(Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

Everything you need to know about Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega

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After an exciting race at one of NASCAR’s shortest tracks, the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway, the Sprint Cup Series moves to the longest (2.66 miles) and one of the fastest tracks on the circuit for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Will Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. make it two wins in a row on a restrictor plate track? Junior has five career wins at Talladega, but he hasn’t won there since fall 2004. Will his 10-year drought there come to an end? If he does manage to win Sunday, Junior would all but guarantee being locked into this year’s expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Jeff Gordon is the winningest active driver at Talladega with six wins, but it’s also been a long time since he’s reached victory lane there (fall 2007).

Will an unexpected driver emerge from the pack on the final lap to collect the checkered flag, much like defending winner David Ragan did in this weekend’s race last year?

How will rookies like Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon fare?

There are so many storylines to consider for Sunday’s race, but a few things are for sure: it’s ‘Dega, it’s fast, it’s always exciting and there’s always the possibility of at least one “big one” multi-car wreck.

Here’s  look at some of the top statistical performers coming into Sunday’s race, as well as some of the track’s past history:

 
TALLADEGA-SPECIFIC STATISTICS
Aric Almirola (No. 43 Gwaltney Ford)
·         One top 10
·         Average finish of 19.9
·         Average Running Position of 17.8, 12th-best
·         Driver Rating of 83.7, 10th-best
Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
·         Six top fives, 13 top 10s
·         Average finish of 16.7
·         Average Running Position of 14.9, fifth-best
·         Driver Rating of 87.4, fifth-best
·         6,599 Green Flag Passes, third-most
·         2,144 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6%), second-most
·         4,529 Quality Passes, second-most
Austin Dillon (No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet)
·         Average finish of 26.0
·         Series-best Average Running Position of 11.5
·         Driver Rating of 81.5, 12th-best
·         Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 193.265 mph
 
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
·         Five wins, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.6
·         Average Running Position of 14.6, fourth-best
·         Driver Rating of 91.5, third-best
·         75 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
·         6,044 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.083 mph, third-fastest
·         2,078 Laps in the Top 15 (60.7%), third-most
·         4,009 Quality Passes, fourth-most
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s/Valspar Reserve Chevrolet)
·         Two wins, six top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole
·         Average finish of 17.0
·         Average Running Position of 16.9, eighth-best
·         Driver Rating of 85.1, seventh-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 192.872 mph, 12th-fastest
·         1,757 Laps in the Top 15 (51.3%), fifth-most
·         3,436 Quality Passes, fifth-most
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota)
·         One win, five top fives, nine top 10s
·         Average finish of 17.7
·         Average Running Position of 13.9, third-best
·         Driver Rating of 91.6, second-best
·         63 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most
·         5,791 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
·         Series-high 2,239 Laps in the Top 15 (65.4%)
·         4,275 Quality Passes, third-most
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
·         Two wins, three top fives, six top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.2
·         Driver Rating of 84.4, eighth-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 192.936 mph, ninth-fastest
 
Jamie McMurray (No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet)
·         Two wins, six top fives, seven top 10s
·         Average finish of 19.3
·         Driver Rating of 83.3, 11th-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.035 mph, seventh-fastest
·         1,692 Laps in the Top 15 (49.4%), sixth-most
·         3,307 Quality Passes, eighth-most
David Ragan (No. 34 KFC Ford)
·         One win, four top fives, seven top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.2
·         Driver Rating of 84.2, ninth-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.080 mph, fourth-fastest
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17 Zest Ford)
·         One top five, one top 10
·         Average finish of 8.0
·         Average Running Position of 12.5, second-best
·         Series-best Driver Rating of 94.7
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 193.253 mph, second-fastest
Brian Vickers (No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota)
·         One win, four top fives, six top 10s
·         Average finish of 20.1
·         Average Running Position of 17.0, ninth-best
·         Driver Rating of 87.3, sixth-best
 

Talladega Superspeedway Data

Season Race #: 10 of 36 (05-04-14)
Track Size: 2.66-miles
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 33 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 33 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 16.5 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 2 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 4,300 feet
Backstretch Length: 4,000 feet
Race Length: 188 laps / 500 miles
Top 10 Driver Ratings at Talladega
Ricky Stenhouse Jr………………… 94.7
Matt Kenseth………………………… 91.6
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 91.5
Kurt Busch……………………………. 87.4
Brian Vickers………………………… 87.3
Jimmie Johnson…………………….. 85.1
Brad Keselowski……………………. 84.4
David Ragan…………………………. 84.2
Aric Almirola…………………………. 87.3
Jamie McMurray…………………….. 83.3
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at Talladega Superspeedway.
Qualifying/Race Data
2013 pole winner:
None – due to inclement weather
 
