Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth among Bristol leaders that got in trouble

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A long list of race leaders in tonight’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway wound up having their nights turn into something much less that what they were hoping for.

With 50 laps to go, a potential Top-10 for Kevin Harvick literally went up in flames when his already smoking No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet slammed into the wall. The incident caused Jamie McMurray to check up and Brad Keselowski wound up slamming into the back of the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Harvick’s car then caught fire on its way to the garage, causing him to quickly climb out and leave the mess behind. McMurray retired from the race shortly afterwards, while Keselowski soldiered on without a hood to a 14th place finish.

All three drivers had led earlier in the race, with Harvick in particular coming on late to lead 28 laps. But they were far from the only leaders to suffer.

On Lap 394 of 500, Kyle Busch crashed while running 17th and forced cars to evade him on the inside and outside as his wrecked machine came to a stop in the middle of the backstretch.

One of those oncoming cars was Kurt Busch, who tried to go to the outside of Kyle but clipped the No. 18 Toyota instead. He then went into the backstretch wall.

Kyle and Kurt would finish 29th and 35th respectively after also leading earlier in the race. Kyle’s downfall was particularly noteworthy, as he had led a 73-lap portion in the middle stages and was the halfway leader as well.

But on Lap 272, Kyle sensed a problem and decided to pit under green. That decision cost him when the caution came out six laps later for a Ryan Truex crash that sent a piece of debris – a brake rotor – to be ultimately run over by Busch.

Busch went down two laps in the sequence, but took the wave-around to get within one lap of the leaders. He was still at that point when he crashed on Lap 394.

Then there was Matt Kenseth, who had an up-and-down day before finishing 13th.

Kenseth was the leader coming out of the three-hour, 19-minute red flag and held the point until Kurt Busch took it on Lap 153. Four laps later on Lap 157, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt made contact that put Whitt in the wall.

As the caution lights turned on, Busch and Kenseth checked up for Whitt but Timmy Hill failed to slow down and plowed into the back of Kenseth.

Multiple repairs on pit road enabled Kenseth to stay on the lead lap though, and with the back of his car crumpled in, he rocketed from 29th all the way through the field and to the lead on Lap 285.

Kenseth would lead for a race-high 165 laps but late in the race, he suffered handling issues and fell back. Then with 92 laps to go, he tagged the wall after apparently running over debris with his tires.

He would continue on, but it was a disappointing ending to a night that had been largely positive.

Finally, Jimmie Johnson led 44 laps early in the race but on Lap 114, his right front tire unexpectedly went down and he lost multiple laps having to pit under green.

“Something made it come apart in this really long 50-foot section,” Johnson said according to NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello. “I don’t know if we clipped something on the track that wore the tread and it unwound, or if something else happened…”

Johnson would eventually come home 19th.

Stroll: Baku F1 podium ‘proves I can be here’

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Lance Stroll is pleased to have answered his critics with his recent Formula 1 displays, believing his podium finish in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix proves he deserves his place on the grid.

Stroll, 18, stepped up to F1 from Formula 3 with Williams for 2017, aided by financial support from his billionaire father, Lawrence.

Stroll had a rough start to life in F1, failing to finish any of his first three races or score points until the seventh race of the year in Canada.

This kick-started a three-race run in the points for Stroll, the highlight being a charge to third place in Baku after rising through the order in a frenetic race.

Speaking to the official F1 website, Stroll said the timing of his points finish in Canada was of little consideration to him, having always had confidence in his own ability.

“If it comes earlier or later, you almost cannot influence it. But I knew that I was capable of doing results so I wasn’t panicking,” Stroll said.

“I knew that it was all a matter of time. But to really do it in Canada, that was great. A great day, the home race.

“It is much more about other things [than confidence]: me improving the way I drive or me working with the team. We have changed a lot on the car since Baku and that helped me a lot in my performance.”

The result saw Stroll become the second-youngest podium finisher in F1 history, only trailing Max Verstappen and sitting ahead of the likes of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

“It proves that I can be here!” Stroll said. “I did it with a Williams, not a Mercedes!”

Wehrlein not concerned that Sauber performances are overlooked

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Sauber Formula 1 driver Pascal Wehrlein has no concerns that his performances for the backmarker team are being overlooked as he bids to secure a seat further up the grid in the near future.

Wehrlein is part of Mercedes’ junior program, and was an option for the championship-winning marque for 2017 following Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement.

