(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

NASCAR made the right call to cut short Coke Zero 400

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NASCAR officials are likely going to come under criticism for calling the Coke Zero 400 after 112 of the scheduled 160 laps Sunday afternoon at Daytona.

They’re also going to likely draw some raised eyebrows that Aric Almirola, the driver of the legendary No. 43 Ford of Richard Petty Motorsports, won his first career Sprint Cup race in an albeit rain-shortened fashion, on the same weekend that Petty won the 200th and final race of his Hall of Fame career. I already can see the conspiracy theories flying that the race was fixed to reward Petty and his team, which obviously hasn’t won a lot since Petty’s last triumph 30 years ago.

But to all those who will criticize the sanctioning body, claiming the trigger to call the race was pulled too soon, or to raise the possibility that the result was less than earned by Almirola, it’s easy to understand your emotion — but not your logic.

Almirola just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and that’s why he came away with the win. It would have been the same set of circumstances if Brian Vickers (who finished runner-up) had been in the lead, or third-place finisher Kurt Busch, who led the most laps in the race.

No matter who won Sunday’s race, critics would have been their oftentimes illogical selves.

But  logic is why NASCAR officials chose to end the race when they did. After two major wrecks plus two rain delays, not to mention Saturday being postponed to Sunday, as well as all other parts of the weekend that were affected by the wet stuff, NASCAR did the right thing to cut short Sunday’s event. There’s no two ways about it.

Sure, fans want to see a full race, particularly those who were at DIS in-person. They all likely spent several hundreds of dollars not only for their race tickets, but also for transportation and lodging. Many came long distances to see a race end not even three-quarters of the way through the promised and promoted length.

But NASCAR was left with a no-win situation. When the rain came down heavy after the event was redflagged for the third time within only a relatively few hours, one look at the weather radar made it very clear: this race was not going to get done anytime soon.

In fact, with thunderstorms forecast at more than 60 percent chance for the remainder of Sunday afternoon and into Sunday evening, NASCAR was left with little option but to end the race when it did because had the race eventually resumed, it likely wouldn’t have been until Monday.

And even then, more rain was forecast.

NASCAR can control a lot within its domain, but weather isn’t one of those things. And unfortunately, rain is oftentimes the nature of the beast in east-central Florida in early July. It is one of the most unpredictable things there is. One minute, the skies look clear; the next minute, it’s deluge city. I can vouch for that first-hand. I looked at the National Weather Service radar just before the start of the race and after a small cell, it appeared as if the race would be high and dry once the track was dried.

Unfortunately, the weather radar was also fooled. In virtually the time it took to turn your eyes away from the radar and then back again to the screen, the conditions can — and usually do, as in this case — change. What looked like high and dry one minute became the promise of another deluge in the following minutes.

Had the weather eventually broke and the skies stopped raining, and had NASCAR tried to wait it out and dry the track, can anyone — particularly critics of NASCAR’s calling the race early — been able to assure us that there wouldn’t have been more carnage at Daytona? Would we have seen another 25-car wreck, as we saw 14 laps prior to the race being called (not to mention the 15-car wreck right after Lap 21)?

We all know how unpredictable Daytona and restrictor plate racing can be. Given what the field had already gone through, the odds were pretty likely that we’d see even more wrecks in what would have been the waning 48 laps (God forbid if we would have had a green-white-checker finish that had extended the race past its scheduled 160 laps). After all, this is Daytona, where all hell breaks lose typically in the final five to 10 laps.

I completely understand fans’ concerns that they want to see the amount of racing they paid for. They want 160 laps (or more, if there was a GWC). I’m sure many may left Daytona feeling cheated or gipped for not seeing a complete race.

But NASCAR had to do what was best for the drivers, the racetrack and yes, the fans. How many of those same fans had to leave to be back at work on Monday? How many would have to drive 100, 200 or more miles to get back home? Would it be wise to have the majority of those fans drive through the middle of the night — and likely through more thunderstorms to come — than to simply call it a reasonable day, a reasonable finish and to move on?

How quickly have many of you forgotten that NASCAR waited out nearly 6 1/2 hours of rain delay to complete the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February? NASCAR said it would make every effort it could to get that race in, and that’s just what the sanctioning body did.

It was the same case Sunday, but the odds and the elements were simply stacked too far in Mother Nature’s favor to try and finish a full race. Sure, the rain will end eventually — maybe by Tuesday or Wednesday (I’m being a little facetious here, of course).

