STP 500

Martinsville Update: Jimmie Johnson strong again at ‘paperclip’

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Eight-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson is once again pacing the field after taking the lead just before halfway at the STP 500.

Pole sitter Kyle Busch led the opening lap, but the first caution of the day began just one lap later when Parker Kligerman crashed in an accordion-effect incident that left several drivers such as Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier and Kasey Kahne with damage on their own cars.

The green returned at Lap 11, but six laps later on Lap 17, Kyle Busch was forced to give up the point to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth, who quickly came up from sixth at the green flag. However, his time up front would not last as Johnson passed him for P1 on Lap 20.

Kenseth fell back multiple spots on the outside groove, while Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (another eight-time winner at Martinsville) settled in the top two spots. Joey Logano would take second from Gordon, however, just before the competition caution at Lap 40.

Johnson would maintain the lead coming out of the pits, while Kahne, already in the back of the field, made slight contact with Brad Keselowski as he was coming into his box. Kurt Busch then clipped Keselowski’s car, leaving it with considerable front-end damage.

Eventually, it was decided that Keselowski needed to go to the garage and upon his return to action at Lap 77, he and Busch hounded each other repeatedly on the track.

While the former Cup champions tried to settle their dispute, Johnson maintained his grip on the race until Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wheel-hopped in Turn 1 and bounced off the wall, bringing out the caution at Lap 103.

Kenseth won the race off pit road and took the restart ahead of the field at Lap 109, but Logano took the lead from him shortly before the yellow emerged again on Lap 114. Travis Kvapil spun Michael Annett, who in turn got in the back of David Gilliland and turned him around. However, all three managed to avoid the wall.

Logano drove away on the restart at Lap 120, but was quickly reeled in by Johnson and on Lap 133, he passed Logano low to retake control of the race.

While holding the point, though, Greg Biffle began to make his presence felt and moved past Logano for second at Lap 151. Then on Lap 156, Biffle put the bumper to Johnson and pushed him out of the way in Turn 1 to take the lead.

Also impressing at this point were Marcos Ambrose and A.J. Allmendinger, who had moved into the Top 5. Ambrose (along with Aric Almirola) is looking to win for Richard Petty Motorsports, who are racing with heavy hearts after the passing of Lynda Petty earlier this week.

At Lap 170, Gilliland spun Casey Mears in Turn 1 to bring out another yellow, and in the ensuing pit stops, Ambrose was able to leapfrog Biffle for the lead. But Kenseth and Johnson once again showed their strength on the long run and on Lap 195, both of them were able to dust Ambrose for first and second respectively.

Five laps later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got into the left rear of Jamie McMurray that caused him to lose his tire and spin hard into the Turn 2 wall to trigger the caution.

Kenseth kept the lead through pit stops, but Johnson promptly took it from him at Lap 213. On Lap 219, caution No. 7 ensued when rookie Alex Bowman spun and hit the wall in Turn 4.

Even with the short green run, the leaders returned to the pits for fresh tires while others such as Earnhardt, Allmendinger and Kurt Busch opted to stay out. Earnhardt wound up inheriting the lead, while Logano lined up fourth after winning the race out of the pits.

After going green again at Lap 226, debris slowed the field again at Lap 231 with Earnhardt, Allmendinger and Kurt Busch ahead of Johnson. But Johnson was quickly able to dispatch the trio to reclaim P1 at Lap 245.

Berger: Rosberg keen to stay at Mercedes, but must remain firm in talks

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C 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 Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Gerhard Berger believes that Nico Rosberg must remain firm in negotiations with Mercedes over a new contract despite wanting to remain with the team.

Rosberg’s current deal with Mercedes expires at the end of this season, having last signed an extension back in 2014.

Speculation has been rife about the current Formula 1 championship leader’s future in recent weeks, with reports in the Italian press linking him with a possible move to Ferrari.

Over the Monaco Grand Prix weekend, it was revealed that Rosberg has brought in ex-F1 driver and team owner Gerhard Berger to help with negotiations.

In an interview with the official F1 website, Berger spoke about his role with Rosberg, revealing that he only came on board earlier this month.

“It was pretty simple: I have known Nico since he was a little boy, as I raced against his dad Keke for years,” Berger explained.

“Last week both contacted me to see if I could do them a favor and negotiate Nico’s new contract, as he wants to fully concentrate on the championship. I said, ‘Of course!’ It’s kind of a friendly turn.”

