(Photo: AP/Molly Riley)

Jimmie Johnson has monster-like performance, dominates for 9th career win at Dover’s Monster Mile

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To borrow a line from the 1960’s Herman’s Hermits song, “Henry the Eighth,” the outcome of Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks was a case of “Second verse, same as the first” for Jimmie Johnson.

The six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion won his second consecutive race of the season, adding Sunday’s triumph at Dover International Speedway to last Sunday’s victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

Johnson becomes the all-time winner at Dover, as Sunday’s was his ninth career Sprint Cup triumph there. He also is the third multiple winner this season, joining Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano with two wins apiece.

“It is incredible,” Johnson told Fox Sports. “This race car was awesome. I just have so much to be thankful for. “Chad (crew chief Chad Knaus) told me I’d love the car, and sure enough, from the time we unloaded the car, he was right.”

Just like he did at Charlotte, Johnson once again dominated at Dover, leading 272 of the 400 laps on the one-mile, all-concrete track.

With his back-to-back wins, Johnson is now a lock to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup as he pursues his bid to tie Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers in NASCAR history to earn seven Cup championships in their respective careers.

While the rest of the field had one last gasp to catch Johnson (who did not pit) when a caution was called eight laps from the finish due to debris from Casey Mears’ car, the driver of the No. 48 had a great restart on Lap 396 and hung on to finish off a masterpiece of a performance for his 68th career Sprint Cup win.

Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski finished second, followed by Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin.

“We just had an up and down day,” Keselowski said. “We made a lot of adjustments and about halfway, the car just woke up. I was able to run from 13th to second. We just ran out of laps at the end to have a crack at getting (Johnson).”

Sixth through 10th were Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard. Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, just missing a top 10 finish by winding up 11th.

To say it was a strange race at times is an understatement.

On Lap 159, a piece of concrete broke free from the racing surface at the end of Turn 2 on the one-mile, all-concrete racetrack.

The roughly softball sized piece made a direct hit to the lower part of the front end of Jamie McMurray’s Chevrolet, putting a sizeable dent in the bumper and splitter, causing NASCAR to red flag the race so that track workers could repair the resulting pothole that was about the size of a football.

NASCAR would not allow McMurray’s team to work on the car during the red flag conditions, but it will be able to do so once the event switched back to yellow flag caution conditions.

It was subsequently learned that when McMurray hit the chunk of concrete, parts of it flew up and struck the glass of the crossover walkway above the track at the exit of Turn 2. It did not appear anyone was injured in that incident.

And we hadn’t even gotten to halfway at that point, either!

Working backwards through the rest of the race:

A.J. AllmendingerGreg Biffle and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were all involved in a wreck on Lap 135 that also temporarily brought out a red flag condition.

Biffle’s and Stenhouse’s cars both suffered heavy damage. While it’s likely Stenhouse is done for the day, Biffle’s team is attempting to repair the damage to get him back on the racetrack.

Allmendinger, meanwhile, was able to continue.

* Then, 10 laps before that on Lap 125, Kyle Busch’s hopes for a weekend sweep came to an abrupt end when the right front of his Toyota made contact with the rear of Clint Bowyer’s Toyota.

The incident apparently cut down Busch’s right front tire as just seconds later he piled into the outside retaining wall.

Busch initially refused to come onto pit road, remaining on the racetrack – even with a flat right front tire and the damage to his car – and appeared as if he was going to retaliate to Bowyer.

Even though the track was under yellow flag caution conditions, Busch accelerated and looked as if he was going to get into Bowyer’s rear end, but eventually took his car to the garage after pleading from crew chief Dave Rogers over the team radio.

At the same time, Bowyer also accelerated to try and avoid Busch, who ultimately gave up his pursuit and drove to the garage.

After the race, Bowyer, who bounced back to finish fourth, regretted how things played out.

“What a day, frustrating day, hated that with Kyle, obviously,” Bowyer said. “(He and Busch) are teammates, so to speak, with the manufacturer (Toyota). It was a bad deal. Obviously, I thought I was clear and he kind of got up there. I thought he was going to give it to me (room), and he didn’t. Ruined his day for sure and it certainly didn’t help ours.”

To add insult to injury, Busch, who finished 42nd, was forced to wait to get into the garage because a track sweeper was blocking the entrance to the garage area.

Busch was attempting to become only the second driver in NASCAR history to win all three major races on the same weekend. Busch is the only one to have done that previously, having won all three at Bristol in August 2010.

