Kurt Busch was the fastest in Friday afternoon's Sprint Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

UPDATED: Kurt Busch shakes off early-race tangle, holds off Jimmie Johnson to win at Martinsville

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Kurt Busch overcame an early-race tangle with Brad Keselowski, and then held off Jimmie Johnson in the final 11 laps to win Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

The elder Busch brother follows up younger brother Kyle’s win last week at Auto Club Speedway to become the sixth different Sprint Cup Series winner in as many races this season.

“I didn’t know if we’d be able to do it,” Busch said. “The 48 car (Johnson) is king here, him or the 24 (Jeff Gordon).”

Johnson and Gordon lead all active drivers at Martinsville with eight wins apiece, while NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty holds the all-time record with 15 career wins at the sport’s shortest track (.526-mile). Johnson gave it all he could to try and catch Busch in the closing laps, but Busch’s Hendrick Motorsports power under the hood was just a slight tick more powerful than Johnson’s own HMS motor.

“It’s the old theory, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” Busch said. “I have a Hendrick chassis prepared by Stewart Haas Racing, a Hendrick motor, thanks to those guys at Chevrolet. I’ve been on this journey for awhile, and every time you come to Martinsville, you just draw a line through it and say there’s no way I’ll be able to challenge those Hendrick guys or be up in that top 10. This Stewart Haas team gave me a car to do it.

“It’s a dream come true to have Gene Haas call you and tell you that he wants you to drive, that he wants you to go for trophies and wins, and this is an unbelievable feeling to deliver for Haas Automation.”

Busch passed Johnson on Lap 473 and appeared headed to the win, but Johnson regained the lead 10 laps later.

Johnson was seeking his ninth triumph at Martinsville, but Busch rallied back to regain the lead on Lap 489, successfully navigated thick lapped traffic while still being able to keep Johnson at bay to take his first Sprint Cup win since Oct. 2, 2011 at Dover.

The 2004 Sprint Cup champion led just 23 laps in breaking an 83-race winless streak, earning his 25th career Sprint Cup win and his second career triumph at Martinsville (the other was back in October 2002 when he was with Roush Racing).

On Lap 44 under caution, Busch got into the rear of Keselowski’s car on pit road, sending it careening into Kasey Kahne’s car, causing extensive damage to Keselowski’s car  that kept the 2012 Cup champ off the track for more than 30 laps while repairs were made by his Team Penske crew.

Shortly after the incident, Busch  told his crew over the team radio that “We’re done” due to the incident, but was able to continue on and quickly worked his way up through the pack to run consistently in the top-10 for much of the day.

Keselowski was none too happy with his former Penske Racing teammate.

“Well, Kurt tore the whole suspension off the car, so it won’t turn, it won’t do anything,” Keselowski said shortly after the incident. “So, thanks, Kurt, appreciate it, Bud.”

Once his car was repaired, Keselowski got back on the track more than 30 laps later, racing without front fenders or a hood, and ran into both the rear and side of Busch’s car several times but didn’t wreck nor cause any significant damage to the eventual winner and his car.

After the race, Busch essentially ignored Keselowski’s claims that he caused the pit road wreck.

“We won but we’re not worried about any of that nonsense right now,” Busch said. “We are a winner, we’re not guaranteed anything, we need to win and we’re moving forward.”

Johnson, who led a race-high 296 of the event’s 500 laps, finished second, while Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third. It was the first time Johnson has not won at Martinsville after leading more than 271 laps in an individual race.

“I’d been loose in the final third of the race. I was hanging on there and when he got back me, I was hopeful he’d wear his stuff off so I could get back him. And then I did, and then I couldn’t hold him off. I just kept getting looser and looser. That’s all I had. I ran the rear tires off the car.

“I was just a little too loose there to get the win. … I wish we could have gotten this for Rick’s 30th anniversary (of Hendrick Motorsports’ first career win in NASCAR back in 1984 at Martinsville), but we came up just a little short.”

Joey Logano, who led 39 laps, finished fourth, followed by a strong effort by Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcos Ambrose, who led 22 laps and finished fifth, while fellow RPM driver Aric Almirola finished eighth.

Sixth through 10th were Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard.

Earnhardt also regained the lead in the Sprint Cup points standings. Earnhardt, who led the points after the first three races, knocked Carl Edwards off the top spot after Edwards’ brief one-week reign.

Earnhardt now leads Matt Kenseth by nine points and Edwards by 10 as the series moves to the high-speed Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday.

With the win, Busch climbed four spots in the standings and into a tie for 20th with Mears.

Pole sitter Kyle Busch led 22 laps but fought handling problems throughout most of the race, eventually finishing 14th. Danica Patrick, who earned her best non-restrictor plate track qualifying effort on Friday and started Sunday’s race 10th, struggled to an eventual 32nd-place finish.

There were a record 33 lead changes among 12 drivers, breaking the old track record of 31.