Berger confirmed that both parties are keen to extend the deal, but said that Rosberg needs to remain firm to ensure he is happy with the agreement.

“I think everybody understands the other’s position: Mercedes wants to keep Nico and Nico wants to stay with Mercedes,” Berger said.

“But, of course, there has to be a firm view in the details – a rigid setting of the scene.

“To be honest it would really surprise me if we also started to negotiate with another team.

“But you never know. Clearly Mercedes is the first address for us.”

Berger admitted that an offer from Ferrari could be attractive to Rosberg, but does not expect him to accept a slower car than the one he is currently in.

“It is probably true from an emotional point of view that Nico would be flattered,” Berger said.

“But what is paramount in all negotiations and considerations is who can provide the best car on the grid – and that definitely is Mercedes.”

Word in the Monaco paddock was that Mercedes had only offered Rosberg a one-year extension that would take him to the end of 2017, while the German driver was keen to get a longer deal signed up.

Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda said earlier this week that he wanted Rosberg to sign a new contract in the next three weeks so that the team could fully focus on its bid for both championships.

Bell’s best shot 1 of 5 great hopes for Andretti Autosport in Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS – The Andretti Autosport of 2016 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a welcome throwback to the Andretti Autosport of 2012, 2013 and 2014, rather than the imposters of 2015 that were languishing midpack without any chance of winning.

And the best part for the team is that any of its five drivers has a realistic shot at winning.

Ryan Hunter-Reay starts third in search of his second Indianapolis 500 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, while any of his other four teammates would become a first-time winner.

In fourth is NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell, having had arguably his best month to date in the No. 29 California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda.

Carlos Munoz, the sneaky good Colombian who has always done well at Indianapolis, starts fifth in the No. 26 United Fiber & Data Honda.

Then Alexander Rossi has had a damn impressive first month of May in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/CURB Records Honda and will start 11th, best of five rookies in the field.

And last but certainly not least, Marco Andretti is hoping this will finally be his year in the No. 27 Snapple Honda from 14th on the grid.

The four race veterans here have all been good – Hunter-Reay may be the only winner in the group but each of the other three has been regular top-five contenders over the years.

Bell’s ascendance and quick acclimation to the team, with engineer Craig Hampson as an asset and with a great crew, has been a welcome story line to monitor this month.

“I’m so used to doing the interviews and saying ‘Hell, I’ll try to pick off where I can and work into top five.’ But now we’re starting here,” Bell told NBC Sports.

“We’ve started up front before (fourth in 2011). It’s nice to have clean air and good visibility. I’ll have a chance to lead this thing early on. It’ll be fun to put it all together on race day.”

Although Bell’s deal for the Indianapolis 500 came together fairly late, he’s gelled quickly.

“Yeah (a month like this) was I what hoping for, but I’m not sure I expected it,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised when we achieved it knowing how strong their winning pedigree is in the sport. I’m as happy for team and Honda as myself. I know how they hard to work with.

“And working with Craig has been terrific. He is one of the winningest race engineers in our sport. He’s totally passionate about extracting the maximum performance we can. I’ll miss him on Monday!”

Munoz is that driver that you don’t realize can win it but you probably would be stupid to overlook.

The 24-year-old finished a famous second on debut in 2013 and followed it up with fourth in 2014. Poised for another top-five last year, he fell back late owing to a late splash and dash for fuel.

Why does he think he’s so good here? Munoz instead said it’s the people that prepare his car.

“I get that question a lot,” he admitted. “I think with the team, the car, our team of Andretti has been so good and strong here at Indy.

“You can see it with whatever driver in fifth car here, goes quick. I’m not taking my own credit. They have something special here in ovals. Here, Pocono, I feel really comfortable.

“We’ve had four different drivers in the fifth car, the last four years. And I’ve learned from all of them. It could be the way they race, or the way they time their passing. Something you have to learn from all the drivers.”

It was easy to forget given what happened at Pocono last fall but Hunter-Reay did win the series’ most recent 500-mile race there, last August.

Marco Andretti himself has but one goal on Sunday: end that damn winless streak for the family driving here, that’s lingered since Mario’s first and only win in 1969 (see Bell and Mario Andretti flipping pizzas, here).

