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Kevin Harvick wins at Phoenix in just second start for new team

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Kevin Harvick said he wanted to win as quickly as possible this season for his new team, Stewart Haas Racing.

It didn’t take long.

In just his second start driving the No. 4 SHR Chevrolet, Harvick won his record fifth Sprint Cup event at Phoenix International Raceway in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500.

“This has been a great racetrack for us through the years before the repave, after the repave,” Harvick said. “I feel like when I come here with Trucks, Nationwide, Cup, these are the types of racetracks I was brought up on. We used to come here for the Copper Classic, the Winston West days.  This was our Daytona 500. It’s fun to come here. I feel like the flat track stuff is something that we’ve had a good knack at. Over the years, we’ve been able to race a lot of different series and spend a lot of time on this racetrack.  You learn and apply that race after race after race and hopefully you can learn something each week.”

It was Harvick’s second straight win at PIR, having also done so last November in his second-to-last race for Richard Childress Racing.

“This just solidifies so many things and so many decisions,” Harvick said, alluding to leaving RCR at the end of last season for SHR.

Even though he led the final 78 laps, a number of late restarts due to cautions caused Harvick some angst, especially with fourth-place finisher Joey Logano, who was the biggest thorn in Harvick’s side on those restarts.

“The 22 (Logano) was able to time the restarts and I knew he was going to take a shot down low,” Harvick said of the final restart. “Man, this is awesome.”

After finishing 13th in the season-opening Daytona 500, Harvick dominated Sunday’s race, leading 224 of the 312 laps in the 500-kilometer race.

“I’m just the lucky guy that gets to drive the car around the racetrack when they’re dialed in like they were today,” Harvick said. “Luckily, we were able to put it all together.”

Logano led the second-most laps (71).

“The back of Kevin’s car says ‘Freaky Fast,’ and they weren’t lying,” Logano said. “It was freaky fast because he just drives away from me. … He’s got something really figured out here and knows what he needs from his race car and was able to deliver. I went to school behind him a little bit, learned a little bit but I didn’t have enough to beat him.”

It was the 24th win of Harvick’s 14-year Sprint Cup career, and qualifies him along with Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. for this year’s reformatted Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Harvick, whose winning average was 134.524 mph, beat runnerup Earnhardt to the finish line by a margin of .060 seconds.

“We got running side-by-side for second, I just let Kevin get out a little too far,” Earnhardt said. “They did a great job all weekend. We ended up where I thought we should have finished. We were a little faster by the end, but they were stellar, impressive. We worked our butts off.”

Finishing third through 10th were Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski (who was also the pole-sitter) and Logano, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon ad Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Of all the drivers that had the best chance to potentially catch Harvick at the end, Logano seemed to have the edge, but ultimately came up short.

“I tried really hard,” Logano said. “With the new points structure, a win means so much to get you into the Chase. I was sitting there third and I knew my restarts were really good all day and I was able to push him along.

“I wasn’t sure if I had enough to get three-wide and go for it, but on the last restart, you go for it, you’ve got nothing to lose. Third place doesn’t mean nothing today. … It just didn’t work out.”

Johnson was disappointed not to get a top-five finish.

“We were decent all day long, we just need a little more time with the new package of this race car,” the six-time Sprint Cup champ said. “Strategy was on our side. We were certainly making up some time. Solid day. We’ll take it. Looking forward to next week’s race in Las Vegas.”

Other key elements of Sunday’s race:

— Kurt Busch had a strong run early, but apparently lost an engine cylinder early in the second half of the race, which ultimately led to the motor in his No. 41 Chevrolet blowing up with 15 laps. Busch ended up with a disappointing 38th place finish.

— Still recovering from last summer’s broken leg, and even with his No. 1 hero, A.J. Foyt, cheering him on, Tony Stewart finished 16th.

— Danica Patrick had a rough day, finishing 36th. First she got into a minor wreck with Justin Allgaier and then about a dozen laps later, she went for a single-car spin after flat-spotting her left rear tire.

— Kyle Busch, who dominated in winning his third straight Nationwide Series race at PIR on Saturday, wound up ninth in the Sprint Cup main event.

— Denny Hamlin, who finished second at Daytona, was never really a factor at Phoenix, ending up with a 19th-place finish, the second-to-last driver on the lead lap.

— Logano, made a somewhat unusual pit stop 80 laps from the checkered flag, taking four tires and a full load of fuel. While the pit window was more like 65 to 70 laps, Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, felt that with the fuel mileage his driver’s Ford Fusion was getting, that the car could make it to the finish line on that tank.

— Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, ending up in 20th place, the last driver on the lead lap.

— Fellow Sprint Cup rookie Austin Dillon, who started on the pole at Daytona last week, was barely heard from in Sunday’s event. Dillon ultimately finished 24th, one lap off the pace.

— Morgan Shepherd, who reset his own record for oldest driver in a Sprint Cup race (he’s 72), finished last, completing just 28 laps before calling it a day.

Here’s the unofficial finishing order:

1. Kevin Harvick

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

3. Brad Keselowski

4. Joey Logano

5. Jeff Gordon

6. Jimmie Johnson

7. Ryan Newman

8. Carl Edwards

9. Kyle Busch

10. Jamie McMurray

11. Kasey Kahne

12. Matt Kenseth

13. Clint Bowyer

14. Casey Mears

15. Aric Almirola

16. Tony Stewart

17. Greg Biffle

18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

19. Denny Hamlin

20. Kyle Larson

21. Marcos Ambrose

22. Martin Truex Jr.

23. Paul Menard

24. Austin Dillon

25. Brian Vickers

26. AJ Allmendinger

27. Cole Whitt

28. David Ragan

29. David Gilliland

30. Justin Allgaier

31. Reed Sorenson

32. Brian Scott

33. Michael McDowell

34. Michael Annett

35. Ryan Truex

36. Danica Patrick

37. Blake Koch

38. Travis Kvapil

39. Kurt Busch

40. Joe Nemechek

41. Alex Bowman

42. Parker Kligerman

43. Morgan Shepherd

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Yamaha, Ducati enjoy launches ahead of new MotoGP season

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MotoGP heavyweights Yamaha and Ducati geared up for the new season of motorcycle racing’s premier championship with launches this week.

Yamaha and Ducati both enter 2017 with a new line-up following Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to move from the former to the latter, acting as one of a number of shake-ups in the rider market.

Three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo replaces Andrea Iannone at Ducati, who sought refuge at Suzuki after a seat was freed up by Maverick Viñales following his move to Yamaha in replace of – the man who started the merry-go-round all – Lorenzo.

Yamaha was the first to take the covers off its new bike at a launch in Madrid on Thursday, with Viñales being joined by nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi for the unveiling of the YZR-M1.

The new bike features a darker blue as its main livery color, as well as greater presence for title sponsor Movistar.

“I had the first test in Valencia after the race, but particularly after we moved to Sepang and we could have more kilometers and [do] more work on the new bike,” Rossi said.

“We discovered a very good potential. It looks like we can be stronger. For sure now it’s important to work in the three tests before the first race, and try to arrive ready in Qatar. But the first impression is very good.”

Ducati followed suit earlier today by unveiling its new livery for 2017, with Lorenzo making one of his first official appearances in the team’s colors following the expiration of his Yamaha contract on December 31.

The team presented its 2016 bike, the Desmosedici GP16, in ’17 colors, as well as removing the controversial – and now banned – winglets from its model.

The new MotoGP season begins in Qatar on March 26, with pre-season testing set to start at the end of January in Malaysia.

Neuville leads Ogier midway through Monte Carlo Rally

Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
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MONACO (AP) Belgian driver Thierry Neuville took a 45-second lead Friday over defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier midway through the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.

Overnight leader Neuville won three of Friday’s six special stages, while Ogier struggled early on before pegging Neuville back by winning the last two. Ott Tanak of Estonia is third.

Four-time champion Ogier is now driving for Ford M-Sport after switching from Volkswagen last month. The Frenchman was eight seconds behind Neuville’s Hyundai overnight and quickly under pressure.

Tanak, who also drives for M-Sport, won Friday’s first special stage – the third of 17 overall – ahead of Neuville, with Ogier in ninth.

Difficult morning conditions saw snow and sheet ice on the roads. With all the top drivers fitting studded winter tires, Ogier still went off into a ditch.

“It happened at a junction, it was very, very icy. I pulled the handbrake but the car never turned,” Ogier said. “I slipped into the ditch and became stuck.”

Neuville won the next three specials – with Ogier second on 4 and 5 – but Ogier finally found his best form to trim back the deficit from 1:12 to 45 seconds. He also overtook Tanak, who is a fraction of a second behind Ogier.

Conditions were slushy in the afternoon as the icy roads began melting.

“For me this was more tricky than this morning and difficult to know what rhythm to go,” Neuville said.

A spectator was killed on Thursday night after being hit by a car during the first stage.

