STP 400 - Practice

Matt Kenseth hopes law of averages soon turn in his favor

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If there’s anything to the law of averages, Matt Kenseth is next in line to win his first Sprint Cup race of 2014.

Points leader Jeff Gordon won his first race of the season two weeks ago at Kansas.

Sunday night, Jimmie Johnson won his first of the season in the longest and most grueling race on the Cup schedule, the 400-lap Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

That leaves Kenseth as the only driver in the top 7 in the Cup standings that has yet to reach victory lane in 2014, an oddity for sure given that Kenseth led the entire series with a high of seven wins in 2013.

It’s not like Kenseth didn’t try Sunday night. He was in the lead and even tried to throw a block to keep Johnson from passing him in the closing laps.

Unfortunately for Kenseth, Johnson avoided his block and sailed on to victory lane, leaving Kenseth to fall to an eventual third-place finish, right behind runner-up Kevin Harvick.

“I mean, everything kind of fell into place with us with that (final) caution, people being under fuel strategy,” Kenseth said. “Our tire problem, all that, getting off sequence. Everything fell into our lap.

“We got a good restart, got out front. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough speed to hold off Jimmie and Kevin and hang on to win.”

The biggest difference between Harvick and Kenseth is Harvick called out his team for falling short due to a loose wheel.

Kenseth was more the gentleman in his synopsis of how his run went.

“Overall for the weekend, I thought it was a step in the right direction,” Kenseth said of getting closer to his first win of the season. “I thought we were more competitive tonight.

“I didn’t think we were quick enough to win unless everything fell exactly our way. Even then I couldn’t quite hang on.

“Overall … I thought we had a top-five car all night. Great pit stops, great adjustments. Just couldn’t hang on to it at the end.”

End result, another frustrating finish of sorts, particularly considering Kenseth now has four top 5 and five other top 10 finishes thus far this season (nine top 10s overall).

Whereas Harvick blamed his crew for his runner-up finish due to a loose wheel and pit stop errors, Kenseth took a more even-handed approach in his response.

“Me personally, whenever your team does everything, everything falls the right way, they put you out in the front at the end of the race, you don’t win the race, you’re always frustrated and disappointed,” Kenseth said. “You don’t get a lot of those opportunities.

“Although I felt like I did everything I could possibly do, we just weren’t quick enough to hold ’em off. So, yeah, I’m a little frustrated we didn’t get the win tonight.”

But at the same time, Kenseth feels he indeed could join Gordon, Johnson in the winner’s club next Sunday at Dover.

“I feel like we’re gaining on it,” Kenseth said. “Certainly, we’re not where we were at this time last year, all of us there leading a bunch of laps and being in contention to win.

“Panicking has never helped anything. Like I said, I feel like we’re gaining on it. We’ve just been off a little bit all year. … We’re digging hard trying to figure it out. We’re just not quite there yet.

“I think the pressure and urgency to win is there each and every week, at least it is for me. These are all huge races. Not many of us that get to do this every week.

“…It’s a big deal to win any of these races. Always has been. I’ve never been in the front in the end and not wanted to win. You race as hard as you can for these wins. You hate it when you can’t hold on and win it. There’s no more I can do about it. We were in position. I did everything I possibly could do and got beat. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.

“You can only do your best and take your result for that day.”

And hope the law of averages is in his favor the next time.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Hinchcliffe on NASCAR AMERICA, on pole: “It was surreal” (VIDEO)

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The polesitter for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, James Hinchcliffe, checked in with Dave Briggs and Parker Kligerman on Tuesday’s episode of NASCAR AMERICA to recap his incredible comeback and his amazing qualifying run courtesy of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda team.

A fighter her whole life, Shirley Muldowney faces biggest battle yet

Shirley Muldowney
(Getty Images)
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If she hadn’t of achieved success in drag racing, legendary Shirley Muldowney would have made one hell of a fighter.

After all, it was in her genes.

If they had tangled in a ring, Ronda Rousey would have had nothing on Muldowney in her prime.

Muldowney’s father, Belgium Benedict Roque – nicknamed “Tex Rock” – was a taxi driver by day and a semi-pro boxer of note at night in and around Shirley’s hometown of Schenectady, New York.

It was almost prophetic that on an otherwise nondescript June night in 1940, Belgium would win his next-to-last fight by TKO, rushed home to pick up wife Mae, and a short time later in a local hospital, Shirley would enter the world.

And from that point, not only was a drag racing legend born, her reputation as an oftentimes hard-headed fighter of a different kind was born. She would go on to fight bullies in school, drag racing officials and opponents who looked down upon her with disdain because she was a woman in a “man’s sport,” and even race fans who were obviously no fans of hers that would call her every vile, disgusting, sexist and profane word in the book.