“I’ve had a lot of great shots here. I’m pretty confident with the race car,” he said.

“We’ve had hell of a week. There’s a lot gone wrong. But I’m still smiling with that quiet confidence.

“I’d much rather start 33rd with a good car, than start on pole without one.”

An Andretti Autosport win on Sunday would follow the form from a magical month of May that has seen the team win – or score big – quite a bit.

Tanner Foust swept the two Red Bull Global Rallycross races in Phoenix for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross.

The Amlin Andretti Formula E squad bagged a double points finish in the most recent FIA Formula E Championship race with Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro, its first of the season.

And on Friday, Dean Stoneman entered the IMS record books with a win by just 0.0024 of a second over Ed Jones in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 100. It marked the closest finish in track history. For good measure, Stoneman’s teammates Dalton Kellett and Shelby Blackstock were a season-best third and fourth.

An Andretti Autosport win on Sunday would be its fifth in the Indianapolis 500, with the other three Jacques Villeneuve (1995), Dan Wheldon (2005), Dario Franchitti (2007) and Hunter-Reay (2014). Villeneuve’s was as Forsythe/Green Racing, which later morphed into Andretti Green Racing, which later became Andretti Autosport.

WATCH LIVE: Monaco GP on NBC, Live Extra from 7:30am ET, NBCSN from 7am

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C 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 Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The stage is set for a classic Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday after overnight rain drenched the street circuit ahead of the 78-lap race.

Daniel Ricciardo claimed a shock pole position for Red Bull in qualifying on Saturday, edging out the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

However, with rain set to affect proceedings, all strategy and plans will go out of the window. Many legends have been made in the rain at Monaco – will another come to the fore today?

You can watch the Monaco Grand Prix live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown starting on NBCSN and Live Extra at 7am ET. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call in Monaco, with pit reporter Will Buxton on hand for updates and interviews throughout the race.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race, which kicks off at 8am ET in Monaco.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.

Join us from 7am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra for F1 Countdown, then make the switch over to NBC at 7:30am ET.

After the race, we’ll be heading back over to NBCSN at 10am ET for all of the post-race analysis and interviews.

2016 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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INDIANAPOLIS – Enough words have been written in the buildup to this year’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

So naturally, then, here’s more words.

Here’s a final round about the field of 33 who will compete for the Borg-Warner Trophy on Sunday in the “Greatest Spectacle of Racing.”

Included in the field are six past winners and five rookies. Past one-liners are linked here (2013, 2014, 2015).

Row 1

5-Arrow-SS-Indy5-James Hinchcliffe, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: The best story of the month has also had the best overall team performance of the month between the Indy GP and qualifying. Is a dream win in store? If it is, it’d be his first on an oval since Iowa in 2013.

21-PreferredFreezer-SS-Indy21-Josef Newgarden, Preferred Freezer Chevrolet

TDZ: Entering his fifth ’500, Newgarden has his best shot yet from P2 at erasing four past mediocre results in this race. “Winning is the only thing acceptable at this place,” says the driver who needs solid pit work to have a chance to match that remark.

28-DHL-SS-Indy28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, DHL Honda

TDZ: One of only four drivers in the field (Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan) with both an Indy 500 win and a series title on his resume, “RHR” is well-positioned for a second ‘500 win.

Row 2

29-RobertGraham-SS-Indy29-Townsend Bell, California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda

TDZ: Arguably the best one-off entry the ’500 has to offer, Bell has clicked well with the Andretti Autosport team and a crew led by engineer Craig Hampson and crew chief Jeff Grahn. Exciting to watch, but hasn’t banked a result of note here since 2009; has best chance to match or exceed P4 this Sunday.

26-UFD-SS-Indy26-Carlos Munoz, United Fiber & Data Honda

TDZ: The sneaky good Colombian is driving better than you’d realize despite a handful of early season mistakes. Might not be a “sexy” pick, but he and this track go together like peanut butter and jelly.

12-Verizon-SS-Indy12-Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Starting P6, Power has had an oddly anonymous month of May. His desire to win here, however, for Roger Penske is unquestioned.

Row 3

7-Doom-SS-Indy7-Mikhail Aleshin, DOOM SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: If there was a pay-per-view option simply to watch Aleshin’s on-board, I’d pay. The “Mad Russian” is fast, fearless and focused. He probably won’t win the thing but a top-10 is realistic if he doesn’t crash out from trying.

