(Photo: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Things seem to go better with Coke for Vickers in 2014

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It may just be a coincidence, but for some reason it appears that Coca-Cola products seem to have brought out some of the best in Brian Vickers this season.

Seven races ago, Vickers finished sixth in the Coca-Cola 600 and climbed to eighth in the Sprint Cup standings afterwards.

Although he had fallen back as far as 20th in the standings since then, Sunday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway brought out more of the best in Vickers, who earned his best finish of the season, finishing second to winner Aric Almirola in the rain-shortened 112-lap race.

In addition, Vickers climbed from 19th to 16th in the Sprint Cup standings but is still two spots shy of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup as of this writing.

Sure, a lot of things can happen over the remaining eight races prior to setting the 16-driver field for the expanded and revamped Chase, but Vickers hopes to build upon Sunday’s finish and work to further solidify his potential berth in the upcoming playoffs.

“No, it wasn’t,” Vickers said when asked after the race if it was an easy afternoon.  “There was a lot of strategy going on, and it kept changing. When we started the race, knowing there was a competition caution coming at lap 20, we thought about kind of taking it easy and going to the back, and lo and behold, the lane we were in just kept going forward, so we went to the front, and then it got a little bit too dicey for my comfort that early, and guys were moving around a lot.

“So we went to the back, just had a bad feeling about kind of the energy in the pack and where it was headed, so we dropped back, and at about two laps later there was a big crash and we were fortunate to be out of that.

“Then we kept going there and got to a point where we were ready to go but just didn’t quite have the speed we needed in the car to get from where we were at to the front, and we ended up actually getting into the pack at about the wrong moment and were fortunate enough to get through the last big wreck.

“I saw it kind of starting out of the corner of my eye, a car from the outside to the inside just went way too quick, and I just jumped on the brakes and as soon as I saw it opening downshifted and went to the gas and was able to get through it.  But very lucky to get through that wreck and keep the car out of trouble.”

Vickers owes much of Sunday’s end result to late-race pit strategy by crew chief Billy Scott. Like a Weather Channel meteorologist, Scott read the radar and the approaching rain and devised a plot that would get Vickers up toward the front and hopefully keep him there if the rains came – which indeed they ultimately did.

“The guys did a great job,” Vickers said. “(Scott) called a great race and put me in a position to win there at the end. You know, it was just — we were just a lap away from an opportunity to make a pass.

“I had one shot at the 43 with a run, and the 13 got to my right rear corner and I just couldn’t move up and do anything with it.  We were just stuck there. And then the rain just came at the wrong time for us and the right time for them (race winner Aric Almirola).”

Now that he’s back up to 16th in the Sprint Cup standings, Vickers hopes to build upon the momentum gained at Daytona and hold on to that 16th and final qualifying spot for the Chase.

“I’m just really proud of everyone on this Aaron’s Dream Machine team,” Vickers said. “They’ve done a great job getting the momentum going back in the right direction, and that’s what we need right now.”

Almirola’s win makes him the 12th different winner thus far in 2014 with eight races to go. A number of drivers remain winless including Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and yes, Vickers.

Barring any additional first-time winners this season, with only four spots left still open to drivers to make the Chase on points and not wins, Vickers is well aware of the huge job ahead of him to not only hold on to what he has, but also to pad it in any way he can.

“Obviously the fewer spots there are, the intensity picks up for the guys in that position,” he said. “I think every week you go to every race trying to win and knowing what’s at stake if you do and what’s at stake if you don’t.

“The closer to the Chase you get, the more that intensity is going to pick up. Our job is to go out there and try to win next weekend.  We came close this weekend, but the weather didn’t work in our favor, and that’s that. We’ve just got to get on with it and go to next week.”

And next week can’t come soon enough, as it was at New Hampshire that Vickers earned the third Sprint Cup win of his career and the first since 2009 in the 19th race of last season while driving a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Can he make it two in a row in the early summer race at Loudon?

We’ll find that out next Sunday. But just in case, maybe Vickers should have a bottle or can of Coke next to himself behind the wheel. It may give him the added extra he just may need.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

McLaren reveals much anticipated, orange MCL32 Honda

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Photo: McLaren
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McLaren has taken the wraps off the MCL32 Honda, its new chassis in the first year of the post-Ron Dennis era, with Zak Brown now at the helm of the team and after an offseason of excitement and teasing about the livery change.

The switch to an MCL32 chassis designation brings to an end the run of MP4-number chassis as part of the team’s effective relaunch, although the notation of “32” after MCL would in some respects keep that MP4-31 number streak continuing.

But the biggest change beyond the name is the livery color, which switches to the traditional McLaren orange along with black for 2017, and brings to an end the first two years of black, red and silver that adorned the McLarens when Honda came back.

McLaren last ran orange in testing 20 years ago in an interim livery before the unveil of the striking silver to coincide with West cigarettes in 1997. But in race competition, it’s been since the 1960s and early ’70s since the team founded by Bruce McLaren has had that distinctive orange flavor on a race car.

If the team can find an uptick in performance with the chassis and power unit enhancements to match, then two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso and one of Formula 1’s most exciting rookie prospects in years, Stoffel Vandoorne, could well have a year to remember here, befitting of the entire McLaren legacy.

