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Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire

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After a wet and wild ride at Daytona, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are heading for New England this weekend with a stop at the one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The low-banked, sweeping corners of the “Magic Mile” makes passing relatively difficult; as such, the matter of gaining and keeping track position is critical to success here. Expect to keep track of varying pit/fuel strategies among the teams, especially late in the running.

Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 could also give us a bit of a glimpse into the Chase this fall, as New Hampshire hosts the second race of NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s everything you need to know for Round 19 of the 2014 Sprint Cup championship…

NEW HAMPSHIRE-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-Hour Energy Toyota)
· Two wins, four top fives, six top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 15.1
· Average Running Position of 12.4, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 95.0, sixth-best
· 233 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.704 mph, sixth-fastest
· 3,352 Laps in the Top 15 (70.3%), 12th-most
· 452 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), 11th-most

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· Three wins, seven top fives, 11 top 10s
· Average finish of 15.3
· Average Running Position of 13.7, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 90.4, 12th-best
· 187 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-most
· 920 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.559 mph, 10th-fastest
· 3,380 Laps in the Top 15 (62.9%), 11th-most
· 516 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota)
· One win, six top fives, eight top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 15.1
· Average Running Position of 14.0, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 93.1, seventh-best
· 206 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.532 mph, 12th-fastest
· 3,465 Laps in the Top 15 (64.5%), eighth-most
· 480 Quality Passes, eighth-most

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet)
· Seven top fives, 12 top 10s
· Average finish of 15.7
· Average Running Position of 11.7, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 97.3, fifth-best
· 236 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· 1,002 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.860 mph, fourth-fastest
· 3,976 Laps in the Top 15 (74.0%), fourth-most
· 568 Quality Passes, third-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet)
· Three wins, 16 top fives, 22 top 10s; four poles
· Average finish of 10.6
· Series-best Average Running Position of 7.4
· Driver Rating of 109.2, second-best
· Series-high 433 Fastest Laps Run
· 893 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 125.062 mph
· Series-high 4,804 Laps in the Top 15 (89.5%)
· Series-high 618 Quality Passes

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota)
· Two wins, seven top fives, 10 top 10s
· Average finish of 9.0
· Average Running Position of 10.8, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 102.9, fourth-best
· 284 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.821 mph, fifth-fastest
· 3,547 Laps in the Top 15 (74.4%), seventh-most
· 526 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet)
· One win, five top fives, 13 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 13.7
· Average Running Position of 13.0, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 91.1, 11th-best
· 156 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most
· 904 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.568 mph, ninth-fastest
· 3,430 Laps in the Top 15 (63.9%), ninth-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)
· Three wins, nine top fives, 17 top 10s
· Average finish of 9.2
· Average Running Position of 9.7, third-best
· Driver Rating of 105.8, third-best
· 430 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· 938 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.866 mph, third-fastest
· 4,453 Laps in the Top 15 (82.9%), second-most
· 602 Quality Passes, second-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Great Clips / Shark Week Chevrolet)
· One win, three top fives, eight top 10s
· Average finish of 17.0
· Driver Rating of 92.4, 10th-best
· 331 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· 948 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.697 mph, seventh-fastest
· 3,411 Laps in the Top 15 (63.5%), 10th-most
· 487 Quality Passes, seventh-most

Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet)
· Three wins, six top fives, 15 top 10s; seven poles
· Average finish of 14.0
· Average Running Position of 13.0, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 92.5, ninth-best
· 158 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.537 mph, 11th-fastest
· 3,935 Laps in the Top 15 (73.3%), fifth-most
· 456 Quality Passes, 10th-most

Tony Stewart (No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
· Three wins, 14 top fives, 17 top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 11.9
· Average Running Position of 9.1, second-best
· Series-best Driver Rating of 111.0
· 408 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 124.972 mph, second-fastest
· 4,182 Laps in the Top 15 (82.5%), third-most
· 535 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Chase Grid (After 18 of 26 regular season races)
1. Jimmie Johnson, 3 wins, 596 points
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2 wins, 624 points
3. Brad Keselowski, 2 wins, 586 points
4. Joey Logano, 2 wins, 546 points
5. Carl Edwards, 2 wins, 543 points
6. Kevin Harvick, 2 wins, 514 points
7. Jeff Gordon, 1 win, 651 points (Points Leader)
8. Kyle Busch, 1 win, 524 points
9. Denny Hamlin, 1 win, 493 points
10. Aric Almirola, 1 win, 452 points
11. Kurt Busch, 1 win, 422 points
12. Matt Kenseth, no wins, 580 points
13. Ryan Newman, no wins, 534 points
14. Paul Menard, no wins, 516 points
15. Clint Bowyer, no wins, 509 points
16. Austin Dillon, no wins, 494 points

