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How to solve the problem of Sprint Cup drivers racing in the Nationwide Series

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As it typically does every season, the debate about whether or not Sprint Cup drivers should race in the Nationwide Series has once again heated up in recent weeks.

While racing against NASCAR’s best is definitely beneficial for up-and-coming NNS drivers seeking to learn and improve upon their natural talent, there’s no question that Sprint Cup drivers have a field day when they race in NASCAR’s junior league.

Consider these stats: In the first five Nationwide races this season, four have been won by Sprint Cup drivers, the lone race won by a full-time NNS driver was Regan Smith’s win in the season-opener at Daytona last month.

That quartet of NNS wins by Cup drivers includes Saturday’s winner at Fontana, Kyle Larson, who even though he earned his first NNS triumph, is still a full-time Cup driver this season.

Let’s extrapolate things even more.

Of last season’s 33 Nationwide races, just five were won by true full-time NNS drivers, and two others were won by essentially an NNS ringer (now full-time Cup driver), AJ Allmendinger.

Sam Hornish Jr. won early last season at Las Vegas, Smith won last spring at Talladega and Michigan, Trevor Bayne won last spring at Iowa, and Ryan Blaney won late last summer at Kentucky.

And for the record, Allmendinger won both his races on road courses at Road America and Mid-Ohio, the only two NNS events he competed in all season.

Take away Allmendinger’s two wins, and that means full-time Nationwide drivers won just 15 percent of the 33 races on the 2013 schedule.

That’s not even one-fifth of the schedule.

NASCAR is in a Catch-22 situation because track owners and race promoters need Sprint Cup drivers to run in Nationwide races to put more fans in the stands.

Many fans will come on Saturday’s to see their favorite Cup driver race in the NNS because it usually takes less of a bite price-wise from their wallet than a Sunday Cup ticket.

There have been countless ideas floated over the years on how to minimize the number of Cup drivers in.

Some are better than others, but no one has ever hit upon the best solution for a compromise to a very vexing problem.

I’ve been giving this problem a great deal of thought over the last couple of weeks and think I may have hit upon a possibility that may just fly.

It’s actually a pretty simple idea, combining fans’ desire to still want – and get – to see their Cup favorites, while also enhancing NNS drivers’ chances of wins and getting more deserved notoriety for themselves and the series.

Here’s my suggestion:

First, there are 23 tracks that host NNS races. Ten of those tracks host two races each season, most in conjunction with a Sprint Cup race weekend.

This part is easy: allow Cup drivers to only drive in the first race at a particular track that hosts two per year, and not in the second race later in the season. Even better, cut off Cup drivers from competing in NNS races after the midpoint of the Nationwide’s 33-race season, effectively capping Cup drivers to participate in a maximum of 17 NNS events each year.

Sure, fans want to see their favorite Cup drivers compete in NNS races. But if fans know they’ll only be able to see “their driver” only once per year at a race in the first half of the season, it shouldn’t be overly hard for those same fans to adjust their schedules and still satisfy their need for speed.

Which dovetails nicely into the next part of my plan to fix the Cup/NNS dilemma.

Create an eight-race format (the last eight races of the season) for the NNS that mirrors the Chase for the Sprint Cup, with only Nationwide drivers eligible to compete in those events.

At the same time, allow the top 15 or even 20 NNS drivers after the second Richmond race (which is also the cut off to determine the Cup series’ Chase) to contend for the championship after resetting the points prior to the start of the NNS “Chase.”

The first race of a hypothetical eight-race Nationwide Chase could be on the same weekend as the start of Sprint Cup’s Chase at Chicagoland Speedway (there are only eight races remaining on the NNS schedule by the time the series returns to Chicagoland for the second time in the season).

Both series would be able to dovetail off each other, bringing even greater overall attention to all of NASCAR.

Admittedly, five of the 10 tracks that hold Cup Chase races also host two NNS races per season – Chicagoland, Dover, Charlotte, Texas, Phoenix.

But my proposal would give more meaning – and increased attention – to NNS drivers to truly win their own series’ championship while not having to share attention – and more importantly, wins – with Sprint Cup interlopers.

And it’s a heck of a lot better than the potential alternative – not being able to see their favorite Cup driver in ANY Nationwide race, if NASCAR were to ban such.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1 qualifying to be red flagged if double waved yellows are shown

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: A marshal waves the red flag during qualifying for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that qualifying sessions will now be red flagged in the event of double waved yellow flags being shown following the saga surrounding Nico Rosberg’s pole lap in Hungary.

Double waved yellows were shown at the end of Q3 in Hungary last weekend after Fernando Alonso spun, forcing a number of drivers to abandon their final qualifying laps.

Rosberg was one of the last to come through the yellow flag zone, lifting slightly through Turn 8 before posting a quicker time to take pole position.

The stewards investigated Rosberg’s lap, and although they were satisfied that he slowed sufficiently, the fall-out from the case has continued ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

On Thursday, Lewis Hamilton told NBCSN that the case set a precedent for all other drivers when it comes to reacting to double waved yellow flags, fearing that it could cause a safety issue in the future.

However, there will be no repeat of Rosberg’s actions in Hungary, with Whiting confirming on Friday in a press briefing that the red flag will now be shown to prevent drivers from improving their lap times.

“Ever since we had the Virtual Safety Car in 2015 and then this year we use it in free practice,” Whiting said.

“We can use it in qualifying really but we tend now to stop if there is going to be a yellow flag for any length of time.

“The reason we didn’t show a red flag in Hungary was simply that session had ended, but some cars were behind Alonso’s car and some in front.

“So I think the procedure would be to red flag any time there is a double waved yellow flag. Then there will be no discussion.

“That’s what I intend to do in the future, just to remove any discussion about whether a driver slowed down or not.”

Dixon leads IndyCar opening practice at Mid-Ohio

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – At a track he traditionally dominates, Scott Dixon fired the first shot of the weekend.

The driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet ran a best lap of 1:04.4491 around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to lead the 75-minute first practice.

Dixon enters the weekend 83 points behind points leader Simon Pagenaud and needs a big weekend to have much hope to continue as Verizon IndyCar Series champion. He also enters after the news came out earlier this week that the team’s longtime primary sponsor, Target, will depart IndyCar at the end of the year.

Three Team Penske drivers – Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves – were second through fifth with Tony Kanaan interspersed in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in fourth.

James Hinchcliffe was top Honda in the first session of the Honda Indy 200 weekend, in P6.

Series debutante RC Enerson was 1.1042 of a second off the session lead but the nature of the field is so close that the driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda was 21st.

Teammate Conor Daly had an off in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, potentially with oil on track, and nosed into the tire barriers at the Keyhole. It brought out the only red flag of the session.

Daly was OK and so was the car, except for the front wing assembly leaving the car.

“I hadn’t broke any later. Maybe oil down? I went straight off,” Daly told IndyCar Radio. “Really weird. But maybe that’s what happens to the track. I don’t have a ton of experience. I shouldn’t be doing that.”

Power had an off, Mikhail Aleshin had a 360-degree spin, and Alexander Rossi also went off, but none of those produced any dmage

Times are below. Second practice runs from 2 to 3:15 p.m. ET and local time, and airs LIVE on NBCSN (Also online at http://indystream.nbcsports.com) from 2 to 4.

MidOFP1

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 German GP

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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After seizing the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season in Hungary, Lewis Hamilton arrives in Germany looking to extend his advantage over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

The gap stands at six points after 11 races, and with Hockenheim hosting the final grand prix before the summer break, now is the perfect time to finish on a high and take plenty of momentum into the run to Abu Dhabi.

As ever, MST writers Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno have made their picks ahead of the German Grand Prix weekend. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of the article.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Hamilton may have the momentum after five wins in six races, but I’m backing Rosberg to hit back this weekend and take a second win on home soil. If he doesn’t, it could be a big blow to his title chances.

Surprise Finish: Sebastian Vettel. This marks Vettel’s first home race as a Ferrari driver, bringing back memories of Michael Schumacher’s success at Hockenheim. While victory may be out of reach without some divine intervention, I’ll say Seb can finish on the podium behind the two Mercedes drivers.

Most to Prove: Rio Haryanto. Haryanto has done a solid job so far this season, but with talks about his funding ongoing, he needs to impress this weekend. It can’t harm his case.

Additional Storyline: Crowd figures at Hockenheim. After a disappointing turn-out in 2014, will Hockenheim enjoy a better turnout this weekend after two years away? Here’s hoping…

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. Continuing with the “home driver wins his home grand prix” theme, I peg Rosberg to get one back over Hamilton this weekend and retake the championship lead.

Surprise Finish: Felipe Massa. Traditionally strong at Hockenheim and with upgrades coming this weekend, a top-five finish is possible for a driver and Williams team that needs it.

Most to Prove: Danill Kvyat. A run of ordinary and forgettable races has followed for him against Carlos Sainz Jr. at Toro Rosso. Would love to see him do something of note.

Additional Storyline: July exhaustion. Fourth race in five weeks and at a track the teams didn’t run at last year. How will the teams hold up and will there be any more mistakes of note?

Predict the Podium

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull

Button taken to hospital for check-up after eye irritation

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button has been taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after reporting an eye irritation during practice for the German Grand Prix that cut his session short.

Button completed 16 laps in FP2 en route to eighth place in the final timesheets, but was taken to the medical centre after complaining of an irritation.

McLaren confirmed on Twitter shortly after the session that Button had been taken to the local hospital in Mannheim for a check-up.

However, Button later updated that he’d be good to go for Saturday’s running.