Jimmie Johnson breaks 2014 winless streak, captures Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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Jimmie Johnson fans can relax:

Their favorite driver finally won his first race of the 2014 Sprint Cup season, holding off late runs by Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As a result and with his 67th career Sprint Cup win, Johnson is now on-track to make this year’s new and revised format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, of which he’s the defending and six-time champion.

What a relief to end what had been tied for your worst winless start to a season, right, Jimmie?

“Absolutely, it’s great to win,” Johnson told Fox Sports in victory lane. “But I promise you, all the hype and concern and worry was elsewhere, it wasn’t in my head. There are plenty of voices in my head, I’m not going to lie.

“We’ve had a great race team, we’ve had opportunity in front of us and had stuff taken away from us, and we’ve had some bad races, I have to be honest about that, too.”

Johnson, who led 10 different times in Sunday’s race, moves up to third on the Chase-eligible standings and hopes Sunday is the first of many more wins to come.

“It was just a long race, so many things going on,” said Johnson, who snapped an overall 13-race winless streak that dated back to the latter part of last season. “Hopefully this 48 is heading that way and we get those other people thinking about us.”

Johnson, who started from the pole position, led a race-high 165 laps and ultimately won by 1.2 seconds over Harvick.

It was Johnson’s seventh career win at CMS, a new record for most wins by a driver at the 1.5-mile track.

Runner-up Harvick, who had won two of the last three 600s, led 100 laps — only to fall short.

Harvick called out his pit crew for falling short.

“We had a loose wheel and we got behind and it took us the rest of the night to get back up front,” Harvick told Fox Sports. “We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot on pit road and we have to get that cleaned up because we obviously can’t win races even with the fastest car if we make mistakes continuously on pit road. It’s frustrating.”

Kenseth, who led 33 laps, said he just wasn’t able to hold off Johnson from passing him late in the race and motor on to the checkered flag and victory lane.

“I thought we had a top-five car,” Kenseth said. “We had great strategy and great stops. They (his crew) had me in front of (Johnson) but just couldn’t hold them off. We just need to get a little better. … You’re disappointed when you don’t hold them off and don’t come home with a victory, but we were just too tight to hold them off.”

Carl Edwards finished fourth, while last week’s Sprint All-Star Race winner, Jamie McMurray, finished fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who led 43 laps before fading near the end of the event.

Johnson led after 100 miles, Harvick led after 200 and 300 miles, McMurray led after 400 miles and Keselowski led after 500 miles.

The Sprint Cup points standings saw marginal change in the top-10.

Gordon remains in first place, Kenseth is still in second (11 points behind Gordon), Kyle Busch remains in third and is now tied with Edwards (both -24), Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell to fifth place (-38), Johnson climbs one spot to sixth (-44), Joey Logano fell to seventh (-54), Brian Vickers (-67) moved up two places to eighth, Brad Keselowski moved up two places into a tie for ninth with Ryan Newman (both -71).

 

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Kurt Busch’s bid to become only the second driver to ever complete the “Double” – complete all 1,100 miles between the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 – came up short when his Stewart Haas Racing’s Chevrolet suffered motor failure on Lap 274, 126 laps from the finish.

Busch completed 906 miles of racing before the motor let go on the Charlotte Motor Speedway backstretch. Busch ultimately finished 40th on the 43-driver grid.

“The motor blew,” Busch told Fox Sports’ Jeff Hammond. “It acted like it swallowed three cylinders all at once, so it was real slow. It’s kind of a shame. It almost symbolizes how tough it’s been on the Haas Automation team. We gave it our all and were clawing our way back up.

“To feel the stock car right after driving an Indy car was a day I’ll never forget. And I can’t let the mood here with the car dampen with what happened up in Indy today. It was very special.”

Busch’s team co-owner, Tony Stewart, remains the only driver to complete both ends of the so-called “Double,” doing so in 2001.

“The Stewart-Haas guys gave me a good car tonight and the motor just went. Sometimes, that just happens.”

While upset at falling short of achieving his goal, Busch took the motor failure in stride.

“All-in-all, I’m satisfied,” he said. “I gave it my all.”

 

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Busch’s SHR teammate Danica Patrick wasn’t satisfied in her day, finishing 39th.

First, after quick repairs by her team allowed her to come back after being rammed in the back of her Chevy during Marcos Ambrose’s spin on Lap 235, Patrick’s day also ended early.

Patrick’s car was already operating with at least one cylinder down during much of the race. Prior to that happening, she had been challenging pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson for the lead early on.

But then came Lap 286, 12 laps after Busch’s motor blew up, and Patrick’s motor followed suit.

“Sorry guys, it’s definitely not what we had wanted, but we did some good things this weekend,” Patrick told her crew over the team radio.

Patrick was hoping for a second strong finish, having wound up with a career-best seventh-place finish two weeks ago at Kansas.

She had been optimistic coming into Sunday’s race after qualifying fourth and ranking in the top 10 in both final practice sessions on Saturday.

 

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The first big wreck of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 occurred on Lap 235 of the 400-lap event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Marcos Ambrose’s Ford spun. Patrick was close to avoiding the incident until Brian Scott couldn’t slow down in time, making contact with Patrick’s car and sending her into the wall, suffering moderate damage on her Chevrolet.

“Idiot,” Patrick said over her team radio. “I mean, really, who the hell did not see that coming?”

Also caught up in the wreck, Josh Wise then made contact with Landon Cassill.

Earlier in the race on Lap 160, David Gilliland‘s day came to an abrupt end when he apparently cut down a tire and slammed into the wall.

 

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Also of note, Jeff Gordon came into the race still suffering from back spasms that caused him to cut short his first practice run and completely miss the entire second practice session Saturday.

Even though Regan Smith was on standby to replace him if needed, Gordon managed to stay in the event for its entirety, finishing seventh.

“It was better than Saturday morning, that’s what I was thankful for,” Gordon said of how his back felt. “There were procedures and different work … there was quite a few people that were tending to me, and I appreciate every one of them and I don’t think I would have gotten through this long race (without their efforts).

“It was a good effort, I’m happy I got through it. It tells me what kind of threshold I have and I just wanted to show this team the kind of commitment I have to them because of what they’ve shown me this year.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

 

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Coca-Cola 600

Charlotte Motor Speedway

Concord, North Carolina

Sunday, May 25, 2014

               1. (1) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 400, $465626.

               2. (11) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 400, $304313.

               3. (12) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 400, $249941.

               4. (22) Carl Edwards, Ford, 400, $174980.

               5. (26) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 400, $186219.

               6. (16) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 400, $166870.

               7. (27) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 400, $169906.

               8. (21) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 400, $150834.

               9. (7) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400, $164761.

               10. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400, $166653.

               11. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, 400, $154546.

               12. (8) Joey Logano, Ford, 400, $151501.

               13. (18) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 400, $148468.

               14. (3) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 399, $131660.

               15. (42) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 399, $121260.

               16. (32) Austin Dillon #, Chevrolet, 399, $156696.

               17. (5) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 399, $146026.

               18. (25) Kyle Larson #, Chevrolet, 398, $134680.

               19. (10) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 398, $115460.

               20. (14) Trevor Bayne(i), Ford, 398, $103435.

               21. (24) Greg Biffle, Ford, 398, $146385.

               22. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 398, $112985.

               23. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 398, $121518.

               24. (34) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 398, $126643.

               25. (15) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 398, $129593.

               26. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 397, $137310.

               27. (31) Cole Whitt #, Toyota, 397, $96960.

               28. (39) Michael Annett #, Chevrolet, 396, $113893.

               29. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 396, $126255.

               30. (30) Michael McDowell, Ford, 396, $97685.

