Danica Patrick’s 2014 Speedweeks an exercise in frustration

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When all was said and done, the 2014 edition of Daytona Speedweeks was nothing to write home about for Danica Patrick.

At what many acknowledge is one of her two strongest tracks – she has frequently run in the top-10 at both Daytona and Talladega since entering NASCAR full-time in 2012, and even in her part-time races before – Patrick was involved in two major wrecks during the week, neither of her own creation.

Patrick was still one of the biggest storylines of the month heading into the week-and-a-half period, thanks largely to the comments offered by Richard Petty. It triggered a measured response from Patrick, a mild backtrack from Petty, and then an impassioned defense from her boss Tony Stewart that led to the rather crazy idea Petty, 76, and Patrick could actually race head-to-head.

On-track, away from the headlines though, Patrick ran better than her results indicated.

Her Sprint Unlimited wreck only occurred after Patrick had actually done a rather stealthy job of weaving through spinning cars in the tri-oval. It was only when she spun on her own in avoidance that she was right in the path of, of all people, her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Then she and Stenhouse were among the top three in Sprint Cup practice on the Friday after the Budweiser Duel races.

Saturday in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Patrick had a good shot to win after starting third in the No. 30 Florida Lottery-sponsored Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet. But she didn’t lead and with passing a little harder to achieve, and single-file racing the norm for most of the day, she faded to 19th by the checkered flag.

The Daytona 500 was also a relatively nondescript day at the office. Patrick started from the rear of the field after her pre-qualifying engine change; she methodically moved up to the mid-20s, but never seriously looked like threatening the leaders.

She did lead two laps during a pit stop sequence, but that was thanks to varying in-and-out laps in the field.

Coincidentally, she was struck twice during the race by both of Petty’s Fords. In the opening pit stop sequence, before the six-hour delay, she got hit by Marcos Ambrose while entering her pit stall. It was minor contact but still an interesting nugget.

Of course the bigger incident of contact came when Aric Almirola’s other Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, the No. 43, ricocheted off the Turn 4 SAFER barrier back across the track and collected Patrick on Lap 145. It wasn’t a particularly heavy incident of contact, but the result afterwards was Patrick spinning into the unguarded wall on the outside of the track just before the tri-oval.

“I think more than anything I am just upset because the GoDaddy car felt really good and it was the best car that I had all Speedweeks,” Patrick said. “It seemed like we could catch whoever and it seemed like we could move around, make lanes and just move around and move forward at the end of the day. I felt like everything was going pretty well, so it’s just upsetting. It’s a bummer, but you know that is the excitement of speedway racing that anything can happen, and it was unfortunate that I was on the short end of the accident. But that is the kind of thing that happens, and I appreciate everyone sticking around and watching, and we will go get them at Phoenix.”

You forget how hard some impacts can be that aren’t into SAFER walls, and Patrick’s was one of two of them during the race. In the waning stages, 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne also hit a non-SAFER outside retaining wall on the backstraight.

Patrick’s day mirrored the frustration for the entire Stewart-Haas Racing quartet, who walked away from the Daytona 500 without a single top-10 between them and with several wrecked race cars.

Fuel cell issues hampered Stewart’s race, resigning him to a 35th-place result.

Meanwhile the two SHR new drivers, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, ended only 13th and 21st. Harvick was involved in the final lap crash off Turn 4; Busch faded back despite leading 15 laps in the early stages of the race.

And as for Stenhouse Jr.? He ended a solid seventh. Go figure.

Renault denies speculation Kubica could enter Monza FP1

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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has denied speculation suggesting that Robert Kubica could appear in first practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September.

Kubica raced in F1 between 2006 and 2010, with his final full-season in the sport being completed with Renault before sustaining severe injuries to his right arm that appeared to end his single-seater career.

After a number of years in rallying, Kubica has recently tested a number of different cars, culminating in an outing in a 2012-spec Lotus F1 at Valencia earlier this month.

The reportedly-impressive test has led to speculation that Kubica could be capable of making a full-time return to F1 in the future, with paddock chatter in Montreal suggesting that an FP1 run-out at Monza was being discussed.

However, Abiteboul was quick to shoot this down during Friday’s FIA press conference, saying that it would not be happening.

“No, absolutely not. I don’t know where this is coming from and I can completely wipe that one out,” Abiteboul said.

“Robert has been a family member of the Enstone team, and Eric on my right knows what I mean. He has been very close and very loyal. The team in Enstone, which is a very small group of people, actually have been very loyal to a number of drivers.

“People feel very loyal and feel they owe something to Robert for making something big in their life and there was this opportunity that we give to him, that we could afford to him to drive again, because it was actually a marketing event that got cancelled, so we had a car available at the track and we offered that opportunity to him.

“Robert is going through some form of program to try to understand what he can do. He has been driving a number of cars, Formula E, GP3, F2, LMP2, you name it, so I think he wants to understand what he can do as part of his sort of rehabilitation program.

“We’ll see. There is nothing else that is planned for the time being, apart from a marketing event at Goodwood, where he will be driving the same car, E20, in front of Lord March’s house.”

Kubica’s links to the Renault seat come at a time when Jolyon Palmer is coming under increasing pressure after a point-less start to the year, leading to suggestions he could be replaced mid-season.

“Our situation is very clear: he has a contract with us,” Abiteboul said of Palmer.

“We are completely committed to helping him get through the period, which is a tough period, that’s obvious.

“He has no ultimatum, but having said that he has to deliver, like every single member of the team.”

Bottas tops final Baku F1 practice ahead of Raikkonen

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Valtteri Bottas closed out Formula 1 practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku at the head of the field after edging out Ferrari rival Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages of FP3.