17. Greg Biffle, no wins, 490 points
18. Brian Vickers, no wins, 484 points
19. Kyle Larson, no wins, 482 points
20. Kasey Kahne, no wins, 482 points

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New Hampshire Motor Speedway Track Data
Season Race #: 19 of 36 (07-13-14)
Track Size: 1.058-mile
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 2 to 7 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 2 to 7 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 1 degree
Banking/Backstretch: 1 degree
Frontstretch Length: 1,500 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,500 feet
Race Length: 301 laps / 318.46 miles

Top 10 Driver Rating at New Hampshire
Tony Stewart……………………….. 111.0
Jeff Gordon………………………… 109.2
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 105.8
Denny Hamlin………………………. 102.9
Dale Earnhardt Jr…………………… 97.3
Clint Bowyer…………………………. 95.0
Kyle Busch…………………………… 93.1
Ryan Newman……………………….. 92.5
Kasey Kahne………………………… 92.4
Kevin Harvick………………………… 91.1
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (18 total) among active drivers at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 Coors Light Pole winner: Brad Keselowski, Ford, 135.922 mph, 28.022 secs., 07-12-13
2013 race winner: Bryan Vickers, Toyota, 98.735 mph, (03:14:10), 07-14-13
Track qualifying record: Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 136.497 mph, 27.904 secs., 09-20-13
Track race record: Jeff Burton, Ford, 117.134 mph, (02:42:35), 07-13-97

New Hampshire Motor Speedway History
· Groundbreaking for New Hampshire International Speedway, as New Hampshire Motor Speedway was originally named, was Aug. 13, 1989.
· The 1.058-mile oval is located on approximately 1,200 acres; the multi-use complex is the largest sports facility in New England.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was on July 11, 1993 – won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace.
· Speedway Motorsports, Inc. agreed to purchase New Hampshire International Speedway from Bob and Gary Bahre on January 11, 2008 and then renamed the track New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway Notebook
· There have been 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway; one per year from 1993 through 1996 and two per year since.
· 150 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway; 122 in more than one.
· Four drivers have competed in all 38 races at New Hampshire: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek.
· Mark Martin won the inaugural Coors Light pole at New Hampshire in 1993 with a speed of 126.871 mph.
· 18 drivers have Coors Light poles at New Hampshire, led by Ryan Newman with seven.
· Five drivers have won consecutive Coors Light poles at New Hampshire: Ken Schrader (1997 sweep); Jeff Gordon (1998-1999); Rusty Wallace (1999-2000); Ryan Newman (twice – 2003-2004 and 2011 sweep); Juan Pablo Montoya (2009-2010).
· Youngest New Hampshire Coors Light pole winner: Brian Vickers (07/17/2005 – 21 years, 8 months, 23 days).
· Oldest New Hampshire Coors Light pole winner: Bill Elliott (07/21/2002 – 46 years, 9 months, 13 days).
· 23 different drivers have won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, led by Jeff Burton with four.
· Two drivers have posted consecutive wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway: Jimmie Johnson (2003 sweep) and Kurt Busch (2004 sweep).
· Youngest New Hampshire winner: Joey Logano (06/28/2009 – 19 years, 1 month, 4 days).
· Oldest New Hampshire winner: Mark Martin (09/20/2009 – 50 years, 8 months, 11 days).
· Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in wins at New Hampshire in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with nine; followed by Roush Fenway Racing with seven.
· Five different manufacturers have won at New Hampshire; led by Chevrolet with 18 victories; followed by Ford with 11 and Toyota with four.
· Jeff Burton is the only driver to win the July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway three consecutive years in a row (1997, ’98 and ’99)
· Five of the 38 (13.1%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at New Hampshire have been won from the Coors Light pole; the most recent was Ryan Newman in 2011.
· The Coors Light pole is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (five) than any other starting position at New Hampshire.
· Eight of the 38 (21%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at New Hampshire have been won from the front row: eight from the pole and seven from second-place.
· 20 of the 38 (52.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Nine of the 38 (23.6%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at New Hampshire have been won from a starting position outside the top 20.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at New Hampshire was 38th, by Jeff Burton in 1999.
· Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are tied for the series lead in runner-up finishes at New Hampshire with five each.
· Jeff Gordon leads the series in top-five finishes at New Hampshire with 16; followed by Tony Stewart with 14.
· Jeff Gordon leads the series in top-10 finishes at New Hampshire with 22; followed by Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson with 17 each.
· Ryan Newman leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at New Hampshire with an 8.042.
· Denny Hamlin leads NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at New Hampshire with an 9.000.
· All 15 active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winners at New Hampshire Motor Speedway participated in at least one or more races before visiting Victory Lane. Ryan Newman and Joey Logano won at New Hampshire in their second appearance.
· Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the series among active drivers with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at New Hampshire without a win at 29.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was the July 1, 2007 race won by Denny Hamlin over Jeff Gordon with a MOV of 0.068 second.
· 16 of the 30 NSCS races scored by electronic scoring at New Hampshire Motor Speedway have had a Margin of Victory less than a second.
· Two of the 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races have resulted with a green-white-checkered finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Scheduled No. of Laps/Actual No. of Laps): 2006 (300/308) and 2013 (301/302).
· Four of the 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway have been shortened due to weather conditions; the most recent was June 28, 2009 – the race was called on Lap 273, 28 circuits shy of the 301 scheduled laps.
· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway four times: 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2009.
· Two active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have made their first career start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway: Joe Nemechek (7/11/93), and Joey Logano (9/14/08).
· Brad Keselowski (9/19/10) is the only active driver to post his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
· Four active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers have posted their first career win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway: Joe Nemechek (9/19/99), Ryan Newman (9/15/02), Clint Bowyer (9/16/07) and Joey Logano (6/28/09).
· Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at New Hampshire with 1,352 laps led in 38 starts.
· Danica Patrick is the only female driver that has competed in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

