Brad Keselowski hungry to reclaim his place at the top

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Taking a field of the finest stock car drivers on the planet to the proverbial woodshed would give anybody a heaping dose of confidence.

So it went for Brad Keselowski, who after burying the field last Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, declared over his team’s radio that “this feels like championship form to me.”

But those words weren’t just solely derived from the thrill of victory.

After defeating Jimmie Johnson for his first Sprint Cup title in 2012 and then being unable to defend it last year when he failed to make the Chase, Keselowski has aimed to show that he is indeed one of the best drivers this sport has to offer.

His Team Penske crew has responded, giving him fast cars almost every week. And on Saturday night, he emphatically converted that speed into a statement performance at Kentucky, leading 199 of 267 laps en route to his second Sprint Cup win of 2014.

Could that effort prove to be the start of his drive to a second Cup title? Why not? His win at Kentucky in 2012 served that very purpose, after all. Following that particular triumph, he earned two more wins and 16 Top-10s over the final 19 races of that year, which proved enough to hold off Johnson.

Then there’s the fact that half of the 10 Chase tracks are 1.5-mile, intermediate ovals just like Kentucky. You get one guess on what type of track Keselowski’s wins this season have come at.

But perhaps the most important thing in Keselowski’s favor? Experience.

The Michigan native went from the highest of highs in 2012 to the lowest of lows in 2013. Last season, Keselowski could not find the consistency that had helped him become a champion, and it ultimately cost him a spot in the Chase.

There’s no doubt that this past winter had to be humbling for him and the No. 2 team. But it’s also made him more appreciative of being able to have nights like he had on Saturday.

It’s also made him hungry – perhaps as hungry as he’s ever been in NASCAR’s top level. He wants to prove to all of us that he will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

“I want to win another championship,” he said in post-race. “I don’t want to just win one. I think I have the team to do it, with Paul and the guys. I have the owner to do it with Roger Penske, and the urgency is now. I don’t want to win one championship and that be it for my career. I’m not going to be happy with that.

“And I want to win another championship, but I don’t want it to be five or ten years from now. I don’t want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years, I want to do it each and every year, and I know that opportunity is here, and it’s present, and I want to make the most of it, and I’m not afraid to communicate that.”

As for the here and now, Keselowski knows it won’t be easy to overcome the Hendrick Motorsports armada. He and Penske teammate Joey Logano have been solid this year, but HMS is still regarded as the strongest team overall in the Cup garage.

Keselowski’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, noted that it will take an all-around effort to beat them and everyone else.

“I think we look at our program as a whole and look at areas where we can be stronger, where we need to improve, and whether it’s with our aero department or our chassis or the guys working on the cars, the pit crews, we look at it all,” Wolfe said.

“To be able to win another championship, we’ll have to be very good in all those areas, and we’ll continue to evaluate and do what we need to do to be able to be good in all those areas.”

But one area where they’re not lacking is determination. Armed with a sharpened focus and a resolve to take back what was once theirs, Keselowski and his team are looking like a group that will be very dangerous when the Chase for a championship begins.

NHRA: Capps wins 2 in a row; Torrence, Tonglet, McGaha get 1st wins of ’17

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Ron Capps continued his quest toward his second consecutive NHRA Funny Car title, capturing his second straight win of 2017 in Sunday’s eliminations of the NHRA 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway in Concord, North Carolina.

Other winners in the sixth of 24 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national events this season were Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

In Funny Car, Capps’ winning run (3.933 seconds at 322.65 mph) was the 52nd win of his NHRA career and his first in the 4-Wide Nationals.

“This is a fun race,” Capps said in a media release. “I’ve got a great racecar. To be in a car and to have it throw you back with that many g-force and realizing the temperature that track is and still feeling that six g’s and thinking ‘how on God’s earth are these two Goodyear’s (tires) sticking to that ground?’ It’s an amazing feeling.”

The win also moved Capps into the lead in the Funny Car standings, now holding a 43-point edge over second-ranked and teammate Matt Hagan.

In Top Fuel, Torrence earned his first win of the season and ninth of his career with a strong run of 3.783 seconds at 323.89 mph.

