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Marcos Ambrose has priorities in place: Win at Sonoma, make Chase, re-sign with RPM

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Marcos Ambrose still dreams of winning a race on a Sprint Cup oval.

But if Ambrose is to have a fighting chance to make the field in this year’s revamped and expanded Chase for the Sprint Cup, his best bet to at least get a leg up is to win Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Ambrose is arguably one of the best road course racers in the Sprint Cup Series. In six starts at Watkins Glen, which holds its annual race in August, Ambrose has two wins and five top-five finishes, plus a pole.

As for Sonoma, Ambrose also has six Cup starts there, but has yet to reach victory lane. However, he does have two wins and three other top-10 finishes, plus a pole.

Ambrose hopes to change that Sunday.

“We know that the race here this weekend and in Watkins Glen, the two road races, are our best chance to win a race this year,” Ambrose said on Wednesday’s weekly NASCAR media teleconference. “That will automatically lock us into the Chase.  Clearly there’s a lot to race for at these two tracks for us.

“We’ve put a lot of energy and effort into Sonoma. We went out there and did the Goodyear tire test earlier in the season. We’ve done some road course testing as well, so we feel we’re as ready as we can be.”

When asked about why he’s won two road courses in the Cup series but still has yet to earn his first oval victory, Ambrose was realistic.

“My natural skill set obviously is road racing,” he said. “I’m quite confident on the ovals but haven’t had the same success I’ve had on the road courses. Really it’s just the years of training.  It’s my niche.

“I feel very comfortable road racing. I feel like I can apply myself well on the weekend. The biggest thing I try to do on a buildup to a weekend like this, there’s pressure building, there’s a chance to lock yourself into the Chase, which would make your season, you get a chance to win a Sprint Cup race, which you don’t get to do very often.  What I do this weekend is not try to think about it, be normal, try to relax leading into this week.

“It’s always a pressure-filled environment. The more you think about it, the worse you tend to go. I try to rely on my instincts there. I don’t do anything special this week in preparation for it. But I also know there’s a lot on the line and that pressure is all present. Whatever you can do to try to minimize the pressure is a good thing.”

Making the Chase “certainly would make our year,” Ambrose said.

But at the same time, “I haven’t made it to the Chase yet. This format will give us our best chance to do it, if we can win a race at either Watkins Glen or Sonoma. We know that. It would really make our year, no doubt about it.  It would certainly make our sponsors and Richard Petty very happy.

“We can’t do anything but go out there and try and do it. Talking isn’t going to get it done. We all know what is at stake. I think our team has prepared the car as best we can and I’m as ready as I can be and we’ll see if we can get it done.”

With perhaps his best chance at making the Chase this season, Ambrose was asked his thoughts about potentially adding a road course to the Chase sometime in the future.

“I’m not going to second guess what NASCAR are doing,” Ambrose said. “They’ve got a Chase format. They’ve built this sport up to what it is today. The idea of the Chase is to find the best driver and team for the year, allow them to race for the championship.

“There is an argument to say if you want to be the complete package, you have to be good on road courses as well. But I’m happy with the schedule. If I can win a race here road racing, it’s going to lock me in the Chase, it’s a real win for me.

“Would I like to see more road races? I think the fans need to be asked that question, not the drivers. Really our sport is about the fans, what they like to see.

“Anecdotally, there’s always a huge crowd at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. They seem to get good ratings on TV. There is an argument there you could have more road races in the schedule. But certainly I’m not the one promoting that. I’ll just let NASCAR make their choices.”

Ambrose was again asked his future status with Richard Petty Motorsports. His contract expires at the end of this season, but he still has nothing new to report.

“I’m in a renewal year with Richard Petty for 2015,” he said. “I’m not really thinking about myself here. I just want the best for RPM. They have decisions to make along the way here. I want to help them make their decisions and be where they want to be.

“I haven’t really thought about anything much but that. I want to make sure that RPM are on the right path and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I help them do that.”

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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.

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

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

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 27:  Legendary drag racer Shirley Muldowney speaks 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)
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Shirley Muldowney has received cheers for more than 50 years for her drag racing exploits.

Now, the three-time Top Fuel champion needs cheers – and prayers – more than ever.

Muldowney, 75, will undergo surgery Wednesday morning at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, after being diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer.

“The fans have always been what’s kept me going and I’m sure people will be concerned about me now,” Muldowney said in a statement issued by her agent, Rob Geiger. “Well don’t be; I’ll be fine. There’s still a lot of things left I want to do.”

Renowned thoracic/cardiac surgeon Dr. Harold Howe will remove Muldowney’s right lung in what is expected to be a five-hour surgery.

“I’m a fighter, always have been, and I’m going to fight this as best I can with everything I got,” Muldowney said. “Dr. Howe is the No. 1 guy in the business and he’s as ready as I am to get this thing out of me.

“I’m ready for the pain to stop. It’s been getting worse the last few weeks as they did biopsies and the pre-op stress tests to make sure I was strong enough to have the surgery. Everything is good, so we’re getting it done.”

Shirley Muldowney, at the height of her NHRA drag racing career.
Shirley Muldowney, at the height of her NHRA drag racing career. Photo: Getty Images.

 

Earlier this year, Muldowney established the Shirley’s Kids charity (ShirleysKids.org) to help kids in need. Four children have already received donations from Muldowney’s charity in conjunction with NHRA national events this season at Gainesville (Florida), Charlotte, Houston and two weeks ago at Atlanta.

Backed by corporate support, Shirley’s Kids conveys 100 percent of donations to needy children. Muldowney has asked that in lieu of flowers or cards, donations be sent to her charity to further its work and efforts.

“The most joy I’ve had in years has come this season working with our little team at Shirley’s Kids,” Muldowney said. “If people can find it in their hearts to make a donation, that would brighten my spirits immensely because I know where all the money in this charity goes — right to the kids that need it. And believe me we have changed some people’s lives for the better.

“Thank you in advance for all the love and prayers. It all helps. My sister (Linda Roque) and niece (Betty Peek) along with Stan and Sheila (close friends Stan and Sheila May Holt) are here with me so I’m in great hands.”

Because of the surgery and post-op recovery/rehabilitation time, Muldowney has understandably cancelled upcoming appearances at Englishtown, New Jersey, and Bristol, Tennessee.

Updates on Muldowney’s condition and when she will resume appearances will be on ShirleysKids.org.

As she prepares for surgery, Muldowney gave a valuable public message to her fans and others:

“I urge everyone to keep up with their health and get chest x-rays as often as possible to make sure they are okay,” Muldowney said.

Long known as the “First Lady of Drag Racing,” Muldowney has long been one of the most popular and colorful drivers in the sport. She began racing in the 1950s near her hometown of Schenectady, New York, became the first female to earn an NHRA professional license and became the first female to win an NHRA pro race (1976 in Columbus, Ohio).

She then went on to extensive Top Fuel success, including winning championships in 1977 – the first female driver to earn a major motorsports championship – as well as 1980 and 1982.

She also the Top Fuel championship in the rival American Hot Rod Association in 1981, giving her four championships in six years.

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Oddsmaker picks Will Power to win 100th Indianapolis 500

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Will Power is the man to beat in Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

So says online site Bovada.lv.

The online casino and odds-setting site has made Power an 11/2 favorite to win the milestone edition of the 500.

Power, who will start from the outside of Row 2 (sixth position) in Sunday’s race will be making his ninth start in the 500. He finished a career-best second place in last year’s race, runner-up to Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.

Montoya is tied with yet another Team Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud, with the second-best odds to win the 500 at 6/1. Pagenaud has been on a tear of late, having won the last three IndyCar races leading up to the 500: Long Beach, Birmingham and the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis two weeks ago.

Helio Castroneves, who is seeking a fourth Indy 500 victory – which would tie him with AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears for most in the history of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing – is tied with defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon with the fourth-best odds to win Sunday at 13/2 each.

Pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe has the seventh-best odds to win at 12/1.

Here’s the overall odds for each driver in the 33-driver field for the Indy 500:

Driver – Odds to Win

Will Power                          11/2
Juan Pablo Montoya          6/1
Simon Pagenaud                 6/1
Helio Castroneves             13/2
Scott Dixon                         13/2
Tony Kanaan                        9/1
James Hinchcliffe              12/1
Josef Newgarden                14/1
Sebastien Bourdais             16/1
Ryan Hunter-Reay             20/1
Townsend Bell                     22/1
Marco Andretti                    25/1
Graham Rahal                     25/1
JR Hildebrand                    33/1
Takuma Sato                       33/1
Mikhail Aleshin                  40/1
Charlie Kimball                  40/1
Carlos Munoz                     40/1
Ed Carpenter                      50/1
Oriol Servia                         50/1
Max Chilton                        66/1
Sage Karam                        66/1
Alex Tagliani                      66/1
Conor Daly                         75/1
Jack Hawksworth             75/1
Alexander Rossi                75/1
Stefan Wilson                    75/1
Matthew Brabham         100/1
Gabby Chaves                  100/1
Bryan Clauson                 100/1
Buddy Lazier                    100/1
Spencer Pigot                   100/1
Pippa Mann                      150/1

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