If you’ll be in Charlotte for Sprint All-Star Race or Coke 600, hang out with some of NASCAR’s biggest stars

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One of the best parts of having the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600 on back-to-back weekends in the Charlotte area are the numerous opportunities for interaction between NASCAR drivers and their fans.

If you’re going to be in the area during that time, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the appearances, many of which are free to attend.

Courtesy of our good friends at Jayski.com, here’s a partial list of which drivers will be doing what and where they’ll be doing it (all times Eastern):

May 15, 3 to 6 pm: Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, LiftMaster Community Day at Chip Ganassi Racing, 8500 Westmoreland Drive, Concord, N.C.

May 16, 2 pm: Marvin Panch at Scott’s Collectibles, 934 Cloverleaf Plaza, Kannapolis, N.C.

May 16, 4 pm: Autograph session, featuring Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr. and Brian Vickers. Located at Sprint Experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS). Fans must acquire a wristband by participating in an activity at The Sprint Experience between noon and 3:00 PM on May 16. Wristbands will be limited to 100 per driver pairing.

May 17, Sprint Experience at CMS: Renowned NASCAR artist Sam Bass (1 pm), Jamie McMurray (3:45), David Ragan (4:15), Kyle Busch (4:45).

May 17, 3:40 pm: Ryan Newman at RCR merchandise hauler at CMS.

May 17, time TBA: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick to appear at Hunt Brothers Pizza Party at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase a Hunt Brothers Pizza Party Pass. For more information, see charlottemotorspeedway.com/huntbrothers/.

May 18, all day: Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, Rex White, Ned Jarrett, Marvin Panch, Neil Castles, Geoff Bodine to appear at Memory Lane Museum, 769 River Hwy Mooresville NC. Admission (includes access to museum) $10.00 for adults, $6.00 for kids 6-12 years old.

May 19, time TBA: Alex Bowman, Ryan Truex, Matt Crafton, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Tyler Young, Ryan Preece, Corey Lajoie, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Daniel Suarez and Mackena Bell will appear at GoPro Motorplex, 130 Motorplex Drive, Mooresville, N.C., as part of the First Annual Veteran Kart Challenge to Benefit Service Disabled Veterans. For more info, visit gopromotorplex.com

May 20, time TBA: Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Michael McDowell, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex, Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Drew Herring, Timmy Hill, Scott Speed, Landon Cassill, Blake Koch, Kevin Swindell, Dylan Kwasniewski, Johanna Long, Joey Coulter, Shane Stewart will appear at GoPro Motorplex, 130 Motorplex Drive, Mooresville, N.C. The Little 600 is a FREE fan event with a $10 parking fee. The event night will also feature the Lady 600, a 10-lap rental kart race among some of the most well-known females in the racing industry, including NASCAR driver’s wives and girlfriends. For more info, visit gopromotorplex.com

May 21, 11 am to 3 pm, Michael Waltrip Racing Fan Fest, featuring Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. Live SiriusXM radio broadcast from site. Autograph schedule: Burton 11:00 to noon, Bowyer noon to 1:00, Waltrip 1:00 to 2:00. MWR is at 20310 Chartwell Center Drive off exit 28 on I-77 in Cornelius, N.C.

May 21, 6 pm: Ty Dillon, Austin Dillon, and Richard Childress at Bass Pro Shops, 8181 Concord Mills Blvd., Concord, N.C.

May 21, time TBA: J.J. Yeley, Jimmy Elledge and Tyler Reddick at Millbridge Speedway 6670 Mooresville Road Salisbury, N.C. More info: minioutlawseries.com

May 22, 10 am: Richard Petty Motorsports Fan Appreciation Day, 7065 Zephyr Place NW, Concord, N.C. Slated to appear: Richard Petty, Dale Inman, Marcos Ambrose, Aric Almirola, Dakoda Armstrong and Corey LaJoie. Note: wristbands for autographs to be handed out at 8 a.m.

May 22, 8 am to 5 pm: Roush Fenway Racing Fan Appreciation Day, 4600 Roush Place, Concord, N.C. Appearing: Trevor Bayne, Ryan Reed, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, and Jack Roush. Autograph session tickets first-come, first-served basis, beginning at 8:00 AM with distribution lines opening at 5:00 AM. Autograph session schedule: 10 am – Roush, Bayne, Buescher and Reed.  11 am – Biffle and Stenhouse. Noon – Edwards.

May 22, 10 a.m.: Kasey Kahne Racing Fan Appreciation Day, 265 Cayuga Drive, Mooresville, N.C. Kahne will be signing autographs with his team’s open wheel drivers, Daryn Pittman, Brad Sweet and Cody Darrah. Autographs begin at 10 am, followed by a Q&A. Must obtain wristband at store between May 19-21, from 9:30 am to 5 pm. More info: kaseykahneracing.com.

May 22, 1 pm: Brendan Gaughan, Scott’s Collectibles, 934 Cloverleaf Plaza, Kannapolis, N.C.

May 22, 1 pm: Patrick Staropoli and Tyler Young at the Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte for an autograph session. More info: 600festival.com.