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NASCAR in New Hampshire
· There have been 38 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in New Hampshire, all at NHMS. Additionally, NHMS has hosted 27 Nationwide and 16 Truck Series races.
· 15 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as New Hampshire; Jamie Aube is the only one of the 15 to record a victory in NASCAR national series competition. Aube won July 12, 1987 at Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford, ME; it was his only start that season.

Munoz: “I haven’t reached my full potential”

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 02:  Carlos Munoz of Columbia, driver of the #26 Andretti Autosport Honda IndyCar is introduced before the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Like fellow IndyCar rookie class-of-2014 alumnus Jack Hawksworth, Carlos Munoz’s results haven’t matched his pace and potential this year.

And while on the surface it looks like there have been a handful of mistakes this year for the third-year Colombian driver – and there have been – Munoz’s efforts to improve are probably being overshadowed by the overall team struggles at Andretti Autosport.

In a case where stats don’t tell the full story, Munoz’s finished eighth, 22nd, 12th and 14th in the opening four races – the 12th at Long Beach was the only time where he was highest of Andretti’s four cars. That’s left him 15th in points, five spots back of teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay but two and three clear of Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi, respectively, heading into the month of May.

Starts of 12th, 21st, 10th and 15th also tell a similar tale, although he’s been the highest starter of Andretti’s four cars in the last two races at Long Beach and Barber.

He’s been particularly quick in practice, though. He has top-five practice results of third (Barber FP1) and fourth (Barber FP3) and a handful of other top-10 results. Like others, nailing the balance in qualifying once on Firestone’s red alternate tires has been challenging.

Incidentally, his best finish of eighth at St. Petersburg came after a misguided passing attempt drew ire from Graham Rahal and created a parking lot in Turn 4.

Yet his best drives have come at Long Beach and Barber, where Munoz has been the quickest of the Andretti quartet through most of the weekend.

“I’ve been driving so good and feel so emotionally good in the car,” Munoz told NBC Sports. “You could see it in Long Beach; I never drove so good. I was quicker than Ryan at Long Beach… and his worst qualifying in Long Beach was fourth before that.

“Then Barber, I was really quick in practice. But then in qualifying, I lost the balance on the red tires.

“I’ve never been driving so good as this year. Results haven’t shown that. The team has been lacking… it’s no secret. There’s a little bit of mechanical grip we need to find. As soon as we find it, I hope I’ll be able to fight for victories.

“I’ve done some mistakes. But speed-wise, I’ve not driven better.”

Barber was a tough weekend for Munoz, having triggered the first-lap accordion effect accident between he, Hawksworth and Mikhail Aleshin. The slow start helped contribute to the chaos.

