Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Brian France: Daytona 500 win good for Dale Earnhardt Jr., good for NASCAR

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As Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes, so goes NASCAR.

If Junior wins races – and potentially and finally wins a Sprint Cup championship – it would likely be the big shot in the arm NASCAR needs to completely recover from several years of struggling at-track attendance and slumping TV ratings.

NASCAR chairman Brian France alluded to that back in 2009 and it remains as relevant today as it did when France first said that.

“It’s sort of like when the NBA doesn’t have the L.A. Lakers or Boston – a couple of their key historic franchises – in the race, that impacts the league,” France said in an interview back then with the Charlotte Observer. “We’re in the same boat.

“Our No.1 franchise, which happens to be Dale Jr. right now, (when he struggles) that’s going to have some impact on his fan base. It just does. … He has won a lot of races in the past. We could have a resurgence and the world would be a better place.”

In light of Earnhardt’s win in Sunday’s Daytona 500, the second time in 10 years that he’s won the Great American Race, could 2014 be both Earnhardt’s year and NASCAR’s year?

Granted, there’s still 35 races to go – including the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s marquee event of the season.

But Earnhardt’s win at Daytona has certainly got NASCAR fans, particularly Earnhardt’s large Junior Nation, excited and hopeful.

“Any time his fanbase gets revved up, that’s a good thing,” France said in an interview Wednesday with SportingNews.com. “That’s good for him, and that’s good for us.”

Earnhardt has been so excited since Sunday’s win that after several years of prodding from fans, he finally took to Twitter late Sunday evening and has continued to post a number of entries, particularly from his celebratory media tour that has crossed the country since then.

Needless to say, Earnhardt’s tweets have helped rev up what had been a somewhat dormant Junior Nation in recent years.

France covered a number of topics with SN, but the conversation drifted back to Earnhardt and his big win, his first time in victory lane in 55 races, dating back to 2012, and his third overall victory since the start of the 2007 season.

“The really great thing is how authentic he’s been throughout the week here as he’s doing (on Junior’s promotional media tour),” France said. “That’s great. We’ll have to see (how much of an impact Earnhardt’s win will have over the entire season).”

Earnhardt has been voted by fans as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver the last 11 years, second most to Bill Elliott’s stout mark of 16 years as the sport’s most popular driver.

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F1 qualifying to be red flagged if double waved yellows are shown

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: A marshal waves the red flag during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that qualifying sessions will now be red flagged in the event of double waved yellow flags being shown following the saga surrounding Nico Rosberg’s pole lap in Hungary.

Double waved yellows were shown at the end of Q3 in Hungary last weekend after Fernando Alonso spun, forcing a number of drivers to abandon their final qualifying laps.

Rosberg was one of the last to come through the yellow flag zone, lifting slightly through Turn 8 before posting a quicker time to take pole position.

The stewards investigated Rosberg’s lap, and although they were satisfied that he slowed sufficiently, the fall-out from the case has continued ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

On Thursday, Lewis Hamilton told NBCSN that the case set a precedent for all other drivers when it comes to reacting to double waved yellow flags, fearing that it could cause a safety issue in the future.

However, there will be no repeat of Rosberg’s actions in Hungary, with Whiting confirming on Friday in a press briefing that the red flag will now be shown to prevent drivers from improving their lap times.

“Ever since we had the Virtual Safety Car in 2015 and then this year we use it in free practice,” Whiting said.

“We can use it in qualifying really but we tend now to stop if there is going to be a yellow flag for any length of time.

“The reason we didn’t show a red flag in Hungary was simply that session had ended, but some cars were behind Alonso’s car and some in front.

“So I think the procedure would be to red flag any time there is a double waved yellow flag. Then there will be no discussion.

“That’s what I intend to do in the future, just to remove any discussion about whether a driver slowed down or not.”

Dixon leads IndyCar opening practice at Mid-Ohio

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – At a track he traditionally dominates, Scott Dixon fired the first shot of the weekend.

The driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet ran a best lap of 1:04.4491 around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to lead the 75-minute first practice.

Dixon enters the weekend 83 points behind points leader Simon Pagenaud and needs a big weekend to have much hope to continue as Verizon IndyCar Series champion. He also enters after the news came out earlier this week that the team’s longtime primary sponsor, Target, will depart IndyCar at the end of the year.

Three Team Penske drivers – Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves – were second through fifth with Tony Kanaan interspersed in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in fourth.

James Hinchcliffe was top Honda in the first session of the Honda Indy 200 weekend, in P6.

Series debutante RC Enerson was 1.1042 of a second off the session lead but the nature of the field is so close that the driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda was 21st.

Teammate Conor Daly had an off in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, potentially with oil on track, and nosed into the tire barriers at the Keyhole. It brought out the only red flag of the session.

Daly was OK and so was the car, except for the front wing assembly leaving the car.

“I hadn’t broke any later. Maybe oil down? I went straight off,” Daly told IndyCar Radio. “Really weird. But maybe that’s what happens to the track. I don’t have a ton of experience. I shouldn’t be doing that.”

Power had an off, Mikhail Aleshin had a 360-degree spin, and Alexander Rossi also went off, but none of those produced any dmage

Times are below. Second practice runs from 2 to 3:15 p.m. ET and local time, and airs LIVE on NBCSN (Also online at http://indystream.nbcsports.com) from 2 to 4.

MidOFP1

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 German GP

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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After seizing the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season in Hungary, Lewis Hamilton arrives in Germany looking to extend his advantage over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

The gap stands at six points after 11 races, and with Hockenheim hosting the final grand prix before the summer break, now is the perfect time to finish on a high and take plenty of momentum into the run to Abu Dhabi.

As ever, MST writers Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno have made their picks ahead of the German Grand Prix weekend. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the article.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Hamilton may have the momentum after five wins in six races, but I’m backing Rosberg to hit back this weekend and take a second win on home soil. If he doesn’t, it could be a big blow to his title chances.

Surprise Finish: Sebastian Vettel. This marks Vettel’s first home race as a Ferrari driver, bringing back memories of Michael Schumacher’s success at Hockenheim. While victory may be out of reach without some divine intervention, I’ll say Seb can finish on the podium behind the two Mercedes drivers.

Most to Prove: Rio Haryanto. Haryanto has done a solid job so far this season, but with talks about his funding ongoing, he needs to impress this weekend. It can’t harm his case.

Additional Storyline: Crowd figures at Hockenheim. After a disappointing turn-out in 2014, will Hockenheim enjoy a better turnout this weekend after two years away? Here’s hoping…

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Continuing with the “home driver wins his home grand prix” theme, I peg Rosberg to get one back over Hamilton this weekend and retake the championship lead.

Surprise Finish: Felipe Massa. Traditionally strong at Hockenheim and with upgrades coming this weekend, a top-five finish is possible for a driver and Williams team that needs it.

Most to Prove: Danill Kvyat. A run of ordinary and forgettable races has followed for him against Carlos Sainz Jr. at Toro Rosso. Would love to see him do something of note.

Additional Storyline: July exhaustion. Fourth race in five weeks and at a track the teams didn’t run at last year. How will the teams hold up and will there be any more mistakes of note?

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull

Button taken to hospital for check-up after eye irritation

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: 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 Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button has been taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after reporting an eye irritation during practice for the German Grand Prix that cut his session short.

Button completed 16 laps in FP2 en route to eighth place in the final timesheets, but was taken to the medical centre after complaining of an irritation.

McLaren confirmed on Twitter shortly after the session that Button had been taken to the local hospital in Mannheim for a check-up.

However, Button later updated that he’d be good to go for Saturday’s running.