

Ragan comes from a racing family, one with roots that date back to the earliest days of NASCAR, when his grandfather competed on the beaches of Daytona. Ragan’s father, Ken, competed in 50 career Cup races from 1983 to 1990.

And now third-generation David is carrying on the family tradition. Even though he considers himself an old school racer, Ragan likes the changes NASCAR has made to the Chase, particularly the incentive and excitement that comes with it, and the ability to create a scenario that will mean greater excitement, bigger TV ratings and attract new fans to the sport.

“I guarantee you that whoever wins the Daytona 500, one of their first thoughts is that ‘I’m going to be in the Chase at Chicagoland,'” Ragan said. “It gives me chill bumps about (possibly making the Chase). I’m excited, and I couldn’t be more of a traditional fan.

“My grandfather and family was entering NASCAR races back in the late 1940s, so we’ve been around this sport for a long time. I love all forms of auto racing. I couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming season. I think we have to continue to evolve our sport based on the fans that we have in the world, and based on the world as it changes.

“You look at other sports and they’re consistently making small changes and tweaks. The fundamental parts are always going to be there: You’re going to have 43 cars, you have to go and race and the best guy is going to win.

“It is a game changer and is something that in a positive way can be a great thing for our sport. We all live on instant news, we want every football game to come a time-expired field goal being kicked, or a baseball game in the bottom of the ninth and the team from behind and win, or the 2007 Red Sox, where they came back from an 0-3 deficit. That’s the stuff you always remember, and this is kind of setting it up to have those kinds of finishes.”

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Here’s a flashback to Ragan’s win last April at Talladega:

After lung cancer diagnosis, Shirley Muldowney rides again to ‘miracle’ victory

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Legendary drag racer Shirley Muldowney has made thousands of rides down a drag strip in her racing career, but nothing comes close to the ride she has undergone in the last week.

Muldowney, who became the first woman to win a national event race as well as becoming the NHRA’s first female champion (3-time Top Fuel champ), is expected to be released Tuesday from a Charlotte area hospital.

But that’s only the back story.

Muldowney was admitted into the hospital a week ago today, prepared to have her right lung removed last Wednesday, having been diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer. Only about 30 percent of Stage 2 survivors live another five years after surgery.

That’s when nothing short of a miracle happened.

When the five-hour surgery began last Wednesday, doctors quickly discovered that while there indeed was a tumor in Muldowney’s right lung, the entire lung itself ultimately did not require removal – just a small portion of it, including the tumor.

Then, when doctors examined the tumor, they found that while it was severely infected, it did not appear to be cancerous. A biopsy of the tumor after it was removed confirmed its benign state.

“The decision to remove only part of her lung happened during the surgery when they saw that the lower lobe was in good shape,” Muldowney’s agent, Rob Geiger, told MotorSportsTalk.

“Apparently, because the tumor was so infected, it presented itself as cancerous by exhibiting all the signs of cancer, i.e. it ‘glowed’ during the scan they do.

“They tried twice to get a piece of it to test tissue, but because the tumor was attached to her windpipe, they had to be extra careful and eventually elected to just leave it alone. Either way (if it was or wasn’t cancerous), it had to come out.”

Now, Muldowney is heading home to recover, but her outlook and prognosis is nothing short of outstanding.

“It’s a miracle, this whole thing the way it’s turned out,” Muldowney said, according to Geiger. “To go from hearing a cancer diagnosis and having an entire lung removed to the actual operation and the doctor sees it’s not as bad as they thought.

“I still have part of my right lung and the tumor was just severely infected, not cancerous. I’m so glad it’s over and the pain is over. The infection was so bad I would have died pretty soon if we didn’t do this. I’m lucky, very lucky.”

Geiger relayed a message Muldowney had for her fans:

“The fans and all of the friends I’ve made over the years have really been something,” Muldowney said. “I have received so many flowers my room is overflowing.

“I asked the nurses to distribute them around to other patients so they can enjoy them as well. Plus, I told them to put some on the nurse’s station for them to see.

“I’ve gotten so many cards and messages on the Internet and email, I’m going to have to live another 20 years to answer them all!

“The staff here … these people here are angels. The absolute best in the business. They are so wonderful and attentive. It’s been as good as it can be.

“I can’t wait to get home and see the dogs. They miss their mama, I’m sure.”

Muldowney, who had to cancel two appearances at upcoming NHRA events due to last week’s surgery, is hoping for a quick recovery. It’s not clear when she may return to public appearances, but Muldowney is ready to start working in that direction.

“I need to stay active,” she said. “I need to keep up and walking around. The doctors want me walking up to two miles a day by the time I hit eight weeks, so I need to stay on it.”

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Big payday: Alexander Rossi earns $2.54 million for winning 100th Indianapolis 500

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Winning the milestone 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 has not only changed Alexander Rossi’s life, it also has changed his tax bracket big time.