2013 race winner:
David Ragan, Ford
148.729 mph, (03:26:02), 05-05-13
 
Track qualifying record:
Bill Elliott, Ford
212.809 mph, 44.998 secs. 04-30-87
 
Track race record:
Mark Martin, Ford
188.354 mph, (02:39:18), 05-10-97
TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY:
History
·         Construction began on what was then known as the Alabama International Motor Speedway on May 23, 1968.
·         The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on Sept. 14, 1969 – won by Richard Brickhouse.
·         The name changed to Talladega Superspeedway in 1989.
·         Fourth repaving completed on Sept. 19, 2006.
Notebook
·         There have been 89 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega Superspeedway, one NSCS event in 1969 and two races per year since 1970.
·         Talladega Superspeedway is tied with Michigan International Speedway for holding the ninth most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points paying races (89).  
·         433 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega; 297 in more than one.
·         Dave Marcis leads the series in starts at Talladega with 61. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 42 starts; followed by Joe Nemechek with 38.
·         Bobby Isaac won the inaugural Coors Light pole at Talladega in 1969 with a speed of 199.466 mph. Isaac won the first three poles at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
·         36 drivers have Coors Light poles at Talladega, led by Bill Elliott with eight. Joe Nemechek leads all active drivers with four.
·         10 drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at Talladega. Bill Elliott holds the record for most consecutive poles at Talladega with six (1985 – 1987).
·         Youngest Talladega pole winner: Jimmie Johnson (04/21/2002 – 26 years, 7 months, 4 days).
·         Oldest Talladega pole winner: Mark Martin (10/23/2012 – 52 years, 9 months, 14 days).
·         43 different drivers have won at Talladega Superspeedway, led by Dale Earnhardt with 10. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with six.
·         Richard Childress Racing has the most wins at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 12; followed byHendrick Motorsports with 11.
·         Nine different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Talladega; led by Chevrolet with 38 victories; followed byFord with 21.
·         13 of the 89 (14.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the Coors Light pole.Jeff Gordon (2007) is the only active driver to be able to accomplish the feat. 
·         The outside front row (second-place) starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (20) than any other starting position at Talladega. 
·         33 of the 89 (37%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from the front row: 13 from the pole and 20 from second-place.
·         62 of the 89 (69.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Talladega have been won from a top-10 starting position.
·         7 of the 89 (7.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
·         The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Talladega was 36th, by Jeff Gordon in the spring of 2000.
·         Youngest Talladega winner: Bobby Hillin Jr. (07/27/1986 – 22 years, 1 month, 22 days).
·         Oldest Talladega winner: Harry Gant (05/06/1991 – 51 years, 3 months, 26 days).
·         Buddy Baker and Tony Stewart are tied for theseries’ most runner-up finishes at Talladega with six each.
·         NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-five finishes at Talladega with 23. Jeff Gordonleads all active drivers with 15. 
·         Dale Earnhardt leads the series in top-10 finishes at Talladega with 27. Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with 19.
·         Jimmie Johnson leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Talladega with a 10.125.
·         Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Talladega with a 14.200.
·         There have been seven NSCS races resulting with a green-white-checkered finish at Talladega Superspeedway: spring of 2005 (188/194), fall of 2005 (188/190), spring of 2007 (188/192), fall of 2008 (188/190) spring of 2010 (188/200), fall of 2012 (188/189) and spring of 2013 (188/192).
·         Only two of the 89 races at Talladega Superspeedway have been shortened due to weather conditions: spring of 1987 and fall of 1996.
·         Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway five times; most recently fall of 2013. 
·         Jamie McMurray (10/06/2002) made his series debut at Talladega Superspeedway.
·         David Gilliland (10/08/2006) and Travis Kvapil (10/05/2008) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light poles at Talladega.   
·         2012 series champion Brad Keselowski (04/26/2009) and Brian Vickers (10/08/2006) posted their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Talladega.   
·         Nine drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series have posted consecutive wins at Talladega Dale Earnhardt Jr.leads the series in consecutive wins at Talladega after posting four straight from the fall of 2001 – 2003.  
·         11 of the 12 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners at Talladega Superspeedway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Brad Keselowski is the only active series driver to winat Talladega in his first appearance.   
·         Matt Kenseth competed at Talladega Superspeedway 25 times before winning the fall of 2012; the longest span of any the 12 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winners.
·         Matt Kenseth (25), Tony Stewart (19), Kevin Harvick (18), and David Ragan (12) all made 10 or more attempts before their first win at Talladega.
·         Joe Nemechek leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Talladega without visiting Victory Lane at 38.
·         Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway was the (04/17/2011) race won by Jimmie Johnson with a MOV of 0.002 second – the MOV is tied with the 2003 Darlington race as the closest finishes in the NSCS using electronic scoring. 
·         Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Talladega with 843 laps led in 42 starts.
·         Three female drivers have competed at Talladega in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Janet Guthrie, Patty Moiseand Danica Patrick.
Driver
Starting Position
Finishing Position
Date
Race Name
Janet Guthrie
13
32
5/1/1977
Winston 500
Janet Guthrie
9
34
8/7/1977
Talladega 500
Janet Guthrie
12
29
8/6/1978
Talladega 500
Patty Moise
36
33
7/30/1989
Talladega Diehard 500
Danica Patrick
23
33
5/5/2013
Aaron’s 499
Danica Patrick
23
33
10/20/2013
Camping World RV Sales 500
NASCAR in Alabama
·         There have been 108 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races among seven different tracks in Alabama.
Track Name
City
NSCS
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega
89
Birmingham International Raceway
Birmingham
8
Montgomery Motor Speedway
Montgomery
6
Lakeview Speedway
Mobile
2
Chisholm Speedway
Montgomery
1
Dixie Speedway
Birmingham
1
Huntsville Speedway
Huntsville
1
·         68 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Alabama.
·         Nine drivers from Alabama have won at least one race in NASCAR’s three national series; five have won in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Driver
NSCS
NNS
NCWTS
Bobby Allison
84
2
0
Davey Allison
19
0
0
Neil Bonnett
18
1
0
Donnie Allison
10
0
0
Red Byron
2
0
0
Rick Crawford
0
0
5
Steve Grissom
0
11
0
Cale Gale
0
0
1
Darrell Wallace Jr
0
0
1

