Bojangles' Southern 500 - Practice

Jeff Gordon finishes 7th, keeps Sprint Cup points lead going into Easter break

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After taking the Sprint Cup points lead for the first time since the 2009 season following a second place finish at Texas, Jeff Gordon was among 12 leaders in Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway before going on to take seventh.

It wasn’t what Gordon was hoping for, but it will enable him to keep the championship edge through the Easter holiday.

When NASCAR returns to action in two weeks at Richmond International Raceway, Gordon will enter “The Action Track” with a slim, one-point lead over Matt Kenseth, who finished fourth and also had a brief spell at the front on Saturday.

Then again, everyone’s turn at the front was brief compared to that of race winner Kevin Harvick, who led 238 laps en route to his first career win at Darlington.

Going back to Gordon, he figured that for a time, he had a car more than capable of matching Harvick’s.

“I thought we were a little bit better than him on certain runs,” he told Fox Sports. “But there towards the end, we kind of started fading. I got into the wall a little bit and got the right side flattened up a little bit.

“From there, our night went downhill. We just made some mistakes and got behind. We were the last car on two tires [going into the final restart] and we just got ate up on those restarts. But…It’s not bad to come home seventh. I thought it was going to be worse than that.”

Gordon quickly moved from ninth on the grid and passed Joey Logano for the lead on Lap 38, two laps before Ryan Truex crashed to trigger the yellow.

But on the restart at Lap 47, Gordon was unable to hold back Harvick and Kyle Busch, who both got ahead of him before the field reached Turn 2. However, he would re-claim second from Busch just a few laps later.

From there, Gordon would hover around the Top 5 for the majority of the race, running second at multiple points. He briefly mentioned a possible overheating issue with around 80 to go, but said issue did not evolve into something serious.

Gordon was second to Harvick with 50 laps remaining, but after what proved to be the final cycle of green-flag stops, he had fallen back to fifth. He’d claw to fourth after taking two tires during a caution with 10 laps to go, but was unable to hold serve on the late rash of restarts.

“I feel like it was a missed opportunity, but we had another great race car and I’m happy about that,” Gordon said.

Sainz frustrated as puncture ends Belgian GP after strong start

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28:  Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) Scuderia Toro Rosso STR11 Ferrari 060/5 turbo with a punctured rear tyre during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Carlos Sainz Jr. made no secret of his frustration after a puncture brought his Belgian Grand Prix to an early end while running inside the points.

Toro Rosso arrived in Belgium skeptical of its chances given the advances made by other teams running 2016-spec engines, with the Italian team still using a 2015-spec Ferrari power unit.

Sainz qualified a lowly 15th on Saturday, but a flying start saw him rise up to seventh at the end of the first lap.

However, a tire blow-out while approaching 200 mph on the Kemmel Straight ruined Sainz’s race. A vain attempt to return to the pits only caused more damage to his car, tearing the rear wing off before the Spaniard eventually parked up at the side of the track.

“How frustrating to have to retire from the race because of a puncture!” Sainz said after the race.

“I did one of the best starts of my life and by the end of the first lap I had gained seven positions and was racing in P7.

“But I then went over some debris from other cars at the start of my second lap and the tire ended up exploding after Eau Rouge.

“It definitely wasn’t the best moment of my life, especially after doing such a good start!

“It’s frustrating to have to end the race like this, but I will keep fighting and forget today as quickly as possible.”

Teammate Daniil Kvyat had a quiet race, finishing 14th despite thinking at one point that points may have been within reach.

“We pushed quite hard today and after the red flag there was some hope – at one point it even looked like we could dream of scoring some points,” Kvyat said.

“I think we did a great job with the tires, but we started to struggle with straight-line speed and the deficit was more and more obvious after the second pit-stop.

“It’s a shame, but at least we can say we did our absolute best today. Unfortunately not many people will see this, as we only ended up P14 and out of the points, but it’s not that bad.

“We will have to take our opportunities at tracks that suit us better.”