Mercedes eventually signed Valtteri Bottas from Williams, placing Wehrlein at Sauber after his 2016 team, Manor, folded during the off-season.

Wehrlein has led Sauber’s charge through 2017, taking eighth place at the Spanish Grand Prix despite racing in a car lacking upgrades and with a year-old engine.

While a career haul of just six points may seem paltry, Wehrlein is comforted by the fact he has lacked the car with which to fare much better.

“My target is to one day be in a team where I can win races, get on the podium regularly and fight for championships,” Wehrlein told the official F1 website.

“Right now I don’t have these tools to make it happen. The weekends where we score points are very, very special for us because we don’t have the car to finish in the top ten often, only if the stars are in the right place!

“And then we have to take the opportunity and bag the points. I am very happy that when the chance was there I was able to grab it. I want to be there when it counts.

“I think it gets noticed that I have scored points in cars that under normal circumstances don’t score points. I don’t worry about that.”

Bottas has flourished since joining Mercedes, taking two race wins and becoming an unexpected contender in the title race alongside teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

When asked if he was worried about Bottas’ success, Wehrlein said: “No, because I cannot influence such a decision.

“Worrying about things that you cannot influence is wasting your time and wasting your strength and efforts.

“Yes, Valtteri is doing a good job and he deserves it.”

Dixon hopes Rosenqvist gets IndyCar drive in the future

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Scott Dixon would like to see Felix Rosenqvist get a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series drive in the future after enjoying a successful second test with Chip Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course earlier this week.

Rosenqvist, 25, raced briefly in Indy Lights – among a number of other series – at the start of 2016 before shifting his focus to DTM and Formula E, sitting third in latter’s standings heading into the final round of the season.

After a successful maiden test with Chip Ganassi Racing last summer, Rosenqvist was invited back to Mid-Ohio to conduct some running with four-time champion Dixon and offer the current IndyCar points leader some feedback.

The Swede put in another impressive display, much to Dixon’s delight, who would like to see Rosenqvist join the IndyCar grid in the future.

“Right now, I think he’s got a lot of options, whether it’s Formula E or racing in Japan or throughout Europe,” Dixon told the official Verizon IndyCar Series website.

“Hopefully he can make it to the IndyCar Series at some point.”

Rosenqvist’s current program sees him balance drives in both Formula E and the Japanese Super Formula series, as well as a variety of other ad-hoc appearances in events ranging from the 24 Hours of Le Mans to the Scandinavian Porsche Carrera Cup.

Dipping to Mid-Ohio between the Formula E rounds in New York and Montreal, Rosenqvist was happy with how the test went and the contribution he was able to make.

“I think we had a really good test last year where it was probably more easy to evaluate my performance because there were more cars on track and so on, and it went really well,” Rosenqvist said.

“This year they entrusted me to do the test with Scott to get the free test day that the team gets. I think it was probably more for the preparation of the Mid-Ohio race.

“What I wanted to do was to prepare physically to drive, which I think I was, and just give good data, good feedback and constant lap times. I think it worked really good.”

Renault still chasing top-five F1 constructors’ championship finish

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Renault Formula 1 chief Cyril Abiteboul remains confident that the team can secure a top-five finish in this years’ constructors’ championship despite sitting eighth with half of the season complete.

Renault returned to F1 with a works team in 2016, but struggled to make much of an impression on-track as it recovered from the financial difficulties that blighted the Lotus team it took over.

While progress has been clear through 2017, the team already more than tripling its points total, it has still struggled to make much of an impact on F1’s midfield.

Nico Hulkenberg has led Renault’s charge, scoring all 26 of it points so far this season, taking an impressive sixth-place finish at Silverstone last weekend.

Renault boldly stated in pre-season that it was targeting a top-five finish in the constructors’ championship, and while it may still be three places shy heading towards the summer break, Abiteboul’s goal remains unchanged.

“We have shown at Silverstone that we are continuing to improve. Chassis developments, in particular the new floor, proved to be positive exemplified from Nico’s eight points and both cars showing strong qualifying pace,” Abiteboul said.

“It’s critical to back up this improvement with both cars finishing in the top ten in Hungary – we want to finish the first half of the season on a positive note.

“To achieve this, we need to put behind our reliability problems. We know our situation and the areas which require more attention.

“Our targets remain unchanged: we want to be sixth by the end of play on 30th July and fifth by the end of the season. A double-points finish is well within our reach.”

Renault currently sits seven points behind sixth-placed Toro Rosso in the constructors’ championship, and 15 shy of Williams in P5.