 

VIDEO: Valtteri Bottas’ first day as a Mercedes F1 driver

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Following Valtteri Bottas’ official unveiling as a Mercedes driver on Monday, the team wasted little time in showing the Finn the ropes at its base in Brackley, England.

Bottas was released from his contract by Williams so he could join Mercedes for 2017, replacing world champion Nico Rosberg following the German’s shock decision to retire from F1.

Bottas was announced as Mercedes’ new driver on Monday, completing the puzzle for the 2017 driver market and putting an end to six weeks of speculation.

In the above video released by Mercedes, Bottas gets to grips with life at Brackley after signing his new contract with team chief Toto Wolff and meeting his new team members for the first time.

In related news, Mercedes announced on Friday that it had struck an agreement with the Wihuri Group, a Finnish conglomerate that has previously sponsored Bottas.

Wihuri’s branding will appear on the Mercedes drivers’ racesuits and helmets, as well as on the team’s trackside uniform.

“We are delighted to welcome Wihuri to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport family today,” Wolff said.

“As a respected brand both in Finland and globally, Wihuri will be a valuable addition to our team and we look forward to working with them and helping to expand their Formula One experience.

“This year will be a new challenge for our team, with a new driver line-up, including our new Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas of course, and new regulations.

“I am sure it going to be a very exciting year to be involved with our team and the sport of Formula 1.”

Yamaha, Ducati enjoy launches ahead of new MotoGP season

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MotoGP heavyweights Yamaha and Ducati geared up for the new season of motorcycle racing’s premier championship with launches this week.

Yamaha and Ducati both enter 2017 with a new line-up following Jorge Lorenzo’s decision to move from the former to the latter, acting as one of a number of shake-ups in the rider market.

Three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo replaces Andrea Iannone at Ducati, who sought refuge at Suzuki after a seat was freed up by Maverick Viñales following his move to Yamaha in replace of – the man who started the merry-go-round all – Lorenzo.

Yamaha was the first to take the covers off its new bike at a launch in Madrid on Thursday, with Viñales being joined by nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi for the unveiling of the YZR-M1.

