Quaker State 400 - Qualifying

Fresh start has turned stale quickly for Martin Truex Jr.

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What was supposed to be a fresh start for Martin Truex Jr. in 2014 has instead become a frustrating if not stale start, with seemingly one bad thing after another this season.

Forced out of Michael Waltrip Racing when NAPA Auto Parts pulled their sponsorship in light of the attempt to manipulate the field of last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Truex had high hopes moving on to his new team, Furniture Row Racing.

FRR was coming off its best season ever, becoming the first single-car team to ever qualify for the Chase, with Kurt Busch behind the wheel.

When Busch moved on to Stewart Haas Racing, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Truex. He moved into a ride that appeared, at least on the surface, maybe even better than what he had at MWR.

But what Truex hoped for and what has turned out in actuality in the first five races of the season are 180 degrees apart.

Things looked like they’d start out great when he qualified on the outside pole for the season-opening Daytona 500.

Unfortunately, he ultimately wound up finishing last when his engine blew up just 30 laps into the race.

He finished 22nd at Phoenix, 14th at Las Vegas, fell back to 36th at Bristol and left Fontana this past Sunday 23rd.

Add those five races together and Truex’s average finish thus far this season is 27.6.

At the same time, he’s back to 30th in the overall standings, 82 points — almost two full races of points — behind series leader Carl Edwards.

There’s an old saying in NASCAR that how you do in the first five races of the season is usually a reflection of how the rest of your season is going to be like.

If that’s the case, The Mayetta, N.J., native is in big trouble heading into Sunday’s race at Martinsville, because the .526-mile bullring is one of his worst-performing tracks.

“We need to start finding a rhythm with this Furniture Row Racing team,” Truex said earlier this week. “Things have not gone our way so far this season.

“Some of it is our fault and a large part has been some very tough luck.”

While Truex obviously hopes he’s ready to break out, his past record at Martinsville appears to indicate he’ll suffer more of the same fate he’s had both this year overall, as well as throughout his career thus far at the southern Virginia track.

“Going to Martinsville presents another challenge,” Truex said this week. “To be honest, Martinsville is a place I still haven’t figured out. I have had some good runs over the years there, but it has been very inconsistent. I’ve been hooked up at Martinsville sometimes and other times I couldn’t get out of my own way.”

Even before Saturday’s washed out day of both Sprint Cup practices as well as the Camping World Trucks Series race (postponed until after Sunday’s Sprint Cup event), Truex was expecting a different kind of track.

Now with the rain having washed away all collected rubber, a completely green track is not in Truex’s favor, either.

“The biggest challenge about Martinsville is the track changes so much throughout the weekend,” he said. “And the track is never on Sunday what it was like all weekend.

“As soon as they drop the green flag, the track is completely different than it was the day before when you feel you have your car dialed in for the race. Though brakes aren’t as big of an issue as they use to be at Martinsville, you still need to take care of them. If not, you can burn them up.”

Truex needs a big lift this weekend, especially after last weekend’s race at Fontana. Not only did he crash in practice, forcing him to go to a backup car for the race, he ultimately finished a lot worst – 23rd – than what he felt his secondary ride was capable of.

“Every time we felt the momentum swing our way, we seemed to take a punch in the gut,” Truex said. “Finishing 23rd is never acceptable for us because we feel that we are a Chase-caliber team. But considering the incidents that we were faced with, I can honestly say that we fought for every inch of that 23rd-place result.

“Not a good weekend, but I am proud of the way we kept on bouncing back from all of the adversity. We’re going to be ok. We’re just going through a rough streak right now.”

For his sake, hopefully that rough streak will end Sunday.

“We understand the challenges and the uncertainty of Martinsville,” Truex said. “But when this Furniture Row team goes to a race, we feel confident that we can put together a strong race and be a contender. This weekend is not any different.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Australian Grand Prix puts ‘shoey’ can cooler up for sale to fans

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 02:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing performs a shoey to celebrate his win on the podium during the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 2, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo brought “The Shoey” to Formula 1 last year on a few podiums, including his only win of the year at the Malaysian Grand Prix.

The concept is an interesting one – you’re drinking out of a sweaty race boot after a full day’s work.

Ricciardo did his first one himself at the German Grand Prix, his 100th Grand Prix, while he also got his Australian countryman Mark Webber (Spa) and English actor Gerard Butler (Austin) to get in on the act.

Luckily, good on Ricciardo’s home country as the Australian Grand Prix has actually created a ‘Shoey’ can cooler – available mid-March for 15 Australian dollars. The Australian Grand Prix is on NBCSN on March 26, to kick off the 2017 season.

Thanks to the Australian Grand Prix and freelance journalist Josh Kruse for the spot.

This is a brilliant piece of merchandise that cashes in on Ricciardo’s success and his celebration style, but allows for all the fun of a “Shoey” without the consequences of drinking out of a race boot.

Looks like shots in the grandstands of fans drinking from this type of boot may be something we need to look out for.

Juncos Racing enters IndyCar with a glittering MRTI resume

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Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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For years, the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires has long been considered a training ground for drivers, and some crew members, to prepare and develop before moving into the Verizon IndyCar Series.

It hasn’t, yet, seen a full team that began in the Road to Indy step up into IndyCar. But when Juncos Racing announced its intentions to build a new 40,000-square foot shop in Speedway, Ind., called the Juncos Technical Center, it was always part of the longer-term plan that an IndyCar team would eventually be part of the program. It has now arrived with an entry into the 101st Indianapolis 500 in 2017.

Ricardo Juncos’ team last major step from Pro Mazda into Indy Lights in 2015 produced better results than even he had imagined, as Spencer Pigot won the championship in the team’s first year.

“We got a good opportunity when we won the Pro Mazda championship with Spencer,” Juncos told reporters on a teleconference Wednesday.” The original idea before ’14 was try to fight for that championship. If we were able to win it, that we have a good chance to put together an Indy Lights team, which we did.

“But to be honest, we just showed up in 2015 taking a very difficult championship with a top-class worldwide teams with ex-Formula 1 drivers in the series (Max Chilton, and later Nelson Piquet Jr. at Carlin). It was very difficult. Our first initial thinking was, Let’s do our best, we were joking if we could win a race, that would be great. We ended up winning six races and a championship. Of course, that give us a lot of confidence.

“The continuation of the team was exactly what we was kind of did before in the Pro Mazda. Obviously that, like you said, one is coming from go-kart before then, then Pro Mazda, and Indy Lights was a lot of questions. Winning the championship give us a lot of confidence going forward.

“So I’m seeing this Indy car more as a same thing, as a continuation of what we done. We just going to keep doing what we normally do.”

Juncos will continue in Indy Lights this year with at least two cars (Kyle Kaiser, Nico Dapero), but has no immediate plans to return to Pro Mazda having sold off his equipment there. The USF2000 championship, meanwhile, introduces a new Tatuus USF-17 chassis this year which can be adapted for Pro Mazda use (Tatuus PM-18) starting in 2018, with a few part changeovers.

“To be honest, we actually are not going to run the Pro Mazda this year. Unfortunately after being eight years with four cars, we cannot do it. We going to focus obviously on Indy Lights, Indy car now, and some other stuff,” he said.

“Going into ’18, we’ll see. The problem is that as much as I want to have, is not that easy to just keep building teams. I want to do things right and control the things, which sometimes is difficult.”

So who is Juncos Racing and what have they accomplished in the Mazda Road to Indy? It’d be easier to work backwards and note the alumni of drivers who’ve delivered success for the team:

2016: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires (Kyle Kaiser, Zachary Claman De Melo) and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires (Garett Grist, Will Owen, Nico Dapero, Jake Parsons). Kaiser won twice and finished third in the Indy Lights standings, while Dapero scored his maiden win in Pro Mazda at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca season finale.

