UPDATED: Coke Zero 400 resumes after rain delay

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UPDATE 9 (12:08 pm ET): The Coke Zero 400 has resumed after about a 22-minute rain delay and resulting red flag race stoppage. Matt Kenseth is back at the front of the field, followed by pole sitter David Gilliland. The big question now is how long will it be before the next rain stoppage. Rain is visible on the National Weather Service radar, but we should be able to get perhaps to Lap 50 before we need to worry about more rain. Remember, this is a 160-lap race, so drivers only need to get to 81 laps (one lap past halfway) for it to be an official race if rain continues to be an issue going forward for the remainder of the day. The NWS is still predicting 60 percent chance of thunderstorms this afternoon.

UPDATE 8 (12:01 pm ET): Drivers are back in their race cars and track dryers are on their way back off-track. We expect engines will be fired momentarily and cars will be back on-track. We expect at least one, possibly two pace laps before the green flag falls for the second time today.

UPDATE 7 (11:53 am ET): Although sun is showing on the front stretch, the race remains under red flag conditions. However, there’s more bad news — aka RAIN — on the horizon, based on National Weather Service radar.

UPDATE 6 (11:36 am ET): The race has been red-flagged due to rain on Lap 11. Cars are back on pit road and some are having tarps placed over them.

UPDATE 5 (11:35 am ET): The race remains under caution and SportingNews.com’s Bob Pockrass is reporting that NASCAR has told the Air Titan track dryers to “power up.”

UPDATE 4 (11:26 am ET): Mother Nature has once again stepped in the way of NASCAR’s Coke Zero 400. The race is under caution after just six laps as rain has again begun to fall, primarily in turns 1 and 2. Oddly, the sun has again popped out around Turns 3 and 4. Matt Kenseth is in the lead, while pole sitter David Gilliland has dropped to second.

UPDATE 3 (11:22 am ET): We are underway for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Clean start. Track looks dry. Now the big question is how long will Mother Nature cooperate? Will teams’ strategy be solely to get to halfway in the event more rain comes? If that’s the case, this could become a sprint to an 81-lap race (one lap past halfway of the scheduled 160 laps).

UPDATE 2 (11:17 pm ET): Sun is shining on the frontstretch of the massive 2.5-mile, high-banked Daytona International Speedway and the green flag is still waiting to fall. There are reports of sprinkles around the track. After the lights on the pace car were turned off and it appeared we were ready to go green, the lights are back on the pace car for at least one extra pace lap.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms this afternoon and 40 percent in the evening.

UPDATE (11:10 am ET): The command to start engines has been given and we’ve begun pace laps.

NASCAR vice president of operations Steve O’Donnell just tweeted that rain is outside Turns 1 and 2.

ORIGINAL STORY: The good news: The rain-postponed Coke Zero 400 is due to start shortly after 11 am ET this morning at Daytona International Speedway.

The bad news: Rain is once again in the forecast. The National Weather Service has issued a hazardous weather warning for Daytona Beach and points south.

While the skies have been partly sunny for much of the morning, dark clouds are definitely on the horizon west of Daytona Beach.

A check of the NWS radar at 10:50 am ET shows a storm cell due west of Daytona and moving northeastward. However, once that cell were to pass, there’s little chance of rain for at least the following few hours. There are storms on the west coast of Florida, but it’s too early to predict if they’ll go cross-state and impact the Daytona Beach area or not.

The race is due to be televised on TNT, which could result in a Heidi-like backlash from viewers, as Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the King began at 9 am ET and is slated to run until 12:45 pm ET. It’s expected the network will switch to the NASCAR telecast at 11 am ET. There will be no pre-race show, with the green flag slated to fall some time around 11:10 to 11:15 pm ET.

We’ll be back with more race and weather updates as they become available.

 

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.