Sam Hornish Jr. celebrates Sunday's win at Iowa Speedway. (Photo: AP/Charlie Neibergall)

McMurray, Hornish wins prove nice guys do finish first

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Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Sunday afternoon’s Nationwide Series’ Get to Know Newton 250 at Iowa Speedway will go down in history as two of the best feel-good stories of 2014.

Two of the nicest and most respected drivers in the sport — Sprint Cup’s Jamie McMurray and former Cup-turned-NNS driver Sam Hornish Jr. — went to victory lane. McMurray earned a cool million bucks in the All-Star race, while Hornish won in what was the second of what will be just seven NNS starts this season for his new team, Joe Gibbs Racing.

Admittedly, it’s not been easy on either driver in recent years. McMurray has particularly struggled this season, with just two top-10 finishes in the first 11 points-paying races, leaving him in 24th place in the Sprint Cup standings heading into this Sunday’s longest and most grueling race of the season, the 600-mile Coca-Cola 600 at CMS.

If there’s a tinge of sadness about McMurray’s win Saturday is that it didn’t count in the standings. If it had, he’d be that much closer to qualifying for this year’s expanded and revised format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But at the same time, McMurray’s win showed himself, his team and the rest of the Sprint Cup Series that he can not only win, but that Saturday’s triumph — even though he didn’t earn any points — could very well wind up being the linchpin to start turning his season around.

Although we’re talking apples to oranges — 90 laps in the All-Star Race vs. 400 at Charlotte — McMurray most definitely can ride the momentum and confidence gained from his All-Star triumph to reinvigorate the entire No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team going forward.

Hornish, on the other hand, is in a different situation but can still prosper from the confidence and motivation earned in Sunday’s win. After his split with long-time team owner Roger Penske at the end of last season — basically being replaced by the young driver who finished runner-up to him Sunday, Ryan Blaney — Hornish caught on with Joe Gibbs Racing.

It wasn’t a full-time ride, but at the same time it was a ride nonetheless. Sure, it was only for seven races, and Hornish was indeed thankful and grateful for it, but at the same time it was an opportunity to build something at JGR.

That’s exactly what Hornish has done. In just two of seven scheduled starts in the No. 54 Toyota Camry, he has a pole and fifth-place finish at Talladega two weeks ago, followed up in a big way with his win Sunday at Iowa.

McMurray and Hornish have had a rough go of it in their respective careers.

For example, McMurray had a dream season in 2010, starting with a win in the Daytona 500, added a triumph in the Brickyard 400 and yet still fell short of making the Chase that season. A bit of consolation came in his win that fall in the 500-mile race at Charlotte, but he still finished 14th overall in the final season standings.

In fact, McMurray has never, ever qualified for the Chase.

But a win like Saturday’s could help him change that.

As for Hornish, he was the good soldier at Penske Racing for several years, competing in both the Nationwide and Cup series. But for a variety of reasons — some sponsorship-based, others performance-based — Hornish never seemed to get the breaks or chances that former teammates Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano did.

When it appeared he’d never get any further at Team Penske, Hornish moved to JGR, taking whatever opportunity he could — but with the hope that it would eventually pay off either as a full-time NNS ride or maybe even move into the long-rumored fourth Sprint Cup team (that is, provided Carl Edwards doesn’t jump ship and move into that fourth ride after this season).

Joe and J.D. Gibbs knew Hornish could drive. After all, he was a former Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar series champion.

And while Hornish’s decision to leave Penske came at a point when most other seats for 2014 rides were already full, to the Gibbs’ credit they still managed to find a home for the Ohio native.

It’s been a new start and a whole new way of doing things than what Hornish was used to at Team Penske, but he seems to have adapted quite well already to his new team and new surroundings.

Yes, what happened this weekend couldn’t have happened to two better and nicer guys. You could tell how appreciative they both were to see the end result of all their hard work wind up with a checkered flag. They most certainly didn’t take for granted reaching victory lane, unlike some drivers who win an inordinate number of races, yet never seem as sincere or take the wins as meaningful as guys like McMurray and Hornish did this weekend.

Given some of the adversity both McMurray and Hornish have gone through in their careers, maybe it’s not too late for them to finally get their just rewards and even greater success that they’ve worked so hard to attain. It truly couldn’t happen to a nicer pair of guys.

Kaltenborn calls Ericsson, Nasr behavior ‘unacceptable’

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 28: Marcus Ericsson of Sweden driving the (9) Sauber F1 Team Sauber C35 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during final practice ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 28, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn hit out at drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr following their on-track collision in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Nasr was given the call to let Ericsson past when running in 15th place with 30 laps remaining, but demanded to be given a reason by his Sauber team.

Ericsson joked that his teammate’s radio must not be working before taking matters into his own hands and trying to force his way past on-track at La Rascasse.

The two drivers collided and spun before ultimately retiring within a few laps of each other.

The stewards looked dimly on the incident, handing Ericsson a three-place grid drop for the Canadian Grand Prix.