Ironically, one of the crewmen on Torrence’s team, Gary Pritchett, is married to Leah Pritchett, who maintains her lead in the Top Fuel point standings. Torrence defeated Pritchett in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.

“This is the same as winning a race that you had to pedal it every round or you had to win it on holeshots,” Torrence said. “This is a driver’s race. We race 24 races a year and one of them we race four-wide. It’s completely different when you come in here; you’re mentally challenged.”

In Pro Stock, Chris McGaha earned his first win of the season and fifth of his career (6.591 seconds at 210.44 mph).

“Now it looks like we’ve got some momentum and it’s kind of hard to swallow,” McGaha said. “To me, I’ve always said you’ve got to have power to win in this game. You’ve got to have enough smoke to win. This one showed us we have a lot of power and that’s why we came here.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Tonglet also earned his first win of 2017 (and 10th of his career) with a winning ride was 6.864 seconds at 195.00 mph.

“It’s just unbelievable what we’ve come through this weekend alone,” Tonglet stated. “With the four-wides you just have to be prepared for anything. You just have to concentrate because if you lose your train of thought it’s going to be bad.”

The win is also Tonglet’s first since joining the White Alligator Racing headed by 2016 Pro Stock Motorcycle champ Jerry Savoie.

The NHRA now moves to Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Georgia, next weekend (May 5-7).

************************************

FINAL FINISHING ORDER: 

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Tony Schumacher; 3. Leah Pritchett; 4. Terry McMillen; 5. Dom Lagana; 6. Doug Kalitta; 7. Clay Millican; 8. Antron Brown; 9. Scott Palmer; 10. Terry Haddock; 11. Ike Maier; 12. Shawn Langdon; 13. Troy Coughlin Jr.; 14. Pat Dakin; 15. Chris Karamesines.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps; 2. Jack Beckman; 3. J.R. Todd; 4. Matt Hagan; 5. Robert Hight; 6. Jonnie Lindberg; 7. John Force; 8. Tim Wilkerson; 9. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 10. Chad Head; 11. Bob Bode; 12. Bob Tasca III; 13. Del Worsham; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Cruz Pedregon; 16. Courtney Force.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Chris McGaha; 2. Greg Anderson; 3. Shane Gray; 4. Drew Skillman; 5. Vincent Nobile; 6. Alex Laughlin; 7. Jason Line; 8. Tanner Gray; 9. Jeg Coughlin; 10. Allen Johnson; 11. Bo Butner; 12. Shane Tucker; 13. Deric Kramer; 14. Alan Prusiensky; 15. Erica Enders; 16. John Gaydosh Jr.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. LE Tonglet; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Andrew Hines; 4. Scotty Pollacheck; 5. Joey Gladstone; 6. Angelle Sampey; 7. Matt Smith; 8. Karen Stoffer; 9. Jerry Savoie; 10. Angie Smith; 11. Shawn Gann; 12. Hector Arana; 13. Chip Ellis; 14. Steve Johnson; 15. Hector Arana Jr; 16. Cory Reed.

************************************

FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Steve Torrence, 3.783 seconds, 323.89 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 3.874 seconds, 309.13 mph and Leah Pritchett, 3.796 seconds, 318.84 mph and Terry McMillen, 4.650 seconds, 171.23 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.933, 322.65 def. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.959, 320.05 and J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 4.103, 307.72 and Matt Hagan, Charger, 8.820, 93.67.

PRO STOCK: Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.591, 210.44 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.614, 209.56 and Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.648, 209.33 and Drew Skillman, Camaro, foul.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.864, 195.00 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.821, 195.31 and Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.902, 194.16 and Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, broke.

