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

 

Ferrari F1 drivers Raikkonen, Vettel free to race in Monaco

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Ferrari Formula 1 drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel will be free to race and fight each other for victory in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix following their front row lock-out in qualifying.

Raikkonen stormed to his first F1 pole since the 2008 French Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon, edging out Vettel by just 0.043 seconds in the final stage of qualifying.

The result came at a time when Raikkonen has faced criticism for failing to match Vettel for pace through the opening five rounds of the season.

While Vettel has two wins and three second-place finishes to his name, Raikkonen has finished on the podium just once, and is yet to finish ahead of his teammate.

Vettel currently leads the F1 drivers’ championship ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who starts 13th in Monaco after a disastrous qualifying session on Saturday.

While Ferrari has history in throwing its support behind one driver for the championship early in a season, both Raikkonen and Vettel stressed there would be no team orders in play in Monaco, leaving the pair free to fight so long as it is clean and fair.

“We know what we are doing, we are racing for the team and, you know, we have certain rules and respect against each other,” Raikkonen said.

“We are allowed to fight but obviously, we have to do it as clean as we can and not take each other out.

“I don’t know why people expect that it is something different tomorrow than it’s been the last two years.

“Nothing has changed. Just try to make a stupid story out of nothing.”

Vettel added: “I think we have done enough races so we know what to do normally in the first corner. We’re here to race, we’re here to race each other.

“The start is important here, the first corner is important, the race is important! The start is the beginning of the race, but not the end so we’ll see.

“We know that pole is important in Monaco, so we’ll see what happens.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET, with F1 Countdown starting at 7am ET on NBCSN.

2017 Indy 500 driver-by-driver one-liners

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INDIANAPOLIS – As is a quick tradition on MotorSportsTalk, we’ve put together some quick one-liners on the field of 33 drivers set to compete in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Sadly some one-liners stretch to two or three lines. Because words.

Included in the field are seven past winners and four rookies. Past one-liners are linked here (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016).

Without further adieu, the 2017 edition:

Row 1

9-Scott Dixon, Camping World Honda

TDZ: In a year where there’s not been a clear favorite defined or established, the polesitter, in a Honda, the greatest all-around driver in the series and one of the greatest in IndyCar history is the favorite here to win Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, and end a drought for polesitters dating to Helio Castroneves in 2009.

20-Ed Carpenter, Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet

TDZ: A potential hugely popular winner; Carpenter has looked great in both single-car running and in traffic thus far. For the first time since his accident in practice two years ago, vintage “oval master Ed” is back in search of that first ‘500 victory.

98-Alexander Rossi, NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda

TDZ: More relaxed, more experienced and even faster this year than last. If Rossi’s debut month of May was stellar, his sophomore year is next-level. Has a serious chance to defend his crown, but this time would understand the significance in the moment.

Row 2

26-Takuma Sato, Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda

TDZ: Sato is known for his tenacious “no attack, no chance” style but he’s been far more consistent this month – and year – than in recent years. From his best Indy 500 starting position he has by far his best possible win chance, if he can avoid any pitfalls.

29-Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda

TDZ: You’ve heard the two-time Formula 1 World Champion is racing at Indianapolis, right? Perhaps? Maybe? Snark aside, Alonso’s been on it from day one. How he handles the Indy race craft and procedural aspects will define his day. An ideal finish for me? Fourth to eighth, to leave him close enough to the front, but wanting more.

21-JR Hildebrand, Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet

TDZ: Imagining a JR win at Indy – after his infamous final lap in 2011 and contact with Helio Castroneves last year that cost both drivers a shot – is imagining one of the best possible story lines that could drop on Sunday.

Row 3

10-Tony Kanaan, NTT Data Honda 

TDZ: He hasn’t looked especially great in practice, but this is TK, he’s got his usual engineer back in Eric Cowdin and this is Indy. I picked him to win this race preseason, and I’ll be highly surprised if he isn’t in contention late again Sunday. 

27-Marco Andretti, United Fiber & Data Honda

TDZ: A quiet air of confidence is there around Andretti this year that hasn’t been in recent years. This feels his best shot to break back into win contention since 2014, and with Bryan Herta on the box, he has the defending champ strategist in his corner. 

12-Will Power, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Thus far Penske’s best driver results-wise in the weeks leading up to the race, Power remains in search of his first Indy 500 win. Could this be the year?

Row 4 

28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, DHL Honda

TDZ: His qualifying draw hurt his chances of a Fast Nine position, but “RHR” has been solid and steady all month. Motivated to get his second ‘500 win and end a long winless drought overall, I fully expect at least a top-three run here. 

19-Ed Jones, Boy Scouts of America Honda

TDZ: The Dubai-based Brit has been the undoubted welcome surprise of the month. He’s been very solid on ovals. Not a likely winner, but could well eclipse Alex Lloyd (fourth in 2010) or the late Justin Wilson (fifth in 2013) as a Coyne top-five finisher.

16-Oriol Servia, Manitowoc Honda 

TDZ: Would it not be surprising to once again see Servia running fourth or fifth with 20 laps to go, after not paying much attention to him all day? That’s the line of note for the popular Catalan in his 200th career start.

Row 5

7-Mikhail Aleshin, SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: Other than a hold-your-breath moment in Monday practice, and a line questioning some drivers’ anatomies, the usually “Mad Russian” has been quieter than normal this month. Expect that to change Sunday. 

15-Graham Rahal, Steak ‘n Shake Honda

TDZ: Rahal wanted this to be a better month and a move forward from 26th to 14th on the grid is a good start, but it hasn’t yet looked like a winning month. Rahal’s been good in several ‘500s past and has an ability to charge forward when the car’s right.

8-Max Chilton, Gallagher Honda

TDZ: Chilton entered the oval portion of the month on a high after a strong GP and has carried the momentum through. Perhaps not a winner, but stands a very good chance of bettering his 15th place of a year ago; say maybe seventh or eighth, here.

Row 6

83-Charlie Kimball, Tresiba Honda

TDZ: One of Indy’s more underrated solid drivers – Kimball has finished between third and 13th in five of his six ‘500s – now appears to have the right package at his disposal. Armed with new engineer Todd Malloy, he could surprise once again.

5-James Hinchcliffe, Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

TDZ: Pole last year, 17th this year. It’s been baffling to see the No. 5 car this far down the order, but if the car’s better in race pace than it’s appeared in practice and qualifying, Hinchcliffe can succeed.

22-Juan Pablo Montoya, Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: JPM will have the world at his disposal as a one-off entry this race. With nothing to lose, they can try a strategy play, a traffic play, or a pure pace play to move to the front from P18 on the grid.

Row 7

3-Helio Castroneves, Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: In his eternal quest for his fourth Indy 500 victory, Castroneves has downplayed the lack of single-lap pace and hailed his race pace. Having been busy all month, it wouldn’t shock to see Castroneves emerge as a winner from 19th.

77-Jay Howard, Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda

TDZ: Howard starts 20th for his first Indy 500 in six years, the same place he started in his 2011 debut. He’s been quietly good all month and a top-12 seems achievable with a clean race.

24-Sage Karam, DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet

TDZ: With a car that looks dynamic in traffic, and a driver who can make moves like nobody’s business, Karam is an excellent pick to steal the show. Of course, the big question mark here is whether his Mecum car will make it all 200 laps.

Row 8

2-Josef Newgarden, hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: This wasn’t in the script for Newgarden at Penske – his old team starts second and sixth while his new one has four of its five drivers starting 18th or worse. Is there a Newgarden or Penske magic act in store for Sunday?

1-Simon Pagenaud, Menards Team Penske Chevrolet

TDZ: Pagenaud’s weird season title defense tour rolls into Indianapolis where somehow, he’s finished top-five each of the first five races, led the points prior to qualifying, yet hasn’t looked “on it” all month. From 23rd, it’d be a surprise to see him win.

14-Carlos Munoz, ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet

TDZ: For having finished second twice, plus fourth among his four Indianapolis 500 starts, it’s weird to think of the 2016 runner-up as a longshot. But that’s what a change of scenery has done for him and in a rarity, he’s not got high expectations this year.

