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Healed and stronger, Denny Hamlin ready to pick up in 2014 where he left off at Homestead

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When the green flag drops to start the 56th Daytona 500 on Feb. 23, it’ll be 98 days and 290 miles between races for Denny Hamlin.

But even with the time lapse and the distance between Hamlin’s 2013 season-ending win at Homestead Miami Speedway and the 2014 Sprint Cup season opener at Daytona International Speedway, the Virginia native still feels like it was just yesterday that he took home the checkered flag.

And even with the layoff, Hamlin still feels like he has the best momentum of pretty much any fellow competitor coming into this year’s 500, based upon how he ended the most difficult year of his career at Homestead.

“Homestead, for me, made me believe that it’s possible, that if I get back healthy, this is the kind of results we can expect and this is how I should expect to run,” Hamlin told MotorSportsTalk. “So, not that Homestead made me change how hard I worked in the gym this off-season, but it definitely motivated me to know that if I’m feeling good, I’m going to be running good.”

There’s no denying how difficult and frustrating last season was for Hamlin. He was in the worst wreck of his career, forced to miss the next four races as a result of the back injury he sustained in a head-on crash into a unpadded retaining wall at Auto Club Speedway last March.

“It’s a dead year in a lot of ways,” Hamlin said.

To say Hamlin is more cerebral coming into 2014 is not a stretch. Up until last season, he relied more so on his talent to lead him behind the wheel. But now, he’s much more of a thinking man’s driver.

“What I take from it the most, I would say, would be just the appreciation of when you do run well,” he said. “I took for granted just making the Chase every single year and winning multiple races every year. Just like it was easy, really didn’t have to prepare for it.  I just showed up and we did it.

“With the competition and how we ran at the end of last year, you’ve got to think about preparing for more weeks and preparing to be good, you can’t just rely on talent to do it. “It’s looking over what you struggled with last time. It’s all about debriefing and figuring out in your meeting how can you get better? Not just chalking it up, ‘Oh, it’s just a bad weekend. We’ll rebound next weekend.’ No, why? Why did you struggle? How can you get better?”

Just putting the pedal to the metal won’t get it done anymore, Hamlin acknowledges. And what’s brought about the biggest change in him has nothing to do with Denny the race car driver, but more so Denny the man.

“I had a daughter, that helped a lot,” Hamlin said. “One thing’s for sure, as crappy as my weekends were week in and week out, it lasted as long as the plane ride home. That helped a ton.

“Those two events, having a daughter and having to sit out a few races, made me probably change my outlook more than anything has in the eight years that I’ve been in the Cup series on getting through those bad weeks and getting to the good ones and hopefully seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Those two things have changed the way I think about my job and what I have to do and hopefully it’s all for the good and shows up in 2014.”

Hamlin ultimately finished 2013 in 23rd place, which in and of itself is pretty significant. Sure, it was the worst finish of his Sprint Cup career, but he still managed to do so in just 32 races, compiling the win at Homestead, four top-5 and eight top-10 finishes.

By comparison, Hamlin finished higher than eight other full-time Cup competitors – including Casey Mears, Talladega spring winner David Ragan and Danica Patrick – in less races.

There were a number of critics that implored Hamlin to sit out the rest of the season and recuperate from the serious compression fracture he suffered at Fontana, that he needed complete rest and he was in effect hurting both himself and his team by playing hurt.

To his credit, Hamlin turned a deaf ear to the naysayers. And while admittedly his performance suffered, particularly in the middle of the season, he persevered and tuned out both his critics and the pain.

But no medicine could have made Hamlin feel better than the win at Homestead. Sure, his accomplishment was overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson winning his sixth Sprint Cup championship the same day, but Hamlin got exactly the kind of dose he needed: to go out a winner and build upon that momentum going into 2014.

“As the season got further towards the end, I started feeling better and better, and our performance just really started going with it,” he said. “Hopefully, my results (in 2014) go with all the hard work I’ve put in because I’ve done everything that I can to make sure that I’m well for this year. I don’t want to be the weak link, like I was during the summer, I feel like, for our team.”

So with the season opener now less than 10 days away, how is Hamlin feeling?

“I haven’t had anything, really,” he said when asked if he’s had any lingering pain. “Everything’s been good. I just feel so much stronger than I have been, so it shouldn’t be an issue at all. I think that really everything’s roses from here on out and we’ll see how it goes.”

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Button left fuming by ‘joke’ radio penalty in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 22: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 22, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button was left fuming after being penalized for a radio message during Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix in reaction to a brake problem.

New restrictions were introduced to radio communications in Formula 1 in 2016 in a bid to place a greater onus on drivers to manage their own races.

Nico Rosberg was given a 10-second penalty at Silverstone two weeks ago after Mercedes was deemed to have broken the rules, prompting a tweak ahead of the race in Hungary.

Button reported an issue to McLaren on lap five in Hungary, saying that his brake pedal was going all the way to the floor.

Button was told not to shift gear and pit before the issue resolved itself, prompting McLaren to tell him to stay out.

However, the stewards investigated the message and deemed McLaren to have breached the radio rules, resulting in a drive-through penalty for Button.

