Budweiser Duel 1

Underdogs ready to spring surprise Sunday in Daytona

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They’re not necessarily “marquee” names, or driving for “marquee” teams.

No matter. What some of the underdog drivers that made the field in the Daytona 500 have in spades are heart and tenacity.

And a collective desire to spoil the party for the establishment.

If you’re betting, odds are Swan Racing’s pair of rookies Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt, Phil Parsons’ Josh Wise, BK Racing rookie Alex Bowman, Circle Sport Racing’s Landon Cassill, HScott Motorsports’ pair of Justin Allgaier and Bobby Labonte, and Go Fas Racing’s Terry Labonte are long for them to win on Sunday.

But making the field on Thursday, in some cases unexpectedly, at least gives them a shot.

Kligerman has probably generated the most headlines of that group this week. He’s a young, insightful driver and a burgeoning writer in his own right, writing columns for the popular Jalopnik automotive site.

Still, he was better known as “The guy that got crunched in that wreck on Wednesday” with his car flipping over. It required a switch to Swan’s only backup car, now adorned with new LendingTree sponsorship.

Then he nearly made it in based on his result in his Budweiser Duel, before his gauges went haywire on the last lap and he dropped from an automatic qualifying position. And that began the wait through Duel 2 before he was informed he made it.

“The only way I could compare it is I’m pretty into politics, is like running for the presidential election,” he explained in the post-race press conference. “No one has the right info, everybody is saying the info they think they have, but you don’t know.  It was like that for an hour.

“We were constantly doing the math, screaming and yelling and looking around.  I think I was more animated than I normally am, I know that says a lot.”

Teammate Whitt had adversity to overcome as well. He had the first wreck of the day on Wednesday, when his car slid into the outside retaining wall and collected two others.

He was originally set to take the team’s backup car, with a seat put in, but plans changed after Kligerman’s accident later on Wednesday. In the repaired primary car, Whitt drove to 11th in Duel 1 to make the show.

“For both of us to overcome what we could to get down here, and me cutting the whole side off, my hats are off to the guys and everyone at Speed Stick GEAR,” Whitt told FOX Sports after the race.

Cassill, the former BK Racing driver, competed most of last year for Circle Sport in the car that alternated between No. 33 and 40 depending on whether Richard Childress Racing’s fourth car was entered. In what’s been a bizarre week for the Des Moines, Iowa native, he got hit by a car, and it gave him a black eye.

“As far as my eye, I was riding my bicycle in Daytona on Saturday and got hit by a car,” he said.  “It was pretty bad, but I’m all right now. Unfortunately, it was the motorist’s fault.  I mean I blame myself a lot for the position I put myself in.  I was in the bike lane and had the right-of-way.  It’s really not funny, I could have gotten really hurt.”

Fortunately he wasn’t affected worse, and Cassill, 24, will have the chance to compete in his second Daytona 500 on Sunday with new CarsforSale.com sponsorship.

Bowman, 20, will make not just his Daytona 500 debut, but his Sprint Cup debut in the former No. 93 Toyota, now renumbered No. 23 for Dr Pepper sponsorship and its 23 flavors. He’ll be the sole focus for Ron Devine’s team as unfortunately for them, his fellow rookie teammate Ryan Truex failed to qualify.

“I mean, I got the call to come drive a Cup car,” said Bowman, who only got the call to test in January before being appointed to the 23. “I was really excited about that. To make the Daytona 500, it’s huge.

“We were running 7th there for a while. I was like, ‘Please, don’t shuffle up.’ And of course it started shuffling.  I crossed the white flag probably 18th or 19th, but was fortunate enough to get the right runs at the end and pass the exact number of cars.”

Parsons’ Wise, as yet unsponsored, had the best finish of said “underdogs,” fifth in Duel 1. Allgaier (Brandt sponsorship) had a fraught Duel but like Kligerman, made it in on owner points.

And then there are the Labontes. Both former Cup champions in the waning stages of their careers, it was going to be a challenge for both Bobby (Florida Lottery backing) and Terry (C&J Energy Services) to make the field given their positions in the 2013 owner points’ standings, past champion’s provisional rankings and qualifying speeds.

So when the last-lap wreck happened in Duel 2, they moved up to 12th (Terry) and 13th (Bobby) at the finish, enough to race their way in and not require any help.

For “Texas Terry,” this year’s 500 will be his 32nd and last official 500. Fitting, as he’ll drive car No. 32.

“I still love it, but I’ve been dragging this retirement out for about seven years,” Terry Labonte told MRN Radio after the race. “I told (team boss Frank Stoddard) I really mean it this time.”

