(Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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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Driver helmets looking very stylish for Sunday‘s Indianapolis 500

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If it’s spring and time for the Indianapolis 500, the best-dressed man and woman are sporting the newest fashions – on their heads, that is.

There’s a number of fascinating liveries on helmets for this year’s race. Some are tribute liveries, some homages to the race itself and some just switched up for the sake of it.

Here’s some of the more interesting helmets drivers will be wearing in the 100th running of the Indy 500 this Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

 

It’s a dog’s life: While ‘dad’ Simon is away, Norman Pagenaud will play

simon pagenaud and norman
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Current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Simon Pagenaud — who comes into Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 riding a three-race winning streak — has a new addition to the family: Norman Pagenaud.

The newest Pagenaud already has his own Twitter account and while ‘dad’ was in Detroit Tuesday during the annual NASCAR cross-country media tour day, Norman REALLY got to know his new home away from home: Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Check out some of Norman’s best tweets of the day, as well as a few from Simon.

Oh, and did we mention that Norman is a puppy? He’s sooooooo cute!

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Cross-country IndyCar media tour pumps up excitement for Indy 500

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(Photo courtesy Mike Kitchel, IndyCar)
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To further pump up the excitement of Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 – which is officially sold-out – all 33 drivers in the race field spent Tuesday flying to various cities for a number of media opportunities.

Some went to baseball games, others to the zoo, and all had countless media interviews as a prelude for Sunday’s milestone event.

The media tour, which began in 2011, scattered the drivers to a variety of markets, from New York City and Chicago to Miami, Phoenix, Toronto, Buffalo, St. Louis and even Bethlehem, Pa.

Pole-sitter James Hinchcliffe kicked off things by taking a bite out of the Big Apple (New York City), along with 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2014 Verizon IndyCarSeries champion Will Power and two-time series race winner Marco Andretti.

Here’s where the contingent of drivers visited, followed by a number of social media posts related to their visits:

Bethlehem, Pa.: Jack Hawksworth, Bristol, Conn. (ESPN): Tony Kanaan, Buffalo: Josef Newgarden, Charlotte, N.C.: Juan Pablo Montoya, Chicago: Helio Castroneves, Cincinnati: Sage Karam, Mikhail Aleshin, Cleveland: Pippa Mann, Columbus, Ohio: Charlie Kimball, Dallas: Graham Rahal, Dayton, Ohio: Stefan Wilson, Detroit: Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Bryan Clauson, Buddy Lazier, Louisville: Matt Brabham, Alexander Rossi, Max Chilton, Spencer Pigot, Miami: Oriol Servia, Carlos Munoz, Gabby Chaves, Milwaukee: Conor Daly, New York: Will Power, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Townsend Bell, Phoenix: Scott Dixon, St. Louis: JR Hildebrand, Toronto: Takuma Sato, Alex Tagliani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Form and history against struggling Hamilton at Monaco GP

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 15:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP before the drivers parade ahead of the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 15, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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MONACO (AP) Lewis Hamilton heads into this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix with form and recent history against him as he bids to close the gap on championship leader Nico Rosberg.

Five races into the season, the defending Formula One champion trails Robserg by 43 points and needs to start pressuring his Mercedes teammate.

But Rosberg has won the past three races here, while things have been more problematic for Hamilton – whose only win in Monaco was driving for McLaren in 2008.

“I’m approaching this weekend with only one result in mind,” Hamilton said. “I’ve not had the best run of results in Monaco in recent years, but last year showed I have the pace to do the job.”

Hamilton has clearly not forgotten what happened in 2015. His team’s panicky decision to call him back to the pits after the safety car came out crushed his momentum, handing victory to Rosberg, with Hamilton placing third behind Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel.

The previous year, Rosberg was the source of Hamilton’s irritation as the German driver appeared to deliberately go off track near the end of qualifying – thus prematurely ending the session and denying Hamilton pole position.

Tensions escalated between Hamilton and Rosberg in 2014, so much so that team management intervened, and the friction was still apparent at times last year as Hamilton raced to his second straight title and third overall. He won the title with three races to spare, but has not won since.

Relations between Hamilton and Rosberg had mellowed until two weeks ago, when an extraordinary start to the Spanish GP saw them crash into each other.

“I was gutted after what happened in Spain,” Rosberg said. “I know how hard everybody works to make these amazing cars, so for us to leave them both in the gravel is the worst possible scenario.”

That both drivers failed to finish meant neither directly gained any advantage from the other’s misfortune, which probably prevented another bout of finger-pointing between the fiercely competitive pair who raced karts against each other as teenage friends.

But it has caused serious commotion within Mercedes, with non-executive chairman Nikki Lauda blaming Hamilton for the incident, while head of motorsport Toto Wolff scolded both drivers.

“The team is responsible for giving them the best possible cars and they are responsible for getting the best out of them,” Wolff said. “When we let them down, we apologize and the same goes the other way.”

The lost points in Barcelona played to Red Bull’s advantage as 18-year-old Max Verstappen became the youngest driver to win an F1 race, while veteran Kimi Raikkonen grabbed another podium to sneak past Hamilton and into second place overall behind Rosberg.

“It’s clear that we are under attack from more than one angle,” Wolff said. “We must remain united, remain strong and hit back hard this weekend.”

Pole position is crucial in Monaco, almost as much as it is Spain and Hungary, with overtaking extremely difficult on the tight and twisting street track that weaves around millionaires reclining on their yachts and climbs up past the famed casino.

“I have memories from every corner going right back to my school days,” said Rosberg, who grew up in Monaco. “I’m feeling confident, so bring on the battle.”

Vettel tasted victory in Monaco only once – driving for Red Bull in 2011 – and celebrated by somersaulting into the team swimming pool. Ferrari’s drought stretches way back to Michael Schumacher’s victory in 2001.

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Verstappen – whose late crash undid Hamilton last year in Monaco – after his winning drive two weeks ago in his debut for Red Bull.

Verstappen’s win is a wake-up call to teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who won three races in his first season with Red Bull in 2014, but has not finished on the podium in 11 races.

“It’s definitely a good motivation,” Ricciardo said.