(Photo by Alan Marler for Chevrolet)

After derailing at Texas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets back on track with career-best finish at Darlington

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It wasn’t a win, but after last Monday’s embarrassing mistake and last-place finish at Texas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will gladly take his second-place finish in Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

While Earnhardt had the lead with two laps to go, Kevin Harvick pulled ahead just before the white flag flew and then held on for his second win of the season and first-ever win at Darlington.

But there was no shame in Earnhardt finishing second, which was a career-high for him at the so-called Track Too Tough to Tame.

In fact, Earnhardt was a little surprised that he wound up doing so well, earning his third runner-up finish this season to go along with his season-opening win in the Daytona 500.

“We really weren’t a top-two car, we were probably the third-best car, fourth-best car, depending on where Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff Gordon were,” Earnhardt said. “They were pretty good, a little better than us most of the time.

“But the 4 (Harvick) was the best car, I thought. Jeff was pretty good (too).”

Earnhardt was pushed to the lead by Harvick on the final restart, getting by Johnson, and then Harvick worked his way around to the front and never looked back.

“We got some good restarts at the end,” Earnhardt said. “The outside line was real bad about spinning the tires, and Jimmie hadn’t been up there and didn’t really know that, so he chose the outside on them restarts and I knew I had a great shot at getting the lead from him.

“We got going, he spun his tires real bad, the 4 got to pushing me a little bit and we got the lead, and that felt pretty good leading the race. But the 4 just had new tires. We had 30-something laps on ours left, and it just wasn’t going to get the job done with him right there on us.

“I’m going to probably wish I would have run the top in 3 and 4 coming to the white and made him try to pass us on the bottom, but I’m pretty sure he was going to get around us somehow.”

Indeed, while most other drivers took just two tires (mostly right side) on the final caution, Harvick took four. It was a gutsy call, but also proved to be a race-winning call.

To come so close to winning, however, even though it was his best finish ever at Darlington, somewhat irked Earnhardt, too.

“It’s a little disappointing to come that close because I know I don’t really run that well here and the opportunities to win are going to be very few compared to other tracks,” he said. “It hurts a little bit to come that close because we worked so hard to try to win races.

“Running second is great but nobody is going to really remember that. But we’re proud of it, and Steve (crew chief Steve Letarte), I know he’s very proud. They did a great job giving me a really good car to be able to run that well here. The car was phenomenal. Really proud of those guys’ effort. Even though they know where my shortcomings are, they worked their guts out to try to get us the best.

“Sometimes if I admittedly say this isn’t my best track, it’s easy to sort of back off, but those guys really push the pedal and give me everything I can to give me the best chance to finish as best I can.  They did that tonight.  That was a great example of that.”

NASCAR now takes its annual break for next week’s Easter holiday, but there will be little downtime for Earnhardt and his crew. After dropping five places following last week’s last-place finish at Texas, Earnhardt regained two spots in the standings, leaving Darlington in fourth-place.

There’s still plenty of work to do to get back to where he was earlier in the season and again before the Texas debacle, leading the standings.

“I think we’re really got some great performance for our team,” Earnhardt said. “We just need to look at our competition, try to understand what we’re seeing and where are some areas where we can improve.

“There’s some spots where we can improve and get better, but we run second at one of our worst tracks tonight, so our performance is there. We’ve got the cars, we seem to be on the leading edge of trying to learn these new rules and trying to understand what’s going on. A lot of guys middle of the pack are scrambling with their setups. We seem to be on a path and setting a pattern with what we’re doing, and it seems to be working.”

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Made it: Haas F1 at ‘home’ at US Grand Prix

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Gene Haas heard the snickers, shook off the doubters and ignored the suggestion that he didn’t know what he was doing.

Looking up at his name in bold letters above the Haas F1 team tent in the paddock this week at the U.S. Grand Prix, it’s easy to allow him a few moments of self-congratulation heading into his team’s “home” race this weekend.