* It was a very quick race for Michael Waltrip Racing driver Brian Vickers, who was forced to retire after just 73 laps due to a blown motor. Vickers finished last in the 43-car field.

* Sprint Cup rookie Alex Bowman brushed the wall twice in the first quarter of the lap, bringing out the caution flag once.

Josh Wise also sustained right rear damage when he also brushed the wall, but was able to get to pit road without a caution flag.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Force India gives Renault tips ahead of Hulkenberg’s arrival for 2017

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 11:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Sahara Force India F1 Team VJM09 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil at Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on November 11, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Force India has sent Renault an early Christmas present by giving tips on how to look after Nico Hulkenberg ahead of his arrival at the team for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Hulkenberg announced back in October that he would be leaving Force India at the end of the 2016 season, joining Renault for its second year back in F1 as a constructor.

In a tongue-in-cheek post on Force India’s Twitter account, the team gave Renault some advice on how to look after Hulkenberg.

“He answers the name of ‘Nico’, but ‘Hulk’ will do in public,” it reads.

“He has been a beloved member of our family for longer than we can remember, but it is time for him to go and find his own feet.

“Nico is friendly and of good nature, but there are just a few, simple rules to follow to take care of him:

  • Do not feed him after midnight.
  • Do not get him wet. Actually, just kidding. He’s pretty good in the wet.
  • Even though the resemblance can be uncanny, do not refer to him as ‘Johnny Bravo’ (if you do, let us know how it goes.

“And most importantly, and we can’t stress this enough…

  • Do NOT make him angry.

“Best of luck for your life together, your friends at Sahara Force India.”

Force India had previously left Hulkenberg’s helmet and race suit under its Christmas tree as a gift for Renault.

Porsche was quick to chip in on the claim that you shouldn’t feed Hulkenberg after midnight, with the German having ran pretty well in the early hours at Le Mans en route to victory in 2015.

The F1 season may be over, but the Twitter fun between the teams will continue through the winter.

Ricciardo: Verstappen’s arrival at Red Bull pushed me on

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 02:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates with Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing after their 1-2 finish during the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 2, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo says that Max Verstappen’s arrival at Red Bull four races in to the 2016 Formula 1 season helped him to raise his game as a driver.

Verstappen  swapped seats with Daniil Kvyat after the Russian Grand Prix in May, with Ricciardo’s former teammate moving back down to Red Bull’s feeder team, Toro Rosso.

Ricciardo and Verstappen enjoyed a strong 17-race stint as teammates through 2016, each taking one win and enough points to lift Red Bull up to second place in the constructors’ championship.

Reflecting on his season, Ricciardo admitted that he was unsure about how quickly Verstappen would fit in at Red Bull and get up to speed, but that he soon realized the quality of the Dutchman.

“It was a big thing. Especially that first weekend in Spain which was pretty crazy, and not just because he won,” Ricciardo said.

“I suspect the team didn’t know how good Max was and where he was going to fit. His win really gave us good energy and pushed us on to get stronger.

“In Spain everybody was watching, wondering if we’d made a mistake swapping Dany and Max around. I think his win was a relief more than anything. And it definitely pushed us on. Certainly it pushed me on.

“I think I’d been at the right level from the start of the season, which may have caused some of the commotion in the first place because I had a better start than Dany.

“With Max, I felt we were pushing each other from the off. He was closer to me in qualifying and so naturally that provides a spur because you’re looking at each other’s data and finding an extra bit here and there. It makes you better.”

Ricciardo conceded that the amicable relationship with Verstappen could become tense in 2017 should the pair become embroiled in a title fight, but hopes they can retain their mutual respect.

“Well, I’m not naïve. If we’re fighting for wins I’m sure the pressure and tension will rise,” Ricciardo said.

“But hopefully we’ll be able to look each other in the eye and say ‘good job’ afterwards.”

F1 2016 Driver Review: Lewis Hamilton

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 10:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win on the start finish straight after the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 10, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton

Team: Mercedes AMG Petronas
Car No.: 44
Races: 21
Wins: 10
Podiums (excluding wins): 7
Pole Positions: 12
Fastest Laps: 3
Points: 380
Laps Led: 566
Championship Position: 2nd

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Lewis Hamilton’s year was an odd one. While he was at his brilliant best on a number of occasions, racking up 10 wins – more than any driver not to win the championship in F1 history – there were a handful of costly errors that ultimately cost him the title.

