Brad Keselowski dominates again, sweeps weekend with Cup win at Loudon

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Sprint Cup drivers saw a lot of red during Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

As in Keselowski’s appropriately red-colored Redd’s Apple Ale-sponsored Ford Fusion for Team Penske.

Although it may have caused for a few nail-biting moments in the closing laps, Keselowski still managed to make it look easy around the one-mile flat track to win Sunday’s main event, leading 138 of 305 laps in the fifth green-white-checker finish of the season. The race was originally slated to go just 301 laps.

In so doing, Keselowski doubled up for the weekend, also dominating in Saturday’s win from the pole in the Nationwide Series undercard race at NHMS. It was also the third win of the season for the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, tying him with Jimmie Johnson with most wins thus far in 2014.

“It sure feels like it,” Keselowski said when asked by TNT reporter Marty Snider afterward if this is the best Team Penske has ever been. “The Redd’s Apple Ford Fusion was hauling today. It’s a privilege to have cars like this and a team like it. We’re red-hot.”

Keselowski becomes the 13th different winner in the last 13 races at NHMS, earning his first career victory there in 10 overall starts.

“I can’t believe it, to win both races,” Keselowski said. “I thought we’ve done pretty good here the last few years but just weren’t able to close out the deal. … It was a great race, hard fought and Kyle (runner-up Kyle Busch) made me earn it there at the end. … If we keep having cars like this, the sky’s the limit. I’m just real proud of Team Penske.”

Keselowski’s triumph is the fourth straight win by a Ford driver in the last four races (two by Keselowski), the first time that’s happened since 2001.

Busch made a last-ditch effort to get to the front, but just didn’t have enough time or track left to catch Keselowski. It was Busch’s third straight runner-up finish at NHMS, including both races last year.

“It should have been anywhere from fourth to sixth, but we made a gutsy call there at the end to stay out and see if we could make it on fuel. We just barely made it, ran out at the start-finish.”

Rookie Kyle Larson had an outstanding third-place run, followed by Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Kasey Kahne finished 11th, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Austin Dillon, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton.

Because of the GWC situation, several drivers ran out of fuel in the final laps including Jeff Gordon (finished 26th) and Kevin Harvick (finished 30th).

There are now only seven races remaining to fill out the expanded 16-driver field for the revamped format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

On Lap 251, Matt Kenseth made what, at the time, looked like could have been the move of the race. With the event under caution due to debris, Kenseth came into the pits in seventh but left in first, taking the lead.

But Keselowski was just too strong and quickly worked his way back up to the front of the pack.

In perhaps the most controversial incident of the race, Joey Logano was running second behind teammate Brad Keselowski on Lap 211 when it appeared Logano cut down on Morgan Shepherd going into a turn.

Both cars made contact and Logano went sailing into the wall, and ultimately out of the race due to irreparable damage. Logano ultimately finished 40th, ironically one place behind Shepherd in 39th.

“The slowest car on the race track took us out, go figure,” a frustrated Logano said to TNT about Shepherd, who was at the time of the incident 15 laps behind the leaders.

“It’s not NASCAR’s fault that he slid up and was the slowest car on the track. I don’t know, if you can’t control your stuff, don’t even be out there. If you’re 10 laps down, what are you doing?”

Shepherd, at 72 years old the oldest active driver in Sprint Cup – and at 72 years, nine months and one day, reset his own mark as the oldest driver to ever start a NASCAR race – continued on in the race, having suffered damage to his car but not enough to end his day, unlike Logano.

Keselowski led 42 of the first 151 laps of the 301-lap event and had a lead at the time of around three seconds over Matt Kenseth, who was running second.

Pole-sitter Kyle Busch was third at halfway, followed by Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, early leader Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne in 10th position.

It was not a good day for Jimmie Johnson. He suffered a flat tire early in the race. After coming on pit road, his jack man made a mistake and went to the right side of the car while the rest of the crew remained on the left, following crew chief Chad Knaus’s call for just two left side tires.

The mistake cost Johnson several extra seconds than normal on pit road, going from second-place when he entered the pits to returning to the track in 42nd position and one lap down.

Then on Lap 11, Johnson suffered another tire failure, this one sending him into the wall and causing damage to his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, effectively ending his day with a 42nd-place finish.

Other notable items included:

* Logano wore a tight wrap on his left wrist, which suffered a minor sprain after wrecking during Sprint Cup practice on Friday.

* Aric Almirola crashed in practice Saturday and had to go to a backup car. He started Sunday’s race from the back of the field.