Row 9

88-Gabby Chaves, Harding Racing Chevrolet

TDZ: New team that has a lot of Indianapolis success individually elsewhere comes together for a debut run. This car is a hard one to project, but Chaves is a clean and consistent enough driver that a top-15 run could be achievable.

4-Conor Daly, ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet

TDZ: One of Indiana’s favorite sons, Daly and the Foyt team just has not had the speed of the other Chevrolet teams this week. After coming 22nd with a pit fire, then another fire before starting and a crash last year, a quiet top-20 finish would be a welcome run for him this year.

50-Jack Harvey, Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda

TDZ: After a tough start to the month, both Harvey and Shank improve steadily each day. Pit stops for both in an IndyCar setting will be an adjustment but Harvey could be a good under-the-radar driver to watch in its flashy livery.

Row 10

63-Pippa Mann, Susan G. Komen Honda

TDZ: Mann has not had her best month of May in the extra Dale Coyne car, but enters with having finished her last six 500-mile races started since 2014. If she does the same again in 2017, a chance to better 18th from last year beckons.

11-Spencer Pigot, Oceanfront Recovery Chevrolet

TDZ: As last year, a crash interrupted Pigot’s week of practice. The usually steady pair of hands also started 29th last year and improved to 25th; he will look to do better as he’s reunited with Ricardo Juncos for his team’s Indy 500 debut.

44-Buddy Lazier, Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Chevrolet

TDZ: Finishing is the first and most simple goal for Indy’s favorite underdog and 1996 champ, who’ve overachieved in limited laps with the Mitch Davis-led crew.

Row 11

17-Sebastian Saavedra, AFS Chevrolet

TDZ: One of several drivers who hasn’t been in IndyCar in a couple years back this year and with a new team. Saavedra will look to replicate his 32nd-to-15th drive with KV in 2014, with Juncos featuring some ex-KV personnel.

40-Zach Veach, Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim Chevrolet

TDZ: The likable young driver has had a challenging first month of May, and will look to finish first; top-20 or better will be a respectable target.

18-James Davison, GEICO Honda

TDZ: Although this is the backup car and the backup driver, Davison’s always a sure bet to be entertaining, fast, and a possible top-15 finisher if all the cards fall right.

What to watch for: Monaco Grand Prix (NBC from 7:30am ET; NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 7am)

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In Formula 1, races do not come any bigger than Monaco.

The sport’s ultimate sporting challenge combines with the glitz and glamor that F1 has become so famous for throughout its 67-year history, making the Monaco Grand Prix the ultimate event.

The race comes six rounds into what is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing title fights in recent history, with Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton going toe-to-toe for Ferrari and Mercedes.

Monaco always has an extra spice – but this year, we have new cars, a reinvigorated title fight, some surprises on the grid, and even an old face making a guest appearance.

Combined, we are poised to enjoy one of the most unpredictable and perhaps significant Monaco races in recent memory.

You can watch the Monaco Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET. CLICK HERE for NBC live stream.

F1 Countdown begins at 7am ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app, and runs until the NBC coverage begins. CLICK HERE for NBCSN live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – What to watch for

Can the Iceman stay cool?

Kimi Raikkonen may have ended his pole drought of almost nine years on Saturday, but the popular Finn remained as non-plussed as ever, simply saying “ah good” when informed of his success.

Raikkonen’s charge to pole came as a surprise, going some way to responding to the critics who have questioned his lack of pace compared to teammate Sebastian Vettel so far this season – yet the real challenge is to come.

With Lewis Hamilton so far back, Ferrari knows that this is a golden chance for Vettel to extend his championship lead. If Raikkonen wants to win this race, he’s going to have to do it convincingly and rekindle some of the old Kimi that has arguably been missing for a few years now.

There was a flicker of that flame in qualifying. The Iceman now needs to turn that into a fire.

Damage limitation the focus for Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton’s had a pretty rotten weekend so far. From setup troubles on Thursday to tire temperature woes in qualifying, the three-time champion is resigned to starting 13th in Monaco – a track where overtaking is nigh on impossible.