“So the brake pedal going to the floor isn’t classed as a safety issue?” Button fumed over the radio.

“That’s quite interesting. I think someone needs to read up on what is a safety issue and what isn’t.” Button was the only driver to retire in Hungary, parking up with nine laps remaining.”

Button eventually retired with nine laps remaining after spending all of his race at the back.

“It was boring,” Button told NBCSN after the race.

“Being last and so far back. Then we had a failure with the car. Massive understeer. Car was broken from the start. You’re last and you get a drive through for stopping an incident from happening.”

Although the message was in breach of the regulations, Button said that the rules were a “joke”.

“That’s what the regulations say, but are they correct? I don’t think so,” Button said.

“It’s a joke really. Stopping an incident should be praised, not penalized.

“I understand the regulations in terms of information to drivers. We’re not told how to push, what to save.

“But when it comes to that – a sensor failure – the sport has a long way to go before it is good again.

“F1 needs to realize it’s mistakes in terms of where the cars are. Next year’s regulations are quite exciting.

“It shouldn’t need the drivers to speak out. It’s common sense that’s missed by the regulations that are being written.”

Start makes Hamilton’s Hungarian GP, breaks Rosberg’s

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo, Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer battle for position at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes’ drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were both left to reflect on the start of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix where their races were respectively won and lost.

Rosberg started from pole after snatching P1 away in the last minute of qualifying, but a slow start saw him fall behind Hamilton at Turn 1.

Hamilton moved into the lead ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who swept around the outside of Rosberg at the first corner.

Rosberg regained second place at Turn 2, but was then left in second place for all but two of the remaining laps behind Hamilton.

Despite coming under pressure from Rosberg on a couple of occasions, Hamilton crossed the line to claim his fifth Hungarian Grand Prix victory by 1.9 seconds.

“The start was everything,” Hamilton said on the podium.

“I got a good start. I had one of Red Bulls on inside of me, so I was pressured quite a lot into Turn 1.

“The team did a fantastic job with strategy and preparing the car as always: guys back in the factory continuing to push flat out, so a huge thank you to them.

“This is a great result for us as a team. What a day.”

Just as the start had made Hamilton’s race, it broke Rosberg’s.

“It was all down to the start at the end,” the German said.

“I lost out a little bit and into Turn 1, I had Daniel on the outside and Lewis on the inside, ran out of space so I had to bail out of it.

“That was it really. I was happy to take Daniel back in Turn 2.

“Then I was trying to put all the pressure possible on Lewis. But it’s not possible to pass at this track.”

Rosberg now trails Hamilton for the first time this season ahead of his home grand prix in Germany next weekend.

Hamilton dominates Hungarian GP to take F1 championship lead

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain leads ahead of Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany during the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at the Hungaroring racetrack near Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, July 24, 2016.(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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Lewis Hamilton moved into the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time in 2016 after dominating Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix and picking up his fifth win in six races.

Hamilton started second at the Hungaroring, but never looked back after passing Mercedes teammate and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg into the first corner, leading all but two laps en route to victory.

Despite expecting to face a challenge from Red Bull and Ferrari in Hungary, Mercedes eased clear at the front of the pack to easily score a one-two finish.

The margins between Hamilton and Rosberg were fine in the closing stages, but the Briton did enough to take a record-breaking fifth victory in Hungary, pulling clear of Michael Schumacher in the record books.

Off the line, Hamilton made a slightly better start than Rosberg to dive down the inside at the first corner and seize the lead of the race. Rosberg dropped back to third behind Daniel Ricciardo after the Australian swooped around the outside at Turn 1, but reclaimed the position at the next corner to sit second behind Hamilton at the end of the first lap.

Rosberg tried to stick with Hamilton through the first stint of the race on the super-soft tire, but struggled to match his teammate’s pace. By the time the first round of pit stops came around, Rosberg trailed his teammate by 2.5 seconds, but was able to cut the gap by pitting one lap earlier and getting the undercut, drawing to within a second of Hamilton.

In the battle just behind, Ricciardo managed to retain third despite coming under pressure from Sebastian Vettel after both made their first stop. Max Verstappen had been running fourth behind Ricciardo before pitting, but lost a place to Vettel on the undercut. The Dutchman emerged from the pits stuck behind the prime-shod Raikkonen, causing him to lose more ground on the other Ferrari.

Not long into the second stint, Hamilton reported over the team radio that he was “struggling for pace” as Rosberg drew nearer at the front. Third-placed Ricciardo was given the hurry-up by Red Bull as he lapped almost one second quicker than the Mercedes drivers, allowing him to work the gap down to just over five seconds.

With Ricciardo catching and traffic also hindering Hamilton and Rosberg, the Mercedes pit wall was eager to respond. Hamilton was given the hurry up, being told that unless he went quicker, Rosberg would be given precedence at the next pit stop for fear of putting the win in jeopardy. Hamilton duly responded by going fastest, with Rosberg following suit.