* Jeff Burton, who will segue to a full-time analyst for NASCAR on NBC next season, finished 20th in what potentially could be the final race of his Sprint Cup career. Burton has no plans for additional races in the remaining 17 events on the schedule, but that could change if the right situation presents itself.

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Vettel: Australia F1 win ‘a big relief’ to Ferrari after barren 2016

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Sebastian Vettel said his victory in Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix came as “a big relief” to the Ferrari team following a winless year in 2016.

Vettel qualified second in Melbourne before jumping Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton through the pit stops when Ferrari opted to keep him out longer on the ultra-soft tires.

Vettel opened up a sizeable lead over Hamilton soon after his pit stop, eventually crossing the line 9.9 seconds clear of the Briton to win the opening race of the year.

The result marked both Ferrari and Vettel’s first win since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix, showing the work that the team has done over the winter to turn things around after struggling last year.

“If you’re not part of the team it’s difficult to realize, but what this team has done in the last six months has been really tough, rough as well, not easy to manage,” Vettel said.

“Today is fantastic, a big reward and big relief for everyone. It’s just the tip of the iceberg though, the foundation has been laid a long time ago.

“I’m sure we’ll have a great night, create some great memories tonight and take it from there. We enjoy what we do, the spirit is great in the team and it’s up to us to keep it up.”

The result marked Vettel’s first win in Australia since 2011 and Ferrari’s first at Albert Park since 2007. In both years, they went on to win the drivers’ title, Ferrari taking the 2007 crown with Kimi Raikkonen.

History may be on Vettel’s side, but the German is not turning his attention to a fifth world title yet.

“No, I’m not interested in that point to be honest,” Vettel said when reminded of Raikkonen’s Australia win and title success in 2007.

“Obviously I was very fortunate so far in my racing career that I had some very good races and good years, but definitely after the first race is not the time to look at the table. We really have to go step-by-step.

“It’s good to know we have a great car but it’s just the beginning. New regulations, new generation of cars so there will be a lot of progress.

“These guys [Mercedes] have proven to be the ones to beat in the last couple of years more and more. We know they have a great engine but they’ve had a great car the last couple of years and they made good steps forward so we’re the ones who need to catch up.

“For today I’m just very happy and for sure whatever happens this year, the race today doesn’t hurt.”

Ricciardo downbeat after disaster Australian GP ends in retirement

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Daniel Ricciardo was left downbeat after a disastrous end to a difficult Australian Grand Prix weekend that saw the home Formula 1 favorite almost miss the race entirely.

Ricciardo was due to start the race 10th after crashing out of qualifying on Saturday, and was then handed a five-place grid penalty following a gearbox change overnight.

Ricciardo then suffered another setback when an electrical issue emerged during his reconnaissance lap to the grid, causing his car to get stuck in sixth gear.

After coming back to the pit lane in a truck, the RB13 car was revived by the Red Bull crew to allow Ricciardo to enter the race, albeit two laps down, making the event a glorified test session.

Ricciardo showed good pace, but was eventually forced to retire when an engine issue emerged on his car just after half distance, marking a sour end to his home race weekend.

“I’m just over it at the moment. It’s one of those days, tomorrow I’ll be fine,” Ricciardo told NBCSN after the session.

“It snowballed from yesterday. The out lap had problems, then I thought the race was done. We got out a few laps down. Good to get out and learn more. Then I had another issue, fuel pressure or something. Let’s go to China and have a better one there.”

Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen ended up fifth, with Ricciardo taking some heart from the result despite his own setbacks.

“I learned quite a bit with the car,” Ricciardo said. “I was behind a few slower cars. There’s other strengths and weaknesses. Max’s pace looked good at the moment.

“I’ll be alright when I wake up tomorrow. It’s been a long week.

“I feel like crap, it’s not how we’d like the opener to go at home.”

Alonso: Poor Australia display ‘a problem for McLaren, not me’

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Fernando Alonso believes his performance in Sunday’s Formula 1 season-opener in Australia was one of the best of his career, despite only being in contention for 10th place when he was forced to retire.

Alonso and McLaren arrived in Melbourne off the back of a torrid pre-season that had seen the Honda power unit present a number of problems, limiting the team’s running.

McLaren’s expectations for the Australian Grand Prix were low, making Alonso’s charge to 13th in qualifying an impressive one.

The Spaniard made a good start to move into the top 10 early on, and was in the running for points until a suspension issued forced him to retire with six laps remaining.

“The race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN after the race.

“The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. Good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to stay in the points. Suspension stopped us from getting this point.”

Alonso then delivered another scathing comment to McLaren, saying that his uncompetitive display was not his problem as he was driving at the peak of his powers.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating,” Alonso said.