In only his sixth career Verizon IndyCar Series start, the 25-year-old Californian took home $2,548.743 in prize earnings for capturing the checkered flag in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. That amount includes $50,000 for winning Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.

If you don’t want to dig out your calculator, that amount breaks down to $12,743.72 per lap in the 200-lap event.

Rossi was the first rookie to win the 500 since Helio Castroneves in 2001, and the first American-born rookie champion since Louis Meyer in 1928.

The overall Indy 500 purse was $13,273,253, according to an Indianapolis Motor Speedway media release.

Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate, Carlos Munoz, won $788,743 for finishing second. Third-place finisher Josef Newgarden took home $574,243.

Tony Kanaan, who won the 500 in 2013, finished fourth and earned $445,743, while Charlie Kimball received $423,243 for finishing fifth.

Sixth-place finisher James Hinchcliffe won $502,993, including $100,000 for the Verizon P1 Award for earning the pole position for the race.

Last year’s Indy 500 winner, Juan Pablo Montoya, finished last in Sunday’s race after a single-car crash on Lap 64. He earned a mere $339,493.

The earnings were distributed Monday during the Victory Awards Celebration in Indianapolis.

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Highlights from the the Indianapolis 500, Runnings 91-100

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The Associated Press has compiled a list of highlights of all past Indianapolis 500 races, as the buildup to the 100th running presented by PennGrade Motor Oil took place this May 29.

Now with the 100th running complete, we can complete the links of all of the past AP roundups with rookie Alexander Rossi having taken a shock but amazing first win in the race.

Here are runnings 91-100, from 2007 through 2016.

Past pieces:

RACE: 91st Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 27, 2007

WINNER: Dario Franchitti

AVERAGE SPEED: 151.774 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Once again, rain played havoc with “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” There was a three-hour delay with Tony Kanaan, still chasing his first Indy 500 victory, sitting in the lead. The track was eventually dried and the race restarted, but a crash on Lap 162 between Dan Wheldon and Marco Andretti brought out the caution with Franchitti in the lead. He was declared the victor when rain halted the race.

NOTABLE: The race is broadcast in high-definition for the first time, rain delay and all. Less obvious to fans was the change in fuel from methanol to ethanol, and one team was fined for using a mixture of methanol on pole day. It was also the final race with Panoz chassis – Dallara would provide all of the chassis in the field the following year. Fans sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” when Jim Nabors had to miss the race due to illness.

RACE: 92nd Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 25, 2008

WINNER: Scott Dixon

AVERAGE SPEED: 143.567 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: The split that nearly ruined American open-wheel racing was a memory when the flag dropped on the first Indy 500 after unification. Marco Andretti again led the race as he tried to end the “Andretti curse,” but Vitor Meira took the lead on a restart with 41 laps to go. Dixon took the lead and held it the final 24 laps, with Meira finishing second and Andretti third. Helio Castroneves was fourth in his bid for his third victory.

NOTABLE: Ryan Briscoe tagged Danica Patrick as they were exiting pit road on the final sequence of stops, ending both of their days. Patrick tried to walk toward Briscoe’s pit stall before security intervened, and both drivers were summoned to the IndyCar trailer. They were ultimately fined $100,000 apiece and placed on probation. Meanwhile, Dixon became the first New Zealander to win.

RACE: 93rd Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 24, 2009

WINNER: Helio Castroneves

AVERAGE SPEED: 150.318 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Castroneves won from the pole to become the first foreign-born three-time winner of the race. Former winner Dan Wheldon finished second and Danica Patrick, a year after her pit-road dust-up with Ryan Briscoe, finished third for the best result ever by a woman.

NOTABLE: The race began a three-year centennial celebration leading up to 2011, the 100th anniversary of the first edition of the race. Tony Kanaan wrecked when his driveshaft failed him near the midpoint of the race, leaving him visibly shaken afterward. Paul Tracy also returned for the first time since 2002, when his pass of Castroneves for the lead on Lap 199 was determined to have come after the caution flew for a wreck on another part of the track.

RACE: 94th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 2010

WINNER: Dario Franchitti

AVERAGE SPEED: 161.623 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Franchitti took the lead on Lap 192 when the leaders, having chosen not to pit when Sebastian Saavedra spun 31 laps earlier, had to stop for fuel. Franchitti also began to conserve fuel over the final laps, but he was able to hold off Dan Wheldon. Marco Andretti wound up with his third top-three finish in five starts. Ryan Hunter-Reay ran out of fuel on the last lap and was hit by Mike Conway, who broke his leg in the accident.

NOTABLE: It was the first race with four female starters. Danica Patrick finished sixth and Simona de Silvestro won rookie of the year after finishing 14th. Franchitti’s victory eventually gave team owner Chip Ganassi a sweep of the Daytona 500 (Jamie McMurray), the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400 when McMurray won at Indianapolis later in the year.

