After leading most laps, Kurt Busch ends up short at Daytona

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There’s the racing game, the waiting game and the weather game. Kurt Busch won the first two in Sunday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, but fell just a wee bit shirt on the third.

Busch led the most laps – 36, nearly one-third of the rain-shortened 112-lap race – in what was a scheduled 160-lap event.

As the race began, Busch waited patiently until he got past early leader Matt Kenseth and had a car potent and capable enough to win.

But with so much uncertainty about the incoming weather around DIS, Busch wound up being at the wrong place at the wrong time, went from first to third on the final pit stop following the massive 25-car wreck on Lap 98 and 14 laps later, ultimately ended up third.

It was still a great finish, but if fate and strategy would only have played out a bit differently, Busch likely would have won his second race of the season – and the first ever at Daytona in his Sprint Cup career.

“I thought we had a good finish today,” Busch said after the race in the DIS media center. “You know, I’d love to be out there racing and competing for the win, and the car ran strong.

“We dominated, led most laps, and the Haas Automation Chevy was a good car right from the time it was completed and shoved into the wind tunnel, and those guys really did a good job back at the shop to prepare the No. 41 for all the speed that you need here at Daytona.

“We led a lot of laps today and thought we were in good position, and when you’re racing knowing that there’s weather in the area, it’s best to be in that lead position because that gives you the best shot at when the rain does come and if they do call the race, that you’re the leader.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t win or place, but Busch indeed showed he had a good car, good run and the promise of even more success potentially going forward from Daytona.

“Most importantly, though, we’ve made a good turn on the 41 car the last month with good solid finishes,” Busch said. “Today it’s disappointing to finish third after leading the most laps, but all in all, looking at the long-term projection, it’s been solid on the 41 car, and it was great to run good Daytona weekend, July 4th.”

Even though Almirola beat Busch out of the pits on the final stop, there’s no cause to blame Busch, his pit crew or crew chief Daniel Knost. It was just racing luck – or in Busch’s case, bad luck.

“Daniel was on top of when we needed fuel and when we were playing the halfway game,” Busch said, “as well as when we were playing the pit the last time to make it all the way to lap 160.

“And it seemed like it was putting us in a good position to lead laps, which we did.  We were leading at the time, and that’s what you want if the rain is going to come out.”

While Busch understood why NASCAR was forced to call the race when it did, he admits some disappointment – most likely because he wasn’t at the front of the pack when the decision to make it an official race was reached.

“It seems early to call a race,” Busch said. “t is Sunday already, and the majority of our fans that showed up were going to use this day to travel back home. On average how far are the fans here locally traveling to get back home? Is it four hours? Maybe we could have run later on today and still finished and everybody could have back home and to work on Monday.

“You know, the network TV side of it versus the safety of the fans, as well, with thunder and lightning in the area, it’s a tough call to make. I didn’t do my job to be the leader.  We didn’t quite have a couple solid restarts at the end to be the leader for when the race was going to get called.”

Busch hopes to build upon the momentum from Sunday’s third-place finish heading into next Sunday’s race at New Hampshire, especially as the communication and relationship with Knost continues to develop and improve.

“There’s some times when a driver and a crew chief hit it off and they’re off to the races right away,” Busch said. “Daniel and I have been slower to mature together in our relationship, and so we’re 18 races into our first date.

“Now we’re going into the second half of the season, and all of our first dates are done. We’ll go to New Hampshire and that’ll be the last new track that we see together, and then from there on out, all the tracks that we’ve been to we have notes and we have test sessions planned, and that’s where we have to make the 41 team stronger.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Azerbaijan GP red flagged after 22 laps following chaotic sequence

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The Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been red flagged for debris following a chaotic sequence of laps that saw three safety cars be deployed following multiple incidents, leaving the track covered in debris.

The first safety car was called after Daniil Kvyat stopped out on-track, with the marshals able to recover it with relative ease, but the bunched field on the restart soon descended into chaos.

Debris from Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari caused a second safety car period to be called within a lap, but the marshals were again able to clear this easily, allowing Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to lead the field away for the second restart.

Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel made contact twice behind the safety car, leaving debris on-track at Turn 15, with both drivers blaming each other for the incident.

The greater clashes came on the first lap of green flag running as Force India teammates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon clashes at Turn 3, the latter bumping Perez into the wall. Both were required to pit for repairs, and while Ocon could get back out, Perez was less fortunate, retiring from the race.

A third safety car was called, with the stewards then deciding to throw a red flag to allow the debris on the track to be cleared.

More to follow…

Hunter-Reay leads warmup at Road America

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A weekend that has been dominated by Chevrolet and Team Penske so far saw Honda jump to the top during morning warmup. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest for Andretti Autosport, followed by Max Chilton for Chip Ganassi Racing. Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi ended the session third, making it a Honda 1-2-3 in the morning warmup.

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was the quickest of the Chevrolet camp in fourth, followed by A.J. Foyt Racing’s Carlos Munoz in fifth.

Only 19 of the 21 drivers turned laps during the session, with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato failing to put laps in. Dixon’s No. 9 NTT Data Honda was suffering from fuel pressure problems that kept it in the garage, while Sato was feeling under the weather during the morning, and the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda team elected not to go out.

Coverage of the Kohler Grand Prix begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Nato takes F2 sprint win in Baku after Leclerc penalty

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Norman Nato picked up his first win of the 2017 FIA Formula 2 season on Sunday after a post-race penalty denied Charles Leclerc a weekend double in Baku.

Ferrari junior Leclerc took an emotional victory on Saturday just days after the death of his father, and charged from P8 on the reverse grid to take the lead from Nato late on.

However, the Monegasque driver was denied the first perfect weekend in the category (including GP2) in eight years when he was hit with a 10-second time penalty for failing to slow under yellow flags.

Despite the penalty, Leclerc was still classified second behind Nato, with Nicholas Latifi completing the podium for DAMS.

Jordan King took fourth place for MP Motorsport, while Sergey Sirotkin was fifth on his stand-in weekend at ART Grand Prix ahead of fellow Russian Artem Markelov.

Nobuharu Matsushita took seventh ahead of Luca Ghiotto, while Ralph Boschung and Sergio Sette Camara rounded out the top 10.

With second place, Leclerc extended his F2 championship lead to 42 points after chief title rival Oliver Rowland retired after leading the early part of the race.

The F2 season resumes in two weeks’ time in support of the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg.

Lauda on Hamilton’s Baku pole lap: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’

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Formula 1 legend and Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda was quick to heap praise on Lewis Hamilton after qualifying in Azerbaijan on Saturday, saying he had “never seen anything like” the Briton’s Q3 pole lap.

Hamilton charged to the 66th pole of his F1 career at the Baku City Circuit on Saturday after a last-ditch effort took his four-tenths of a second clear of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton was overjoyed by the lap, having struggled to tame the Baku circuit during its inaugural race in 2016, and three-time world champion Lauda was equally as impressed.

“We had some problems on Friday, but the team really did a fantastic job to set the car up in the right way. And Lewis with his lap today… I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lauda said, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“It was not plain sailing at all, but a lot of thinking, digging, back to the factory, and in the end the improvement the engineers and mechanics did to the car is outstanding.

“And then Lewis, what he did today, no one else I think can do that.

“He’s fantastic, especially thinking about his lap time here, because the difference he makes to everybody – it’s only Lewis.”

Hamilton will go in search of his fifth win of the season in Baku on Sunday, with coverage of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET.