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Fan voting for Sprint All-Star Race begins Sunday

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While this will be a very crucial year politically at the ballot box for both Democrats and Republicans, there’s another party that will be courting your vote over the next two months.

Call it the NASCAR Sprint party, as Sunday marks the opening of two months of voting for your favorite driver to compete in the Sprint All-Star Race on May 17 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Balloting for the Sprint Fan Vote opens at 8 a.m. ET Sunday and closes at 7 pm ET on Friday, May 16, one day before the green flag drops on the sport’s biggest non-points paying event.

There’s obviously a lot at stake for the drivers, with a $1 million prize to whoever survives the multiple segments and wins the All-Star event.

But this year there will also be a lot at stake – as well as a great deal of incentive – for fans that will be voting.

For the first time in the history of the Fan Vote, a sweepstakes will be held that will award one lucky voter a trip for two to any 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race of his or her choice, as well as other prizes.

Voting is not a one-and-done proposition. Fans can vote as often as they want to determine the starting lineup for the All-Star race.

Fans can cast their votes in three different ways:

1 Download the NASCAR Mobile application to your cell phone. Votes cast that way will count as double towards a driver’s total.

2 Vote online at NASCAR.com/SprintFanVote.

3 Visit and vote in person at The Sprint Experience, located in the midway of all NASCAR Sprint Cup events.

Danica Patrick won last year’s Sprint Fan Vote with nearly a half-million ballots cast in her favor.

The winning Sprint Fan Vote driver will be revealed after the Sprint Showdown on May 16. The winner must complete the Showdown to be eligible for the next day’s main event, the Sprint All-Star Race.

To be eligible for the Fan Vote, drivers must have attempted to qualify for last month’s Daytona 500 as well as race in the Sprint Showdown.

Drivers who win a Sprint Cup race this season automatically earn a berth in the All-Star race. As a result, Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick and Las Vegas winner Brad Keselowski are already in the All-Star race field.

Check out the video below that features Sprint Cup drivers AJ Allmendinger, rookies Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. campaigning for your vote (and, in a good way, imploring you not to vote for Patrick).

Or, in Allmendinger’s case, he’s begging for your vote.

“If you get tired of voting for Danica, you can cast your Sprint Fan vote for me for the All-Star race,” Allmendinger says in the promotional video below. “I’m charming, I’m funny, handsome. I know Danica’s everybody’s favorite, but I need some votes, too. So vote for me, please. I’m begging you.”

Also providing their endorsements are celebrities Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil (for Stenhouse), comedian Carrot Top (for Danica) and Swan Racing part-owner and rapper 50 Cent (who else but his driver, Parker Kligerman).

Austin Dillon also promises that if fans vote him in and he wins the All-Star race, he’ll donate the entire $1 million prize to the Armed Forces Foundation.

As they say in Chicago, “Vote early and vote often.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

The 30 drivers (as of March 15) eligible for the Sprint Fan Vote are:

Justin Allgaier

A.J. Allmendinger

Aric Almirola

Marcos Ambrose

Michael Annett

Trevor Bayne

Dave Blaney

Alex Bowman

Clint Bowyer

Landon Cassill

Austin Dillon

David Gilliland

Parker Kligerman

Kyle Larson

Bobby Labonte

Terry Labonte

Eric McClure

Michael McDowell

Casey Mears

Paul Menard

Joe Nemechek

Danica Patrick

Brian Scott

Morgan Shepherd

Reed Sorenson

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Ryan Truex

Michael Waltrip

Cole Whitt

Josh Wise

Rosberg wary of engine power deficit in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg is anticipating a tough weekend in Abu Dhabi due to a deficit in engine power caused by the high mileage on his current unit.

Rosberg and the Mercedes team have managed to avoid any engine-related grid penalties in 2015 by keeping within the limit of four power units per season.

By doing so, Mercedes has been forced into extending the milage of its engines, with a failure for Rosberg at the Italian Grand Prix in September having a knock-on effect at the end of the season.

Rosberg therefore arrives in Abu Dhabi with an engine down on power that makes him wary of his chances despite leading practice on Friday.

“It’s been a good start here in Abu Dhabi, but it will be a tough weekend for me as I have quite a high mileage engine in my car,” Rosberg said.

“After the Monza problem, we have had to stretch the engine life more than we had planned over the 19 races, so I definitely have a small lack of power on the straights and therefore need to make up extra time in the corners.

“It will be a big battle with Lewis here. He didn’t really bring together his quick laps, so it will be even closer tomorrow I’m sure. I’m looking forward to it and I definitely want to win this race and give the boys in the garage a reason to celebrate at the end of the season.”

On the other side of the Mercedes garage, world champion Lewis Hamilton was left unhappy with Mercedes’ long-run pace in practice, believing that there is ground to be made up.