************************************ 

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE – Steve Torrence, 3.770, 326.56 and Dom Lagana, 3.859, 319.82 def. Scott Palmer, 3.873,323.35 and Troy Coughlin Jr., 10.347, 84.52; Leah Pritchett, 3.737, 316.23 and Clay Millican, 3.743, 320.97 def. Terry Haddock, 4.292, 218.51 and Shawn Langdon, 5.211, 145.67; Antron Brown, 3.763, 326.08 and Tony Schumacher, 4.374, 247.52 def. Ike Maier, 4.387, 185.82 and Pat Dakin, 11.899, 61.87; Doug Kalitta, 3.751, 324.44 and Terry McMillen, 4.346, 262.64 def.  Brittany Force, 9.446, 80.41, Chris Karamesines, broke;

SEMIFINALS – Schumacher, 3.792, 327.74 and McMillen, 3.832, 316.52 def. Kalitta, 4.202, 230.37 and Brown, 6.933, 100.67; Pritchett, 3.756, 323.27 and Torrence, 3.774, 326.71 def. Lagana, 3.889,316.97 and Millican, 5.134, 145.30;

FINAL – Torrence, 3.783, 323.89 def. Schumacher, 3.874, 309.13, Pritchett, 3.796, 318.84 and McMillen, 4.650, 171.23.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE – Jonnie Lindberg, Toyota Camry, 3.986, 322.65 and J.R. Todd, Camry, 7.767, 257.28 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 7.939, 118.58 and Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, DQ; Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.884, 327.66 and Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 4.025, 316.23 def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.288, 314.31 and Jim Campbell, Charger, 6.712, 98.34; John Force, Camaro, 3.937, 309.20 and Ron Capps, Charger, 3.926, 322.65 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.451, 280.54 and Del Worsham, Camry, 4.843, 189.90; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.930, 330.07 and Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 4.336, 267.59 def.Bob Bode, Charger, 4.530, 202.85 and Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 9.393, 87.27;

SEMIFINALS – Hagan, 3.983, 325.77 and Todd, 4.036, 281.54 def. Lindberg, 4.418, 267.69 and Wilkerson, 6.193, 108.07; Capps, 3.920, 323.43 and Beckman, 3.991, 316.38 def. Hight, 4.012, 318.39 and J. Force, 5.618, 128.54;

FINAL – Capps, 3.933, 322.65 def. Beckman, 3.959, 320.05, Todd, 4.103, 307.72 and Hagan, 8.820, 93.67.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE – Chris McGaha, Chevy Camaro, 6.601, 210.24 and Jason Line, Camaro, 6.594, 210.67 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.612, 209.26 and Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.645, 209.39; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.598, 210.87 and Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.627, 209.23 def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.617, 209.98 and Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.632, 209.33; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.596, 210.28 and Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.650, 208.36 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.709, 204.98 and Erica Enders, Camaro, DQ; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.612, 209.07 and Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.601, 210.77 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.568, 209.52 and John Gaydosh Jr, Chevrolet Camaro, broke;

SEMIFINALS – Anderson, 6.606, 210.60 and S. Gray, 6.618, 209.26 def. Laughlin, 6.631, 209.23 and T. Gray, 6.623, 209.65; McGaha, 6.586, 210.47 and Skillman, 6.612, 209.59 def. Nobile, 6.624,

209.39 and Line, 6.616, 209.49;

FINAL – McGaha, 6.591, 210.44 def. Anderson, 6.614, 209.56, S. Gray, 6.648, 209.33 and Skillman, foul.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE – Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.817, 195.99 and LE Tonglet, Suzuki GSXR, 6.829, 195.36 def. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki TL1000, 6.813, 195.62 and Steve Johnson, TL1000, 6.994, 190.89; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki TL1000R, 6.867, 193.85 and Joey Gladstone, GSXR, 6.888, 194.94 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 6.940, 194.55 and Chip Ellis, Buell XB9R, 6.888, 196.19; Andrew Hines, Harley V-Rod, 6.838,195.11 and Angelle Sampey, Victory, 6.959, 192.96 def. Hector Arana, XB9R, 7.271, 195.34 and Cory Reed, Victory, 10.037, 83.65; Eddie Krawiec, V-Rod, 6.792, 196.22 and Matt Smith, Victory Gunner, 6.924, 192.71 def. Shawn Gann, XB9R, 6.964, 192.14 and Hector Arana Jr, XB9R, 8.210, 113.57;

SEMIFINALS – Tonglet, 6.889, 192.74 and Pollacheck, 6.886, 192.96 def. Gladstone, 6.925, 193.63 and Stoffer, 6.914, 192.38; Hines, 6.868, 195.11 and Krawiec, 6.867, 195.28 def. Sampey, 6.944,193.46 and M. Smith, 6.892, 193.71;

FINAL – Tonglet, 6.864, 195.00 def. Krawiec, 6.821, 195.31, Hines, 6.902, 194.16 and Pollacheck, broke.