Vettel: Talks, not penalties, right way to deal with Verstappen

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Sebastian Vettel is keen to have talks with Max Verstappen about his on-track actions during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, believing it to be a better way to handle things than issuing a penalty.

Verstappen clashed with both Vettel and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 1 on the first lap of the race, leaving all three drivers with damage.

Verstappen then incurred the wrath of Raikkonen later in the race after forcing him off-track at Les Combes, before moving late when defending his position the next lap on the Kemmel Straight at 200 mph.

Verstappen defended his actions after the race, but Vettel thinks that something needs to be done.

“We talked about moving under braking. Top speed… reaching 340 km/h… and he’s moving,” Vettel told NBCSN after the race.

“It works so long as the car behind plays accordingly and lifts. But if both stick to line, both crash. That’s not what you want to do.

“If you drive like that it won’t end up too well. More than anything it cost us – and him – a lot of time.”

Vettel said it was best that the stewards did not investigate Verstappen’s moves, instead saying that such issues were better dealt by the drivers talking together.

“I don’t like to investigate anything. We’re men; we’re not in kindergarten,” Vettel said.

“If I have a problem with Max I need to go to talk to him. But obviously right after race isn’t the best moment! Leave it to us though.

“If you go beyond the limits you need to talk. In general, I’m not a fan. We’re not here to cry, ‘oh here’s a penalty!’

“Today we could have had a great race. We could have had both cars on the podium but sometimes these things happen.”

Verstappen blames Raikkonen, Vettel for ‘destroying’ Belgian GP at Turn 1

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Max Verstappen has blamed Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel for ending his hopes of a podium finish in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, saying his race was “destroyed” at Turn 1.

The race at Spa-Francorchamps acted as Verstappen’s home event as tens of thousands of fans made the trip over from his native Netherlands, resulting in the circuit’s best raceday attendance in over a decade.

Verstappen made a slow start from second place on the grid, slipping behind Raikkonen on the run down to the first corner.

The Dutchman tried to dive down the inside of Raikkonen at La Source, only for the two to make contact and also tangle with Vettel on the outside.

The collision left Verstappen with damage that forced him to pit at the end of the first lap, taking a new front wing.

However, more severe damage was caused to his floor, costing him over one second per lap for the remainder of the race en route to 11th place at the checkered flag.

“I got squeezed. Kimi wanted to turn in. Sebastian did on both of us,” Verstappen told NBCSN after the race.

“Destroyed my front wing and the whole floor. Fans were so great… but unfortunately was not our day.

“We had a car like you could see to finish on the podium. But when other drivers take that away from you, you’re not happy.

“Today everything got destroyed in Turn 1.”

Verstappen faced the wrath of Raikkonen during the race after some aggressive defensive moves, prompting the Ferrari driver to express his anger over team radio.

Verstappen thought little of the Finn’s comments, though, saying he would have been penalized by the stewards had it been an unfair move.

“I should have got a penalty if it was not correct. So it was fair,” he said.

Raikkonen fumes over Verstappen moves, predicts ‘big accident’

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Kimi Raikkonen predicts that Max Verstappen will cause a “big accident” unless he changes his approach to racing after being left fuming by the Dutchman’s defensive moves during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Raikkonen and Verstappen were both forced to pit early on after a clash at the first corner, leaving them together on-track once the race went back to green after a short red flag period.

Verstappen forced Raikkonen off-track at Les Combes when defending his position before making another aggressive move along the Kemmel Straight at 200 mph on the next lap.

Raikkonen immediately complained about Verstappen’s moves over team radio to the Ferrari pit wall in an expletive-laden message.

“I’m all up for fair racing and close battles. But when I have to brake after Eau Rouge before Turn 5, at full speed, when he turns in front of me, that’s not correct in my view,” Raikkonen told NBCSN after the race.

“Obviously FIA looks a different way with the stewards.

“There will be a big accident if this doesn’t stop.

“The rest; I’m fine with fighting. But we should not do stupid things.”

Raikkonen eventually got past Verstappen en route to finish ninth for Ferrari. Verstappen struggled in the closing stages of the race with his damaged car, eventually crossing the line 11th.