“When you’re in the back – I checked up – but I had Aleshin in front of me,” he explained. “He accelerated, then braked. I had to lock the rear tires. It was too close. It was my mistake… but the start was way too slow.”

Overall it’s a fascinating fusion for Munoz, who overachieved as a rookie in 2014, then secured his first win last year at Detroit race one but otherwise struggled for competitiveness along with the rest of the Andretti team.

Now though he feels he’s in a better spot.

Munoz has rebounded from a heavy practice accident at Phoenix in early April to find this newfound burst of personal performance. He cleaned up his stats to where he has only had two failures to finish from contact in his last 28 starts, compared to four in his first 13 races.

The impact at Phoenix, he said, was his “first big accident” in IndyCar and forced him to quickly forget about it and move on.

“It was a big hit; if you saw the numbers you’d be amazed,” Munoz said. “But as a driver you have to forget about it and move on. After practice to go back in the car, that was good. It was my first actual big hit.

“The team always said, it’s always one. I had a hit at Fontana, replacing E.J. (Viso, in 2013). But this one was big. I know it’s part of racing when you crash. Try to move on. I feel comfortable.”

Munoz has felt better in terms of setup contribution this year, noting whereas Hunter-Reay or Andretti had been primarily used as the baseline setup in the past, now he’s able to play a greater role.

Additionally, Munoz relates to IndyCar freshman Rossi, who’s learning the ropes in this series thus far as Munoz was two years ago.

“I think this year has been better, probably because I’ve been fast compared to my teammates,” he said. “We work as a team. I know if Marco likes it, that’s better, because more or less we have the same feeling.

“Rossi was (with us) in Texas. And that’s where we try to help him as a rookie. I was a rookie two years ago. So yeah, I helped him. This is hard to get used to.”

He’s also determined and focused on being his own man in the sport, besides being “that other Colombian” besides Juan Pablo Montoya.

Colombian interest has been high in recent years with Montoya, Munoz, Gabby Chaves, Sebastian Saavedra and Carlos Huertas all having been in the series of late. Montoya remains the benchmark but Munoz and Huertas are race winners; Saavedra a polesitter and Chaves a double rookie-of-the-year in 2015, although the latter three are sidelined.

Comparisons are inevitable and while Munoz credits Montoya for getting him interested in racing, he doesn’t want to be known as “JPM 2.0.”

“He’s been a big example since I was a child,” Munoz admits. “I remember when I saw him winning his first 500 (in 2000; Munoz was 8 years old), we all went on the streets and celebrated! We were all waving the flag.

“He showed us the path to become a professional race car driver. But I want to make my name. I want to be my own man. I want to win races.”

Even more fascinating about Munoz is that while this is his third full-time season in IndyCar, he’s still only 24 years old, with room to grow. This is his fifth season in America, having done two years of Indy Lights prior in 2012 and 2013.

The setup advancements and aero kit improvements Honda has made has made the car better to drive this year, as Munoz looks to break out of the tightly bunched, yet crowded, IndyCar midpack.

“I think with the new aero kit, on the road course, I’ve felt much stronger, much more confident,” he said. “It’s easier to drive. It’s a lot more consistent. We had a nasty rear last year.

“There’s loads still to learn,” he added. “Helio (Castroneves) and Tony (Kanaan) learn stuff each race when they keep going. They’ve been doing this for a long time and they learn each time.

“My curve of learning, I still have a lot to get better at, both ovals and road courses. I haven’t reached my potential.

“As a driver or person, you’re never going to reach your potential.”

Leah Pritchett inks two-race deal with Don Schumacher Racing: Atlanta and Indy

2016_Leah_Pritchett_Action (1)
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Even though it’s just a two-race deal for now, Top Fuel driver Leah Pritchett will have one of the biggest and most successful drag racing organizations behind her.

Pritchett will compete for Don Schumacher Racing in next weekend’s NHRA Southern Nationals in Commerce, Georgia, where she finished runner-up in last year’s race. She’ll also compete in the prestigious U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend for DSR, as well.

It’s been a wild last few months for Pritchett. She won her first Top Fuel event at Phoenix in late February.

Then, early last month, she and the rest of the NHRA world were shocked when team owner Bob Vandergriff unexpectedly retired and immediately closed up his two-car Top Fuel team of Pritchett and Dave Connolly four races into the 24-race NHRA national event season.