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Shirley Muldowney (Photo: Rob Geiger)

All because she was “a girl.”

All Muldowney ever wanted was a chance to prove herself, that she was every bit as good as any male drag racer. And you know what? She did just that, becoming the first woman to earn a professional drag racing license, the first woman to win a national event, the first woman to win a major racing championship and the first woman to win three NHRA Top Fuel titles (and a fourth in the rival American Hot Rod Association).

Muldowney raced until her retirement at the end of the 2003 season, a career that spanned more than four decades, perhaps as much as a million miles of barnstorming to grudge match races in the U.S. and Canada, and overcame a near-fatal crash in 1984.

They even made a movie about her life, the still popular “Heart Like A Wheel.”

Now, Shirley is in the biggest fight yet of her life – and it will be fought not on four wheels, but on a surgical bed.

MORE: BREAKING NEWS: Legendary NHRA driver Shirley Muldowney to undergo cancer surgery

Early Wednesday morning at a Charlotte, North Carolina hospital, the 75-year-old Muldowney will don a hospital gown, be rolled into an operating room, will be anesthetized and wake up more than five hours later – minus her right lung.

Muldowney has Stage 2 lung cancer, discovered only recently. According to various online research studies, Stage 2 cancer victims only have about a 30 percent chance of still being alive five years after surgery.

But this is not just another cancer statistic or unlucky victim. This is Shirley Roque Muldowney. All her fighting over the last seven decades has been just a warm-up for the bout she is about to undergo.

Yet knowing Shirley as I have for more than 30 years, she’s going into this next journey of her life in the same way she’s described herself to me over the years: “a tough broad.”

She has to be scared – even the most fearless shudder when the “C” word is mentioned – but I’ve never, ever seen Muldowney let her guard down and show fear. (Well, once, which I’ll get to shortly.)

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Shirley Muldowney in her prime and at her favorite racetrack, Lucas Oil Raceway, home of the NHRAs biggest annual race, the U.S. Nationals. (Photo: Auto Imagery)

Ironically, when I first met her in 1983 at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis – which began a 15-year stint as USA Today’s first NHRA drag racing writer – it was I who was scared.

Growing up on the mean streets of Chicago’s South Side and being in more than my share of fights (I was usually the one picked upon, much like Muldowney), I also learned not to be afraid of anything.

But Muldowney’s reputation indeed scared me. I heard she was not only tough with fellow racers, but also with the media.

When Shirley’s PR person, Francine Lippsman, approached me to interview her, I was apprehensive but still went along.

Within five minutes of meeting Muldowney, all the rumors and stories of her being this quarter-mile ogre were quickly dispelled. She couldn’t have been more pleasant, more accommodating, more patient.

That day was the start of a long friendship. As a reporter, you’re supposed to be objective, but I can honestly say that of all the thousands of athletes across all varieties of sports that I’ve covered and interviewed over the last 35-plus years, I would count those that made the biggest impression upon me on one hand.

There’d be the Chicago Bears’ Walter Payton, Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan, racers Tony Stewart and John Force … and Shirley Muldowney.

A young Shirley Muldowney (Photo courtesy Rob Geiger)
A young Shirley Muldowney (Photo courtesy Rob Geiger)

I fondly remember all the years and countless interviews I had with Shirley. I remember even more instances where we just shot the bull, not for publication. I remember how she never was politically correct – she ALWAYS said what was on her mind, good or bad, in gentile language or interspersed with more than a few expletives.

I remember how, when she was at her fiery best, she told numerous competitors and even NHRA officials – both behind their back and to their face – to “(eff) off.” I remember when she was so fed up with the NHRA and its politics, even after her three championships, that she pulled up stakes and spent several years racing in the rival International Hot Rod Association.

I can’t count the number of female drag racers over the years that have considered Shirley as either their role model or mentor. Reigning two-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders, Pro Stock Motorcycle star Angelle Sampey and even Brittany and John Force – daughters of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force – all cite Muldowney as having a profound impact on their careers.

Behind the wheel of her hot pink dragster, Muldowney blazed the path for all female drag racers, and they have not overlooked or underscored the fact that had it not been for what she went through in her career, they might not be doing what they are today in their own careers.

On a more light note, and even though she has a grown son, I also fondly remember Shirley’s “baby,” her pride and joy, a little mixed breed dog named “Skippy,” who followed her from track to track for more than 15 years.

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 27: Legendary drag racer Shirley Muldowney (R) and NHRA driver Larry Dixon (L) speak with the media, during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at University Hilton on January 27, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Legendary drag racer Shirley Muldowney (R) and NHRA driver Larry Dixon (L) a few years ago in Charlotte. Dixon recently beat throat cancer, while Muldowney will have surgery for lung cancer on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

I admit, since hearing of Shirley’s condition and pending surgery earlier today, I’ve been thinking non-stop of her. I’m praying for her like I would pray for a close relative.

Which leads me to a story that only three people really know: Shirley, fellow drag racing legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and myself. Please indulge me to tell it to you now.

It was January 25, 1994. I remember the day as if it was yesterday. It was eight days after the terrible Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley area, which killed nearly 60 people and injured over 8,500.

I had been scheduled to interview Prudhomme at his shop a few miles south of Northridge. I admit, having been in the 5.5 magnitude aftershock of the Whittier, California earthquake in 1987, I really was hesitant to go back out the West Coast. But I put away my fear, flew out there and found my way to Snake’s shop that morning.

When I arrived at Prudhomme’s shop, I recall seeing a building maybe 500 feet away that was missing a roof and 1 ½ walls. It was leaning precariously. Meanwhile, Prudhomme’s shop had just minimal damage. Go figure.

After more than an hour of interviewing him, Prudhomme asked if I’d like to take a ride. He wanted to show me the devastation wrought by the earthquake.

We drove for about 20 minutes or so. I was astounded, never having seen such destruction before. It looked as if a proverbial bomb had gone off.

As we passed by the heavily damaged Northridge Fashion Center and Cal State Northridge University, Prudhomme suggested we stop at a little non-descript house less than a block from the campus.

“Let’s go see Shirley,” Prudhomme said with a smile on his face. A few minutes later and unannounced, we rang her doorbell and she answered. While she was happy to see us and greeted us warmly, I could see something was wrong. Shirley just wasn’t Shirley.

Finally, she said something to the effect of “I’m scared s***less. I want to go back to (her adopted state of) Michigan. I can’t stand it here. I’ve gotta get out of California. I’m really afraid that there’s going to be another earthquake. If that wasn’t the ‘big one,’ it sure as hell was pretty damn close.”

After all that she had to endure in her life, for all the put-downs and beat-downs and insults, she still managed to go on to become one of the greatest drag racers in history.

But at this particular moment, one thing was very, very clear.

For the first time in her life, Shirley Muldowney was really, truly scared.

She not just showed fear, she was essentially petrified. It was so uncharacteristic of her usual in-control-of-everything personality.

She admitted she hadn’t slept well the last seven nights – especially after she was knocked out of bed at 4:30 a.m. PT when the quake first hit on Jan. 17, 1994.

I still recall how Muldowney shook slightly when she showed some of the structural damage her house sustained in the quake. I can guarantee it wasn’t exactly the kind of tour of her house that she was used to giving.

Just a few months later, Muldowney stayed true to her word: she was on her way back to the Wolverine State. She put California in her rearview mirror and she went back to having the “no fear” aura that made her famous.

Hell, if the only thing in life that had ever scared her was an earthquake, then given Shirley’s makeup, cancer doesn’t stand a chance with the self-described “tough broad.”

She’ll not only kick cancer’s ass, she’ll beat it too, just like she did with virtually every driver who ever dared challenge her for supremacy of the quarter-mile.

When she is wheeled into that operating room Wednesday, Muldowney will once again take the gloves off, ready to fight for herself once again – just like she’s done her whole life.

The “big C” doesn’t stand a chance.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Here are your Indy 500/Carb Day times this weekend on NBCSN

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Our colleagues at ABC have the race telecast on Sunday, but NBCSN still has plenty of coverage from Indianapolis this weekend including most of Friday.

Thursday we’re all over Monaco for first and second practice for the Grand Prix. Then Carb Day, we head to Indianapolis for 500 coverage, which also includes Indy Lights and the pit stop competition, before the 90-minute NASCAR AMERICA Motorsports Special.

During the latter show, the special, Marty Snider, Townsend Bell, and Ray Evernham co-host coverage from Indianapolis Motor Speedway while Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett, David Hobbs, and Will Buxton contribute on location from Monaco.

The full release and this weekend’s full slate of motorsports content across NBC Sports Group properties can be found here, via the NBC Sports Group Press Box website.

NBCSN, the cable home of IndyCar, will provide six hours of Indianapolis 500 Carb Day coverage, beginning Friday at 11 a.m. ET. In addition, NBCSN will air a live presentation of the Indy Lights Freedom 100 race at noon ET on Friday. Indy 500 coverage concludes on Saturday with the Indy 500 Festival Parade at 10 p.m. ET.

This weekend’s coverage includes IndyCar on NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell, who qualified in fourth place for this weekend’s 100th running of the Indy 500. Bell will be driving for Andretti Autosport, and this will mark his 10th appearance at the Indy 500. Bell’s best Indy 500 finish was fourth position in the 2009 race. Last year, he finished in 14th place.

Kevin Lee will lead NBCSN’s Carb Day coverage, filling in for Diffey who will be in Monaco, alongside analysts Bell and Paul Tracy. Jon Beekhuis, Marty Snider, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller will handle the pits.

Date Program Time (ET) Network
Fri., May 23 Indy 500 Carb Day 11 a.m. NBCSN
Indy Lights – Freedom 100 Noon NBCSN
Indy 500 Carb Day 1 p.m. NBCSN
NASCAR America Motorsports Special 3:30 p.m. NBCSN
Sat., May 24 Indy 500 Festival Parade 10 p.m. NBCSN

Here are your Monaco GP TV times, part of packed racing weekend

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This weekend, the Monaco Grand Prix takes place from the streets of Monte Carlo. The majority of the NBC Sports Group Formula 1 team is on site, as part of a massive weekend of racing coverage across the NBC Sports family.

Meanwhile two of our other race series properties – the Verizon IndyCar Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – are also running this weekend. The 100th Indianapolis 500 is on ABC (Carb Day coverage is on NBCSN) and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 is on FOX.

Here’s a look ahead to all times and schedule for F1 at Monaco this weekend. The full release can be found at the NBC Sports Group Press Box website, linked here.

For race coverage on Sunday, check your local listings, as some affiliates (Indianapolis, traditionally) opt for local programming including Indianapolis 500 pre-race content.

NBC Sports presents live coverage of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix, one of the world’s most iconic racing events from picturesque Monte Carlo, this Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBC. The F1 Monaco Grand Prix will highlight more than 50 hours of coverage on NBC and NBCSN surrounding the “Biggest Day In Motorsports,” spanning Formula One, the Verizon IndyCar Series, and NASCAR.

NBC Sports Group is the U.S. television home of motorsports, providing exclusive Formula One coverage, exclusive cable coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series on NBCSN, and the final 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, as well as 19 XFINITY Series events. NBC’s coverage of the F1 Monaco Grand Prix kicks off the “Biggest Day In Motorsports” this Sunday, followed by the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 (ABC) and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 (FOX).

F1 MONACO GRAND PRIX – SUNDAY AT 7:30 A.M. ET ON NBC – COVERAGE BEGINS THURSDAY AT 8 A.M. ET ON NBCSN WITH PRACTICE 2

NBC Sports Group begins its comprehensive live coverage of the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday morning at 4 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra with Practice 1, followed by NBCSN’s presentation of Practice 2 on Thursday at 8 a.m. ET. Live Extra will stream Practice 3 on Saturday morning at 5 a.m. ET, leading into live qualifying coverage on NBCSN at 8 a.m. ET. Sunday’s coverage begins at 7 a.m. ETwith F1 Countdown on NBCSN, leading into live race coverage at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBC.

Lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey will call this weekend’s action, and will be joined by veteran analyst and former racecar driver David Hobbs, analyst and former race mechanic for the Benetton F1 team Steve Matchett, and F1 insider Will Buxton, all on-site from Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Pre-race coverage on NBC and NBCSN will include interviews with 18-year-old driver Max Verstappen (Red Bull), who became the youngest F1 race winner ever with his Spanish Grand Prix win on May 14, as well as Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, who considers Monaco to be his home race, and is in search of his fourth consecutive Monaco Grand Prix win. Rosberg and teammate Lewis Hamilton will look to rebound from their performances at the Spanish Grand Prix, when the two collided on the first lap and were forced to retire from the race.

F1 MONACO GRAND PRIX TELECAST SCHEDULE
Date Program Time (ET) Network
Thu., May 26 F1 Monaco Grand Prix – Practice 1 4 a.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
F1 Monaco Grand Prix – Practice 2 8 a.m. NBCSN
Fri., May 27 F1 Monaco Grand Prix – Practice 2 (Encore) 12 a.m. NBCSN
Sat., May 28 F1 Monaco Grand Prix – Practice 3 5 a.m. NBC Sports Live Extra
F1 Monaco Grand Prix – Qualifying 8 a.m. NBCSN
/DRIVE on NBC Sports – Monaco (Encore) 3 p.m. NBCSN
F1 Monaco Grand Prix – Qualifying (Encore) 11:30 p.m. NBCSN
Sun., May 29 F1 Countdown 7 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Monaco Grand Prix 7:30 a.m. NBC
F1 Extra 10 a.m. NBCSN
F1 Monaco Grand Prix (Encore) 10:30 p.m. NBCSN
F1 Extra 1 p.m. NBCSN
GP2 – Monaco 1:30 p.m. NBCSN