Defending NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Matt Smith. (Photo courtesy: NHRA)

Everything you need to know about this weekend’s NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.

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While this weekend’s Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., will be the third race of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class will be kicking off its share of the 2014 campaign, as well.

While Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock compete in 24 NHRA national events, Pro Stock Motorcycle (PSM) is a condensed 16-event slate of races, kicking off its share of the 2014 schedule at the Gatornationals’ long-time home of Auto-Plus Raceway.

Two-time and reigning PSM series champ Matt Smith is looking to pick up where he left off at the end of last season, and with added incentive: he’s never won before at Gainesville.

“Gainesville is definitely one of the premier events the bikes race at,” Smith said. “It’s one place I’ve always wanted to win. That’s always been a goal of mine. There’s going to be some strong competition, but my mindset is to go lay down some big numbers right off the bat and let everyone know I’m serious about defending this title.”

Smith qualified No. 1 at last year’s Gatornationals but was unable to earn the victory. He’ll be debuting a brand new bike in an attempt to get that elusive Gainesville win this weekend.

“We’re looking to be just as strong this year as we were a season ago,” said Smith, who rides the Stockseth Racing Buell. “We’re going to do our best to carry it over. It’s real exciting to enter the season with that No. 1 on your bike. It puts a target on your back, but that’s what you like. I’m trying to defend my title. We’ve worked hard and prepared, and it should be a great event.”

Hector Arana Jr. won last year’s PSM portion of the Gatornationals and ultimately wound up winning the first three events of the season in 2013. He’d welcome doing the same this season.

“I set some pretty high standards last season in Gainesville for myself,” said Arana Jr., who finished fourth in last season’s PSM final standings. “I look to do the same again this year. It’s a new season and I want to start it off like I did in 2013 with a win in Gainesville.”

Arana will be joined in this weekend’s field by teammates Hector Sr. (his father) and brother Adam. Other key riders to keep an eye on this weekend include three-time (2010-2012) Gatornationals winner Eddie Krawiec, Andrew Hines, Michael Ray and newcomer Chaz Kennedy.

“We worked hard (during the offseason) to get ready,” said Hector Arana Sr., who finished fifth in the 2013 standings. “We regrouped and learned some things from last year. Hopefully, we can stay consistent this year. We worked hard trying to find little things to make the bike go faster. That’s what we focused on, the little things, so we can make fewer mistakes. Hopefully it will lead us to accomplish more at the races.”

Krawiec, who won the PSM championship in 2012, wants to reclaim his crown in 2014.

“I think we’ve gotten a lot better over the winter, and we were able to work with the full combination of our new ideas,” Krawiec said. “It appears that we have very consistent motorcycles, and we can now duplicate the setup from run to run, and really see the results of our tuning. I’m really itching to line up and pop the clutch on my V-Rod.”

Defending Gatornationals winners in the other three pro series heading into this weekend are Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Allen Johnson (Pro Stock).

NOTES: There has been a great deal of action already in the first two NHRA national Events in the season-opening race last month at Pomona (Calif.) and three weeks ago at Phoenix.

Funny Car driver John Force, coming off a record 16th championship last season, began the 2014 campaign off in great fashion by setting new national elapsed time (3.965 seconds) and speed (324.12 mph) records in his class at Pomona.

Fellow Funny Car driver Alexis DeJoria became the first female Funny Car driver to dip below the 4.00 second mark (3.996 seconds) at Pomona, and then won her first national event at Phoenix.

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AMALIE MOTOR OIL NHRA GATORNATIONALS FACT SHEET

WHAT:  45th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the third of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Drivers in four categories – Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle – earn points leading to 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships.

WHERE: Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Gainesville, Fla. The track is located on 11211 North County Road 225 in Gainesville.

WHEN: Thursday through Sunday, March 13-16

SCHEDULE:

THURSDAY, March 13

LUCAS OIL SERIES qualifying at 8:30 a.m.

FRIDAY, March 14

LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SATURDAY, March 15

LUCAS OIL SERIES eliminations at 8 a.m.

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES qualifying at 11:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES qualifying at noon and 2:15 p.m.