22-Menards-SS-Indy22-Simon Pagenaud, Menards Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Pagenaud enters in a fascinating position. He was best of Penske’s four cars last year and started from the front row. The series points leader has a chance to win his record-tying fourth race in row but like the rest of the Penske team, hasn’t been stellar in race trim yet. Still should be a top-five contender.

3-Pennzoil-SS-Indy3-Helio Castroneves, Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: The pick solely by numerology, rather than this month’s form. An Helio win in 2016 would be: his fourth, Roger Penske’s 17th, 25 years after the last four-timer (Rick Mears also for Penske), in the team’s 50th year, in the 100th running. The last time he was seven years removed from a ‘500 win in 2009, he won.

Row 4

77-LucasOil-SS-Indy77-Oriol Servia, Lucas Oil Special Honda

TDZ: Like fellow veteran Bell (a guy he once replaced in CART in 2002), Servia’s become a classic one-off ace at the ‘500, although this was the same car that didn’t even get to start last year’s race after its engine grenaded. Provided he starts, Servia’s a solid top-10 pick with top-five potential thanks to his experience.

98-NAPA-SS-Indy98-Alexander Rossi, NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda

TDZ: Rossi has seriously impressed me this month in taking to IMS methodically but with purpose and proper buildup, understanding how this place works. With a clean race, has a good shot at rookie-of-the-year honors and the mid-regions of a top-10. Don’t underestimate the strategy from Bryan Herta, who’ll call Rossi’s race five years to the day after Herta pulled the shock win in 2011 with Dan Wheldon.

14-ABCSupply-SS-Indy14-Takuma Sato, ABC Supply Co. A.J. Foyt Racing Honda

TDZ: The lone bright spot in a nightmare month for Foyt’s team, it’s the exciting yet now relatively calmer Sato who carries A.J.’s best – perhaps only – hopes of a good finish.

Row 5

9-Target-SS-Indy9-Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Tough month for the defending series champion and race pole winner. Thus far the highlight’s been his crew’s miracle engine change last Sunday to qualify, and they appeared to find some race pace on Monday’s practice. From 13th, he’s hardly out of it but perhaps isn’t the outright favorite.

27-Snapple-SS-Indy27-Marco Andretti, Snapple Honda

TDZ: This year’s ’500 is simple for Marco: Win or bust. Nothing else matters, and nothing else will suffice for the 29-year-old, 10 years after his near miss in 2006.

6-PreferredFreezer-SS-Indy6-JR Hildebrand, Preferred Freezer Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet

TDZ: Back-to-back top-10s as a one-off entry with ECR keeps Carpenter in the “top sleeper” category. A win isn’t impossible but still unlikely; a top-five or a third straight top-10 a more realistic target based on his decent race pace.

Row 6

42-Tresiba-SS-Indy42-Charlie Kimball, Tresiba Chevrolet

TDZ: It’s been a strange week or so for Kimball, who was strong early, then fell off when the boost got turned up, then recovered to a respectable 16th on the grid. Kimball’s very good at Indy and shouldn’t be counted out, but an encore of third seems unlikely at this stage.

2-Verizon-SS-Indy2-Juan Pablo Montoya, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: The defending race champion won from 15th last year. His most notable moment this month was hitting an errant trash bag during qualifying. He’ll be in contention to win as he seemingly always is in 500-mile races.

10-NTTData-SS-Indy10-Tony Kanaan, NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: The depth of field is such that you can’t count out TK – even from 18th, and even following a largely anonymous month. Problem is, he’s crashed out of his last two ’500s. He needs a finish, but he’ll give it all he’s got, like always.

Row 7

11-Hydroxycut-SS-Indy11-Sebastien Bourdais, Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: For all his star turns in open-wheel racing, Bourdais has never fully felt comfortable at IMS, and as such, isn’t likely to reach much beyond the lower regions of the top-10 at best this race.

20-Fuzzys-SS-Indy20-Ed Carpenter, Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet

TDZ: The two-time past polesitter has been largely anonymous all month. The crowd favorite needs a finish more than anything after a handful of late race accidents the last few years, but is another in the “feels better in race trim” category.

19-Scouting19-Gabby Chaves, Boy Scouts of America Honda

TDZ: A sneaky good driver who’s immediately clicked with Dale Coyne Racing, Chaves could definitely exceed his 16th-place finish here as a rookie last year. Somewhere in the perhaps 10th-to-15th ballpark seems a good guess, with a sneaky top-five possible on strategy.

Row 8

8-Gallagher-SS-Indy8-Max Chilton, Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: Chilton entered the “well, now I have crashed” club on qualifying weekend and bounced back nicely on Sunday. For the Englishman who usually doesn’t make mistakes, guided by engineer Brandon Fry with coaching from Dario Franchitti, a low top-10 to about 13th or 14th place result is the likely best case landing spot.

24-GasMonkey-SS-Indy24-Sage Karam, Gas Monkey Energy Chevrolet

TDZ: Talented and no doubt keen to impress in his first IndyCar start since Pocono last year, Karam won’t be “monkeying around” in the DRR-Kingdom Racing entry. Another driver who could well advance into the top-10, and has a very good pit crew for a one-off entry.

18-ShirtsForAmerica-SS-Indy18-Conor Daly, Shirts for America/Lilly Honda

TDZ: Provided he starts, Daly will have already achieved a result better than last year. This will be a fan favorite entry, with Colts punter Pat McAfee’s just-formed shirt company adorning the “Freedom Wagon” – another where a top-15 or better would be a pretty good, realistic target of a result.

Row 9

63-SusanGKomen-SS-Indy63-Pippa Mann, Susan G. Komen Honda

TDZ: Mann’s presence in the ’500 owes much to her relentless work ethic to put deals together and raise awareness and funds for a good cause, and then when the helmet goes on she has a dogged determination to succeed. Has been a tough month with two crashes – one of her doing, one not – but she’s a fighter and will look to bank a solid top-20 or better result.

15-SteakNShake-SS-Indy15-Graham Rahal, Steak ‘n Shake Honda

TDZ: No other driver or team has made more milkshakes out of limited ingredients on hand than Graham and RLL in the last year and a half, and the Steak ‘n Shake team will need to pull it off again on Sunday. Yet I’ve never felt better about anyone starting P26, and he’s going to be a contender on Sunday.

61-Pirtek-SS-Indy61-Matthew Brabham, PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet

TDZ: The delightfully goofy Australian American driver, the third third generation driver to race at Indy, makes his ’500 debut for the Brett “Crusher” Murray-led team, which has a KVRT technical alliance. A finish is the first goal, a result of any note a bonus.

Row 10

88-JonathanByrds-SS-Indy88-Bryan Clauson, Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda

TDZ: A genuine, down-to-earth dude has immediately felt more comfortable this year at Coyne, but whether the Jonathan Byrd’s Racing-supported driver can actually finish his first ’500 in three attempts remains the big question mark.

16-Manitowoc-SS-Indy16-Spencer Pigot, RLL/Mi-Jack/Manitowoc Honda

TDZ: The Mazda Road to Indy poster boy makes his ’500 debut from a lower grid spot than I would have pegged going into the month. That said, he has absolutely nothing to lose, and I could see a classic RLL strategy play put Pigot into late-race contention. A top-10 would be great, with 11th to 16th a more likely target.

25-Drive2SaveLives-SS-Indy25-Stefan Wilson, Driven2SaveLives-KVRT Chevrolet

TDZ: One of the race’s emotional stories, “Stef” makes a great comeback of his own for his ’500 debut. But with an ill-handling racecar in a one-off effort, a finish must be the first realistic target before any result of note can come.

Row 11

41-ABCSupply-SS-Indy41-Jack Hawksworth, ABC Supply Co. A.J. Foyt Racing Honda

TDZ: Not sure what Hawksworth did to piss off the racing gods at IMSor this season in total – but for a second straight year has had a nightmare month of May with persistent engine issues, culminating with a car-b-que on Monday.

4-Blank-SS-Indy4-Buddy Lazier, Quizno’s Lazier/Burns Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: The longest shot in the field of 33 remains one of the race’s best stories in a family-run, small-budget effort 20 years on from his popular 1996 win.

35-AlfeHeat-SS-Indy35-Alex Tagliani, Alfe Heat Treating Special Honda

TDZ: The month hasn’t gone near to plan for one of the best-looking cars in the field and the past polesitter. That being said, Tagliani has snuck late race laps led each of the last two years and if his backup chassis stays on the lead lap, he could steal a top-half finish.