NASCAR made the only call it could — and it was the right call.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Marc Marquez dislocates shoulder during private Honda MotoGP test

PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 15:  Marc Marquez of Spain and the Repsol Honda Team rides during 2017 MotoGP pre-season testing at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on February 15, 2017 in Phillip Island, Australia.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
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Reigning MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez suffered a dislocated shoulder during a private test earlier this week, the Repsol Honda team has confirmed.

Marquez, 24, was testing with Honda at the Jerez circuit in Spain when he suffered a crash on the second day of running.

The Spaniard sustained a dislocated shoulder, but Honda confirmed that it does not expect him to miss the next private test in Qatar prior to the start of the season.

“Medical checks show neither further damage nor any other injuries, and the rider from Cervera should be fit to finish preseason testing ahead of the first race of the season,” a statement reads.

“Today was a productive day, as we were able to do many laps and to work on our bike well. We did most of the work we had planned, which is good,” Marquez said of his test day.

“I crashed in the afternoon and dislocated my shoulder, but luckily it was nothing serious. Now I’ll have some rest back at home and get ready for the next test, in Qatar.”

The new MotoGP season gets underway on March 26 with the Qatar Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso confirms contact from Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s retirement

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 24:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren Honda walks in the Paddock  during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 24, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso has confirmed that he was contacted by Mercedes following Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from Formula 1 last December.

Just five days after winning his maiden F1 drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg sent shockwaves through the driver market by announcing his immediate retirement from racing.

The majority of drivers racing in F1 were linked with the vacant Mercedes seat, including Alonso, who has not won a world title since 2006.

Alonso stressed at the time that he had no interest in leaving McLaren as he prepared to enter the third and final year of his contract with the British team.

Speaking earlier this week at the launch of McLaren’s new F1 car, the MCL32, Alonso confirmed that he was contacted by Mercedes, but that conversations never gained traction.

“Mercedes, after the surprise of Rosberg, had to check with everyone. It is understandable,” Alonso said.

“It was nothing really strange, nothing really deep to the conversations, but they did with everyone.

“They wanted to hear my situation, which was very clear. I had this year at McLaren and I was happy here.

“There was no point in talking anymore.”

Reflecting on Rosberg’s decision to retire, Alonso said that he would never be able to make a similar decision and would continue racing.

“In my case I cannot stop, [racing] is like a drug,” Alonso said.

“For Rosberg he was very brave to step away, I wish him the best.

“I will be 80 years old and I will be in a go-kart on a circuit racing and pushing the kids off the track in front of me.”

Haas reveals VF-17 ahead of sophomore Formula 1 season

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The Haas Formula 1 team has officially revealed its new car, the VF-17, ahead of its sophomore season on the grid.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, enjoying an impressive first campaign during which it exceeded all expectations.

The VF-16 carried Romain Grosjean to 29 points, including a fifth-place finish in Bahrain and an impressive charge to sixth on debut in Australia.

Its successor, the VF-17, hit the track for the first time on Saturday in Barcelona, with images being leaked on Twitter ahead of its official unveil on Sunday.

The new car retains a similar livery to the VF-16, with the Haas Automation company colors of grey, red and black all featuring, but the chassis itself sports an aggressive new look following an overhaul of the technical regulations.

“I think the pedal box is the same, but all the rest is very different from last year’s car,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said.

“You always try to make a faster car, which is normally a lighter car. Now we can put on more ballast and get better weight distribution. The aero is completely new, as are the tires, so we needed to have some built-in adjustability.

“Aesthetically, the car has a more aggressive look. It’s lighter and more aerodynamically efficient. Everything we learned from our first car has been applied to our new car.”

Grosjean will be joined at Haas this year by Kevin Magnussen, who has previously raced for McLaren and Renault and has signed a multi-year deal with the American team.

McLaren MCL32 F1 car gets first track test in Barcelona

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McLaren Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne both got their first taste of the new MCL32 car in Barcelona on Sunday ahead of pre-season testing.

McLaren unveiled the MCL32 on Friday, with the biggest talking point being its striking new orange livery that harks back to the team’s racing roots.

Prior to the start of collective testing on Monday at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, McLaren took advantage of its filming day allowance to turn in some laps on Sunday.

Alonso got the first run in the Honda-powered MCL32 before handing over to Vandoorne in the afternoon.