“It’s awesome. It’s such a special place to be,” Brown said at the launch.

“It definitely wasn’t me!” he added of the livery design. “It was a collective group. Ultimately it was in response to input from the fans.

“If you’re not a McLaren fan, please leave! We’re highly frustrated were not winning races. It takes time putting the package together. But last year was forward progress and that’s what we need to see this year. Our driver lineup has two of the best guys.”

Naturally, the two drivers followed.

“It’s fantastic,” Alonso said. “The first time we saw it today. yesterday the last parts were coming together. We’ve got some orange and obviously with the new regulations it seems spectacular.

“I think it becomes sexy when they are fast! But it’s one of the most beautiful cars I will drive. It looks sexy from the outside.

“There are some hopes it will improve the show and will make things a little bit bigger. Next week we will have some answers in Barcelona. But it’s a good change for Formula 1 to have faster, good looking cars.”

Vandoorne added, “It’s a very exciting time for me to be fully involved as a full-time race driver. I’ve been to many Grands Prix but finally in full-time, set to step in is great. For McLaren, the focus is to get back to winning.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Mercedes W08 Launch (VIDEO)

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Winter storm Doris hit the U.K. on Thursday but filming of Paddock Pass pressed on regardless, as the latest installment of the NBC Sports Group original digital series captured yet another video – this time the launch of the Mercedes F1 W08 EQ Power+, the latest challenger for the Mercedes AMG Petronas.

Mercedes’ launch differed from the first three this week, Sauber, Renault and Force India, in that it was both a filming day and launch at the Silverstone Circuit for drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Both drivers had time in the car.

NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton catches up with the key stakeholders in this edition of Paddock Pass.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Stay tuned to more on NBCSports.com as the week continues in the buildup to testing next week in Barcelona.

Scuderia Ferrari reveals its 2017 Formula 1 challenger

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Photos: Ferrari
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Scuderia Ferrari has taken the wraps off its 2017 chassis as the launch week continues for this year’s Formula 1 cars.

Despite the loss of technical director James Allison to Mercedes and after going through an underwhelming, winless 2016 season – at least by Ferrari standards – the team looks for a bounce back this year to coincide with the new regulations.

The renamed SF70H, which follows on last year’s SF16-H, was revealed online in a quick video without any buildup or dialogue from any of the key team stakeholders.

Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari
Photo: Ferrari

Noticeable on this car is the shark fin element, again with a winglet on the top of it. The team’s reveal of the chassis reveals the differences for this project, code named the 668 internally:

There are several differences between the 668 project and Ferraris from the recent past: the lengthened nose and the arrow-shaped wing are a consequence of the regulations, as is the obvious fin on the engine cover and the more complex aero appendages ahead of the air intakes on the sidepods, whose unusual shape was designed in harmony with the front crash structure. Visible at the front is a duct that has an aerodynamic role, while behind the driver, the roll-hoop, which incorporates the engine air intake has been completely redesigned. Also updated is the suspension layout, which still retains a push rod design at the front with pull rods at the rear. The hubs and wheel nuts have been redesigned to facilitate the work of the mechanics when changing wheels during the pit stops. Finally, also as a function of the expected increase in performance this year, the power-steering and braking systems have been upsized.

A couple screen caps from the launch video are below:

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Photo: Ferrari
Photos: Ferrari

The launch is the first of two today, with McLaren’s reveal of the MCL32 coming in a couple hours.

Ricky Taylor makes his IndyCar test debut today at Homestead

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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It seems to be the winter of all-stars from other racing disciplines testing in IndyCar.

Today Ricky Taylor joined the list of those stars from the closed-top sports car or touring car world on the winter IndyCar test list, with a one-off guest test for Team Penske in defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud’s No. 1 PPG Chevrolet.

The older of two Taylor brothers, who completed a star turn at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona en route to delivering the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R an overall win with brother Jordan, Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon, made his maiden laps at the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.

Chevrolet and General Motors extended the test offer to Ricky Taylor for this opportunity. Fittingly for Pagenaud, it’s the second time in not even a year he’s given up his seat to another member of either the GM or Penske family; Brad Keselowski made a similar out-of-nowhere one-off test at Road America last year.

“Every driver dreams to be an Indy car driver,” Taylor said, via IndyCar.com. It can’t hurt to be involved with (Team Penske); there are no negatives to that. To get to know all the guys and get to drive the car and get an actual feel for it in a low-pressure environment is a great opportunity for me. Even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s a big learning opportunity.”

With Ricky Taylor completing this test and with Robert Wickens and Pipo Derani set to test next week at Sebring’s short course, there’s been a sudden series of additional interest in the final few runs before the IndyCar season opens on March 12.

And with Ricky Taylor in Homestead today, it was left to Jordan Taylor and the Konica Minolta team’s new third driver, Englishman Alex Lynn, to run solo today as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship February test at Sebring’s full course. Lynn will make his U.S. race debut in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to be held March 18. Ricky Taylor will be back at Sebring for the second day of the IMSA test, held Friday.

Great to see @simonpagenaud and @rickytaylor_10 today good job both!!

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