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Jimmie Johnson overcomes adversity to get back on track with ninth-place finish at Kansas

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Another race, another failed attempt to reach victory lane.

But Jimmie Johnson showed in Saturday night’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway that he’s not far at all from finally earning his first win of the 2014 season.

Johnson led 24 of Saturday’s 267 laps and ultimately finished ninth.

Now that may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but consider how many laps Johnson led in the previous four races combined: a total of just 10 (eight at Darlington and two at Talladega).

It’s also the most laps led by the driver of the No. 48 since he dominated at Martinsville, leading 296 of the 500 laps, only to finish second to Kurt Busch. What’s more, it’s Johnson’s best finish — and the sixth top-10 thus far in 2014 — since finishing third three races ago at Darlington (and then in the following two races finished 32nd at Richmond and 23rd at Talladega).

With teammate and the co-owner of Johnson’s car, Jeff Gordon, winning, you can bet Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus will be doubling up on their efforts. Now that Gordon has gotten the winless monkey off his back, that monkey is now resting squarely on Johnson’s shoulders.

That’s a big positive, as Johnson heads to his third-most successful track, Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he’s earned six of his 66 career Sprint Cup wins.

And while Johnson has not won at Charlotte since the fall of 2009, Gordon’s win won’t only motivate his own team, it will also motivate Johnson and his team.

Johnson likely could and probably would have finished higher at Kansas had it not been for clutch failure early in the race. While other drivers and teams may have been happy to finish 30th or worse with a problem like that, Johnson’s No. 48 crew found a way to keep him on the track.

And the end result, while looking just like a typical ninth-place finish in the race results, was actually a win of sorts in and of itself.

“Overcoming adversity,” Johnson said when asked after the race what stood out the most in the 267-lap event. “We didn’t have a clutch in the car so pit stops were limited and track position was a big key.

“You just really had to grind it out today and then we did and we got a decent finish.”

Compounding problems is his car was running so low on fuel that Knaus and Johnson were unable to gamble on fuel mileage like they have done so many times in the past.

Rather, Johnson came into the pits 12 laps from the finish for a splash of fuel. And while he likely gave up perhaps a chance at a top-5 finish otherwise, that he was able to get on and off pit road so quickly – and add enough fuel to get him to the end of the race – was further testimony to just how good his overall effort truly was.

“We just didn’t have that optimism on the radio (to think he could make it to the end with the fuel he had remaining), so I don’t think so,” Johnson said.

“(But) by doing that (electing to stop for a splash of gas), we were able to get a top ten (finish).”

It may not have been the elusive win Johnson has been chasing, but doing what he did – and how he did it – only served to show that the No. 48 team will get to victory lane very soon. Perhaps as early as the next points-paying event, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on May 25.

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Vettel’s focus on performance, not new contract, at Ferrari

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 20: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari in the Drivers Press Conference during previews ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel is not yet thinking about negotiating a new Formula 1 contract with Ferrari beyond the end of 2017, preferring to focus on the final four races of the current season and developing a new car for next year.

Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015 and scored three race wins in his maiden season with the team, but has failed to reach the top step of the podium in 2016 as rivals Mercedes and Red Bull have pulled clear in the pecking order.

Vettel’s contract with Ferrari expires at the end of next season, but the German stressed that both he and the team are focused on improving its on-track results first.

“I think we are all fairly busy at this time to focus on the four races that are left and focus in particular to prepare for next year,” Vettel said.

“So I think that’s where, honestly, the main focus lies. I don’t think it’s that important to look into details.

“My contract is all fine for next year, so as I said, with a lot of things happening back at the factory, back in Maranello, I know we’re very, very busy and that’s where I want also the focus to be.”

Vettel remains hopeful of breaking Ferrari’s win drought in 2016, believing the team to have made a good step forward in recent weeks ahead of Sunday’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

“I think there is always a chance [of winning],” Vettel said.

“I think obviously in Japan we did some progress, so that was a positive, but as you said, it was probably was a good summary of our season so far.

“Nevertheless, I think the most important thing is that we fight, we give everything we have, and it could have been a better in Japan, it wasn’t and so we’re ready for this race.”

Hamilton would take F1 title defeat to Rosberg ‘like a man’

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 20:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP in the Drivers Press Conference during previews ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 20, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says he would take a potential Formula 1 championship defeat to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg “like a man” should the German win the title in 2016.

Hamilton enters this weekend’s United States Grand Prix trailing Rosberg by 33 points in the drivers’ standings with four rounds remaining this season.

Rosberg is chasing his maiden F1 title in 2016, having been the runner-up behind Hamilton for the past two years, and is now in a position where four second-place finishes would be enough to clinch him the championship.

With title permutations already being worked out, Hamilton was asked in Thursday’s press conference in Austin how he would react to Rosberg winning the championship.

“Try to take it like a man. You can’t win them all,” Hamilton said.

“Look at all the world champions in the past who’ve won championships and lost championships – it is part of the game.

“I am in the position right now where there are still a lot of points available so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got and still have the belief that anything is possible – but then I’ll move on.

“Once it’s decided and it happens, all I can do about it is shape the future, which is the next year. So, life will move on, we’ll go into next season and hopefully come back stronger.”

