Samuel Deeds 400 At The Brickyard - Practice

Finishing 24th at Bristol may actually be a good thing for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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Ever since he won the season-opening Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been on a rocket ship of attention.

He didn’t even get a chance to celebrate his win in the Great American Race with family and close friends until this past week, having gone on a whirlwind post-Daytona national media tour, followed by runner-up finishes in subsequent races at Phoenix and Las Vegas.

There’s a thing like a delayed reaction, but to celebrate one of the biggest wins of your career nearly three weeks later after actually doing it, well, that should show just how busy Earnhardt has been.

Sooner or later, Earnhardt was bound to come back to Earth, and did so in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Two days after admitting he wasn’t comfortable with being the face of NASCAR, something that Brian France probably cringed about when he heard it, Earnhardt proved he was human and not invincible, finishing 24th.

After having the spotlight constantly and directly aimed on him since Daytona, it was time someone else enjoyed time in that same spotlight.

Plenty earned it Sunday.

There was race winner Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart’s season-best fourth-place finish, the inspiring showing by Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Aric Almirola (third) and Marcos Ambrose (fifth), outstanding 10th and 11th place runs by rookies Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon.

Admittedly, Earnhardt didn’t have the strongest car at Bristol. While strong early on in the race, his Chevrolet faded, eventually finishing 499 laps, one lap behind the leaders.

While Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne finished seventh and eighth Sunday, there was no shame in Junior finishing 24th. Heck, fellow teammate Jimmie Johnson finished 18th – and he’s a six-time Sprint Cup champion.

Of course, Bristol is one of Johnson’s worst performing tracks, so that’s not such a big surprise in the whole scheme of things.

In a strange way, maybe Bristol was just what Junior needed. The media and fan attention will likely tone down heading into next weekend at Fontana. Reporters won’t make an immediate beeline to interview him there, instead likely looking for guys like Edwards and Stewart.

Sure, Earnhardt lost his lead in the Sprint Cup points standings, dropping from first to second, 10 points behind new series leader Brad Keselowski.

But it’s better to have the kind of finish he had Sunday in the fourth race of the season than to go through a similar outcome in the last few races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Junior Nation may be bummed. Junior himself likely is.

But finishing 24th really isn’t all that bad. It will give Earnhardt a chance to catch his breath, to look back and review everything that has happened to him thus far – including Sunday’s showing – and figure out where to go from here.

If anything, his Bristol showing could wind up being the best thing to happen to him. If nothing else, it’ll bring everyone back to reality who was starting to think that Earnhardt was invincible this season, that if he couldn’t win every race, he’d at least finish second every week that he doesn’t’ finish first.

Remember, from adversity often comes strength.

If you think Junior was strong in the first three races, wait and see how he bounces back from Bristol.

In a season that he enjoyed the best start of his career, what he does from here will be the true measure of whether this truly and finally is going to be his best year ever or not.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

Alonso: McLaren moving in the right direction with P5 in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during final practice ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso felt pleased to finish Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix in fifth place, believing it to act as proof that McLaren is moving in the right direction.

Alonso scored his first points of the season in Russia at the beginning of the month, and arrived in Monaco hopeful of adding to his haul at a track where the deficiencies of McLaren’s Honda engine would not be so punishing.

Starting ninth, Alonso made a good start before making up more ground in the pit stops to run fifth after all of the drivers had switched from wet to dry tires.

Alonso was then able to hold back Nico Rosberg for the remainder of the race to secure P5 and 10 points for McLaren.

“In terms of driving and concentration, today’s was an extremely tough race,” Alonso said.

“We started behind the safety car – with almost zero visibility – then switched to inters; but nobody had done any laps on those tyres before the race, so it was unknown territory for everyone.

“Once we’d switched to dry-weather tires, there was still only a very narrow dry line on the track, so if you went just half a centimetre off that line, you’d crash. There was just no room for mistakes today.

“Nonetheless, we got a good result – both cars in the points ought to make us reasonably happy. I think we’re progressing well: the results make it quite obvious what we’re achieving, so we’re heading in the right direction.

“We’re still not where we want to be – right at the front, fighting for wins and podiums – but I’m happy about how things are going.”

Teammate Jenson Button finished the race ninth to secure McLaren a double points haul in Monaco.

“My car felt almost undriveable during the wet opening laps – we were struggling to get heat into the rear tires, and were locking the rear wheels whenever we hit the brakes, which was a bit scary,” Button said.

“I boxed for inters at probably the right time – that first-call was the trickier one. I feel I’m pretty good at making those tire calls, but, on such a short lap, and when everybody else follows suit, it didn’t make too much difference. Then I got stuck behind Pascal’s [Wehrlein] Manor, which I couldn’t overtake.

“I think we made the right calls in terms of strategy, but lost out a little with the attendant traffic – which I couldn’t help – but the team made some good calls nonetheless.

“We wouldn’t have scored this many points if it’d been dry, so it’s good to get a decent haul today.”

Rosberg struggles to P7 in Monaco: ‘I had no confidence out there’

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg claims to have lacked confidence with his car in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after finishing in a lowly seventh for Mercedes.

Rosberg started the race from second place on the grid, but was forced to give his position up to teammate Lewis Hamilton after pole-man Daniel Ricciardo opened up a big lead early on.

Hamilton ultimately went on to win the race, while Rosberg continued to struggle for pace in the wet conditions before the track dried out, dropping behind Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel.

Rosberg lost another place in the pits to Fernando Alonso after making the switch to slick tires, and spent the remainder of the race languishing behind the McLaren driver.

On the final lap, Rosberg lost P6 to Nico Hulkenberg on the run to the checkered flag, giving Hamilton a 19-point swing in the championship.

Despite still leading the drivers’ standings by 24 points, Rosberg admitted he was unsure why he was so slow in Monaco.

“I don’t know what the reason was. It was just very difficult out there on the intermediates,” Rosberg told NBCSN after the race.

“I just had no confidence out there, so I had to stay quite far away from the limit.

“Then after that, I had to let Lewis past to give him the chance to win, because with my pace I wouldn’t have had the possibility.

“So gave that a go, and then of course he did win, so good for the team.

“For me, I lost out a lot in the pit stops and everything, so that was disappointing.”

The result ends Rosberg’s record of having won every race he has finished in 2016.

Perez elated by Monaco podium, hails Force India tire calls

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India celebrates on the podium during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sergio Perez produced one of the stand-out performances of Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix to score his third podium finish for the team and the fourth in its history.

Perez started seventh in Monaco, but rose to third once all of the drivers had made the switch to slick tires after jumping Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg in the pit stops.

The Mexican managed his tires well in the second half of the race and even looked capable of claiming a shock victory at one point.

Ultimately, he had to settle for third behind Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo, but was delighted with the result.

“I’m extremely happy because my team has done a tremendous job with the strategy, with the calls, with the pit stops,” Perez said.

“It’s been an amazing day for us, my their podium with the team, a special one to have in Monaco, especially in these race conditions.

“I want to dedicate this podium to our boss, Vijay Mallya. He has been very supportive during these times, and I really want to dedicate this one to him.”

Perez praised the strategy calls made by the Force India pit wall that gave him the chance to keep the faster Ferrari back.

“I think we did the right calls, I think the best tire for us was the softs at the end,” Perez said.

“I was controlling the pace in the beginning. Seb had a lot of pace, he was a lot faster than us.

“I think I was saving my tires. When I needed to push I had the tire left.

“It was an amazing race with all the calls and everything. I’m extremely happy.”

Ricciardo feels “screwed” after Red Bull pit error costs him Monaco win

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Daniel Ricciardo felt “screwed” after a pit stop error from his Red Bull team cost him a likely victory in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Ricciardo led the field away from pole position after the start behind the safety car, building a 13 second buffer to Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in the early stages.

Hamilton took the lead thanks to a long first stint, but was due to run behind Ricciardo once all of the drivers had made the switch to slick tires just before half-distance.

However, Ricciardo was left stranded in his pit box for a number of seconds after a communication error by Red Bull meant his slick tires were not ready in time.

Ricciardo spent most of the remaining laps less than a second behind Hamilton, trying time and time again to pass before eventually dropping back in the final laps.

After a strategy error cost him victory in Spain two weeks ago, the usually-amiable Ricciardo was full of frustration on the podium after the race.

“I don’t even want to comment on the race to be honest,” Ricciardo said.

“Thanks to the fans, thanks for sticking out in this weather. From the outside we put on a show. Shouldn’t have been as exciting as it was to be honest.

“Two weeks in a row now I’ve been screwed, so it sucks. It hurts.”

Ricciardo revealed that it was Red Bull’s call for him to pit at the end of lap 32 and make the switch to super-soft tires

“I was called in the box, I didn’t make the call. I was called,” Ricciardo said.

“They should have been ready. It hurts, it hurts. I don’t have anything else to say to be honest.

“We had the speed in the wet on the start. We pulled away, pitted for inters, and we put ourself in a race with Lewis that we didn’t need to be in.

“Then the pit stop was the pit stop. I felt I was the quickest in all conditions. Second place doesn’t show much for it.”