Pritchett was able to race for Lagana Racing at Charlotte and then was able to convince Vandergriff to bring out her Quaker State-sponsored dragster for an encore performance last weekend at Houston.

Now, she’ll go to one of the season’s most popular races and will call 8-time Top Fuel champ Tony Schumacher, 2012 and 2015 Top Fuel champ Antron Brown and 2013 Top Fuel champ Shawn Langdon her teammates.

She’ll be in good hands at DSR with her former crew chiefs at BVR, Mike Gruger and Joe Barlam, bringing familiarity and consistency to keep Pritchett on the racetrack.

 

The deal between DSR and Pruett was struck last Monday, just before she headed to Houston. It makes sense for both sides. Pritchett lives in suburban Indianapolis and is less than 10 miles from DSR’s headquarters in Brownsburg, Indiana.

She competed at Houston for Quaker State Oil, which was her primary sponsor while with BVR. Plus, Quaker State’s headquarters is in Houston, so it was a natural fit.

It’s unknown whether Quaker State will return to sponsor Pritchett for more races, but don’t be surprised if it does. She’s one of the bright young faces on the NHRA scene, is a fan favorite, is very media and marketing savvy and has paid her dues.

While with BVR, and especially after her win at Phoenix, Pritchett appeared ready to become the sport’s next new star. With a team like DSR behind her, she can certainly continue on that route, indeed.

Admittedly, Pritchett still wonders what she could have accomplished if Vandergriff hadn’t folded up shop so abruptly.

“I will always wonder what could have been,” she told Bobby Bennett of CompetitionPlus.com. “Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

“In life, there are so many experiences to reflect upon. Life is bigger than a race car. It’s bigger than a win. I do feel we had a team capable of challenging for a championship. What could have been has now been replaced with what could come forth.”

Who knows, Pritchett, who grew up about 50 miles from Hollywood in Redlands, California, may wind up with a script that potentially could be even better than her short stay with BVR if team owner Don Schumacher finds enough sponsorship to keep Pritchett on and makes her a regular full-time member of the team.

Even with the struggles that came out of the BVR collapse, she’s still eight in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel class. She’s 173 points behind series leader Brittany Force, is 154 points behind Brown, four points behind Schumacher and is 72 points ahead of Langdon.

Given that performance, she seems to be a perfect fit for DSR long-term. Only time will tell if that takes place.

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Head Games: the friendly rivalry of Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud

during the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 6, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.
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FORT WORTH – Rivalries that have lasted for 10 years aren’t supposed to sound like this, right?

“He’s a hell of a driver, a great competitor,” Graham Rahal said of Simon Pagenaud Tuesday during a test at Texas Motor Speedway. “And a great guy. It’s not like I dislike him. I like Simon a lot.”

Pagenaud, the current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader after four races, had even more flattering words for Rahal.

“Graham is a very aggressive driver, he’s exciting to watch. Maybe a lot more exciting than me,” Pagenaud said. “He’s a very good driver. I have a lot of respect for him because he can sometimes outdrive the car, make it better than it actually is. He’s doing a great job.”

This is what it sounded like two weeks after the top drivers for rival manufacturers dueled in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, exchanging the lead four times while combining to lead all 90 of the race’s laps.

After making contact with Rahal on with nine laps left, Pagenaud went off-track, gave up the lead and only took it back three laps later after Rahal suffered wing damage from hitting the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth.

“I know after the race Simon said he thought after we touched he was going to get me back, there was not a chance he would have gotten there,” Rahal said. “I can guarantee that. Cause I was way quicker on old tires than those guys were and if I had gotten clear, I was gone. And I knew that too, which is the frustrating part.”

Pagenaud won his second race in a row. For the second straight year, Rahal placed second at Barber Motorsports Park.

With that, a quiet rivalry that started a decade ago in the Champ Car Atlantic Series was given center stage.

Rahal and Pagenaud first crossed paths in 2006.

“I don’t want to make a bigger deal out of it than it is. For sure, it’s in my head, ‘I don’t lose to Simon,'” said Rahal, who earned six wins that year in the Atlantic series.

But it was Pagenaud who won the title as both transitioned into the Champ Car World Series in 2007. Rahal went to IndyCar in 2008 while Pagenaud drove in the American Le Mans Series for three years, making his debut in IndyCar in 2011.

“That’s the way it’s always been and when I see him particularly as the rabbit in front of me I’m going to get him,” said Rahal, who has yet to finish ahead of Pagenaud through four races. “It’s just my mentality. Obviously, he’s in a pretty good place right now.”