Hamilton was forced to miss a Pirelli tire test in Barcelona last week due to a minor foot injury, but the Briton said he is now back to full fitness ahead of the race in Austin.

“I am 100 per cent, yeah, feeling great,” Hamilton said.

“I basically had an injury that I’ve been carrying generally all year long, in both feet. Just induced by running. Unfortunately the physio said that it just takes a lot of stretching and it just heals over a long time.

“At the time I woke up in the morning, I was feeling quite a lot of pain the day before, and it hadn’t diminished.

“The most important thing was to be fresh for here and feeling better for here. This is actually the first week that it’s felt good.”

Ricciardo on Webber: “He was a helping hand when I needed it”

during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on April 3, 2016 in Sakhir, Bahrain.
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AUSTIN, Texas – Daniel Ricciardo has hailed his Australian countryman Mark Webber, after Webber announced just prior to last week’s FIA World Endurance Championship Six Hours of Fuji that he would retire at year’s end.

The two’s Formula 1 careers overlapped for only three seasons, from 2011 to 2013, before Ricciardo stepped up to Red Bull Racing in 2014 to replace Webber after he departed for the Porsche LMP1 program in the FIA WEC.

Webber, now 40, helped the 27-year-old Ricciardo throughout his career, and Ricciardo took the time to praise his countryman.

Not without adding his trademark sense of humor, first.

“Well, that Maaahhhk Webbaahhh,” Ricciardo said to lead it off.

“But yeah, it’s been an interesting career. Obviously, he’s had a pretty successful second period of his racing career post-F1. And I think he’s done well. So he was able to achieve that. He’s going to retire with a lot of happiness and comfort.”

Ricciardo said Webber was the Australian racing star his generation could relate to.

“For me, I think the impact he had growing up, obviously I knew of (Sir Jack) Brabham and (Alan) Jones and previous Australians before me, but Mark was the one I watched,” he explained. As a kid, I watched him growing up. And then, when he moved here (F1), the local racing community was talking about it.

“It was there in front of me when he was doing it and that sort of paved what seemed like an achievable path to follow.

“In the end, he was always nice to me. He was always there to call him, to give me advice. He understand the Red Bull system a little bit better. He was just a helping hand when I needed it.

“For us Aussies, it gave me a little bit of inspiration and motivation to move to Europe and follow what he was doing at the time.”

Ricciardo and Webber’s most memorable moment together this year was when Webber, who served as the podium interviewer at the Belgian Grand Prix, did Ricciardo’s now-signature “Shoey” at that race.

Nico Rosberg won with Ricciardo in second, but Webber succumbed to pressure in the moment and soaked up the taste of champagne out of a sweaty racing boot.

That’s dedication for you, mates.

Podcast: Haas F1 drivers explore NASCAR opportunities… at Talladega?

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 22:  Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 and Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico and Haas F1 pose with the new car outside the garage during day one of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 22, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez will carry the home country’s flag for Haas F1 this weekend in the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit Of The Americas.

But the Formula One drivers also would like to race at other American tracks — namely those that play host to NASCAR races.

As guests on the latest NASCAR on NBC podcast, Grosjean and Gutierrez both said they have lobbied team owner Gene Haas about trying a stock car for Stewart-Haas Racing.

“I’d love to give it a go and try a day or two of testing and then see how we’re doing and from there have a go,” Grosjean said. “I do go-kart, I do ice racing, I do Formula One. I love driving, so NASCAR would be a really good thing to try.”

Said Gutierrez: “For me, it’s all about the curiosity to try something completely different. I’ve mentioned it once we should it as a team activity. It’s just (being) curious about a different concept.”

Grosjean has sat in an SHR Sprint Cup car and explored the concept of racing at Watkins Glen International, but scheduling logistics precluded it this year. He is hoping to revisit the concept of racing a NASCAR road course in 2017.

“Everything is different in the driving style,” the Frenchman said. “We brake very hard, very late, I’ve heard in NASCAR you don’t need to brake so hard.

“It would be different not being in the center of the car, with gear shift, but it would be a great experience. You’re fighting against the best drivers in NASCAR. They’ve been doing it for generations. It’d be a nice challenge, experience, and I’m sure I’d enjoy it.”

Gutierrez has more ambitious goals of driving a stock car on an oval, playfully suggesting a car swap with fellow countryman Daniel Suarez (a longtime friend whom he often raced while growing up in Mexico).

“It could be interesting just to go flat out and feel the limit of the car all the time,” Gutierrez said. “I’d go for a big one. Talladega. The craziest one.”

It won’t happen this weekend, of course. While NASCAR will be whittling its playoff field to eight drivers Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Grosjean and Gutierrez will be racing in Austin, Texas.

It’s been an impressive debut season for Haas F1, which has scored points with Grosjean and advanced both cars to the final round of qualifying for the first time two weeks ago at Japan.

Grosjean said the team’s success is making inroads with American race fans.

“On social media, I can see that the United States grew massively in the percentage of my followers, which was great,” he said. “I wish we had more races in the U.S. It’s such a big country, we could have two to three grands prix. Definitely, things have changed, and people are really following us. It’ll be interesting to see how Austin goes.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.