“Everybody made it sound like we were clueless getting into Formula One, that we’d be bumbling idiots. The Europeans were going to teach us a lesson,” Haas said. “I think when we showed up and were prepared with a competitive car that scored points, it set a very high bar … People didn’t think we could do it.”

The Formula One season has been dominated by Mercedes and the duel between teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. But the American rookie outfit has been one of the surprise stories from the rest of the grid.

An industrialist with roots in NASCAR and North Carolina, Haas jumped into Formula One with a flourish. His team has 28 points in its maiden season, all of them scored by veteran French driver Romain Grosjean. While far from the top, it’s also well above the bottom with a chance to climb over the final four races of the season.

Sunday’s race will be a chance for Haas F1 to wave the flag in front of American fans, too, during F1’s only U.S. stop.

“There is some pride for having and American flag on this car,” Grosjean said.

Haas F1 is the first American-led team on the grid in 30 years and the road getting here wasn’t easy. It actually crosses two continents, as the team is split between a design base in North Carolina and racing operations in England.

Haas was first granted his F1 team license in April 2014. The initial goal was to be racing in 2015. That proved to be too ambitious, so Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner took aim at 2016. Powered by a Ferrari engine, Haas debuted with an impressive first testing session, then took a step back with engine problems that kept them off the track.

“A lot of people lost sleep over that. That was not easy having to sit off the track and watching the other teams go round and round,” said Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez.

“We broke a lot of stuff,” Haas said.

The problems were fixed by the first race when Grosjean finished sixth in Australia and took two more top-10 finishes over the next three races. The success proved hard to maintain and Haas has only one other top 10 finish all season, none since the British Grand Prix in July.

Haas F1 got a boost two weeks ago when both cars qualified in the top 10 for the first time in Japan. But that came with a rookie mistake: teams that make stage three of qualifying have to start the race on their qualifying tires, forcing a change in pit strategy from one stop to two, and they finished out of the points.

Still, the qualifying performance raised hopes for more points over the final four races.

“We finished seven times in 11th,” Steiner said. “It’s about time we finish four times 10th.”

Grosjean left the former Lotus team to join the Americans, and Haas credits him with being a steady hand in the car all season.

“He didn’t know what we had and we could have been a complete and utter disaster,” Haas said. “He took a big risk.”

Haas won’t commit to a driver lineup for 2017. Gutierrez was a test driver for Ferrari when he signed with Haas, but he hasn’t scored a point this season, finishing 11th five times. Haas understands American fans want an American driver but suggested that’s not an option anytime soon.

Some fans had hoped Haas would sign Alexander Rossi, who finished 2015 driving for Manor. Rossi instead landed in IndyCar and stunned nearly everyone by winning the Indianapolis 500 in May as a rookie. Haas does have an American development driver, 18-year-old Santino Ferrucci.

“That sounds like simple equation: American team, American driver, American race track. It’s all American. The reality is there’s not that many American (Formula One) drivers,” Haas said. “Not exactly a good idea at this time. We really wanted experienced drivers.

“We don’t need to have everything perfect this year or the year after,” Haas said. “American drivers or American sponsors, those events will happen. It will be up to us to put it together.”

Related Haas F1 Team posts:


Q&A: Haas’ Santino Ferrucci chats with Will Buxton

Santino Ferrucci at HQ-903
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He may have a European sounding name, but Santino Ferrucci is all-American.

And the Woodbury, Connecticut native hopes to one day bring his American heritage and talent to Formula 1.

He’s certainly in the right place: The 18-year-old development driver for the Haas F1 team based in Kannapolis, North Carolina, has had a whirlwind year thus far.

Not only has he had one podium in GP3 competition, he still has one last race (Abu Dhabi) to finish the season in the top 10 (he’s currently 12th).

Ferrucci visited with NBCSN’s Will Buxton during Friday afternoon’s second F1 practice at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Here are some excerpts of that interview:


“It was fantastic. That car, under breaking, is insane, just pulling 5 gs down there and going from 210 to 60 mph in less than 60 feet is pretty radical.”