May 22, 7 pm: Donnie Allison, Justin Allison, Ross Chastain, Jeremy Clements, Jamie Dick, Brennan Newberry, Taylor Stricklin, Robert Yates, Grant Enfinger at the Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte for an autograph session. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, Noon: Michael Annett at Team Chevy display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, all day: J.R. Motorsports Fan Days. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Regan Smith and Chase Elliott will sign autographs from 1 to 2 pm. Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Karsyn Elledge and JRM Late Model drivers Josh Berry and William Byron will sign autographs from 11:45 to 12:45 PM. Fans must have a wristband to receive an autograph. There will be no photos taken with drivers. To enter for your chance to win a wristband, visit JRMRacing.com. JRM is at 349 Cayuga Drive, Mooresville, N.C.

May 23, all day: Hendrick Motorsports Fan Appreciation Day. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Chad Knaus, Kenny Francis, Alan Gustafason, Steve Letarte, and Rick Hendrick to appear in fan Q&A sessions throughout the day. No autographs will take place during the event. Sessions are as follows: 3:05-3:30 — Francis (No. 5 crew chief), Gustafson (No. 24 crew chief). 3:35-4:00 — Knaus (No. 48 crew chief), Letarte (No. 88 crew chief). 4:05-4:30 – Gordon. 4:35-5:00 – Kahne. 5:05-5:30 – Earnhardt. 5:35-6:00 Johnson. 6:05-6:30 — Rick Hendrick. More info: hendrickmotorsports.com.

May 23, 6:45 pm: Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Coca-Cola stage on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 23, 7 pm: Ross Chastain, Jamie Dick, Ernie Irvan, Jared Irvan, Blake Koch, Brennan Newberry, Jimmy Weller at Creative Loafing display on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 24, 6:45 pm: Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle at Coca-Cola stage on Speed Street in downtown Charlotte. More info: 600festival.com.

May 25, time TBA: Ryan Newman at Sprint Experience at CMS.

May 25, time TBA: Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart at Coca-Cola pre-race party at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase a Coke Party Pass. More info: charlottemotorspeedway.com/cokepartypass/.

May 25, time TBA: Carl Edwards, Eric Almirola, Jimmy Fennig at Ford Racing Hospitality at CMS. To attend, fans must purchase Ford Racing VIP Hospitality Pass. More info: charlottemotorspeedway.com/fordracing/.

For more appearances or changes, click here to visit Jayski.com’s Driver Appearances page.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

WATCH LIVE: Australian GP on NBCSN, NBC Sports app from 12am ET

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The new Formula 1 season kicks off this Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix (live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET) as a new era for the sport gets underway.

New rules, new drivers and even a new owner of the series all adds up to make 2017 a season of change, with the established status quo in recent years set to be challenged.

Mercedes faced a stringent test from Ferrari in qualifying on Saturday, but it was Lewis Hamilton who once again took pole position after fending off Sebastian Vettel in the final Q3 shootout.

It may have been a familiar result, being Mercedes’ 16th-straight pole, yet the stage is set for a closer fight on Sunday, with a number of storylines due to play out up and down the grid.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 12am ET. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

You can also try out a new ‘Mosaic View’ for the race that includes the race simulcast, in-car cameras, driver tracker and pit lane cam. CLICK HERE to watch the Mosaic View live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground at Albert Park providing updates and interviews throughout the race.

Also be sure to follow the @F1onNBCSports Twitter account for live updates throughout the race.

Ricciardo hit with five-spot grid penalty for gearbox change

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Daniel Ricciardo’s already tough Australian Grand Prix weekend has been dealt another blow, with the Red Bull Racing team confirming it would need to change the gearbox on his RB13 chassis.

As a result, Ricciardo’s 10th place grid position will now be 15th following the five-spot grid penalty that’s assessed for that change.

Coverage of the Australian Grand Prix begins at midnight ET on NBCSN with F1 Countdown. Lights out are at 1 a.m. ET.

Ricciardo was due to line up 10th anyway after his crash in qualifying yesterday, and repairs to the car have necessitated this gearbox change.

It makes the home race a little bit tougher for Ricciardo, but on the bright side, it should allow us to see what the “Honey Badger” is capable of passing or strategy-wise, and if overtaking will be possible given the new cars and from such a low grid position after a rare unforced error.

What to watch for: Australian Grand Prix (NBCSN, NBC Sports app from midnight ET)

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For all of changes that had taken place over the winter, qualifying for Formula 1’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix delivered a familiar result.

For the 16th race in a row, it was a Mercedes that captured pole position, with three-time champion Lewis Hamilton pulling clear in Q3. It marked his 62nd career pole and his sixth in Australia, where he made his F1 debut 10 years ago.

But the status quo from 2016 has been broken up, even if Mercedes took pole yet again. Ferrari put up a good fight courtesy of Sebastian Vettel, who split the Silver Arrows and scored his first front-row start since Singapore 2015.

Qualifying was filled with plenty of interesting storylines, leaving things finely poised for the opening round of the 2017 season.

It’s time to shake off the winter rust: Formula 1 is back.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight ET on Sunday.