However, Kaltenborn felt that both of her drivers were to blame for the incident.

“It was unacceptable behaviour by both drivers,” Kaltenborn said.

“Today the work of the whole team ended in a collision. Marcus and Felipe both know how much work is put into every race weekend. They have the responsibility to make it to the end of the race.

“After evaluating the overall situation, it was important to bring the fastest car as far as possible to the front, so that we were able to used any chances. Our decision was based on the data from both cars.

“After this, we have clarified the situation internally and both drivers are aware of their responsibilities. Such an incident will not happen again.”

Both Nasr and Ericsson apologized to the team for the incident.

“I was told that Felipe received a call via the radio. Then I saw a gap and tried to overtake him, but we all saw what then happened,” Ericsson said.

“It is a difficult situation for us, and it is even more important to stick together as a team in these times.

“I apologize, and I am sure that this will not happen again in the future.”

Nasr added: “For me it was not the right timing to swap positions. Suddenly, in Rascasse I felt my car being hit. It is surely disappointing for everyone as the whole team works very hard.

“I apologize for what happened. We need to make sure that this will never happen again.”

Horner: Red Bull owes Ricciardo an apology

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 29:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia drives the  Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer ahead of Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP, Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari  during the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 29, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Red Bull Racing Formula 1 chief Christian Horner conceded that the team owed driver Daniel Ricciardo an apology after a pit error cost him a likely win in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Ricciardo led comfortably in the first half of the race from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, but lost several seconds at his second pit stop after his crew failed to prepare the tires for his car in time.

Ricciardo emerged from the pits directly behind Hamilton, and would remain there until the checkered flag, leaving him despondent on the podium.

The Australian said he felt “screwed” and “hurt” after the second blunder from Red Bull in two weeks, having lost the chance to win the Spanish Grand Prix after a strategy error.

“A very disappointing day. We as a team owe Daniel a huge apology today as we failed to support him in the way we did to get him to his first pole position yesterday,” Horner said.

“The delay at his pit stop cost him the lead and despite some excellent driving to get close to Lewis, he couldn’t get past, as is so often the case here in Monaco.”

Despite cutting the gap to second-placed Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, Red Bull lost the chance for a bigger points haul when Max Verstappen crashed out just before half-distance, having started from the pit lane.

“Max put in some excellent laps to move through the field but unfortunately came unstuck at turn three pushing to improve position,” Horner said.

“We will review and re-group and all of the team will be aiming to continue our strong form in Canada.”

Tony Kanaan had a blast despite finishing 100th Indy 500 in fourth

during the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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He wasn’t in winning contention until late after starting 18th, but after back-to-back DNFs from accidents the last two years, fourth was almost a welcome tonic for Tony Kanaan and the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“I had a blast,” he said post-race. “I had the time of my life.”

Kanaan was one of the favorites to win, after setting the fastest lap in final practice for the race with a speed of 226.280 mph. It was clear the Ganassi team had made enough strides to his car on race setup to pull it off.

“When you have a good car all day and you’re fighting for the lead you cannot say it wasn’t fun,” Kanaan added.

Kanaan was still running fast at the end of the race, but rookie winner Alexander Rossi’s fuel mileage strategy made the difference in victory.

Among the top five drivers, Kanaan posted the fastest last lap with a speed of 220.294 mph. On fumes, Rossi was running 179.784 mph. Kanaan pitted with eight laps remaining in the race.

“Obviously toward the end there it got a little messy with where we were going to finish. We had to pit; this is racing.”

Hinchcliffe ends Indy 500 seventh, doubts victory was possible

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 29:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 ARROW Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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James Hinchcliffe felt content with his run to seventh in Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil despite starting from pole and remaining in the lead group of cars for much of the race.

Hinchcliffe spent much of the first stint of the race exchanging the lead back and forth with Ryan Hunter-Reay, but a fuel issue cost him time at the opening round of pit stops in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver battled his way back into contention for the win, only to suffer a loss in grip in the closing stages as temperatures rose at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A late splash-and-dash for fuel with four laps to go ended Hinchcliffe’s hopes of a famous victory, just over one year on from his devastating accident, leaving him to settle for P7 at the checkered flag.

“I have to give everybody on the Arrow crew a ton of credit for the effort the entire month,” Hinchcliffe said after the race.

“Coming in third at the GP of Indy, qualifying on the pole and the race here, it was a solid effort.

“We were super strong the first half and definitely had one of the cars to beat. It was really just track temperatures that caught us out there.

“We started losing grip as the temperatures came up late in the afternoon and the last two stints were a real struggle when we tried to make the tires last. Well, more than a stint because we came in for that splash of fuel at the end.

“A couple guys out there took a punt on fuel – congrats to Alex [Rossi, race winner] and great to see Honda back on top.

“Realistically, I think we had a third or fourth place effort today, which is nothing to turn your nose up at.”

Combined with the points for pole position, the ‘500 has seen Hinchcliffe rise from eighth to fifth in the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers’ championship, ranking as the lead Honda driver on 205 points.