Here’s the unofficial finishing order for Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway, followed by the unofficial Sprint Cup standings after Sunda’s race:

1 Kurt Busch

2 Jimmie Johnson

3 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

4 Joey Logano

5 Marcos Ambrose

6 Matt Kenseth

7 Kevin Harvick

8 Aric Almirola

9 Clint Bowyer

10 Paul Menard

11 AJ Allmendinger

12 Jeff Gordon

13 Carl Edwards

14 Kyle Busch

15 Austin Dillon

16 Brian Vickers

17 Tony Stewart

18 Greg Biffle

19 Denny Hamlin

20 Ryan Newman

21 Martin Truex Jr.

22 Kasey Kahne

23 Justin Allgaier

24 Casey Mears

25 Landon Cassill

26 David Gilliland

27 Kyle Larson

28 David Ragan

29 Cole Whitt

30 Ryan Truex

31 Michael Annett

32 Danica Patrick

33 Travis Kvapil

34 Reed Sorenson

35 Josh Wise

36 Alex Bowman

37 Michael McDowell

38 Brad Keselowski

39 David Stremme

40 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

41 Parker Kligerman

42 Jamie McMurray

43 Joe Nemechek

Unofficial updated Sprint Cup points standings after Martinsville:

1 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

2 Matt Kenseth -9

3 Carl Edwards -10

4 Jeff Gordon -11

5 Jimmie Johnson -18

6 Kyle Busch -38

7 Brad Keselowski -39

8 Joey Logano -40

9 Austin Dillon -48

10 Ryan Newman -53

11 Paul Menard -59

12 Denny Hamlin -62

13 Brian Vickers -62

14 Marcos Ambrose -65

15 Tony Stewart -73

16 AJ Allmendinger -75

17 Clint Bowyer -77

18 Greg Biffle -78

19 Kyle Larson -79

20 Kurt Busch -81

21 Casey Mears -81

22 Kasey Kahne -82

23 Jamie McMurray -87

24 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -91

25 Kevin Harvick -92

26 Aric Almirola -95

27 Justin Allgaier -118

28 Martin Truex Jr. -122

29 Danica Patrick -123

30 Reed Sorenson -126

31 Michael Annett -139

32 Cole Whitt -141

33 David Gilliland -142

34 David Ragan -142

35 Alex Bowman -145

36 Josh Wise -168

37 Ryan Truex -180

38 Travis Kvapil -182

39 Parker Kligerman -191

40 Bobby Labonte -198

41 Jeff Burton -200

42 Michael McDowell -201

43 Terry Labonte -203

44 David Reutimann -211

45 Timmy Hill -220

46 David Stremme -222

47 Michael Waltrip -223

48 Landon Cassill -227

49 Joe Nemecheck -227

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Spectator dies after accident on opening stage of Monte Carlo rally

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Officials have confirmed that a spectator has died following an accident on the first stage of the Monte Carlo Rally on Thursday night, the opening round of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Hyundai driver Hayden Paddon slid off the route towards the end of the 21.25 km stage between Entrevaux and Ubraye, with his car blocking the course.

Emergency services were quickly called when it emerged that a spectator had been hurt in the accident, with rally officials confirming later in the evening that the fan had died as a result of injuries sustained.

“The Automobile Club de Monaco regrets to advise further details following incident of the car #4 (Paddon/Kennard) in SS 1,” a statement from the rally organizers read.

“The spectator was transported by helicopter from the stage to hospital in Nice. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff, the spectator has sadly died.

“An investigation has commenced into the incident and all involved parties will provide assistance to the authorities.

“Everyone associated with the event extends their deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, friends and individuals affected.”

Hyundai issued its own statement soon after: “Hyundai Motorsport is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of a spectator during the opening stage of Rallye Monte-Carlo on Thursday evening.

“The incident occurred at the same time as the #4 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC of Hayden Paddon and John Kennard crashed into the mountainside, after the car hit a patch of black ice at the entry to a left-hand turn.

“The team and crew have pledged their full support to the event organisers and authorities to understand the full details.

“Hyundai Motorsport extends its condolences to the family, friends and individuals affected.”

The stage was cancelled following the incident, with the rally resuming on stage two later in the evening. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville currently leads by 7.8 seconds from defending world champion Sebastien Ogier.

Paddon’s car has been withdrawn from the remainder of the rally as a result of the incident on Friday.

Gateway secures deal with Bommarito Auto for IndyCar race sponsorship

MADISON, IL - AUGUST 9:  Bryan Herta drives his #27 Andretti Green Racing Honda Dallara during practice for the IRL (Indy Racing League) IndyCar Series Emerson 250 at the Gateway International Raceway on August 9, 2003 in Madison, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Gateway Motorsports Park’s return to the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule will feature a two-year title sponsorship from Bommarito Automotive Group, it was confirmed on Thursday. The St. Louis Business Journal was first to report the news.

The largest auto dealer in St. Louis will see its name on the race, now titled the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. Gateway’s return comes on August 26 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), for its first IndyCar race since 2003.