2015: Indy Lights (Spencer Pigot, Kaiser) and Pro Mazda (Owen, Grist, Timothe Buret, Jose Gutierrez). Pigot won the championship in the team’s step back up to Indy Lights with six race wins, in three weekend sweeps. Grist (twice) and Buret (once) won in Pro Mazda and Grist finished third in points.

2014: Pro Mazda (Gutierrez, Kaiser, Pigot, Julia Ballario). Pigot won the title with six wins, having survived an insane weekend battling Scott Hargrove for the title at Sonoma. Kaiser and Gutierrez won the two races that weekend and finished sixth and seventh in points.

2013: Pro Mazda (Gutierrez, Ballario, Scott Anderson, Diego Ferreira). Ferreira won the season opener and finished second in points, with Anderson fifth. Andretti’s Matt Brabham dominated the season.

2012: Star Mazda (Ferreira, Connor De Phillippi, Bruno Palli, Martin Scuncio). De Phillippi won twice, Scuncio once as De Phillippi came fourth in points in a deep field. He’s now gone onto success in sports car racing with Porsche and more recently Audi. The team also made its Indy Lights debut with Chase Austin, JV Horto and Bruno Palli in selected races.

2011: Star Mazda (Horto, Scuncio, Tatiana Calderon, Gustavo Menezes, Richard Heistand). Horto led the way there with a win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and fourth in points. Calderon and Menezes have eventually gone onto success in Europe, Menezes in particular given his run in LMP2 with the Signatech Alpine team last year where he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the class championship.

2010: Star Mazda (Scuncio, Calderon, Conor Daly, Sean Bursytn, Rusty Mitchell, Hayden Duerson). Juncos’ most successful year prior to 2014 saw Daly win seven of 13 races, en route to the championship by 79 points over Anders Krohn, who’s since developed his own post-driving career in both broadcasting and driver and business development at CoForce.

2009: Star Mazda (Daly, Peter Dempsey). In Juncos’ first year in Star Mazda, Dempsey won five races and Daly one, but Dempsey endured a tough loss for the championship in the final race after being taken out by competitor Joel Miller. This opened the door for Adam Christodoulou to snatch that year’s Star Mazda title.

Haas F1 Team gives us the sound of 2017 Ferrari (VIDEO)

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 17:  Romain Grosjean of France drives the  Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo as he exits the pit lane during day one of Formula One testing at Circuit de Catalunya on May 17, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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You’ve heard from the other power units competing in 2017 – Renault and Honda both revealed their sounds earlier this month, and Mercedes did too prior to that.

But the 2017 Ferrari hasn’t been heard yet. Until today, in two guises.

Earlier this afternoon, Sauber ran its C36 chassis with a Ferrari power unit on track at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona as part of a filming day.

Meanwhile Haas F1 Team, the other privateer team using a Ferrari power unit, released a teaser video as it fired up the engine to its VF17 chassis for the first time. Haas launches its 2017 car on Sunday.

Follow @TonyDiZinno

F1 Paddock Pass: Force India VJM10 Launch (VIDEO)

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In the second edition of this week’s F1 on NBC Sports original digital series Paddock Pass, the Sahara Force India team reveals the VJM10 at the Silverstone Circuit in England, not far from the team’s headquarters.

Force India’s steady climb up the ladder has seen them rise to fourth place in the Constructor’s Championship, achieved last year.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton checks in with drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, the latter of whom shifts to Force India after an impressive half season with Manor last year.

“It just looks amazing. It’s the first time I’ve been so excited looking at the car,” Perez told Buxton. “We have to adapt to a new driving style and see how physically demanding it is. It will be a big challenge for us.”

Otmar Szafnauer, COO of Sahara Force India, also offered his thoughts and expectations:

“The only way to hope to keep (the momentum) was to develop the 2017 car early. We don’t have the resources for parallel development,” Szafnauer told Buxton.

Stay tuned to the end of the video for a potential nugget about the testing lineup.

A link to Renault’s Paddock Pass from yesterday is here.

Further preseason content will come this week and into next on NBCSports.com.