You could argue the Front Row Motorsports and Tommy Baldwin Racing pair of two-car teams fall under this realm too, but the pair of squads have run well before in restrictor-plate races. David Ragan and David Gilliland pulled off the shock 1-2 finish for FRM at Talladega last spring, while Baldwin nearly won the Daytona 500 two years ago with Dave Blaney.

Ragan and Gilliland race once more for FRM this weekend, while TBR’s new pair are Reed Sorenson and rookie Michael Annett.

5 wins in 9 years: Will history again be on Scott Dixon’s side at Mid-Ohio?

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If history is any indicator, Scott Dixon will end up in the winner’s circle following Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

The New Zealand native and defending Verizon IndyCar Series has an incredible streak going at the 2.258-mile road course in Lexington, Ohio.

In his last nine IndyCar starts there, Dixon has won five times and finished third yet another time, leaving him with an average finish of an amazing 2.7, best of any active IndyCar driver.

In addition, he has two poles, an average starting position of 5.7 and has finished all 780 laps contested.

But here’s an interesting twist:

In his first five races at Mid-Ohio under the IndyCar banner (he finished 12th and 5th in his two Champ Car races there previously), Dixon won every other year. In other words, Dixon had three wins in five years (2007, 2009, 2011).

Then he began another streak in 2012, having won every other race from that point (2012, 2014). So, if you go by history, Dixon – who finished fourth in last year’s race – is due to win yet again, making it three of the last five just like the previous streak.

Needless to say, Dixon is looking forward to Sunday’s race and potentially closing the gap on points leader Simon Pagenaud. Dixon comes into the race fourth in the standings, 83 points behind the Team Penske driver.

There’s the additional motivation, now, of wanting to win for Target – as it begins its final five races on Dixon’s car.

“I have a soft spot for Mid-Ohio, to be honest,” Dixon said. “I think we have five victories there over the years and 10 or so with the team in total.

“It’s a place that we always feel that all four of our teams will have a shot at winning, and there aren’t many tracks out there where your confidence level is that high as a team. It’s a track that really feels like home to me.”

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F1 Preview: 2016 German Grand Prix

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 20:  A general view of the track and stands during the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 20, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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After two years away, Formula 1 returns to Hockenheim this weekend for the German Grand Prix with the title race finely poised between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Hamilton took the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in Hungary last weekend, chalking up a fifth victory in six races with a controlled display.

The tables have turned since the Spanish Grand Prix in May where Rosberg led by 43 points, leaving him under pressure to reduce the six-point deficit on home soil this weekend.

As the final race before the summer break, this weekend is set to be a pivotal one in not just the title race, but also in the battles further down the grid.

Here’s our full preview of the German Grand Prix.

2016 German Grand Prix – Talking Points

Back to Germany

Germany holds an important place in F1’s past and present. Michael Schumacher helped foster a generation of racing fans in the 1990s and early 2000s, while we currently have a German team, Mercedes, ruling the sport with a German driver, Rosberg, behind the wheel.

The loss of the German Grand Prix last year was a great disappointment to all in F1. Hockenheim may be a shadow of its former self, yet the return of a grand prix to the track is something most are pleased by. Germany is a crucial market for the sport – even if ticket numbers in 2014 left much to be desired.

The Nürburgring told NBC Sports earlier this week that hosting the German Grand Prix must be “economically justifiable”. Last year it wasn’t. Will it be in 2017? Or will this be the last race in Germany until 2018 at the earliest?

Hamilton looks to keep his run going

After being down in the dumps on Saturday in Monaco and with penalties looming, Lewis Hamilton could not have imagined such a turnaround in fortunes before the summer break.

Hamilton seized the lead of the championship in Hungary last weekend, and now has the chance to extend his lead to 13 points with victory at Hockenheim.

Two years ago, Hamilton fought from the back of the grid to finish third after a crash in qualifying in a display that did much to keep his title hopes alive. At Rosberg’s home race, he could deal another killer blow in the battle for the 2016 crown.

Rosberg über alles?

Two years ago, Nico Rosberg capped off a memorable couple of weeks by winning his home grand prix for the very first time. Germany had just won the FIFA World Cup, he’d just got married and signed a new Mercedes contract.

Fast forward two years, and Rosberg remains at F1’s top table. Although he may trail Hamilton by six points, he once again has a new Mercedes deal in his pocket, and will fancy his chances of scoring a second home victory.

Momentum has been the name of the game in the title race this season. Rarely is it as important as when you’re on the cusp of the summer break.

