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What a difference a year makes for Hendrick at Michigan

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One year ago at Michigan International Speedway, the Hendrick Motorsports stable suffered through a rough afternoon across the board.

Jeff Gordon was taken out in an early wreck. Kasey Kahne was leading when a tire blew and sent him hard in the wall. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s chances of victory ended with a blown engine, and Jimmie Johnson crashed while running second with three laps to go thanks to a flat.

All four Hendrick drivers finished outside of the Top 25 that day; it was the first time such an instance had occurred in a Sprint Cup race since 2005.

But today at MIS, HMS thrived. In addition to Jimmie Johnson finally winning there for the first time, Kahne, Gordon and Earnhardt also ran and finished toward the front.

Kahne is still seeking to join his HMS teammates on the Chase Grid with a regular season win, but showed lots of determination with his fifth-place performance.

Off of a restart on Lap 7, Kahne was unable to avoid a spinning Kyle Larson in Turn 2 and also skidded out of control. Luckily, he was able to come away with just minor damage and take the subsequent restart in 36th place.

From there, Kahne moved through the field somewhat and then took advantage of a “lucky dog” free pass around halfway to get back on the lead lap.

In hindsight, that appeared to be a critical boost as he drove himself all the way to the lead with 18 laps remaining. Kahne still had to pit two laps later, but was able to hang on for the Top-5.

“We struggled for a while, but we got it and then we were on a good strategy there at the end – I thought we were pretty competitive with the guys in front of us,” Kahne said.

“…We’ve just ran way too bad for the first 14, 15 races, and hopefully, this will get us going and we can get strong from here, make some points up, get a win, and get in the Chase. That’s all we can really shoot for at this point.”

Gordon led 36 laps before earning a sixth-place finish that allowed him to retain the Sprint Cup points lead.

“We lost some track position and when we lost track position, we knew it wasn’t going to handle as good,” he said about his day. “But we were just super loose even when we got clean air, so that probably hurt us more than anything.

“We just never could move forward, and then at the end, we came in and took two tires and boom, the thing was gone and flying again. Sixth – not really indicative of the race car or what I felt we were capable of, but we’ll certainly take it.”

As for Earnhardt, who had won the most recent race at Pocono, he and crew chief Steve Letarte tried various pit strategies. During a caution at Lap 121, Earnhardt actually made two stops – one for right side tires and then another for left sides.

That knocked him all the way to 20th, but it allowed Earnhardt stay on track and rise up to fourth while many leaders pitted during a later yellow at Lap 147. He ultimately faded to his final result after making his last stop (two tires, fuel) at Lap 167.

Today was also a good day all-around for Hendrick engines as well.

In addition to the aforementioned HMS drivers, second-place Kevin Harvick (Stewart Haas Racing) and eighth-place Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing) made for six Hendrick-powered competitors among the Top 8.

Kyle Busch open to Indy 500, but “wouldn’t put too good a chance” on it

during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 24, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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Following his dominant display this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he swept both poles and both wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Xfinity Series, Kyle Busch doesn’t have much left to conquer at the hallowed “Brickyard.”

Except, maybe, we can dream, one day, of him running that 500-miler around IMS in May.

His brother, Kurt, did it to national acclaim and a heck of a lot of headlines in 2014 – Kurt Busch finished sixth and was that year’s Indianapolis 500 Rookie-of-the-Year for Andretti Autosport before jetting to Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600.

But while Kyle Busch’s name has been brought up in rumors about running the Indianapolis 500 before, he didn’t seem entirely interested in running the ‘500 just because his brother did.

“Well, I won’t be following in his footsteps.  I’ll be doing my own footsteps,” Kyle Busch told reporters during his post-victory press conference.

“It certainly may open up some avenues.  I’m not sure.  But there’s some people out there that have expressed some interest to me, so we’ll see where things kind of go.

“But obviously my focus is on the Sprint Cup Series and what I’m doing here, and being able to win races with M&M’s and Skittles, Interstate Batteries and NOS Energy Drink on the XFINITY side, too.

“So I’m having fun with what I’m doing right now, and we’ll see if something is able to line up then there’s a possibility, but I probably wouldn’t put too good a chances on that.”

In the interim, while Busch isn’t extrapolating beyond his NASCAR dominance, he’s right in that he isn’t following in brother Kurt’s footsteps.

Kurt’s stretched his legs with runs in IndyCar, a Champ Car test, a GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype, an NHRA Pro Stock car and an Australian V8 Supercar test over his career.

In his career, Kyle Busch has stuck almost exclusively to NASCAR – and made a living of cleaning up the competition in the process.

Both are among the most talented drivers of their generation, and since Kurt Busch did so well in his maiden Indianapolis 500 bow, we can only dream how well Kyle Busch could do if the stars aligned to ever make it happen.

Off The Grid: Montreal preview (premieres 7/30 on NBCSN)

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The Canadian Grand Prix has become one of Formula 1’s favorite events over the years, playing host to a bumper crowd at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve year after year.

As a result, it made perfect sense for Off The Grid to visit Montreal for the second episode of the year, following the season premiere in Shanghai.

NBCSN’s Will Buxton and Jason Swales took some time over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend to go behind the scenes of the race and lift the lid on life inside the F1 paddock.

In this episode, OTG’s dynamic duo try their hand at ice hockey with the Montreal Canadiens, and are joined by Valtteri Bottas and Marcus Ericsson – both accomplished on the ice as well as on-track.

Will and Jason also take a river rapids boat tour with Manor drivers Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein, get a behind-the-scenes tour of McLaren with Fernando Alonso, and even catch up with Patriots QB Tom Brady who attended the race.

Off The Grid: Montreal premieres on NBCSN at 9:30am ET on Saturday 7/30 following qualifying for the German Grand Prix, and re-airs at 3:30pm ET.

Check out a full preview of the episode in the above video.

Raikkonen secures Driver of the Day honors in Hungary

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Kimi Raikkonen has captured the vote for F1’s Driver of the Day award, following his efforts to come from 14th to sixth place in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, and with the fastest lap of the race in the process.

The Ferrari driver missed Q3 for the first time all season but atoned nicely in the race at a track where passing is usually at a premium.

Raikkonen’s battle with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was one of the race highlights, the Dutchman defending aggressively – perhaps too much so – against Raikkonen’s advances. But with no penalty assessed and no warning issued, Verstappen ended ahead in the battle for fifth.

“I think it was very questionable, but it’s not my decision to decide,” Raikkonen told NBCSN’s Will Buxton after the race.

“I’ve seen penalties for much less. It depends on the stewards.”

The result keeps Raikkonen P4 in the Driver’s Championship, one point behind Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo but four points clear of Ferrari teammate, Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton: ‘Incredible’ to surpass Schumacher’s Hungary win tally

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Lewis Hamilton of Greatc Britain and Mercedes GP lifts the trophy on the podium after winning the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton finds it “incredible” to have surpassed seven-time Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher’s number of Hungarian Grand Prix victories after taking a fifth win in Budapest on Sunday.

Hamilton arrived in Hungary tied with Schumacher on four victories at the Hungaroring, his first success at the track coming in his debut season in 2007.

Further wins in 2009, 2012 and 2013 drew him level with Schumacher before a dominant display on Sunday saw him beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg to stand alone on five wins.

“It’s pretty incredible to hear those words, especially when you think I grew up watching Michael,” Hamilton said when informed of the record.

“So to now have had similar, if not one more, than he had here, is just incredible.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the great people I’ve worked with, both at McLaren-Mercedes and now here. It’s a result of great work from such a large group of people.

“I’m really just a chink in the chain. I love it here. I hope there’s more to come before I stop.

“It was not the easiest grand prix I’ve had here in the ten years, nine, ten years – but definitely one I enjoyed.”