Organizers said the spectator was struck by a car driven by New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon during the first of two night stages.

That stage was canceled but the second went ahead, with Neuville beating Ogier.

There are six specials Saturday with the race concluding Sunday lunchtime.

Last year, Ogier won by nearly two minutes ahead of then-teammate Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway.

Ogier announced last month that he was going to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season. A fifth title would move him into outright second place on the all-time list behind countryman Sebastien Loeb, who won nine straight titles.

The 33-year-old Ogier, who has won 38 career races, is tied with Finnish drivers Tommi Makinen – who won four straight – and Juha Kankkunen.

The next event in the 13-race season is in Sweden in three weeks.

BRDC: Reports Silverstone will definitely drop British GP ‘speculative and wrong’

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 10:  The grid at the start of the race during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 10, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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The British Racing Drivers Club has issued a statement dismissing suggestions that Silverstone will definitely drop its Formula 1 race following the 2019 season.

Doubt was cast over the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone following a leaked letter from BRDC chairman John Grant, in which he admitted to concerns about the cost of hosting the race.

Grant admitted that BRDC officials were considering triggering a clause in Silverstone’s F1 contract that would allow it to end its commitment after 2019 due to “ruinous” costs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the BRDC stressed that no final decision had been made and that suggestions a final decision to drop the race had already been made were incorrect.

“The British Racing Drivers Club wishes to make clear that recent press reports suggesting that talks have been unsuccessful and that the British Grand Prix will definitely be dropped after 2019 are speculative and wrong,” the statement reads.

“Our objective is to preserve the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for many years to come but, of course, we can only do this if it makes economic sense,” Grant added.

“As I have said before, we will be considering over the next six months if we should give notice of our intention to exercise the break clause in our grand prix contract at the end of 2019. No decision has been made, or will be made, until mid-July.

“In the meantime, we will be using this period to explore all interested parties, hopefully in private, various ways in which we might work out a more sustainable proposition.”

Jacques Villeneuve: Indy 500 ‘the biggest, most important race in the world’

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 25: Jacques Villeneuve of Canada driver of the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Dallara Honda during the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 25, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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1995 CART champion Jacques Villeneuve has called the Indianapolis 500 “the biggest, most important race in the world”, believing that its long-running traditions are key to its enduring appeal.

Villeneuve won the Indy 500 in 1995 en route to the CART title, having finished second at the Brickyard the previous year.

Villeneuve moved into Formula 1 following his CART title victory, becoming world champion with Williams in 1997 before ultimately leaving the series mid-way through the 2006 season.

Villeneuve appeared in his third ‘500 in 2014, finishing 14th for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (pictured above).

Speaking at Autosport International last week, Villeneuve spoke warmly of his experiences at the ‘500, saying it dwarfed any other race in motorsport.

“[You’re] running at an average speed of 230 mph in traffic, in a place where you’re still allowed to risk your life basically because it’s marginally safer than 20 years ago, and half a million people in the grandstands,” Villeneuve said.

“Back then it was an event that lasted three weeks. You would build on it so the energy was incredible. It felt like a big gladiatorial ring from the Roman Empire. It was very special.

“It is the biggest, most important race in the world. Obviously an F1 championship is bigger, but as a one single event, it’s the biggest one.”

Villeneuve said that he did not appreciate the enormity of the event until he finally raced at the ‘500, having followed F1 more closely as a child by virtue of his father, Gilles, who raced for Ferrari.

“The Indy 500, I didn’t grow up with it. I grew up with Formula 1, so I didn’t really know what it represented,” Villeneuve said

“I didn’t think about it until I raced in Atlantics and I thought ‘oh wow, there’s half a million people here, that’s cool’.

“I still didn’t really understand why there was one toilet where they didn’t put the door because one year there was a driver who didn’t close his door and they decided to keep it like that for the next 40 years.

“There’s lots of stuff in America that’s very important, the history of why things have happened. Why do you drink milk when you’ve won the Indy 500? It’s because – I don’t know which driver – in the past was thirsty and asked for a jug of milk. They gave it to him and it became tradition.

“All these little things keep it alive. To get a race where people come almost daily for three weeks, that takes a lot of passion. But when you’re in it, OK it’s just a race and there’s lots of people, great, but it’s a stepping stone to F1.

“When you’re out of it, you realize first of all I survived it, and then you’ve won it. And then you realize that it’s still present and alive.

“And then you realize that that win was 22 years ago, and then you understand the meaning of what you accomplished.”