Ferrari begins life after Allison, looks to revive fortunes

Ferrari arrives in Germany this weekend fresh from announcing that technical director James Allison has left the team after three years.

While the split was mutual and amicable, Ferrari finds itself once again looking at the ruins of a disappointing season that could get even worse should Red Bull pass for second place in the constructors’ championship.

Sunday’s race will be Sebastian Vettel’s first on home soil in Ferrari colors, bringing back memories of Michael Schumacher’s successes at Hockenheim in front of a baying home crowd. Those in the grandstands hopeful of a Vettel win may need to cool expectations.

School’s out for summer!

It feels weird to be previewing the summer break on the German Grand Prix weekend given that Hungary is the usual host. Alas, there is still the same feeling that school is almost out for summer.

The teams will take full advantage of their enforced shut-down, getting some much-needed rest and recharge in ahead of the final run-in from Belgium to Abu Dhabi.

The only downside is that there is no racing for almost a month…

2016 German Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Hockenheim
Corners: 17
Lap Record: Kimi Raikkonen 1:13.780 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium/Soft/Super-Soft
2014 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:16.540
2014 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:19.908
DRS Zones: T1 to T2; T4 to T6

2016 German Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports App 4am ET 7/29
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 8am ET 7/29
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports App 5am ET 7/30
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 7/30
Race: NBCSN 7am ET 7/31

Hulkenberg confirms he’ll remain with Force India for 2017

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 28:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India in the Paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 28, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Hulkenberg has confirmed he will be racing for Force India in Formula 1 next year, extending his stint with the team into a fourth season.

Over the British Grand Prix weekend, Force India team owner Vijay Mallya stated he had signed both Hulkenberg and teammate Sergio Perez for next season.

Perez cast doubt on Mallya’s comments, remaining coy about his future and saying he would take some time over the summer break and talk with his sponsors before making a final decision.

Hulkenberg was asked about his future in Thursday’s FIA press conference ahead of the German Grand Prix, in which he confirmed Mallya’s comments were accurate.

“Everything is easy and relaxed. There’s not much more to add,” Hulkenberg said.

“I think Vijay said what the situation is, and just focus on this year now. That’s the main focus really.”

When asked if he would be racing for Force India in 2017, Hulkenberg replied: “Yes.”

While half of Force India’s line-up for next season now looks firmed up, Perez’s future remains unclear.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, the Mexican confirmed it was possible that he would not be racing for Force India next year.

“It’s up to me and [my] group of sponsors on what to do,” Perez said.

“The decision is not only down to me, as I’m a very lucky driver to have so much support, and if we’re moving around teams we take the decision together with the group of sponsors I have. That decision has not been taken.

“I hope I can come back after the summer break knowing what the future holds for me, that would be ideal.”

The German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App this weekend.

PREVIEW: Honda Indy 200

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After the Verizon IndyCar Series’ trip north of the border to Canada a couple weeks ago for the Honda Indy Toronto, another Honda Indy follows this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, in the form of the Honda Indy 200 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, CNBC with re-air 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Traditionally the stomping ground of Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal scored a well-judged win there last year following a caution that shook up the order.

But all eyes will be on the Team Penske title tilt between Will Power and Simon Pagenaud at a track where, hard as this is to believe, neither has won in an IndyCar. And it’s also at a place where Team Penske hasn’t won since 2008 (Ryan Briscoe); instead, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams reeled off six wins in a row from 2009 to 2014 before Rahal’s victory last year.

Here’s some of the talking points going into the weekend:

2016 Honda Indy 200 – Talking Points

Power vs. Pagenaud, again

Simon Pagenaud’s points lead shrunk below 50 points leaving Toronto for the first time since Barber Motorsports Park more than three months ago – after Round 4 of the season, Pagenaud led Dixon by 48 points.

Here’s been his points gap to second, since:

  • Angie’s List GP: 76 points to Scott Dixon (242-166)
  • Indianapolis 500: 57 points to Dixon (292-235)
  • Detroit 1: 59 to Helio Castroneves (313-254)
  • Detroit 2: 80 to Dixon (357-277)
  • Road America: 74 to Castroneves (375-301)
  • Iowa: 73 to Josef Newgarden (409-336)
  • Toronto: 47 to Will Power (432-385)

Now, with five races remaining (four full races and the Texas resumption), Pagenaud’s lead is at 47 points over Will Power, who’s gained 90 points on Pagenaud in the last six completed races.

Power has the momentum but he’s yet to tick the Mid-Ohio win box. His best finish is second, twice, in 2010 and 2012.