************************************

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1. Leah Pritchett, 569; 2. Tony Schumacher, 535; 3. Antron Brown, 501; 4. Steve Torrence, 470; 5. Doug Kalitta, 417; 6. Clay Millican, 330; 7. Brittany Force, 316; 8. Terry McMillen, 267; 9. Troy Coughlin Jr., 264; 10. Scott Palmer, 212.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Ron Capps, 518; 2. Matt Hagan, 475; 3. John Force, 433; 4. Tommy Johnson Jr., 390; 5. Jack Beckman, 375; 6. Robert Hight, 365; 7. Courtney Force, 343; 8. J.R. Todd, 295; 9. Jonnie Lindberg, 286; 10. Jim Campbell, 242.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson, 554; 2. Bo Butner, 464; 3. Jason Line, 457; 4. Tanner Gray, 423; 5. Jeg Coughlin, 419; 6. Chris McGaha, 365; 7. Shane Gray, 350; 8. Drew Skillman, 300; 9. Erica Enders, 295; 10. Vincent Nobile, 288.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Eddie Krawiec, 225; 2. Andrew Hines, 177; 3. LE Tonglet, 172; 4. Joey Gladstone, 135; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 124; 6. Jerry Savoie, 108; 7. Steve Johnson, 105; 8. Matt Smith, 104; 9. Karen Stoffer, 83; 10. Angelle Sampey, 82.

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Massa brushes off Vettel’s blocking complaint at end of Russian GP

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Felipe Massa brushed off Sebastian Vettel’s blocking complaint at the end of Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Russia, saying the Ferrari driver stood no chance of catching race winner Valtteri Bottas at the front of the pack.

Vettel closed up on Bottas in the final few laps of the race, getting a boost from DRS on the penultimate tour of the Sochi Autodrom as he ran less than a second behind.

Massa – Bottas’ former teammate at Williams – inadvertently gave the Finn a boost by also offering him DRS despite being a lap down, letting the Finn past into Turn 2.

Vettel was next up to try and lap Massa, expecting the Brazilian to lift through Turn 3, only for him to keep his foot in and make it difficult to overtake.

Vettel immediately complained over the radio to his Ferrari team, but it was to no avail as Bottas crossed the line 0.6 seconds clear to record his first grand prix victory. Massa finished the race ninth for Williams.

When asked about Vettel’s complaint after the race, Massa dismissed it, believing the German would not have caught Bottas anyway.

“To be honest, so many races he was not happy,” Massa told NBCSN.

“I left the right side for him. I slowed before corner four and he didn’t want to go.

“He wasn’t going to pass Valtteri in the last lap anyway, for sure.”

Massa was quick to congratulate Bottas after the race, the pair having spent three years together as teammates at Williams ahead of the latter’s move up to Mercedes for 2017.

“To be honest he deserves the win. He was a driver that showed he is at this level in the right way,” Massa said.

“People didn’t see the level he was [at Williams], but I said straight away he’d do a good job for Mercedes. He is.

“This is his track, and I’m so happy for him. He’ll get more than just the one he did today.”

Bottas joins F1’s Finnish stars with Russian GP win

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One has a new Finnish iceman on top of the podium.

Valtteri Bottas kept his cool under pressure in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix to claim his first F1 victory, swooping past Sebastian Vettel for the lead on the first lap, and keeping the hard-charging German behind him on the final lap.

“When I drive, there’s not much emotion in there,” Bottas said after his win. “I’m just trying to get everything right and get every lap, every corner perfect.”

Bottas joins an illustrious list of Finnish winners, including Kimi Raikkonen who joined Bottas on the podium after finishing third. Raikkonen has long been nicknamed “The Iceman” for his cool demeanor, but Bottas showed he can be just as chilled. Long considered a potential winner, he’d made the podium 11 times before with Williams and Mercedes, but the top step was always just out of reach.

Bottas doesn’t go in for wild celebration, but he radiated calm satisfaction with a job well done.

“Hearing the Finnish national anthem is something quite special for me,” he said. “I always trust in my ability but it’s nice to get a confirmation.”

Just like Raikkonen, Bottas can occasionally get irritated by well-meaning advice from his team over the radio, and that happened Sunday.

“I had to ask for a bit more radio silence from the guys on the pit wall,” he said, “just for me to get on it and focus for it, and to feel a bit more like home. Nice and quiet, and that helped.”

A country of 5.5 million people, Finland has long punched far above its weight in international motorsport.

Just eight Finns have ever started a Formula One race. Of those, seven have made the podium at least once, five have won a race and three – Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and Raikkonen – became world champions.

Last year’s champion, Nico Rosberg, raced as a German but is the son of 1982 champion Keke.

It was his decision to retire in the winter that opened the door for Bottas to move to Mercedes from Williams. In his fifth Formula One season, Bottas now has a car capable of fighting for regular wins and hopes Sunday will prove “the first of many.”

Sitting third in the standings after four races, could a world championship be within Bottas’ grasp?

As he said on the podium, “for me that’s the only goal in my career.”

Red Bull GRC: Speed leads VW, Andretti 1-2 in Memphis opener

Photo: Louis Yio/Red Bull Content Pool
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The new Red Bull Global Rallycross season is underway but it’s the same driver who has ended the last two years on top, Scott Speed, who kicks off 2017 in victory lane.

The two-time defending series champion, driving the No. 41 Oberto Volkswagen Beetle GRC for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross, led home his teammate Tanner Foust in GRC’s trip to Memphis to kick off the new season. The win is also Speed’s 12th in the series, most in Global Rallycross history. Speed and Foust also won their respective semifinals.

“(Being the winningest GRC driver in history) is a great stat, but those wins are all part of having a great team – starting with Tanner Foust, I have an incredible teammate. The whole Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team just worked this offseason. We put in the work, and when we wanted to stop we worked some more. When you show up to the first race and you put this kind of performance down, it just makes all that work worthwhile. Big shout out to Circle K and Oberto for coming on this year, and obviously Rockstar – thanks so much, guys,” Speed said.

Foust was second in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Beetle, starting his 2017 season one spot worse than he did last year. He swept the Phoenix doubleheader a year ago.

Steve Arpin, in his first race under the rebranded and phased Loenbro Motorsports effort, took the privateer No. 00 Jacob Companies Ford Fiesta ST onto the podium in third place. Arpin was the most consistent threat to the Volkswagen pair last year and has done well to carry that momentum into the start of 2017.

Rookies Mitchell DeJong and Oliver Eriksson finished fourth and fifth in superb efforts for Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE, taking their Nos. 24 and 16 Honda Civic Coupes to top-five finishes in their first weekend as teammates at the Supercars level for the Andreas Eriksson-led team.

Behind them, last year’s GRC Lites champion Cabot Bigham eighth in his first Supercars start for Bryan Herta Rallysport while Sebastian Eriksson limped to seventh in the third Honda with damage in the final. Chris Atkinson retired from the race with three laps to go in the first of two Subaru Rally Team USA WRX-STis, on what was a tough day for that team.

The final only saw eight cars take the start. Mechanical issues knocked Austin Dyne out of the weekend early in his first start with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, while damage on the initial start cost Patrik Sandell any hope of a result in his first final with Subaru.

In the 10-lap final around the 1.18-mile circuit which primarily utilized the Memphis International Raceway oval with a shorter dirt section, Speed and Foust both got the jump on a start, and were never headed the rest of the way.

The battle was for third between Arpin and DeJong, with Arpin taking the Joker on Lap 5 of 10 to move past the 2014 GRC Lites champion in his second Supercars weekend – DeJong debuted at Los Angeles last year.

GRC stays down south for its next race, Round 2 at Louisville, to be held on Sunday, May 21.