So Hamilton’s focus must be on damage limitation. A good start should help, and on raw pace along, a top six finish should be possible – but it would take a bold strategy, a slice of luck and perhaps a safety car or two to bring him into the fray at the front.

Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas can do his bit and try to cause trouble for Vettel at the front of the pack, but most probably, Hamilton is going to be having a Sunday drive through the streets he calls home.

Will tire management decide this race?

Mercedes has struggled for much of this season to manage its tires, with Hamilton’s qualifying problems being the height of that. The fact neither the driver nor the team had an answer after qualifying shows there is still plenty to be worked out overnight.

The ultra-softs seem to be lasting well in Monaco, but the hotter things get, the more difficult it could be. Expect a fine balance between this being a one and two-stopper. Safety cars will certainly alter things as well.

If things do heat up, then Ferrari should run away with this at the front. It’ll then be up to the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull to work on the fly to rein in the Prancing Horse.

Button out to make more memories

Jenson Button’s one-off comeback to F1 has been a real good news story. Despite having not tested the 2017-spec McLaren, he was rapid throughout practice and even took the team through to Q3, taking P9 on the grid.

The bittersweet part of this story is that he will start last after another Honda power unit penalty following the emergence of an issue following FP2. So don’t go thinking JB will be taking any final points to add to his career haul, although with a finish and high attrition rate, it’s certainly possible.

But points aren’t what this comeback was about for Button. No, it was about making memories. That’s what he did in qualifying, taming the MCL32 en route to Q3. And it’s what he’ll be out to do in the race.

This will most probably be goodbye to Button in F1 – but it’s an opportunity we thought had passed us by in Abu Dhabi. It’d be great if he can make it to the checkered flag this time.

2017 Monaco Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Romain Grosjean Haas
9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
10. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
11. Kevin Magnussen Haas
12. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren*
13. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
14. Felipe Massa Williams
15. Esteban Ocon Force India
16. Jolyon Palmer Renault
17. Lance Stroll Williams
18. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Jenson Button McLaren**

* Stoffel Vandoorne takes a three-place grid penalty as punishment for a crash with Felipe Massa in the Spanish Grand Prix.
** Jenson Button takes a 15-place grid penalty following power unit element changes by McLaren ahead of FP3.

You can watch the Monaco Grand Prix live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET. CLICK HERE for NBC live stream. To watch the race with Mosaic View, CLICK HERE.

F1 Countdown begins at 7am ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app, and runs until the NBC coverage begins. CLICK HERE for NBCSN live stream.

Restoration complete of Justin Wilson’s first Champ Car winner

All photos: LAT and Mower Family
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Earlier this year, preparation began to restore the first Champ Car Justin Wilson won in, a Lola-Ford Cosworth entry he took to victory lane for the RuSPORT team at Toronto in 2005.

The full release and details are below:

The restoration of Justin Wilson’s first Champ Car race-winning chassis is complete. Set to benefit the Wilson’s Children Fund, which was created to ensure the long-term financial security for Wilson’s daughters after he was killed in a racing accident in 2015, the immaculate, historically important Lola will be sold through auction or private acquisition in the months ahead. All proceeds will be donated to the WCF (www.wilsonchildrensfund.com).

More than a dozen key contributors made the charity project possible, starting with former PKV Champ Car team owner Dan Pettit and his wife Kelly, who owned and graciously donated the Lola B05/00 chassis Wilson used to earn his first and second Champ Car wins at Toronto and Mexico City in 2005.

The idea for the restoration, which began in January, came when Pettit and fellow PKV alumni Jimmy Vasser, who used the car as a display vehicle in one of his auto dealerships, were considering what to do with the Lola which carried a generic Champ Car livery.

On a lark, Vasser, became inspired to research the Lola’s history and soon found it was the same car that carried Wilson to his first wins in America with the RuSport team after transitioning from Formula 1 to Champ Car.