RACE: 95th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 29, 2011

WINNER: Dan Wheldon

AVERAGE SPEED: 170.265 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: American rookie J.R. Hildebrand was poised to take the checkered flag when his car drifted high on the final turn of the last lap and he hit the wall. Wheldon slipped by as Hildebrand skidded down the front stretch, winning his second Indy 500. Hildebrand finished second in his wrecked car.

NOTABLE: The race capped a three-year centennial celebration of the Indy 500. Donald Trump was supposed to drive the pace car but stepped away due to “time constraints,” though there was a public campaign to prevent him from participating. Wheldon won for one-off team Bryan Herta Autosport, much to the chagrin of Hildebrand’s team Panther Racing – which fired Wheldon before the season. Wheldon was killed that October in a wreck at Las Vegas.

RACE: 96th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 27, 2012

WINNER: Dario Franchitti

AVERAGE SPEED: 167.734 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Franchitti was getting pushed by Takuma Sato on the final lap when Sato challenged him low in Turn 1. Sato lost control as the cars touched, sending him into the wall. Franchitti went on to victory with Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon finishing second. The victory was Franchitti’s third at Indy.

NOTABLE: Franchitti dedicated the victory to two-time winner Dan Wheldon, who had been killed in a crash at Las Vegas the previous October. The race featured the new Dallara chassis and reintroduced turbocharged engines. It also marked the return of engine manufacturer Chevrolet. Tony Kanaan led the race during a late caution as he tried to secure his first win, but he faded on the restart and finished third.

RACE: 97th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 26, 2013

WINNER: Tony Kanaan

AVERAGE SPEED: 187.433 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: After 11 failed attempts and numerous close calls, Kanaan finally got his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. The popular Brazilian overtook Ryan Hunter-Reay on a restart with three laps to go, then led Carlos Munoz and Hunter-Reay across the finish line when Dario Franchitti crashed to bring out the final caution. Marco Andretti finished fourth in yet another close call for his famous family.

NOTABLE: The average speed made the race he fastest in Indy 500 history, beating the mark set by Arie Luyendyk in 1990. There were an astounding 68 lead changes and 14 different leaders, both records, and the 26 cars running at the finish was also a record. Chevrolet dominated the month of May and swept the top four spots, breaking Honda’s streak of nine consecutive Indy 500 wins. Jim Nabors was back at the Brickyard to sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” after missing the previous year with an illness.

RACE: 98th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 25, 2014

WINNER: Ryan Hunter-Reay

AVERAGE SPEED: 186.563 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Trying once again to join the exclusive club of four-time winners, Helio Castroneves pushed Hunter-Reay hard in the final laps. The first American to win the Indy 500 since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 held off Castroneves by 0.600 seconds, the second-closest finish in race history.

NOTABLE: The month began with the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the road course, which was won by Simon Pagenaud. Ed Carpenter won his second straight pole, but it was Kurt Busch who made headlines in his bid to run the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day. Busch finished sixth in the Indy 500 but could not finish the NASCAR race because of a blown engine that night in Charlotte. Jim Nabors sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” for the 35th and final time.

RACE: 99th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 24, 2015

WINNER: Juan Pablo Montoya

AVERAGE SPEED: 161.341 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: His career at a crossroads, Montoya returned to open-wheel racing from NASCAR with Penske Racing. He swapped the lead with Scott Dixon and Will Power four times in the final 13 laps, the final move coming with four laps to go as Montoya slipped outside of Power in Turn 1 for the lead. He held off Power for the remaining three laps to win his second Indy 500.

NOTABLE: Three crashes during practice sent cars outfitted with new aerokits airborne, forcing safety to the forefront for IndyCar. Among those hurt in a crash was James Hinchcliffe, who nearly lost his life after his leg was impaled by a piece of equipment. Some changes addressed the issue by race day. An a cappella group sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” after the retirement the previous year of Jim Nabors.

RACE: 100th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 29, 2016

WINNER: Alexander Rossi

AVERAGE SPEED: 166.634 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Rossi was a 66-to-1 longshot, an IndyCar rookie who had chased a ride in Formula One since he was 10. Stuck without one, the California native returned to the U.S. and landed a ride with Andretti Autosport. He stunned his faster rivals by outlasting them in a fuel-mileage showdown, his car running out of gas during his victory lap.

NOTABLE: Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell combined to lead 64 of the first 119 laps, but the Americans were knocked from contention when they got tangled with each other on pit road. It was the first sellout in Indy 500 history, with more than 350,000 in attendance, and the race was televised locally for the first time since the 1950s.

Haas, Renault forego supersofts in Canadian GP tire selections

during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 15, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.
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With today being the Tuesday two weeks before the Grand Prix, it means the tire selections are in for the Canadian Grand Prix.

Pirelli’s ultrasoft compound takes precedence for the run at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

So much so, in fact, that the Haas F1 Team and Renault Sport F1 Team have gone only for ultrasofts as their alternate compound, and foregone the supersofts.

See Pirelli’s full breakdown below and my colleague Luke Smith’s more humourous take on the breakdown below.

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