The new bike features a darker blue as its main livery color, as well as greater presence for title sponsor Movistar.

“I had the first test in Valencia after the race, but particularly after we moved to Sepang and we could have more kilometers and [do] more work on the new bike,” Rossi said.

“We discovered a very good potential. It looks like we can be stronger. For sure now it’s important to work in the three tests before the first race, and try to arrive ready in Qatar. But the first impression is very good.”

Ducati followed suit earlier today by unveiling its new livery for 2017, with Lorenzo making one of his first official appearances in the team’s colors following the expiration of his Yamaha contract on December 31.

The team presented its 2016 bike, the Desmosedici GP16, in ’17 colors, as well as removing the controversial – and now banned – winglets from its model.

The new MotoGP season begins in Qatar on March 26, with pre-season testing set to start at the end of January in Malaysia.

Neuville leads Ogier midway through Monte Carlo Rally

Thierry Neuville (BEL) competes during the FIA World Rally Championship 2017 in Monte Carlo, Monaco on January 20, 2017
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MONACO (AP) Belgian driver Thierry Neuville took a 45-second lead Friday over defending world rally champion Sebastien Ogier midway through the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally.

Overnight leader Neuville won three of Friday’s six special stages, while Ogier struggled early on before pegging Neuville back by winning the last two. Ott Tanak of Estonia is third.

Four-time champion Ogier is now driving for Ford M-Sport after switching from Volkswagen last month. The Frenchman was eight seconds behind Neuville’s Hyundai overnight and quickly under pressure.

Tanak, who also drives for M-Sport, won Friday’s first special stage – the third of 17 overall – ahead of Neuville, with Ogier in ninth.

Difficult morning conditions saw snow and sheet ice on the roads. With all the top drivers fitting studded winter tires, Ogier still went off into a ditch.

“It happened at a junction, it was very, very icy. I pulled the handbrake but the car never turned,” Ogier said. “I slipped into the ditch and became stuck.”

Neuville won the next three specials – with Ogier second on 4 and 5 – but Ogier finally found his best form to trim back the deficit from 1:12 to 45 seconds. He also overtook Tanak, who is a fraction of a second behind Ogier.

Conditions were slushy in the afternoon as the icy roads began melting.

“For me this was more tricky than this morning and difficult to know what rhythm to go,” Neuville said.

A spectator was killed on Thursday night after being hit by a car during the first stage.

Organizers said the spectator was struck by a car driven by New Zealand driver Hayden Paddon during the first of two night stages.

That stage was canceled but the second went ahead, with Neuville beating Ogier.

There are six specials Saturday with the race concluding Sunday lunchtime.

Last year, Ogier won by nearly two minutes ahead of then-teammate Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway.

Ogier announced last month that he was going to drive the Ford Fiesta for M-Sport this season. A fifth title would move him into outright second place on the all-time list behind countryman Sebastien Loeb, who won nine straight titles.

The 33-year-old Ogier, who has won 38 career races, is tied with Finnish drivers Tommi Makinen – who won four straight – and Juha Kankkunen.

The next event in the 13-race season is in Sweden in three weeks.

BRDC: Reports Silverstone will definitely drop British GP ‘speculative and wrong’

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 10:  The grid at the start of the race during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 10, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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The British Racing Drivers Club has issued a statement dismissing suggestions that Silverstone will definitely drop its Formula 1 race following the 2019 season.

Doubt was cast over the future of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone following a leaked letter from BRDC chairman John Grant, in which he admitted to concerns about the cost of hosting the race.

Grant admitted that BRDC officials were considering triggering a clause in Silverstone’s F1 contract that would allow it to end its commitment after 2019 due to “ruinous” costs.

In a statement issued on Friday, the BRDC stressed that no final decision had been made and that suggestions a final decision to drop the race had already been made were incorrect.

“The British Racing Drivers Club wishes to make clear that recent press reports suggesting that talks have been unsuccessful and that the British Grand Prix will definitely be dropped after 2019 are speculative and wrong,” the statement reads.

“Our objective is to preserve the British Grand Prix at Silverstone for many years to come but, of course, we can only do this if it makes economic sense,” Grant added.

“As I have said before, we will be considering over the next six months if we should give notice of our intention to exercise the break clause in our grand prix contract at the end of 2019. No decision has been made, or will be made, until mid-July.

“In the meantime, we will be using this period to explore all interested parties, hopefully in private, various ways in which we might work out a more sustainable proposition.”