Hendrick Motorsports power romps with Jeff Gordon win and five other top-9 finishers

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Jeff Gordon’s 89th career Sprint Cup win in Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway was only part of a bigger overall story for Hendrick Motorsports.

Gordon led a HMS juggernaut with all four of the company’s drivers finishing in the top nine — and two other drivers with an affiliate team ending up runner-up and in seventh-place.

Gordon HMS teammate Kasey Kahne wound up with a season-best (and first top-five finish) third-place showing, Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth and six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson finished ninth.

“Yeah, it went really good for us,” Kahne said in a post-race press conference. “We had a fast Farmers Insurance Chevy throughout the race, worked our way up. Some of the pit strategy and things, sequence more than anything.

“We got to the front there for a little bit, led some laps, felt really good at that point in time, and then we got a little tighter later and didn’t free up or tighten up enough there at the end when we put four tires back on. We just tried to run rights for too long.

“It was still a really solid run. Nice to run up front and be able to race hard the whole night. It was good for us.”

Kahne has struggled much of this season, but you could see a turnaround beginning in his prior two races, finishing 14th at Richmond and eighth at Talladega last Sunday.

Now that he has a season-best and first top-five, Kahne’s confidence is sure to grow even stronger heading into next Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race and then back to points racing in the season’s longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600, on May 25 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Our biggest deal is we’ve just been slow this season,” Kahne said. “Really haven’t been inconsistent or anything like that, we’ve just been slow each week. We tested here, we had that Goodyear tire test, and I felt like from that point on, we’ve actually had really fast cars.

“Richmond we were good, we had some things go on late in the race on pit road that we ended up 14th, but we had a top six or seven car, I felt like, that entire race.

“We ran well at Talladega and then came here and ran up front. We were good in practice. I think the Goodyear test here, for whatever reason, we were able to try some things and just look at stuff a little differently than what we had been, and it helped the 5 team, my guys, myself and Kenny and Chris, our communication together. It’s helped us a lot since then. I feel like that’s been the key, and ever since we tested here, we’ve ran much better and been a lot more competitive.”

While having all four HMS drivers in the top-nine was a big story in and of itself, two other drivers who drive for the HMS-affiliated Stewart Haas Racing were also powered to strong top-7 showings by HMS motors and chassis.

“The relationship that we have at Hendrick with Stewart-Haas is a very tight one that we share a lot of information,” race winner Jeff Gordon said. “Those guys have been so strong. We have been strong, it’s fun to go out there and race those guys for a win like that.”

Kevin Harvick came close to winning his third Cup race of the season, finishing second, less than two car lengths behind Gordon.

And Harvick’s SHR teammate, Danica Patrick, likely felt like a winner, earning the highest finish of her brief Sprint Cup career, ending up seventh in the race (the other two SHR drivers, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, struggled to finishes of 20th and 29th respectively at Kansas).

“It felt good,” Patrick said. “My goal at the beginning of the race was really just to stay up in that lead group. … What can I say? I’m really overall proud of the team for building cars like these, and it was so good.

“I know we haven’t had the best of times, but it’s days like today that we work hard for and it’s days like that when we do this enough, it’s the kind of things that materializes in wins.

“We just have to keep hanging around and doing what we’re doing and I’m just proud of everybody working hard and believing in me. We’re in the top 10 – yeah!”

That showing surpassed Patrick’s previous high finish of eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500.

“I think for her it’s just the confidence in knowing exactly what the car is going to do,” Harvick said. “Obviously, she’s run well all weekend, qualified well, raced well all night, and it’s just — there’s a lot of hurdles to overcome for her to make up that experience. I feel like we can help her speed that process up by just telling her some of the things that she should expect and do.

“As she went through the weekend, she kept her track position on the restarts. That’s probably the biggest thing. But I guess the one thing I did tell her was just to quit thinking about it and smash the gas.

“Sometimes your car is never going to be perfect, and you just have to take what it’ll give you and expect that every time you pit it’s going to be better, and if it’s not you adjust and move on.”

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Sauber’s Wehrlein rules himself out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan: