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Clint Bowyer understands significance of doing well at Sonoma and how it could impact rest of season

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It’s been a rough start to the 2014 season for Clint Bowyer. After 15 starts, Bowyer has little to show for his efforts: just two top-five and three other top-10 finishes.

Unless things start to turn more positive and productive for the Kansas native, who is currently 14th in the Sprint Cup standings, he realizes that he may not make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, let alone go a second straight season without a win.

But after being second-fastest in the first of two practice sessions Friday at Sonoma Raceway, and then coming back to be the fastest of all in the latter practice, Bowyer may be headed in the right direction – especially at a track where he won at in 2012.

“It is an opportunity, an opportunity for a lot of drivers,” Bowyer said in Friday’s media session at the racetrack. “That’s why it’s a dangerous race. For the Chase and for where we’re at in the points, you’ve got some guys that are back in the points. Guys that you really know you’re not going to be racing for points into the championship, but they could certainly go out and win this race and put themselves into the championship Chase.

“Dangerous race — it really is. You’ve got to weigh out those options as you go because that set of circumstances changes so many times throughout this race, strategy and everything else. You’ve just got to see where you’re at and take it as it comes and try to make the best decisions you can and have good speed in your race car, and by all means win this damn race.”

Having previously won at Sonoma gives Bowyer a leg up on a good chunk of the field in Sunday’s race.

But he’s more than just a one-win wonder. Frankly, the Kansas native has become quite the road course ace at Sonoma: in eight starts he has one win, four other top-five and one other top-10 finishes, meaning he’s only missed the top-10 just twice in his prior tries there.

“There’s always pressure in this sport, it doesn’t matter what race you go back to, and especially a race you’ve had success at lately,” Bowyer said. “Where we’re at right now, we’re in a position that if you go out here and win, it locks us in to the Chase.  The only thing I can do that I can’t afford to do here is get wiped out, crash myself, run off the track, dive-bomb somebody and make a mistake where it really takes you out of contention for a good finish here because I think we’re plenty capable of what we’ve showed to get a good finish. That’s where the focus is.”

It’s funny how drivers have changed their thinking about Sonoma over the years. It used to be that a number of drivers couldn’t get through the race and weekend fast enough, take their mediocre to poor performance and get on the a quick flight home afterward.

But Sonoma has changed dramatically over the last decade. It has become a track where drivers not only have fun at, they now look forward to racing at. One key to that is timing of sorts: Jeff Gordon (five) and Tony Stewart (two) combined to earn seven wins from 1998 through 2006.

But each of the last seven races has been won by a different driver reaching Sonoma’s victory lane for the first time in their Sprint Cup career: Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Bowyer and last year’s winner, Martin Truex Jr.

With that kind of parity, not to mention how drivers and teams can no longer look at road course races as mulligans or throw-away events, drivers have been forced to get better if they want to be competitive.

As a result, Sonoma has earned a number of different nicknames (some unprintable by those who still haven’t been able to figure out the place), but one stands out in particular: a Bristol on steroids.

Given the propensity for beating and banging, Sonoma has become a road course that thinks its one of NASCAR’s best short tracks, so to speak.

And just like at Bristol, drivers at Sonoma get into some heated battles, do a great deal of beating and banging, and tempers rise just as quick as water temps in the radiator.

There’s no such thing as being patient or gentlemanly racing anymore at Sonoma, and Bowyer will be the first to admit that.

“That’s the one thing that you can guarantee yourself, is whoever is behind you at the end of the race will not be patient,” Bowyer said. “Go out there and set your car up to not put yourself in those situations. Be good off of (turn) 10 to where they can’t dive-bomb you into 11. Be good down the hill, up on top of the hill to where they can’t dive-bomb you getting into 7. Those are things that you’ve got to be able to take care of business and set yourself up for. And if you’re not good off of those corners you’re going to be battling that there in your mirror all day long.”

One thing in Bowyer’s favor – but also in teammate Brian Vickers’ favor, as well – is that MWR drivers have won the last two races at Sonoma: Bowyer in 2012, Truex last season (before moving to Furniture Row Racing this season).

“I wasn’t surprised that Martin won that race,” Bowyer said. “Obviously we had the same setup in and same setup that won (the year before).”

But things are totally different coming into this Sunday’s race.

“Things evolve so much with this new rule package that setup won’t even qualify for this weekend’s race,” Bowyer said. “The very setup that won the last two races just won’t — it won’t compete.

“So, I do dig that about this sport. You have to be able to keep up with the times and keep pushing forward and figuring out ways to keep forward driving in the cars and then keep turning it. Just have fun.”

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Max Verstappen named F1 Driver of the Day for USGP despite DNF

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing on the grid before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen has been voted Driver of the Day for the United States Grand Prix despite retiring from the race due to a gearbox failure.

Verstappen qualified fourth in Austin before a poor start saw him slip behind Kimi Raikkonen during the opening stages at the Circuit of The Americas

The Red Bull driver took the position back before closing in on Nico Rosberg through the second stint of the race, but retired soon after due to a gearbox issue.

Nevertheless, Verstappen has won the online fan vote for Austin, the result being announced on F1’s official Twitter account on Sunday night.

Grosjean secures point in Haas F1 Team’s home Grand Prix

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 walks in the Paddock after practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – After an eight-race scoring “drought” since the Austrian Grand Prix, the 10th race of the season, Haas F1 Team broke its longest pointless scoring streak to date with a welcome and perhaps surprising return to the points in today’s United States Grand Prix in Austin from Circuit of The Americas.

Although Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez started only 17th and 14th respectively in the pair of Haas VF-16 Ferraris, they both made it to the fringes of the top 10 early before resuming in their sometimes eternal position of 11th.

Gutierrez fell out after Lap 17 with an apparent brake failure, but Grosjean pressed on the rest of the race. Once Kimi Raikkonen retired in one of the factory Ferraris after one of his tires hadn’t been secured properly, that promoted Grosjean into 10th and a World Championship point, a welcome result in his 100th Grand Prix start.

Grosjean noted that after a tough weekend for the team, down on downforce and with some aero parts breaking off on Friday, the point was a welcome result.

“It didn’t go too bad. Bit of a messy first lap. We did an aggressive strategy. It worked pretty well,” Grosjean told NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“I’m lucky a few cars retired in front of us. We needed to finish the race. Great to score points in front of the home crowd. It’s been a long time since we’ve scored points!”

After the run of 11th-place finishes, Grosjean said scoring points late was a huge confidence booster for the team.

“Yeah it’s a great thing to score points at the end of the season,” he said. “It means a lot for how we’ve worked. Yesterday he’s not so happy after the performance we had but today he is. Gene’s mother, his sister, and there are a lot of people here. Now I have to watch Talladega and see how our boys are doing in NASCAR!”

Gutierrez, who retired early, was still diplomatic and thankful for the weekend experience.

“Yes it was (brake failure). We think one of the discs broke,” Gutierrez told NBCSN’s Will Buxton. “It’s not what we wanted for a race weekend. Not easy to accept either. Difficult start of the weekend and it was not going to be easy. We went on.

“We did a great qualifying, optimizing what we had. We pushed to the maximum. We got into the top 10 the first few laps. Aggressive strategy. At some point I lost the brakes. Fortunately I didn’t run into the barrier (at Turn 11).

“It’s very disappointing but we have to continue focusing on the positives. I want to thank everyone for the enthusiasm and support all weekend. I’m sorry for all of you who were here to support us and ensure we are doing our best.”

Gutierrez now heads to his home of Mexico City next week, where he’ll race in his first Mexican Grand Prix.

Rosberg content with damage limitation in Austin, finishing second

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP on the grid before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg was content with his drive to second place in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, ensuring his Formula 1 drivers’ championship lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton remains healthy.

Rosberg arrived in Austin leading the drivers’ championship by 33 points, enjoying the luxury of being able to finish second in the remaining four races of the season and still win the title.

The German qualified second behind Hamilton at the Circuit of The Americas on Saturday, and opted to slot in behind his teammate through the first corner.

This allowed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo to dive up the inside, taking second place through the esses and leaving Rosberg with a mountain to climb.

Mercedes opted to put Rosberg on medium tires for his second stint, causing him to come under pressure from Max Verstappen behind, but then gained a place from Ricciardo after pitting under the Virtual Safety Car.

Taking what essentially was a free pit stop saw Rosberg file out five seconds clear of Ricciardo in second, where he remained to the end of the race, finishing four seconds down on Hamilton up front.

“Lost it at the start. In the end I came back,” Rosberg said of his race on the podium after the race.

“Second place is OK, damage limitation. I wanted to win in America, would have been awesome, but it wasn’t to be. I was going for it. Flat out. All the way to the end.”

The result marks Rosberg’s first defeat in a race to Hamilton since the German Grand Prix at the end of July, and leaves the points difference at 26 points with three races to go.

Rosberg can afford to finish second twice and third once and still win the title, but will undoubtedly be keen to boost his points advantage to prevent the title fight going down to the wire in Abu Dhabi on November 27.

Mathematically, Rosberg can wrap up the title in Mexico next weekend should he win the race and Hamilton retire or fail to score.

Fifth USGP win draws Hamilton level with Schumacher’s record

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win in parc ferme  during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton drew level with Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher for the most United States Grand Prix victories by taking his fifth win on Sunday in Austin, Texas.

He’s the third driver overall to do so, with Ayrton Senna having also won five times in the U.S. – albeit only two of them in the USGP title in Phoenix. He also won three Detroit Grands Prix from 1986 through 1988.

Hamilton won his first grand prix on American soil back in 2007 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and had won three of the four races held at the Circuit of The Americas since 2012 heading into the Austin weekend.

A perfect start saw Hamilton forge an early lead over Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, the latter’s championship advantage looking precarious as he ran third on-track.

While Rosberg was able to fight back up to second place before the end of the race, Hamilton managed to dominate proceedings at the front of the field and cross the line for his fifth USGP win.

It was also the 50th win of Hamilton’s F1 career, leaving him just one shy of Alain Prost in second place on the all-time win list. Schumacher stands clear on 91 victories at the top.

The result was significant for Hamilton given his affinity with the United States, as well as being much-needed in terms of his championship aspirations.

“What an incredible crowd we have here. It’s you guys that make this race so special. Thank you so much for coming out!” Hamilton said on the podium after the race.

“This is always been a good hunting ground for me, and it very much feels like home. I’m so thankful to everyone. The team did a great job for the weekend. Very proud to be a part of it.”

Rosberg can still beat Hamilton to the title with second-place finishes in the remaining three races, but the Briton is refusing to back down.

“All I can do is my best like I did this weekend. Hope that will continue,” Hamilton said.

“Please keep your fingers crossed. I’ll be going for it!”