Same story applies for Pagenaud, who has won at the track in other series (American Le Mans Series, 2009) but has three non-win podiums in five prior IndyCar starts.

Both drivers have three wins this year and if either gets to their fourth, it could put them in a potentially upper hand in the title fight.

Dixon’s last stand, now for Target?

After getting caught out by an ill-timed yellow in Toronto, renowned Mid-Ohio master Dixon – a five-time race winner – sits 83 points back of Pagenaud with just the five races to go. He’d have to gain an average of 16.6 points on Pagenaud over the final five races to overcome that gap, plus climb over not just the title leader but his two teammates, Power and Helio Castroneves, ahead of him.

It’s certainly not impossible and after his 40-plus point, one-race turnaround to steal last year’s title in Sonoma, he can’t be ruled out. But much the same as last year, when we wrote Dixon needed a big Mid-Ohio result (where he ultimately gained 14 points on Juan Pablo Montoya) to complete a title comeback, he’ll need an encore or close this year – especially following Wednesday’s news that this will be his last season driving a Target-sponsored car.

Rahal, and Honda, needing a rebound

A myriad of issues, many outside of Graham Rahal’s control, have left the defending Mid-Ohio race winner 11th in points heading into this weekend. It’s a bit of a misnomer because he and the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake RLL Racing Honda team have run better than that this year, but the results read like a roller coaster: 16, 5, 15, 2, 4, 14, 4, 11, 3, 16 and 13.

Rahal scored a famous win at his home race a year ago and will look for an encore this time around.

Meanwhile Honda has won only once this year, at the Indianapolis 500, and will be desperate to not let another win slip away at a race it sponsors. Barring a strategy play to help get them back in contention, it might be a tough weekend for them at their home race.

Montoya seeks to break results drought

Passion isn’t the question for Juan Pablo Montoya even though he’s gone through a rough patch results-wise at the moment, with three 20th place finishes in his last four starts.

Montoya’s generally done better at Mid-Ohio than at other permanent road courses since his IndyCar return. He probably could have won last year had he not been caught out on a yellow, ultimately falling to 11th, and at Road America he engaged in an epic scrap with Josef Newgarden for seventh.

“Mid-Ohio… we really qualified well there last year,” Montoya told NBC Sports. “I’m hoping… we qualify well there and we race well there again this year. If find some more things in the package, we can turn this run around.”

Enerson’s debut and others who need a standout run

A new face will make his debut in the Verizon IndyCar Series this weekend, as RC Enerson steps into the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Enerson really could surprise and in terms of realistic targets, a qualifying run in the 17th to 19th range and finish in the 12th to 16th bracket would be an excellent job done – anything beyond that is a bonus. The 19-year-old from New Port Richey, Fla. is vastly experienced at Mid-Ohio and has past wins there in both USF2000 and Indy Lights.

As for others who could use a result?

  • Rookie Max Chilton hasn’t finished better than 18th in the last five races. He’s not been that bad, but a couple tough moments and one or two mistakes has dropped him back.
  • Same story for Jack Hawksworth, who lost a potential top-10 at Toronto after reported late race contact from Simon Pagenaud at Turn 5. Outside of two 11th place finishes, Hawksworth has been 15th or worse every other race, and that hasn’t belied his practice pace.
  • Conor Daly’s Mid-Ohio race debut will come at long last, and he was poised for a top-10 at Road America before his rear wishbone failure. He’s due to snap a tough run his last three races.

The final word

From Tony Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet: “This team obviously has a strong history at Mid-Ohio and it’s a really good feeling to be able to come into a race weekend knowing that this team knows how to get it done here. It’s a difficult road course with the passing opportunities being so limited, but the atmosphere is always so great. You can just tell that the Mid-Ohio fans really love the shows we put on for them.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule: 

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, July 29
10 – 11:15 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2 – 3:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, NBCSN (Live)

Saturday, July 30
9:45 – 10:30 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
2 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (Live)

Sunday, July 31
10:15 – 10:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
1:58 p.m. – Driver Introductions
2:38 p.m. – Command to Start Engines
2:45 p.m. – The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (90 laps/203.22 miles), CNBC (Live); re-air at5:30 on NBCSN

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Graham Rahal
2. Justin Wilson
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Scott Dixon (pole)
5. Tony Kanaan
6. Tristan Vautier
7. Ryan Hunter-Reay
8. Jack Hawksworth
9. Carlos Munoz
10. Marco Andretti

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Scott Dixon
2. Will Power
3. Sebastien Bourdais
4. Helio Castroneves
5. Josef Newgarden
6. Charlie Kimball