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IndyCar: The road to winning in Texas goes through Penske, Ganassi

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We wrote after Detroit how rare it has been since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis and new engine formula in 2012 that entries from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing have swept the top four positions in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Sunday’s Dual 2 in Detroit was only the third time it happened in the last three years.

But if history is any indication, we could potentially be in for back-to-back type performances here this weekend at the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Aside of Tomas Scheckter’s 2005 win for Panther Racing, the last win in that team’s history, and Justin Wilson’s surprise triumph for Dale Coyne Racing in 2012 (his most recent victory), drivers from Penske and Ganassi have won every IndyCar race at Texas since fall 2004.

In fact, Tony Kanaan’s triumph for Andretti Green Racing in the 2004 spring race was AGR’s last triumph at this circuit.

Here’s a breakdown of the Penske/Ganassi domination, in the top-5, since 2006 (two different cars, but still):

  • 2006: 1. Helio Castroneves (Penske), 2. Scott Dixon (Ganassi), 3. Dan Wheldon (Ganassi), 4. Sam Hornish Jr. (Penske), 5. Scott Sharp (Delphi Fernandez)
  • 2007: 1. Hornish (Penske), 2. Tony Kanaan (Andretti Green), 3. Danica Patrick (Andretti Green), 4. Dario Franchitti (Andretti Green), 5. Vitor Meira (Panther)
  • 2008: 1. Dixon (Ganassi), 2. Castroneves (Penske), 3. Ryan Briscoe (Penske), 4. Wheldon (Ganassi), 5. Kanaan (Andretti Green)
  • 2009: 1. Castroneves (Penske), 2. Briscoe (Penske), 3. Dixon (Ganassi), 4. Marco Andretti (Andretti Green),  5. Franchitti (Ganassi)
  • 2010: 1. Briscoe (Penske), 2. Patrick (Andretti), 3. Andretti (Andretti), 4. Dixon (Ganassi), 5. Franchitti (Ganassi)
  • 2011 Race 1: 1. Franchitti (Ganassi), 2. Dixon (Ganassi), 3. Will Power (Penske), 4. Alex Tagliani (Schmidt), 5. Takuma Sato (KV)
  • 2011 Race 2: 1. Power (Penske), 2. Dixon (Ganassi), 3. Briscoe (Penske), 4. Castroneves (Penske), 5. Kanaan (KV)

NEW CAR INTRODUCED

  • 2012: 1. Justin Wilson (Coyne), 2. Graham Rahal (Ganassi), 3. Briscoe (Penske), 4. James Hinchcliffe (Andretti), 5. Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Hamilton)
  • 2013: 1. Castroneves (Penske), 2. Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti), 3. Kanaan (KV), 4. Ed Carpenter (Carpenter), 5. Andretti (Andretti)

So as you can see, the introduction of the new chassis and different aero formulas have brought other teams into the equation and combined, Penske and Ganassi only have three of the 10 top-5 finishes over the last two years (30%). Add in three other Andretti Autosport top-fives and that number between the established “big three” jumps to 60%.

But from 2006 through 2011, Penske and Ganassi captured all seven race wins, and 23 of 35 possible top-5 finishes – a staggering 65.71%! Add in seven more from Andretti Green/Andretti Autosport and those three teams took home 30 of 35, or 85.71%.

There were only five top-5 finishes achieved by teams outside the big three in that stretch. Meanwhile there have been four just in the last two years, with the Coyne, Schmidt Hamilton, KV and Carpenter teams all grabbing one top-5 apiece.

But in a series that’s still so wide open at most races, Texas is one place where you’ve gotta beat the big dogs first. History bears that out, and it’s still hard to bet against any of the seven cars entered this year from Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.

Rosberg goes lights-to-flag in Russia for seventh straight F1 win

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg’s blistering run of form continued on Sunday in Sochi as he claimed his seventh successive Formula 1 race win by dominating the Russian Grand Prix.

Rosberg recorded his first F1 ‘grand slam’ by leading every lap of the race from pole position en route to victory while also setting the fastest lap, allowing him to extend his championship lead to 43 points.

Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton capitalized on a messy first lap to rise to second after the sole round of pit stops, only for a water pressure issue to force him to ease his pace and settle for second place.

While Rosberg went relatively unchallenged at the front, the race in the midfield offered a number of fascinating scraps at the Sochi Autodrom as Ferrari and Red Bull both came unstuck.

Rosberg made a good start to hold onto his lead on the long run down to Turn 2, with Kimi Raikkonen battling his way past Valtteri Bottas for second place. Just behind, Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat diced for position much as they did in China, this time resulting in contact.

Vettel was punted from behind by Kvyat, sending him into the wall at Turn 3 and bringing his race to an early end. Daniel Ricciardo also got caught in the incident, leaving both Red Bulls requiring repairs, while Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Gutierez tangled further back.

Having battled his way up to fifth amid the chaos, Hamilton was able to jump up to fourth when the race returned to green on lap four. Bottas was able to re-pass Raikkonen for second, with Hamilton quickly latching onto the back of the Finnish duo. The Briton quickly disposed of Raikkonen, but struggled to get close to Bottas thanks to the straight line speed of the Williams car, allowing Rosberg to escape up the road.

By the time Bottas pitted and released Hamilton into second place, Rosberg’s lead stood at 14 seconds, putting him in total control of the race. Mercedes reacted to Williams’ move by bringing in Hamilton one lap later, only for him to emerge from the pits once again staring at Bottas’ rear wing.

This time around, Hamilton wasted little time. After taking a lap to warm his tires up, Hamilton dived down the inside of Bottas at Turn 2 to move into net second place, leaving only Rosberg ahead once the pit stop cycle was complete. Raikkonen’s decision to go four laps longer paid off as he passed Bottas once again, while Rosberg was the last of the front-runners to pit, emerging with a lead of 12 seconds over Hamilton.

Hamilton refused to back down in the battle for the win though. With tire wear being low around the Sochi Autodrom, none of the leaders had to pit again, leaving Hamilton to try and catch Rosberg without gaining time through the pits. He duly delivered a set of blistering lap times to cut the gap down to just 7.5 seconds as Rosberg lost chunks of time through the first sector on each lap.

However, Hamilton’s charge was duly stunted when Mercedes informed him of a water pressure issue on his car with 165 laps remaining. From here, the focus became getting Hamilton to the finish, leaving Rosberg to manage his pace and his car at the head of the pack.

It proved to be a hassle-free end to the race for Rosberg, who crossed the line after 53 laps to score his seventh victory in a row, a feat only matched by three drivers in F1 history.

Hamiton was informed that the issue had stabilized later in the race, but Rosberg was already too far away, leaving the Briton to settle for second place at the checkered flag. After four races, the deficit to Rosberg now stands at 43 points, leaving Hamilton with a mountain to climb heading to the start of the European season in Spain later this month.

Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium for Ferrari after opening up a comfortable gap to Bottas after his pit stop, going some way to make up for Vettel’s retirement. Bottas led Williams’ charge in P4 ahead of teammate Felipe Massa as both continued their points-scoring streaks.

Fernando Alonso chalked up his first points of the 2016 season by finishing sixth for McLaren, keeping himself out of trouble while most of the midfield got tangled up at the first corner. Jenson Button made it a doubly delightful day for the team by finishing 10th after passing Carlos Sainz Jr. for P10 with four laps remaining, marking his first points of 2015.

The result marked a significant breakthrough for the team as it finally delivered on the promise it had shown in the early races, while it also ended a pointless run dating back to last year’s United States Grand Prix.

Kevin Magnussen was another driver to pick up a ‘first’ in Russia as he claimed Renault’s maiden points since returning to F1 as a constructor in 2016. A good start followed by a consistent pace allowed him to finish seventh, while teammate Jolyon Palmer missed out on his first F1 points in P13.

Haas returned to the points after one race away courtesy of Romain Grosjean, who was another beneficiary from the early drama. Canny tire management allowed the Frenchman to finish eighth after fending off a charging Sergio Perez in the final stages of the race, leaving the Force India driver to settle for P9 at the flag.

After being caught up in the first-lap drama and gambling on medium tires, Daniel Ricciardo fought his way back to 12th at the finish despite being forced into a second pit stop. Teammate Kvyat was hit with a penalty for causing the Vettel shunt, limiting him to a 15th-place finish behind Sainz and Marcus Ericsson.

Felipe Nasr crossed the line 16th in the second Sauber ahead of Esteban Gutierrez, who was also penalized for hitting Hulkenberg at the first corner. Pascal Wehrlein was the last classified finisher for Manor in P18. Max Verstappen and Rio Haryanto joined Vettel and Hulkenberg on the sidelines, failing to finish the race.

Vettel lets loose on radio after being taken out by Kvyat (VIDEO)

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Sebastian Vettel was left fuming with Daniil Kvyat after clashing with the Red Bull youngster for the second race in a row in Russia on Sunday.

Vettel complained about Kvyat’s antics off the line in China, saying he was “like a torpedo”, but both managed to finish on the podium.

However, Vettel’s Russian Grand Prix lasted just three corners after Kvyat hit him twice – once from behind at Turn 2 and again midway through Turn 3 – to send the German into the wall.

For Vettel, it proved to be the latest low point in a tough start to the season that has seen him fail to finish twice already.

After the shunt, Vettel made no secret of his anger over team radio, shouting angrily. However, he was more civil when he returned to the pit lane, although he did pay a visit to Kvyat’s boss, Christian Horner, for a chat midway through the race.

Speaking to NBCSN, Vettel said there was no bad blood with Kvyat, but it didn’t change the fact that he was no longer in the race.

“I don’t dislike him. I think he did a mistake two weeks ago,” Vettel said.

“Today it’s fairly obvious, he did a mistake again, obviously, it doesn’t help me now because I’m not in the car.

“In the end we’re here to race. Massively pumped up. Had a super start, made progress into the second corner and got hit, then a second hit, which destroyed our race.

“I was quite loud on the radio… but it doesn’t change anything now.”

Wolff praises Hamilton’s resilience and attitude amid struggles

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Mercedes Formula 1 team boss Toto Wolff has praised Lewis Hamilton for his resilience and attitude after suffering yet another setback during qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.

For the second race in a row, Hamilton was sidelined in qualifying by an issue on his power unit that means he will start today’s race in Sochi from P10 on the grid.

Mercedes was able to fly in the required parts from its engine base in Brixworth, England to Sochi overnight, ensuring that Hamilton will not take a grid penalty.

Hamilton was bitterly disappointed by the issue, while Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe said on Saturday that the team had let him down.

Staring down the barrel of a 36-point deficit to Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship, Hamilton will be doing everything he can to stop his pole-sitting teammate from extending that lead on Sunday.

“The power unit is a core element of performance and one of our biggest strengths,” Wolff said on Saturday after qualifying.

“We are pushing hard to find lap time in every area and it’s inevitable that sometimes you reach limits in that process.

“Lewis has handled everything so far this year with calm and professionalism. He is resilient and showing a great attitude, even though this is a tough time for him.

“For tomorrow, it’s clear we are in a strong position in terms of performance. But like the saying goes, to finish first, first you have to finish…”

WATCH LIVE: Russian GP on CNBC, Live Extra from 7am ET

during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
© Getty Images
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Nico Rosberg will line up on the grid for today’s Russian Grand Prix knowing that a seventh straight grand prix victory and a championship lead of over 40 points are well within his grasp.

The German driver swept to his second pole position of the year on Saturday with a fuss-free display, taking advantage of the bad luck that befell Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton.

In a repeat of the power unit issue that saw him fail to take any part in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix two weeks ago, Hamilton was forced to sit out Q3, leaving him 10th on the grid for today’s race.

With Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel also dropping back by virtue of a grid penalty for a gearbox change, Rosberg’s main rivals are now out of the picture. But can he keep his cool and win his first Russian Grand Prix?

You can watch the Russian Grand Prix live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call, with pit reporter Will Buxton on the ground in Sochi, Russia.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race, which kicks off at 8am ET at the Sochi Autodrom.

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