Bottas led Mercedes to the top of the classification in final practice with a fastest lap of 1:42.742 to finish 0.095 seconds clear of Raikkonen, the pair having exchanged blows in the final 15 minutes in the battle for P1.

After a mixed Friday, Mercedes appeared more comfortable through final practice as Lewis Hamilton completed the top three, four-tenths down on Bottas’ time.

Ferrari, meanwhile, was left to rely on Raikkonen at the front as drivers’ championship leader Sebastian Vettel suffered a setback.

The German driver was forced to pit with 20 minutes to go due to a problem on his car – an apparent hydraulics issue – prompting his mechanics to set to work quickly in a bid to resolve the problem ahead of qualifying.

After finishing both FP1 and FP2 as the fastest driver, Max Verstappen could not complete a hat-trick in FP3 as he was forced to park up at the side of the track late on, citing a shutdown on his car after reporting an earlier engine issue.

Joylon Palmer was another driver to hit trouble, suffering an engine fire in the early part of the session that meant he had to park up in the run-off area. After crashing out of FP2 on Friday, the already-under pressure Briton will head into qualifying on the back foot, if indeed Renault can fix his car in time.

Back on the timesheets, it was Daniel Ricciardo who followed the top three, taking fourth for Red Bull. Despite his stoppage, Verstappen did enough to take sixth in FP3, trailing Force India’s Esteban Ocon.

Felipe Massa wound up seventh for Williams ahead of Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll, while Sergio Perez took P10 overall.

Qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 9am ET on Saturday, with a re-air at 1pm ET on NBCSN.

George Russell gets Mercedes F1 test duties in Hungary

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Mercedes has confirmed that junior driver George Russell will enjoy his first Formula 1 test at the beginning of August at the Hungaroring following the Hungarian Grand Prix race weekend.

Russell, 19, joined Mercedes’ junior program back in January, balancing his simulator duties with the German marque with a full-season drive in the GP3 Series.

Russell won the British Formula 4 title back in 2014 before spending two years in FIA European Formula 3, coming third in the championship last year.

Russell will now get a chance to impress for Mercedes in the W08 car on August 1 and 2 at the Hungaroring, fulfilling its young driver allocation for in-season testing.

“I’m just so excited to be testing the W08. I’ve probably driven more virtual laps than anyone else with this car so it’s going to be incredible to drive it in reality,” Russell said.

“My biggest priority is to do a good job for the team, to tick off the items on the engineers’ program, and make sure we get the most out of the car and our running over the two days.”

Russell is one of three junior drivers currently on Mercedes’ books, with Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein both already racing in F1 with Force India and Sauber respectively.

Road America weekend, Friday notes

Abnormal USF2000 podium of Malukas, VeeKay, Kohl. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Verizon IndyCar Series had two practice sessions today (you can see linkouts to practice one, and practice two, here). But it was far from the only action at Road America.

With seven sessions from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and three sports car sessions, two Pirelli World Challenge and the first Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires race, it was a very busy day of action.

Notes from all of those sessions are below.

MRTI

  • In USF2000, a rare occasion happened. Oliver Askew not only didn’t win the first race of the weekend, but had a mechanical issue that sent him to pit road. It opened the door for Dutch driver Rinus VeeKay (full surname of Van Kalmthout) to capture his first series win in a banner day for Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team. Pabst Racing finished first (VeeKay), third (Lucas Kohl, in his first podium) and fourth (Calvin Ming, after starting 15th). Splitting them up was BN Racing’s David Malukas, the young Chicago native having scored a surprise pole position in the morning, finishing an impressive second place.
  • The first Pro Mazda race of the weekend saw Victor Franzoni on top over Anthony Martin, as the two championship combatants this season continued their bout. Martin (Cape Motorsports) and Franzoni (Juncos Racing) exchanged the lead early before Franzoni got past, then waltzed away. Team Pelfrey’s Nikita Lastochkin finished third for his first podium finish of his Mazda Road to Indy career, after two years in USF2000 and now into his first Pro Mazda season.
  • An intriguing Indy Lights qualifying session for race one saw Freedom 100 winner Matheus Leist continue his recent form. The Brazilian rookie edged Carlin teammate Neil Alberico for the top spot, with Ryan Norman best of Andretti Autosport’s quartet in third. Points leader Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) starts fourth while Nico Jamin (Andretti) is fifth, Wisconsinite Aaron Telitz (Belardi) 11th and Colton Herta (Andretti/Steinbrenner) 13th. Zachary Claman De Melo (Carlin) did not qualify due to a mechanical issue. Kaiser led practice earlier in the day.
  • The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires held three other sessions on Friday. As noted, Malukas won the pole for the first USF2000 race held earlier Friday. Qualifying for the second race took place after IndyCar second practice, and saw VeeKay on pole. In qualifying for Pro Mazda race two, the grid is jumbled after an apparent strategic error cost Franzoni a proper lap time. A red flag meant he wasn’t able to set a realistic time and he will start from 15th and last on Saturday. Meanwhile Martin will be on the pole for Saturday’s race.

RESULTS

Indy Lights: Weekend Results
Pro Mazda: Weekend Results
USF2000: Weekend Results

SPORTS CARS

Photo: Global MX-5 Cup
  • Patrick Gallagher edged Bryan Ortiz by just 0.0263 of a second in a new record closest finish in Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, which breaks the record for the second time in three races. After Robert Stout beat Gallagher by 0.0632 at Indianapolis, Gallagher turned the tables with his win today, moving his McCumbee McAleer Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup car to the outside of Ortiz exiting Turn 14.
  • Pirelli World Challenge had only two sessions total today, one practice apiece for GT and GTS/TC.

RESULTS

MX-5 Cup: Weekend Results
PWC: Weekend Results