“Right now, I’m just taking it slow. I’m still 18, enjoying GP3, looking to go back there for another year, learning, still have a lot to do working with Haas on a day-to-day basis with Haas as a development driver. I’m learning a lot about the car and learning a lot with Romain (Grosjean) and Esteban (Gutierrez). I’m very honored to have an opportunity to drive for an American team.”


“Yeah, I’m there in a lot of the sessions. I’m actually standing most of the time next to Esteban’s race engineer, and I’m there in the intercoms listening to the chief engineer make decisions on tire strategy and what they’re going to do throughout the session. As soon as we finish the session, I get to hear the driver’s feedback and what they’re thinking about the car and see the changes they want to do for the next session. Since I drove the car at Silverstone back in July, I can relate to that a little bit of what they’re feeling most of the time. Certain tracks are a different feeling.”


“After you’re on top of the hill on (turn) one – it’s actually a cool view from the cockpit – and go down the hill and go to enter (turn) three and make that left, it’s completely blind and flat. So, when you turn in, you don’t really have a great reference. You also have to hit the apex curve as well. When you get that just right, it’s the greatest feeling in the world because you know you can keep it flat that much more into turn five and that little lift. When you look at it from TV point of view, there’s a hill there, but you just can’t see it.”


“I think with water, it’s going under the asphalt a little bit so it’s creating some bumps. I like that. It adds a of character and with those bumps you have to tune the suspension a bit more. In talking to the drivers at Haas, with those grooves, since they’re lined up in the direction of the track, there’s a little bit more locking up going on than normal. So it’s making a difficult to pass and you’ll see a lot more locking up going into turn 11 and 12 area. Obviously, with the grooved pavement, it’s not super flat, either, so it’s going to make for some fun racing.”


“Yeah, this track is brilliant. Sector one with the esses and then my favorite sector, sector three (turns 16-18). Take it flat, when you’re in there flat, it’s just how long do you want to keep it flat until you laugh. That’s always a little bit of a ballsy turn. So the second you pump the gas a little bit, you wish you would have kept it in just a little bit more.”


“Obviously, we’ve had some ups and downs. We’re a brand new team and learning everything about GP3. We’ve been on the back foot but we have great teammates and collected a ton of data. I’m looking forward to Abu Dhabi. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the calendar, some very long straights, some passing zones. To be honest, I like it.”

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United States GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing in the Pitlane during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – The first two practice sessions are in the books for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix from Austin. As could be expected, it was a Mercedes-dominated afternoon, with Lewis Hamilton (FP1) and Nico Rosberg (FP2) splitting the two sessions atop the timesheets.

Red Bull made a late charge in the afternoon, while in its first day at its home track, Haas F1 Team had a forgettable afternoon.

Here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Friday at Circuit of The Americas:



There are a couple additional posts which will go live later tonight that will be included in Saturday’s Paddock Notebook.


Split decision at the top

Practice being practice, there’s not a huge ton of info to take away from today. But it was interesting to note that with both Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates leading a session, there wasn’t the immediate vibe either Rosberg or Hamilton has the clear edge heading into qualifying.

On background, Rosberg has the last two COTA poles, but as he somewhat astutely noted on Thursday, the past means nothing, and thinking about his prior form here won’t help him now. Call it cold, call it robotic, but also call it “working” for Rosberg.

And Hamilton’s got the last two COTA wins – and three from four years at the track – without having ever scored a pole here. So would he get down even if he doesn’t get the pole? Judging on history, the answer is no. But again, to quote Mark McGwire, we’re not here to talk about the past…

Vettel gets a reprimand

There’s a first time for everything, including Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel getting a reprimand in 2016.

The German went into the pit lane in second practice on the wrong side of the bollard (did not stay to the left), which triggered his first reprimand this year from the FIA.

Not ideal certainly for him, but not the end of the world.

Ricciardo’s new lid

Daniel Ricciardo has a special helmet this weekend, and the Australian has done a tribute to Evel Knievel. See it below.