With PKV’s purchase of RuSport in 2006, Wilson’s race-winning chassis remained within Pettit’s inventory when the series folded in 2008. It eventually made its way into Vasser’s dealership where it sat until curiosity struck the 1996 CART IndyCar Series champion late last year. Once the car’s true identity was revealed, the Pettits welcomed the suggestion to restore the chassis back to its original condition and make it available for purchase to help Wilson’s family.

“It has been our dream to help Justin’s (Wilson) family in some meaningful way and to say thank you for all the joy he brought to us,” the Pettits said. “For some unknown reason we kept one of our old cars from the racing  team.  When Jimmy Vasser suggested we donate it with the proceeds going to the Wilson Children’s Fund, we thought it was brilliant.”

With the need to relocate the car from the west coast to Indianapolis for its restoration, Vasser and former KV Racing team manager Chris Mower began searching for a base to perform the Lola’s overhaul. Verizon IndyCar Series team Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, which fielded Wilson for two seasons, kindly invited the restoration project into its shop where a complete teardown, refurbishment of mechanical and electronic components, and painting and reassembly of the rolling chassis (minus engine) took place in recent months.

Finished in its immaculate Toronto livery, which featured CDW as the primary sponsor, the Pettits were understandably pleased with the outcome.

“As we researched the car and found out it was Justin’s (Wilson) car he won his first race in, then we knew the reason for keeping the car,” they said. “Thanks to everyone who has donated time and energy into getting the car ready for sale.”

Not only does the mint Lola B05/00 represent an important vehicle in the life of a beloved driver, it also carries many of the personal items Wilson used–the sculpted seat, seat belts, and molded steering wheel—that were used on the path to victory. Wilson’s race-used seat, left inside the car, will go to its eventual owner with the full blessing of Justin Wilson’s widow Julia, who also helped with the restoration in Indy.

Indebted to the many individuals and companies that donated time, materials, parts or equipment to bring Wilson’s Lola back to its original state, Mower expressed immense appreciation for the selfless acts that made the restoration possible.

“When Jimmy (Vasser) approached us with the idea, we felt very honored to be involved in restoring this car, and such an important part of Justin’s motor racing history,” said Mower, who served as Wilson’s team manager on two occasions. “More importantly, my wife Marianne and I, were graced with the titles of godparents to Justin’s daughters Jane and Jess, so to help on this project and aid our goddaughters’ future was an opportunity we can’t help but feel the big man himself may have steered our way!”

With a small army of volunteers and supporters to thank, the project leader revealed a list that speaks to the respect and admiration Wilson garnered during his 12 seasons in Champ Car and IndyCar.

“We had amazing mechanics and engineers who completed the tear down and rebuild on their time off, including Richard Howard, Tim Finley, Michael Cannon, Josh Junge, Ryan Stott, and my wife, Marianne,” Mower said. “We must thank TJ Eacret at Passport Transport for delivering the car at cost from Las Vegas, Dennis Reinbold and Chase Selman at DRR for giving this project a home, KV Racing for providing equipment and hardware for the rebuild, Alex Londe from Can Am Cars for providing all the original Lola parts we were missing for the rebuild, and Ken Kane from Sherwin Williams for donating all the paint.”

The community-based effort, which drew from numerous local race teams and businesses that support the industry, added further depth to the benevolent endeavor.

“With Sherwin Williams’ help, then the car went to Tod Weed at Indy Paint Shop who completed the awesome paint job,” Mower continued. “Justin’s dear friend and RuSport manager Jeremy Dale provided the original livery rendering and paint code numbers. Kathi Lauterbach chased down missing files for the graphics we needed, and Nick Ford and graphics crew from Chip Ganassi Racing produced and applied all the decals.

“Bill Lefeber at IS-Motorsports rebuilt the steering wheel back to original specifications, Mark Williamson at Performance Tire and Bridgestone donated and mounted the new set of Bridgestone tires, and at the very beginning, the genesis of the project, Jeremy Shaw researched and confirmed the history to validate this was indeed the chassis that Justin drove to his first Champ Car win. Every contribution, at every step, was so incredibly important, and now we’re finished.”

The next step for Wilson’s Lola, and whether it will be offered via auction or to a direct buyer, will be determined after Sunday’s Indy 500.