“We are pleased to announce that Bommarito Automotive Group will join Gateway Motorsports Park in the production of our inaugural INDYCAR event as the title sponsor,” Curtis Francois, Owner and CEO of Gateway Motorsports Park, said in a release.

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“This is a tremendous event for the St. Louis region and no one knows our town better than the folks at Bommarito. They are a progressive group, known for a high standard of quality and excellence. It’s the same standard of on-track action and family-friendly experience that we look forward to delivering with our landmark event.”

“We are excited to partner with Gateway Motorsports Park and the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said John Bommarito, President of the Bommarito Automotive Group. “When approached by Gateway about the return of INDYCAR to St. Louis, we felt it was important to have a major St. Louis company step forward and support the return of open wheel racing to the region.  We are extremely proud to be the title sponsor of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.”

Gateway will be the sixth and last oval race of the season, following earlier races in Phoenix, Indianapolis, Texas, Iowa and Pocono.

Rahal wants to turn 2016’s unrealized potential into reality in 2017

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Graham Rahal likes to say “2016 was a year of tremendous potential.”

But it also was a year that some potential was not realized.

After a career season in 2015, when he finished fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series and earning two wins and six podium finishes, Rahal slipped back slightly in 2016, finishing fifth with just one win and only four podiums.

So what does 2017 hold in store? If things go well for the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, the tremendous potential of 2016 will morph into potential not only realized, but could result in the younger Rahal’s best year ever.

Rahal has the power, the car, the equipment and the personnel to make some major upward moves this year.

“We just have to find going forward a way to keep that performance level, enhance it a little bit,” Rahal said. “Obviously the cars aren’t really going to change at all (major changes are planned for 2018).

“I felt like speed-wise, our performance (in 2016) was actually better than 2015, pretty considerably. We just did our season reviews about a month and a half ago, and it’s pretty clear to see performance-wise, the team performed a lot better.

“However, we had a lot of things that just didn’t quite go our way, whereas in 2015 we had bounces that certainly did. 2016 the bounces didn’t happen. We had to fight a lot harder, still managed to get a top-five finish in the championship.

“I think that I probably drove better last year than 2015. But hopefully the best is yet to come. As a driver you always have to be critical of where can you improve, where were mistakes, what did you kind of let go, you know, and where did you lose points.”

The 28-year-old Rahal is particularly focused on potentially following in his father’s footsteps of winning the biggest race of all, the Indianapolis 500.

In nine starts in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, the younger Rahal has just two top-10 finishes: third in 2011 and fifth in 2015. At the opposite end of the spectrum Rahal has four finishes of 25th or worse, including two last-place showings (2008 and 2014).

“We really need to improve at Indy,” he said. “That’s our main focus of everything this off-season. And also get a little bit of those breaks. You know, that’s kind of the goal. That’s what we feel like we need.”

The younger Rahal will also reunite for at least the Indianapolis 500 and probably more races with Oriol Servia, which should help upgrade Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s testing, race preparation and data sharing.

“Oriol is a clear plug-in for us,” Rahal said. “First of all, he’s a great guy. Second of all, he will help us. He’s going to help our performance at Indy. I can tell you that right now. And third, he’s been there so many times with the organization, he’s been in and out of the team a handful of times. He knows everybody. He’s been part of the team before. So it’s a clear fit.

“We need just a very experienced guy who can help lead us down the right path, and Oriol is going to be that guy.”

Interestingly, RLL had the opportunity to bring in a full-time second driver, but chose to go with the 42-year-old Servia in a limited number of races for now.

“There were several drivers who came to the team that wanted to run full season, had budgets to do it and everything else, and they were all turned away,” Rahal said. “The team is focused on making sure if there is the addition of a second car full-time, it has to fit the right environment.

“… We really are proud of the environment that we have, and so Oriol is a guy that fits that just perfectly and won’t upset the apple cart, so to speak. … He’s a great guy, and I think he’ll do a heck of a job for us. We’re looking forward to it.”

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Kimi Raikkonen becomes ambassador for sport in Finland

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari walks in the Paddock before practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Ferrari Formula 1 driver Kimi Raikkonen was named as an ambassador for sport in Finland at a ceremony in Helsinki on Wednesday night.

Raikkonen won the F1 world championship with Ferrari in 2007, becoming the third Finn to achieve the feat following Keke Rosberg in 1982 and Mika Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999.

Raikkonen was honored by Finnish prime minister Juha Sipila at an award’s ceremony, with Ferrari reporting that his presence at the event was kept secret until the last moment.

“I’m not that used to making formal speeches,” Raikkonen said, referring to his reputation for his monosyllabic nature.

“But I would like to wish all the best to the winners in every category, as well as those who missed out on the prizes this year.

“I would stress how important it has been in my case to have the support of my family and help from trustworthy colleagues and the people within the Ferrari team, with whom I have worked for so many years now.”

Raikkonen will return for a 15th season in F1 in 2017 – his seventh with Ferrari – as he looks to build on his sixth-place finish in last year’s drivers’ championship.