A less than ideal #Haastin track debut

Between both cars being brought in a few minutes before the checkered flag in FP1 and then Esteban Gutierrez causing debris in FP2 (see Jamey Price photos below), plus neither car being that high up on the timesheets, it was not an ideal first day on track for the Haas F1 Team.

It wasn’t an easy day for us,” Gutierrez admitted in the team’s post-practice release. “Unfortunately, I had an issue with some aerodynamic parts. It disrupted our program as you get a shift on the car balance, which is obviously not ideal to get a reference and work on the setup. We’re investigating this, but we believe it’s down to vibrations.”

But there were still highlights. Romain Grosjean’s wife was spotted within the cockpit of his Haas VF-16 chassis, with a good spot by the @F1 official account:

Additionally, there was a great team banner in the crowd, and Stewart Haas Racing’s competition director Greg Zipadelli was on site.

The usual IndyCar folk-at-COTA vibe 

While we gained an American team racing at Circuit of The Americas this year in Haas F1 Team, sadly we’ve lost an American driver in Alexander Rossi.

But things are still good in Rossi’s world and it’s a relief for him that he’s already confirmed and all set with Andretti-Herta Autosport for next season in IndyCar. Both he and his father Pieter Rossi are here this weekend.

This dovetails nicely to the fact Conor Daly and Luca Filippi, who were teammates part of this year at Dale Coyne Racing, are also here – Filippi with his F1 TV commitments for Sky Sports and Daly making the rounds with Rossi as well. Daly was here through today before leaving.

Daly and Filippi are among the marquee free agents left in the IndyCar pool and while it’s always good to see them, it’s better when they’re in firesuits rather than street clothes. Daly spoke to NBCSN’s Will Buxton about his IndyCar prospects while I had a catch-up with Filippi this morning. The Italian is keen to have a more concrete 2017 season in terms of his actual driving commitments, since his early-season IndyCar opportunity with Coyne was a race-to-race only program.

The sign-off sign

Piiiiiiistop? Yes.

Congratulations, you guys. You’ve won the unofficial MST Paddock Notebook “Sign of the Day Screen Capture Award” for Friday, October 21.

More tomorrow after qualifying.

Barcelona to host 2017 F1 pre-season tests, Bahrain gets in-season running

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 23:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during day two of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 23, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain will host two tests ahead of the 2017 Formula 1 season as originally planned despite a push to move part of the running to Bahrain.

Barcelona has traditionally hosted F1’s pre-season running, with two tests provisionally scheduled for the end of February and beginning of March before the start of the season in Australia.

However, with Pirelli set to introduce a radically different tire specification for next season, a number of F1 team bosses believed it would be better to hold the running in Bahrain where conditions would be stable and warmer.

Mercedes’ Paddy Lowe said in Japan that F1 risked a repeat of the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if caution was not taken with the new tires.

However, the counter-argument was that holding testing outside of Europe would significantly bump up costs for all teams, having a particular impact on the grid’s smaller operations.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone met with officials from all 11 teams on Friday in Austin ahead of this weekend’s race to make a decision on pre-season testing.

Despite over half the grid wishing to have at least one test in Bahrain, the lack of unanimity means that both pre-season tests will remain in Barcelona.

Bahrain will however now host one of the in-season tests, as confirmed by Red Bull’s Christian Horner on Friday.

“We have had numerous debates about this and we had a meeting earlier today with Bernie about this,” Horner said.

“There was even a vote with the FIA earlier this week and with the way the regulations are currently written, to test outside of Europe, we would require the unanimous consent of all the teams and that doesn’t exist.

“It has been agreed that we will test in Barcelona pre-season and in order to find a compromise for assisting Pirelli after the Bahrain race, the first of the in-season tests will be in Bahrain.”

Possible 2017 Formula 1 Test Calendar


1. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – February 27 – March 2 2017
2. Circuit de Barcelona-Cataluny – March 7-10 2017


1. Bahrain International Circuit – April 18-19 2017
2. Silverstone – July 11-12 2017