In his second year with Team Penske, Pagenaud has finished in the top two in all four races a season after not finishing better than third. Rahal is the flag bearer for Honda with two top-five finishes a season after winning two races – his first victories in seven seasons.

How does Pagenaud, the points leader, compare himself to his friendly rival?

“I’m more like a (Scott) Dixon, you never see me coming, all of a sudden I’m there and everybody’s like ‘what the hell? How the hell did he do that?'” Pagenaud said.

“Rahal is more like a Paul Tracy, which is really cool to watch. To race, it can be stressful, like it was in Barber.”

With the Month of May underway and the 100th Indianapolis 500 looming on May 29, the stress will start to mount for Rahal, who is looking to win the race 30 years after his father, Bobby Rahal, did it.

He goes into May knowing Honda will likely be at a disadvantage to Chevrolet.

“If we’re not on par, we’re not on par,” Rahal said. “Our job is to finish fifth or whatever. I hate saying that because it’s the 100th running, I want to win this race more than anything else, any race, any where, anytime. It’s 30 years after my dad Bobby won the Indy 500, so it’s a big year for me on many fronts.”

But Pagenaud?

“I’m relaxed and confident I can do things I usually wouldn’t do,” said the Frenchman.

The Penske driver heads to the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis looking to recapture the magic of his win in the inaugural running of the race in 2014. But he had few worries about that or anything else during the test day in Texas.

“Because we’ve started so strong, I don’t have to prove anything,” Pagenaud said. “I can work on what I have to work on. I think that’s what makes for a bit of an advantage in my opinion, in my head.”

Meanwhile, Rahal will hope to better his finish in the GP of Indy by one position from last year, when he was the runner-up to Will Power.

And Pagenaud, the rabbit Rahal has chased quietly for a decade, will likely be there to challenge him.

“He’s a guy I like to beat,” Rahal said. “Barber was frustrating, not because I lost to him, but because I defeated myself to lose to him.”

Now that sounds like a rivalry.

Mercedes pens open letter to fans in wake of conspiracy theories

during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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I’m not sure whether Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” plays inside the halls of Brackley and Brixworth, home to Mercedes AMG Petronas, but the pop hit might be the song to best describe the team’s response to criticism over conspiracy theories that the team may be sabotaging Lewis Hamilton’s car this season.

Hamilton, usually a good team player and someone who’s been widely praised by Mercedes-Benz motorsport chief Toto Wolff for how he’s handled his early season adversity, finally had a moment of breakdown post-race in Sochi – where he’d recovered from his latest power unit issue in qualifying and started 10th to recover to second.

“My concern is not about beating Nico… I don’t have a problem with that. It’s more the guys giving me a car to be able to fight equally with him. That’s my concern,” Hamilton told NBCSN’s Will Buxton in the aftermath of the Russian Grand Prix.

Mercedes, meanwhile, took the unusual and bold step Wednesday of penning an open letter in the wake of the result, to address the criticisms levied at it and to explain what’s happened.

It’s a fascinating read and should be read in its entirety, linked here, but here are the highlights:

  • It’s about the livelihoods of the hundreds in the shop. Mercedes writes: “For those watching at home, a Grand Prix weekend starts on a Thursday morning and ends on Sunday night. A bad result might hurt for a few hours afterwards – but then life moves on. For more than one thousand people at Brackley and Brixworth, however, this is our life.”
  • One team. “To paraphrase Mr. Toto Wolff, we have worked our a**es off to get where we are today – and we have done so as a team. … There is no ‘A’ or ‘B’ team here.”
  • Pressing on in wake of Hamilton’s MGU-H failure, and other issues that arose. “We were baffled and gutted by the repeat MGU-H failure on Lewis’ car in qualifying. But we kept calm, gathered our thoughts and sprung into action. … (We could) make sure Lewis could start from P10 on Sunday without having broken parc ferme.” The team also addressed Rosberg’s MGU-K behavior and Hamilton’s water pressure issues in subsequent paragraphs.
  • We know we could be better. “Ultimately, none of this changes the fact that we have not met our own expectations in terms of reliability thus far this season.”
  • But haters are gonna hate, and we’re going to keep improving. “To those who stand with us, we thank you. And to the rest – the haters, the naysayers, the conspirators… if we can convince even half of you what we really stand for, we’ll consider that a battle well won.”