               31. (35) David Ragan, Ford, 395, $118793.

               32. (19) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, 395, $108457.

              33. (29) Alex Bowman #, Toyota, 392, $98760.

               34. (38) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 390, $106135.

               35. (43) Blake Koch(i), Ford, 390, $95485.

               36. (40) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 382, $95385.

               37. (17) Justin Allgaier #, Chevrolet, 378, $103154.

               38. (36) Ryan Truex #, Toyota, Engine, 303, $89350.

               39. (4) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Engine, 281, $95850.

               40. (28) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Engine, 271, $81350.

               41. (37) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Accident, 229, $77350.

               42. (41) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Engine, 162, $73350.

               43. (33) David Gilliland, Ford, Accident, 160, $77850.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  145.484 mph.

Time of Race:  4 Hrs, 07 Mins, 27 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.272 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 44 laps.

Lead Changes:  34 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   J. Johnson 0; B. Keselowski 1; J. Johnson 2-47; B. Keselowski 48-49; J. Johnson 50-75; K. Harvick 76-95; J. Johnson 96-97; K. Harvick 98-108; J. Johnson 109; K. Harvick 110-149; J. Johnson 150-164; B. Keselowski 165-191; K. Harvick 192-212; J. Gordon 213; D. Earnhardt Jr. 214; J. McMurray 215; K. Harvick 216-223; J. Johnson 224; D. Earnhardt Jr. 225-236; J. McMurray 237-240; M. Kenseth 241; J. McMurray 242-270; M. Kenseth 271-276; J. Gordon 277; J. Johnson 278-293; M. Kenseth 294-311; J. Johnson 312-330; B. Keselowski 331-343; A. Almirola 344; J. Johnson 345-373; J. Gordon 374-375; C. Edwards 376-379; J. Gordon 380-383; M. Kenseth 384-391; J. Johnson 392-400.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  J. Johnson 10 times for 164 laps; K. Harvick 5 times for 100 laps; B. Keselowski 4 times for 43 laps; J. McMurray 3 times for 34 laps; M. Kenseth 4 times for 33 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 2 times for 13 laps; J. Gordon 4 times for 8 laps; C. Edwards 1 time for 4 laps; A. Almirola 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: J. Gordon – 432; M. Kenseth – 421; Kyle Busch – 408; C. Edwards – 408; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 394; J. Johnson – 388; J. Logano – 378; B. Vickers – 365; B. Keselowski – 361; R. Newman – 361; G. Biffle – 351; K. Harvick – 345; K. Larson # – 344; D. Hamlin – 340; A. Dillon # – 334; P. Menard – 328.

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.

More speed, but will Formula 1 be more of the same?

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Faster cars and fiercer competition are the great expectations of the new regulations in Formula One, yet the championship outlook hasn’t altered much ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton remains the hot favorite to win another title for Mercedes.

Hamilton won 10 GP events last season and was close to claiming his fourth drivers’ title but was narrowly beaten by his teammate Nico Rosberg, who secured Mercedes a third consecutive championship and then retired.

While Hamilton talked about wanting more drivers competing for the title, and even tipped Ferrari to be quickest this weekend, he’s already lining up a victory he thinks would be unprecedented.

“I don’t believe (any) team has won back-to-back through rule regulation changes,” Hamilton said Thursday during the first official news conference ahead of Sunday’s race. “So that’s our goal as a team. We’re here to win. We’re here to do what no-one else has done.

“I have every belief in my team that we can do that.”

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel won four consecutive season titles from 2010-13 while he was racing for Red Bull, so he knows what it’s like to be in Hamilton’s position. He has no doubt who is favorite this season, regardless of the rule changes that dictated wider tires, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce and which are expected to make the heavier cars faster.

“Obviously Mercedes has been in a very, very strong form the last three years and even with changes to the rules and regulations, if the team is strong then they will build a strong car the year after, no matter what they do,” Vettel said. “It is very clear who is the favorite.

“For all of us sitting here we are obviously trying our best to catch up. As the season goes on obviously, I’m sure the cars will have big progression.”

Ferrari had good results in the eight days of pre-season testing, and Hamilton predicted Vettel and former champion Kimi Raikkonen would have the fastest cars in the first practice sessions Friday and Saturday.

“I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment – and I think they’ll definitely be the favorites,” said Hamilton, who was joined at Mercedes this season by former Williams driver Valterri Bottas. “It’s interesting to see, Sebastian is usually a lot more hype. I can tell he’s trying to keep a lid on it. But their pace was obviously great in testing.”

Hamilton said he couldn’t judge the pace of the Red Bulls in testing, saying they were “quite far behind” and he didn’t see many upgrades to the cars.

“I’m assuming they’re bringing something new,” he said, “which I’m excited to see.”

Daniel Ricciardo finished as the highest-ranked of the non-Mercedes drivers last season, winning the Malaysian GP and placing third in the season standings. He concedes Hamilton will start favorite, but is hoping for a shakeup at the top.

“I think for everyone it’s like when Red Bull were dominating a few years ago – everyone wanted to see someone else win,” Ricciardo said. “It’s natural that people like change.

“For us drivers, not being in Mercedes, we want to see change as well. Even for the fact to have more cars fighting for the win makes it more exciting.”

Hamilton wanted more frequent changes to the regulations, to keep the cars getting faster and the competition “spicier.”

That’s something on which all the leading drivers could agree.

If Hamilton “wins a race against four of us as opposed to maybe just his teammate I think that reward is bigger as well,” said Ricciardo, who is aiming to be the first Australian to win the Australian GP since it became part of the world championship in 1985.

“If you can win against more … that feeling of self-accomplishment is greater. Ferrari showed good pace in testing. If they can take a few points away as well it kind of opens up the championship over the long time.”

Faster F1 cars means bigger, stronger drivers for 2017

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Renault driver Niko Hulkenberg has the kind of name that sounds like big could be his thing.

In Formula One seasons past, muscle bulk hasn’t really been the key requirement for drivers, with work on endurance being the focus of training in the gym. The new regulations in F1 have made the cars bigger and faster, prefacing an era that has the drivers and fans more excited than usual, and so the pilots have to follow suit.

“The cars are like driving a very fast and spectacular roller-coaster and it’s a lot more demanding than before,” Hulkenberg said ahead of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. “Now you have to wrestle these cars!

“The tires allow you to push harder every lap, so you can exploit and be on the limit. It’s a lot more work and a lot more demanding. There’s a lot that’s new, but the game is still the same.”

Lewis Hamilton has worked out the game, winning three drivers’ titles, so he’s more than ready to up the ante.

“As racing drivers in general you want to drive the quickest cars in the world and I think you always want to go faster,” the Mercedes driver said. “The cars are faster than what they were last year. The challenge of exploiting that speed with your car on the track is a great challenge and it’s more in the direction of how F1 should be in the sense of the physicality side of it.”

Hamilton, who won back-to-back titles with Mercedes in 2014 and ’15 and narrowly missed out to teammate Nico Rosberg last season, considers himself as much an athlete as a driver.

“F1 should be the most physically demanding sport in terms of all the driving series,” he said. “In previous years that hasn’t been the case – it hasn’t been to the level that we train to, is relatively easy for us to do – now you have to really push the boundaries, which I like.”

The F1 rule changes means wider tires, greater aerodynamics, bigger fuel loads and increased downforce, which have made the cars heavier but also significantly faster.

The tires, which are 25 percent wider, have more grip and are more durable, enabling drivers to push harder through the corners.

Even though Mercedes dominated under the previous regulations, Hamilton was a big advocate for the changes.

