What a difference a week makes: Clint Bowyer goes from worst finish of season at Richmond to best at Talladega

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It’s been 51 races – Charlotte in October 2012 – since Clint Bowyer last went to victory lane in a Sprint Cup event.

While he didn’t win in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, Bowyer took a step in the right direction, finishing third.

It was his best finish thus far in this season’s first 10 races and his first top-five showing since the 2013 season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway.

With the Sprint Cup Series heading to Bowyer’s home track of Kansas Speedway this Saturday night, a place he’s still looking for his first career win at, Sunday’s finish at ‘Dega was a step in the right direction towards breaking the longest winless streak of Bowyer’s career.

When asked if his showing was a combination of gratification for coming so close, yet also frustration for still not breaking through for a win, Bowyer admitted to mixed emotions.

“Any time you finish on the podium at Talladega you’re somewhat excited but any time you’re that close to the front and taking that checkered flag, it’s pretty easy to get greedy in this sport,” Bowyer said. “It’s kind of just a little bit of both.”

This is a crucial year for Bowyer, who leaves Talladega climbing from 20th to 18th in the standings. Not only is the winless streak ever-present in his mind, he’s also in the final year of his contract with Michael Waltrip Racing.

While it’s likely Bowyer will re-sign with MWR for another three years at some point, he also has to worry about making the Chase for the expanded and revamped Sprint Cup.

If he could put together a season like he did in his first season at MWR – 2012, when he won a single-season career high of three races and ultimately finished second in the overall standings to Brad Keselowski – it would certainly help Bowyer’s leverage when it comes to signing on the dotted line.

Bowyer and Greg Biffle were chasing eventual winner Denny Hamlin on the final lap at Talladega when a wreck occurred behind them. It left both Bowyer and Biffle befuddled of sorts: do they race hard to try and overtake Hamlin, or do they wait and anticipate a yellow caution, thus freezing them in their respective spots on the track?

It was the latter, as it turned out.

“Long day, long race, but it’s all about being there at the end,” Bowyer said. “The only way I know to guarantee myself and my team that I can at least give them a chance is to be patient and be boring, lead a boring race there for a while and then go for broke at the end.

“We did that, we got up in position and everything was going right, and it’s just like Greg said, you’re kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Still, a season-best third-place finish is significantly better than all of the other finishes Bowyer has had this season, especially his 43rd-place DNF at Richmond last week.

“Blew three tires and burnt the car to the ground – it was a pretty crummy weekend,” Bowyer said. “(I’m glad) to get things turned back around on a positive note.

“I just told Rob (Kauffman, MWR team co-owner), my boss, I turned to him and looked at all three of his cars (Bowyer in third, Brian Vickers in fourth and team co-owner Michael Waltrip in 25th) sitting out here and I said, ‘Did you really just finish Talladega with not a scratch on all three cars? That’s pretty lucky.”

Now if only that luck can continue Saturday in Kansas.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.