SUNDAY, March 16

PRO MOD DRAG RACING SERIES eliminations begin at 9:30 a.m.

Pre-race ceremonies, 10 a.m.

MELLO YELLO SERIES eliminations begin at 11 a.m.

2013 EVENT WINNERS: Antron Brown, Top Fuel; Johnny Gray, Funny Car; Allen Johnson, Pro Stock, Hector Arana Jr., Pro Stock Motorcycle.

MOST GATORNATIONALS VICTORIES:  Warren Johnson, 9, Pro Stock; John Force, 7, Funny Car; Don Prudhomme, 5, FC; Joe Amato, 4, Top Fuel; Kenny Bernstein, 4, FC/TF; Larry Dixon, 4, TF; Don Garlits, 4, TF; Jason Line, 4, PS; Ed McCulloch, 4, FC; Tony Schumacher, 4, TF; Dave Schultz, 4, Pro Stock Motorcycle; Terry Vance, 4, PSM.

TRACK RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.749 seconds by Morgan Lucas, March ’12; 326.87 mph by Lucas, March ’12.

Funny Car – 4.026 seconds by Cruz Pedregon, March ’12; 317.12 mph by Robert Hight, March ’12.

Pro Stock – 6.473 seconds by Mike Edwards, March ’12; 214.31 mph by Edwards, March ’13.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.750 seconds by Eddie Krawiec, March ’12; 199.26 mph by Krawiec, March ’11.

CURRENT NATIONAL RECORDS:

Top Fuel – 3.701 sec. by Antron Brown, Oct. ‘12, Reading, Pa.; 332.18 mph by Spencer Massey, April ’12, Charlotte, N.C.

Funny Car – 3.965 sec. by John Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.; 324.12 mph by J. Force, Feb. ’14, Pomona, Calif.

Pro Stock – 6.471 sec. by Mike Edwards, April ‘13, Charlotte, N.C.; 214.35 mph by Line, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.

Pro Stock Motorcycle – 6.728 sec. by Andrew Hines, Oct. ’12, Reading, Pa.; 199.26 mph by Eddie Krawiec, March ’11, Gainesville, Fla.

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NHRA MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES POINTS STANDINGS

Point standings (top 10) following the second of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel:  1.  Doug Kalitta, 191; 2.  Khalid alBalooshi, 165; 3.  Antron Brown, 156; 4.  Steve Torrence, 155; 5.  (tie) Brittany Force, 127; Spencer Massey, 127; 7.  Shawn Langdon, 124; 8.  Tony Schumacher, 92; 9.  (tie) Richie Crampton, 84; David Grubnic, 84.

Funny Car:  1.  John Force, 225; 2.  Robert Hight, 159; 3.  Alexis DeJoria, 156; 4.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 136; 5. Del Worsham, 132; 6.  Matt Hagan, 129; 7.  Bob Tasca III, 124; 8.  Jack Beckman, 92; 9.  Ron Capps, 88; 10.  Tim Wilkerson, 84.

Pro Stock:  1.  V. Gaines, 191; 2.  Jason Line, 180; 3.  (tie) Allen Johnson, 161; Vincent Nobile, 161; 5. Dave Connolly, 128; 6.  Shane Gray, 127; 7.  Erica Enders-Stevens, 120; 8.  Jeg Coughlin, 88; 9. (tie) Larry Morgan, 82; Shane Tucker, 82.

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Verstappen disappointed with himself after Monaco crash

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen admitted that he felt disappointed with himself after crashing out of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix in his second race for Red Bull.

Two weeks on from his stunning victory in Spain, Verstappen endured a tough weekend in Monaco that saw him suffer three crashes.

A shunt in qualifying meant he had to start the race from the pit lane, but he made the most of the inclement conditions early on by switching tire to run inside the top 10.

However, a mistake at Massenet on lap 34 sent him careering into the barrier and out of the race, ending his hopes of a fightback to points.

“Disappointed in myself and disappointed for the team, because they worked very hard to get the car ready and I didn’t give them the result they deserved today,” Verstappen said.

“We were in a good way, we were in the points and to start from the pit lane and end in the points would have been very good, but I learned from this and hopefully we can come back stronger in Canada.