“Doing drastic changes kind of spices it up,” he said. “I have never seen the fans so excited about a season as they are this season … we don’t know where the cars and teams are, so more of these kind of experiences would be welcome.”

Toto Wolff, the head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, said Hamilton and his teammate Valtteri Bottas were in prime shape to make the most of the changes.

“It’s an exciting time for them because these new cars are a real physical challenge,” he said. “Both felt from testing that the G-Forces are enormous and they are embracing the new challenge.”

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel expects his ’17-edition Ferrari to be the fastest car he’s driven.

“For us, what really gives us a good feeling is cornering speed – I think we’re back to the level we’ve been 10 years ago, maybe a bit faster,” he said. “Nice to have the feeling that you’re in the fastest cars that you’ve ever driven.”

Vettel is among the drivers who have been working on neck and shoulder strength in particular, to handle the extra load. Daniel Ricciardo finished third in the season standings for Red Bull last year, behind the two Mercedes. He’s put in extra work to ensure he’s stronger physically, knowing that it could make a serious difference. And while he’s no hulking ball of muscle, he’s noticeably bigger than he was in 2016.

“It’s more physical this year,” he said. “We’ve all done our work in the offseason – it’s been fun to put more emphasis on the training.”

Fernando Alonso is one of the veterans of the circuit, having won back-to-back titles for Renault in 2005-06 and having stints at McLaren, Renault and Ferrari after that and before he rejoined McLaren. He’s had two tough seasons, finishing 17th and 10th, so he doesn’t mind doing the extra gym work as long as his car grows with him.

“I’m incredibly motivated and I can’t wait to see what kind of racing this new shake-up of the sport will bring,” he said. “We already know the sport is a lot more physical and the cars are more challenging to drive – from a driver’s point of view this is exactly what we were looking for in the new regulations. I really hope this will translate to good battles on track.”

FIA replaces ‘Verstappen rule’ regarding moving under braking for 2017

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Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting has confirmed that the ‘Verstappen rule’ regarding moving under braking has been relaxed and simplified ahead of the 2017 season.

Following complaints from a number of drivers regarding Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s aggressive defensive moves through 2016, the FIA clamped down on moving under braking ahead of the United States Grand Prix last October.

Sebastian Vettel was the first driver to fall foul of the new rule, losing his podium finish in Mexico after moving under braking when defending his position from Daniel Ricciardo late in the race.

In order to streamline the race stewards’ efforts to officiate the race, Whiting confirmed ahead of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix that the rule had been simplified and turned into a ‘catch-all’ regulation.

“I think there will be a small change in some of the incidents that we’ve seen last year they’ll be handled quite differently simply, because the so-called ‘Verstappen rule’ is gone to the effect that before we said any move under braking will be investigated,” Whiting told reporters, as quoted by crash.net.

“Now, we have a simple rule that says effectively that if a driver moves erratically or goes unnecessarily slow or behaves in a manner that could endanger another driver, then he will be investigated.

“So there’s a very broad rule now but we’ve done after Austin last year in response to some comments from drivers, we used the existing rules to put notes on how we’re going to interpret the existing rules.

“The interpretation simply was that drivers shouldn’t move under braking. That’s what gave rights to the incident in Mexico, that’s what gave rights to the penalty in Mexico.”

Whiting said that the move came after teams requested the stewards trigger less snap investigations during races and focus on possibly dangerous incidents.

“What we were requested to do, which we think is a more general way of approaching things, is to give the stewards one rule to work with,” Whiting explained.

“It’s an all-encompassing rule.You can do more or less anything with that. That was the request from the teams, they wanted less investigations and only in cases where it was clearly dangerous would they take action.

“We had a meeting yesterday with all the stewards and we reviewed all the controversial incidents from last year to see how they would be dealt with this year under the so-called new rules or the new approach. It was quite interesting. I won’t go into it now, but it was quite interesting.”

The revised rule will get its first try-out in this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix, live on NBCSN from 12am ET on Sunday.