Yes, the reliability woes with the Mercedes power unit through the year hurt his title bid enormously. But that’s racing; bad luck is part and parcel of it, just as Nico Rosberg found out at points in 2014 and 2015.

Instead, Hamilton needs to look at himself to see where he could have done better in 2015. Poor starts in Australia, Bahrain, Italy and Japan were all damaging to his title challenge, as were weekends he was off the boil in Singapore and Baku.

Hamilton proved once again that he has a good balance between his life outside of F1, which he continues to quite clearly enjoy, judging by his Snapchat escapades, and his efforts on-track. He remains the strongest driver in the field. But this year, his old, successful mind-games were unable to knock Rosberg down. Nico had the answer this time around. Let’s see what 2017 brings for the Briton as he searches for a fourth World Championship.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

The year of Lewis revolved as much around him off-track as it did on it. Sometimes, his on-track runs ended through a spate of Mercedes mechanical woes, which were as unexpected as they were frustrating after a flawless winter.

Then there were his spats with the press, his Snapchat antics in Suzuka and his otherwise nonchalant approach to some outside-the-car commitments. From the outside, it seemed Hamilton was less engaged this year until he needed to be, then made peace with the fact he’d done all he could do as the year went on.

The year was defined, performance-wise, by his starts – and how poor some of them were. A number of wins were lost as a result. Even so, he still beat Rosberg 10-9 in wins and 12-8 in poles. The area he beat Rosberg in a category he wouldn’t want is DNFs – that crushing engine failure in Malaysia joined with the pair’s clash in Spain.

Hamilton was his usual peerless self at times though, and his rally to end the season with four straight wins was admirable in the face of a roller coaster year up to that point. His drive at Abu Dhabi was tenacious and smart; he backed Rosberg into the field as his only shot of snatching the title. He remains F1’s most fascinating character and out-and-out fastest driver, if not its current World Champion.

F1 2016 Driver Review: Nico Rosberg

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates with his second place trophy after securing the F1 World Drivers Championship during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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As part of MotorSportsTalk’s review of the 2016 Formula 1 season, Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno look back on each driver’s year, starting today with World Champion Nico Rosberg.

Nico Rosberg

Team: Mercedes AMG Petronas
Car No.: 6
Races: 21
Wins: 9
Podiums (excluding wins): 6
Pole Positions: 8
Fastest Laps: 6
Points: 385
Laps Led: 489
Championship Position: 1st

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Assuming that he doesn’t backtrack on his decision to retire from racing at any point in the future, 2016 will be remembered as the strongest year of Nico Rosberg’s motorsport career. Twice burned by championship defeats to Lewis Hamilton, the German bit back in 2016 with a new approach that yielded the ultimate reward.

Sure, his “one race at a time” rhetoric was boring; we like our champions to have some fire in their bellies. However, it worked wonders. Rosberg was no longer taking baggage and stress from race to race as he was through 2014 and 2015. Each race was a clean slate.

There were low moments, such as the clash with Hamilton on-track in Austria, but Rosberg recovered from his mid-season wobble nicely. Four second places is hardly the way to sign off a championship-winning season, but Rosberg cared little – he’d got the job done.

The greatest shame for 2017 is that we won’t get the chance to see if Rosberg can build on this breakthrough year and beat Hamilton again. Instead, he’s ‘one and done’; that’s it.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

In the last year of the current regulations, Nico Rosberg always needed to win this year’s World Championship if he was to ensure he ever won one in his career. Rare do you think of him as being 31 years old, in the sport 11 seasons, because he still has a fresh face look – albeit not as young as his initial “baby face” days with Williams, and the birth of a potential mullet to match his World Champion father Keke.

Alas, Rosberg had whatever momentum carried over from winning the last three races of last season, and opened the year with four wins on the trot. The 2016 version of Rosberg did not crack despite the contact with Lewis Hamilton in Spain, nor really, through Hamilton’s midsummer run of six wins in seven races. Only in Austria did it ever look like Rosberg was really on the back foot.

His starts helped propel him all season and that crucial post-summer run of form with wins in Spa, Monza, Singapore and Suzuka was what shifted the momentum back in his corner. He trailed Hamilton by as many as 19 points but by Suzuka was up 33. He brought it home as needed to the finish, and is a deserving World Champ.