“It was pretty tricky especially in the beginning of the race it was a very slippery track. It got better and better, the track was drying, and I think from then on we had great pace and I was overtaking cars, charging through the field and everything felt well.

“Then we put the softs on and I locked up. Unfortunately I went a bit off-line and of course then you arrive in the wet area and I was a passenger from there on.

“That’s racing in the end, it can go up and down very quickly but you shouldn’t back off because of this you should keep positive, keep pushing.

“I learn a lot from those moments as well and I’m already focusing on Canada now and leaving Monaco behind.”

Bell, Hunter-Reay crash in pit lane battling for Indy 500 lead

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Ryan Hunter-Reay, driver of the #28 Andretti Autosport Honda Dallara, practices during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell’s hopes of winning the 100th Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport were dashed after coming together in the pit lane when battling for the lead of the race.

Following a caution period called for crashes involving Mikhail Aleshin and Conor Daly, the majority of the field dived into the pits for the fifth round of pit stops.

Both Hunter-Reay and Bell had been running inside the top three before the caution, battling with Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves for the lead of the race.

On the race off pit road, Bell’s car was released into the path of the oncoming Castroneves, resulting in contact.

Bell’s car was sent into Hunter-Reay just as he was released, leaving both pointing the pit wall nose-first.

Only one crew member was in the line of fire, but he managed to jump out of the way quickly. A tire was also hit, but did not come off the ground, meaning no-one in the area was hurt.

Bell was assessed a penalty for the incident, unsafe release:

Andretti was forced to wheel both of its cars back to their pit boxes, costing both drivers time before they were sent back out again. At the time of writing, Hunter-Reay and Bell now run P25 and P26 respectively and are battling to remain on the lead lap.

Castroneves leads halfway; Karam crashes out on Lap 94 at Indy 500

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Helio Castroneves #3 of Brazil watches alongside owner Roger Penske during Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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INDIANAPOLIS – Thus far the quartet of Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Townsend Bell and Josef Newgarden have had the strongest cars in the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

But it’s Helio Castroneves who now leads at the 100-lap mark, as he did last year, following the fourth round of pit stops. He’s in search of his fourth Indy 500 win.

Prior to Lap 100, Bryan Clauson was out front. Clauson went a lap down early and has not made his fourth pit stop yet in the No. 88 Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. But courtesy of a typically-cagey Coyne strategy play, he was nearly out front for this historic moment in the longest Indianapolis 500 outing of his three starts thus far.

There’s already been 31 lead changes – other leaders include Hunter-Reay who’s led a race high 44 laps, Hinchcliffe, who’s led 26, then Will Power (8 laps led), Bell (8), Castroneves (6), Clauson (3), Newgarden (2), Sage Karam (2) and Carlos Munoz (1).

Just prior to halfway, Sage Karam’s strong run from 23rd up to seventh came to a crashing halt in Turn 2. The driver of the No. 24 Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet for DRR-Kingdom Racing appeared to get pinched in Turn 1 by Bell – who also made a similarly tight move on Newgarden – then hit the wall and careened through to Turn 2.

Karam’s accident means he’s the second car officially out of the race, along withe defending race winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

At Lap 100 the order is below:

500halfway

Defending Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya wrecks out on Lap 64

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 27:  Juan Pablo Montoya of Columbia, driver of the #2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet,   drives  on Carb Day ahead of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Juan Pablo Montoya will not be the first driver to go back-to-back as winner of the Indianapolis 500 since 2002.

The defending Indy 500 winner wrecked out of the 100th running of the race on Lap 64. Montoya’s silver No. 2 Chevrolet got loose in Turn 2, spun around and hit the outside wall with his left front.

“I just got loose and lost the car,” Montoya told ABC. “It’s just difficult, people were doing a lot dumb things on the restarts and I felt it was not necessary. So I took my time and started coming through the field and the car felt pretty good. It just stepped out of nowhere.”

Montoya, who started 17th, was running in 19th when the single-car accident occurred. The two-time winner of the “500” was cleared and released from the infield care center.

The crash caused the second caution of the race after an early debris caution.