Red Bull looked to pounce on the concern at Mercedes by bringing Ricciardo in for his second and final stop on lap 33. The Australian made the switch to the soft tire, hoping to get the undercut on Rosberg. Mercedes did not respond as it looked to drop Rosberg into clean air, its cause being aided by Ricciardo hitting traffic while trying to go a lap up. Once Verstappen had pitted from P4 and Ricciardo’s fresh tires began to lose their initial perkiness, a gap was clear for Mercedes.

Satisfied that Hamilton had upped his pace, Mercedes brought the race leader in first at the end of lap 41. The Briton emerged on a fresh set of softs well clear of Ricciardo, with Rosberg following suit one lap later. The Mercedes drivers were back running first and second, meaning Red Bull’s undercut had failed.

Hamilton’s lead over Rosberg looked comfortable heading into the final stint, only for Esteban Gutierrez to play a part in wiping away his lead. With less than 20 laps to go, Hamilton’s advantage over Rosberg stood at just under two seconds, but when Gutierrez failed to get out of the way in the final sector, the gap fell to just six-tenths. Hamilton gave Gutierrez a wave when passing, with the stewards then handing the Haas driver a five-second time penalty.

Hamilton reacted well to the increased pressure from Rosberg, opening the gap back up again. Traffic caused Rosberg to drop back further, cooling his hopes of a breakthrough victory in Hungary.

The result was that Hamilton could manage his pace through the closing stages of the race, before crossing the line to score his fifth victory in six races despite suffering a scare when he ran wide with eight laps remaining. The victory was Hamilton’s fifth in Hungary, taking him into the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in 2016.

Rosberg was forced to settle for second, two seconds behind, leaving him with a six-point deficit heading to his home grand prix in Germany next weekend.

Ricciardo faded in the final stint after his early second stop, causing him to drop into the clutches of Vettel in the final few laps. However, the Red Bull driver did enough to hold on and complete the podium, with Vettel finishing narrowly behind in fourth place.

The battle for fifth went down to the wire as Spanish GP adversaries Verstappen and Raikkonen renewed their fight. Raikkonen got close heading into Turn 2 before clipping the rear of the Red Bull, sustaining front-wing damage in the process. Raikkonen was able to continue, remaining latched to Verstappen’s gearbox through the closing stages, but was left to settle for sixth at the line behind the Dutchman.

Fernando Alonso was McLaren’s sole point-scorer in seventh, while compatriot Carlos Sainz Jr. followed in eighth for Toro Rosso. Valtteri Bottas had a quiet race en route to ninth for Williams, while Nico Hulkenberg crossed the line 10th to score the final point for Force India.

Sergio Perez was left disgruntled in P11 after the Force India crew was not ready for his final pit stop, costing him a chunk of time. Esteban Gutierrez crossed the line 12th, but dropped to 13th due to his time penalty. Haas teammate Romain Grosjean was P14 ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat, while the Brazilian pair of Felipe Nasr and Felipe Massa had quiet races in 17th and 18th.

Pascal Wehrlein ended up 19th despite making a stunning start for Manor, finishing ahead of Marcus Ericsson and Rio Haryanto.

The contentious rule restricting radio communications came into play once again when Jenson Button was handed a drive-through penalty for an “unauthorized radio message”. Button reported an issue with his brake pedal and was told not to shift gear on his car – the same message Rosberg was penalized for at Silverstone.

Although the problem resolved itself, Button was forced to come into the pits and take his penalty, much to his chagrin. “So the brake pedal going to the floor isn’t classed as a safety issue?” Button asked his team over the radio. “That’s quite interesting. I think someone needs to read up on what is a safety issue and what isn’t.” Button was the only driver to retire in Hungary, parking up with nine laps remaining.

Sirotkin takes first GP2 win of 2016 in Hungary

2016 GP2 Series Round 6
Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary.
Sunday 24 July 2016.
Sergey Sirotkin (RUS, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBB8505
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Sergey Sirotkin battled from sixth place on the grid to pick up his first victory of the 2016 GP2 Series season for ART Grand Prix.

Sirotkin entered 2016 as one of the favorites for the title, but a luckless start to the year meant he arrived in Hungary far behind series leader Oliver Rowland.

The Russian finished third in Saturday’s feature race before a scintillating start saw him rise from P6 to P2 in the opening stages in Hungary.

The safety car was deployed on the first lap following a clash further back sparked by a spin for Arthur Pic that eliminated four cars.

Racing Engineering’s Jordan King headed the pack after starting from reverse grid pole, but a mistake when coming back to the green flag allowed Sirotkin to close up.

The ART driver perfectly positioned his car as he went side-by-side with King through the opening complex of corners, eventually pulling ahead at Turn 4.

From there, Sirotkin managed to pull clear and hold on to his lead through to the end of the race, picking up his first GP2 victory in over a year.

King held on to second ahead of teammate Norman Nato, who rounded out the podium positions ahead of Artem Markelov and Mitch Evans.

Oliver Rowland salvaged some points from his difficult weekend in P6, while Saturday winner Pierre Gasly extended his championship lead in seventh, also chalking up the fastest lap in the process. Raffaele Marciello picked up the final point for P8.

The GP2 Series continues next weekend in support of the German Grand Prix.