“The long run pace doesn’t feel quite as strong so that’s something I need to work on,” Hamilton said. “I’ll probably make some more tweaks tonight and hopefully tomorrow it will be better.

“It’s very hard to overtake here, so of course it’s better to be up on pole. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to win from further back.”

Renault: Lotus announcement “very likely” next week

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul has said that the French manufacturer expects to make an announcement regarding its pending takeover of Lotus next week.

Renault has been engaged in negotiations with Lotus over a takeover of the team for many months, and signed a letter of intent back in September confirming its plans to revive a works F1 operation at Enstone.

Although a deal is still yet to be formally agreed and announced, Renault employees have already started working at Lotus to lay the foundations for 2016.

It was speculated that Renault may announce its takeover of Lotus during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, but Abiteboul confirmed on Friday that nothing would be made official at Yas Marina.

The Frenchman remained coy when asked what exactly Renault’s involvement in F1 would entail in 2016, saying: “I’m afraid I can’t answer to that question. I would like to be in a position to be able to answer to that questions, but I am not today.”

Despite there being no announcement in Abu Dhabi, Abiteboul said that he envisages one being made next week following the conclusion of the 2015 season.

“What I can say is that there will be no announcement regarding Renault’s future – short-term or middle-term future – over the weekend, but there will be an announcement, very likely, in the course of next week,” he said.

“We have always said that we would like to do that after the season. The season is ending on Sunday, around the start of December and that is what we will do stick to that plan, which is to make an announcement then.”

Abiteboul said that every effort was being made to finalize the deal with Lotus, but he is excited about the prospect of Renault returning to F1 with a works team for the first time since 2010.

“It’s fair to say that there is a process going on since the signing of the letter of interest on the 28th of September, there is a process involving a lot of people,” Abiteboul said.

“I think 50 people have been working night and day on the realisation of a possible acquisition of a majority stake in Lotus. It’s just a project, It’s been a proper rollercoaster, very exciting.”

Vettel, Raikkonen take on world’s fastest rollercoaster in Abu Dhabi (VIDEO)

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Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both live life at high-speed racing in Formula 1, but how would they get on when faced with the fastest rollercoaster in the world?

To celebrate the fifth birthday of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Vettel and Raikkonen took on the Formula Rossa rollercoaster alongside reserve driver Esteban Gutierrez and other members of the Ferrari team.

Raikkonen is known for being the ‘Iceman’ and showing little emotion, and this was true even at the fastest points of the rollercoaster ride as he kept a straight face while Vettel raised his arms and whooped with excitement.

Never change, Kimi…

Alonso: Tough year with McLaren “necessary”

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Fernando Alonso believes that his tough 2015 Formula 1 campaign with McLaren was a “necessary” stage within his racing career.

Alonso left Ferrari at the end of 2014 after five seasons with the Italian marque to rejoin McLaren ahead of its new partnership with Japanese manufacturer Honda.

McLaren-Honda enjoyed immense success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but 2015 has proven to be a stark juxtaposition thanks to numerous problems with the power unit.

The issues have limited Alonso to just two top-ten finishes in 2015, yielding 11 points to leave him a lowly 17th in the drivers’ championships.

However, the Spaniard was upbeat when reflecting on the season in spite of McLaren’s troubles, believing it to be an important stepping stone.

“Well, tough year, obviously difficult and struggling with the pace all year and the reliability, so definitely a difficult season for us,” Alonso conceded.

“But personally I think it was necessary. It was a step forward in my career after the two championships, after five fantastic seasons fighting for the world championship but arriving second, so I needed some new motivation, some new project that I could trust and I could believe is the only way to become champion again.

“After one difficult season, as I said, I learn so much. I enjoy working with McLaren, with Honda, with all the Japanese discipline and Japanese culture into the team.

“I still remain very positive. I’m very, very happy and looking forward to next year being a little bit easier than this one that, as I said, has been difficult in terms of results.”

Looking ahead to 2016, Alonso expects McLaren to make progress and move up the grid, but is unsure whether it will make enough of a leap forward to challenge for race wins once again.

“At the moment there’s a question mark, I guess, where McLaren-Honda can be next year,” Alonso said.

“There are a lot of expectations in the team. I think we worked really all season, being united in some difficult moments and always moving forward, so I think for 2016 the main goal for the team is to come back to where we belong, we think, and being competitive, fighting for the top positions.

“I don’t know if that means fighting for the championship, I don’t know if that means fighting for victories of just being on the podium sometimes, that’s always difficult to know in a very complex sport like Formula One.

“There are definitely some big challenges ahead in this winter and I see all the things that the team has done in the last couple of months and these seem very logical, very positive and I’m confident that it’s going to be a completely different season next year and I’m happy with the progress.”