Here is what to watch for in tomorrow’s race.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Hamilton, Vettel prepare for first act of title battle

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel may have won six of the seven drivers’ titles since 2010, but we are yet to see the two go mano a mano for a championship. That may be all set to change this year.

Ferrari has made significant progress over the winter, proof of that being the disappointment felt by the team as Vettel was only second and not on pole. For a team that would have been happy with fifth at points last year, it marks a big, big step forward.

Hamilton certainly looks to be in the same kind of groove that delivered four straight race wins to close out 2016. He is upbeat, relaxed and looks very comfortable in himself – and when Hamilton is in this kind of shape, it adds another layer of strength to one of the finest grand prix racers in F1 history.

Having Hamilton and Vettel lock out the front row in Australia could be a nice bit of foreshadowing of the title race to come. Let’s hope we see them duke it out on Sunday, and finally make clear who holds the upper-hand in the Mercedes-Ferrari fight.

What can Bottas do on his Mercedes debut?

Valtteri Bottas was impressive in qualifying, finishing just three-tenths of a second shy of Hamilton on pole and securing third place on the grid for his Mercedes debut. For starters, it was really good going – yet the Finn was disappointed not to have made the front row or matched Hamilton.

For the race on Sunday, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Bottas could chalk up his maiden grand prix victory. His race pace in second practice on Friday was comparable to that of Hamilton, and easily clear of the Ferrari drivers. Naturally, fuel loads and engine modes need to be taken into account – but Bottas can certainly get in the mix.

The biggest thing for Bottas will be getting to grips with life at the sharp-end of the grid. Sure, he’s flirted with the front before during his time at Williams, but this is different. A podium finish is no longer the target; it’s the expectation. How he soaks up the pressure on debut tomorrow will be fascinating to see.

New start procedure set to spice things up

As part of F1’s push to increase the challenge posed to drivers, a revision of the start procedure and available aids will get its first official run-through tomorrow.

Stricter rules regarding clutch bite points and paddle placement are set to make the perfect start very, very hard to find, most likely creating greater position change off the line. The way Kevin Magnussen put it during testing was that before, so long as the drivers hit somewhere between 10 and 90 percent of their clutch bite point, they’d get a good getaway. Now the odds are much, much slimmer, making a good start down to luck as well as judgement.

Starts were a particular weakness of Lewis Hamilton through 2016, costing him the chance to fight for victory on numerous occasions, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the new rule. All of the drivers have been focusing on practice starts through testing and practice, yet none seem totally comfortable just yet…

Home hero Ricciardo looks for response after qualifying shunt

The home-race hoodoo for Australians in F1 continued on Saturday as Daniel Ricciardo crashed out of qualifying, resigning himself to 10th place on the grid and in need of quite the fightback on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the weekend aiming to be the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race in F1, with none making the top three since the event became a world championship round in 1985.

Red Bull has struggled for pace for much of the weekend, with setup issues leaving Ricciardo adrift in Friday practice. Teammate Max Verstappen also failed to impress in qualifying, finishing well off the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers at the front in P5.

For Ricciardo, starting P10 is hardly the end of the world. With the start offering a good opportunity to get ahead and the pace of the Red Bull RB13 clearly superior to that of many cars around him, he can certainly battle back into the top five – but that home podium may need to wait for another year…

Overtaking questions set to be answered

As exciting as the new regulations for 2017 have been, and as quick as the cars are for both the drivers to drive and the fans to watch, there is still a big question mark of whether or not the racing itself will improve.

The addition of downforce to the cars has allowed lap times to be slashed, yet it is also set to make following other drivers all the more difficult. If you can’t get close to the car ahead, you’ll struggle to overtake. That’s the thinking.

Sunday will be the first true test of that. The race will be much quicker than last year’s and certainly look more spectacular, yet with a fine line between one and two stops, and the possibility of a lack of movement once the start is done with, F1’s ‘brave new world’ could get a rude awakening.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

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

* Lance Stroll received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change following FP3.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from midnight ET on Sunday.

Maverick Vinales takes Qatar MotoGP pole as qualifying is rained off

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Maverick Viñales will make his Yamaha MotoGP debut from pole position after qualifying at Qatar’s Losail International Circuit was rained off on Saturday evening.

Viñales claimed his maiden MotoGP race win last year with Suzuki, prompting a move to Yamaha in place of three-time champion Jorge Lorenzo, who made a switch to Ducati.

After impressing throughout pre-season testing, Viñales laid down an early marker in Qatar by setting the pace in practice.

His performances would prove key as rain on Saturday in Qatar forced officials to cancel qualifying, leading them to combine the times from practice to form the grid.

Viñales’ time of 1:54.316 from FP1 handed him his first MotoGP pole by half a second from Suzuki replacement Andrea Iannone, while defending world champion Marc Marquez will start third for Honda.

2015 and 2016 Moto2 champion Johann Zarco will make his MotoGP debut from fourth on the grid, with Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso fifth ahead of Scott Redding.

Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi will begin his search for a 10th title from P10 on the grid, two places ahead of perennial rival Lorenzo, whose Ducati debut will come from P12.