Jimmie Johnson

It could have been worse: Jimmie Johnson overcomes damage to finish 25th in Texas

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Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. became a pain in the grass for Jimmie Johnson in Monday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Had Earnhardt not made a costly mistake, driving off the track and into a waterlogged grassy area in the infield heading into Turn 1, Johnson could very well have finished much better in the race than he actually did.

Unfortunately, a big chunk of the sod Earnhardt tore up, not to mention rubber from the tire he blew when he hit the grass and then bounced off the edge of the pavement and up into the Turn 1 wall went where it shouldn’t have.

Namely, right into Johnson’s windshield and the front end of his car. The impact was so forceful that the debris actually bent part of Johnson’s windshield and the inside support bracket.

As a result, Johnson was forced to make three separate pit stops within a few laps of each other for repairs. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, he had to make a fourth stop when he suffered a right rear tire issue several laps later.

For Johnson to go through such a miserable day and still finish 25th, two laps behind race winner Joey Logano, is commendable and notable.

“When Junior when through the grass, it kicked up all this debris and mud,” Johnson recalled after the race. “It ripped the windshield and ripped the left front.

“There was a lot of noise. And I saw his car and then I instantly lost vision. I felt a couple of hard hits on my car and I knew that we had some damage.

“But … we recovered and had a fast car and we were okay, and then I don’t know if I ran something over on the track or what, but something really big hit the bottom-side of my car and that, I think, punctured our right rear tire. We had to come to pit road after that. And then we lost a couple of laps due to that.”

Johnson actually had a car worthy of winning his second race in a row at Texas, having done so in last fall’s Chase race there.

But when the race finally went green after the field circled TMS for the first 10 laps under yellow/green caution to test the track’s viability and dryness, it took less than two laps for Earnhardt to not only spoil his day, but Johnson’s as well.

“The Lowe’s team gave me a great car today,” Johnson said. “It’s kind of surreal what happened. Junior hit the grass there and something off his car like a splitter or something just destroyed my windshield and then something hit the nose of the car too.

“We were in a good position and were running decent lap times when the right rear blew. I’m glad Junior is alright and hats off to my guys today. We played around with some strategy at the end. They never gave up.

“It was a day of bad luck. We had a fast race car, so there was a little silk lining in it, but it was a terrible finish.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.

Steiner: Haas is ‘a lot better prepared’ after this day one

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-17 Ferrari on track during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Last year’s first day of testing at Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona for Haas F1 Team was both exciting and tense all at once.

As it was the first official day of running for the team, questions abounded over whether the new team would bank laps and if so, how would they get on. They did though with Romain Grosjean completing his first 13 laps in the morning session.

Luckily, having had a full year to acclimatize to Formula 1 and get in the rhythm of how this all works, Haas was able to have a smoother first day of testing in 2017, even despite an incident for Kevin Magnussen in his first day aboard the team’s Ferrari powered-VF-17 chassis.

“The plan was to do more, but that’s how the first day goes sometimes,” said Haas team principal Guenther Steiner. “We had a few issues, but that’s normal. They are to be expected when you have a new car and we sorted them out. We are here to learn and that is what we did.

“Our learning process is a lot better than last year because our people have worked together for a year now and we know more about the car. We are a lot better prepared.”

Magnussen ran through Pirelli’s hard, medium and soft compound tires on the day. An incident at Turn 10 damaged the front wing assembly but didn’t stop him from completing 50 laps.

“We had a few issues, but the good thing is that they were small issues,” Magnussen said. “Even though they stopped us from some running, it wasn’t something that is at all worrying for the coming days. It’s kind of the typical baby problems you have with the cars when they’re completely new. Except for that, the first feeling of the car is nice. It’s good to finally get that feeling of the car after looking at it, and all the anticipation for the faster cars. It’s a good feeling. Today’s been a day I’ve enjoyed a lot.”

The Dane continues tomorrow before Grosjean runs the last two days of testing.

Ron Dennis named to U.K.’s Ministry of Defense advisory panel

during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.
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Ron Dennis’ post-McLaren world will involve politics of a different kind, rather than the politics inside the proverbial “piranha club” that is Formula 1.

Dennis, who officially stepped down as McLaren chairman over the winter as part of a significant organizational restructuring, was named Monday to a new advisory panel outlined by the U.K.’s Defense Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, during a speech at the University of Oxford.

Per a release, the new Defense Innovation Advisory Panel will look to “encourage imagination, ingenuity and entrepreneurship” to help maintain a military advantage in the future.

Dennis was named alongside two others, Innovate UK Chief Executive Ruth Mckernan, and retiring GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan. That trio join veteran British astronaut Major Tim Peake on Fallon’s panel.

“There can be nothing more important than our national security,” Dennis said in the release. “And I’m enthusiastic to be among the first of those named to this world-class Panel, who have joined MOD to spearhead their efforts to innovate across the organization, from technology to culture – challenging the status quo, staying ahead of the curve through change and innovation.”

The full release can be found here.