“But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team, not me.”

Ferrari outplays Mercedes as Vettel takes Australian GP victory

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Sebastian Vettel kick-started Ferrari’s 2017 Formula 1 season in style as a strategic stunner allowed him to jump Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and storm to victory in the Australian Grand Prix.

Vettel and Ferrari arrived in Melbourne as favorites for victory following a hugely impressive pre-season, only for Hamilton to dominate practice and take pole, suggesting Mercedes’ recent pace advantage still remained.

Hamilton led the early part of the race, but was unable to shake off Vettel, with the German staying close enough to give Ferrari the chance to get ahead through a brilliant strategy call.

The decision to chase the ‘overcut’, combined with Hamilton hitting traffic, saw Vettel snatch the lead through the tire changes and then dominate proceedings accordingly.

It was a display reminiscent of Vettel’s Red Bull heyday, and marked his first win in Australia since 2011. It was Ferrari’s first at Albert Park since Kimi Raikkonen’s success in 2007. In both instances, the winner in Australia went on to win the world championship.

Hamilton managed to make a clean getaway from pole and retain the lead at the first corner, with Vettel staying in close company through the early part of the race, immediately creating a strategy headache for the defending champion team. Hamilton managed to eke out a lead over Vettel, raising the gap to two seconds in the opening stint, but it was still nowhere near enough to give Mercedes any kind of comfort.

Vettel ramped up the pressure as the first round of pit stops neared, cutting the gap to Hamilton to less than one second. Hamilton reacted by diving into the pits, preventing Vettel from getting close, with his switch to the soft tire ensuring he didn’t need to make another stop. Ferrari didn’t bring Vettel in immediately, instead keeping the German out. With Valtteri Bottas 11 seconds behind in P2, Ferrari had the chance to roll the dice and keep Vettel out.

The race moved in the Scuderia’s favor when Hamilton came onto the back of Max Verstappen, who was running fourth, and found himself struggling to pass. Mercedes told Hamilton over the radio that it was “race critical” and he had to pass, yet with his tires already struggling, the three-time champion was haemorrhaging time to Vettel.

Ferrari brought Vettel in at the end of Lap 23, releasing him into clean air after coming across a number of backmarkers. A swift turnaround from the Italian marque’s pit crew allowed Vettel to emerge from the pits ahead of both Verstappen and Hamilton, handing him the net lead. Hamilton vented his frustration over the radio as he kept struggling behind Verstappen, with Vettel immediately breaking free. By the time Verstappen finally stopped at the end of Lap 25, Vettel was already six seconds clear of Hamilton.

Mercedes told Hamilton that it was considering a switch to ‘plan B’ on strategy, with the Briton still struggling to match Vettel’s pace at the front. To make matters worse, Bottas was beginning to close up behind, moving to within three seconds of his esteemed teammate in the race for second.

As Vettel extended his lead at the front, former teammate Daniel Ricciardo saw his weekend come to an unceremonious end as he retired a little over half distance. Having barely made the start following an electrical issue pre-race, the Australian’s home event became a glorified test session, but an engine problem meant it came to a premature end.

Hamilton looked to steady the ship in his No. 44 Mercedes, cutting the gap to Vettel to less than nine seconds, but it proved fruitless. Vettel was able to remain cool and keep up an impressive pace to the very end, crossing the line with an 9.9 second buffer to record victory in Australia for the second time.

Hamilton managed to keep ahead of Bottas in second, leaving the Finn to take a solid podium finish on his Mercedes debut. Kimi Raikkonen ended up fourth in the second Ferrari, finishing over 20 seconds adrift of his teammate, while Max Verstappen’s decision to change strategy mid-race failed to give him anything more than fifth.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ferrari’s pit wall perfected Vettel’s strategy, something it has failed to do in recent years. Bottas had a very strong Mercedes debut, finishing third. Felipe Massa came home sixth on his comeback race. Sergio Perez did well to take seventh for Force India, with teammate Esteban Ocon taking his first F1 point in P10. Toro Rosso pair Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat both ended in the points, P8 and P9 respectively. Antonio Giovinazzi impressed on debut to finish 12th for Sauber.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Mercedes looked unable to answer Ferrari’s pace, with Hamilton seeming uncomfortable in the Mercedes W08. Raikkonen and Verstappen both had quiet races, ending up P4 and P5. Renault missed out on points with Nico Hulkenberg finishing 11th, while Jolyon Palmer retired early after a miserable weekend. McLaren’s pre-season struggles continued as engine issues forced Fernando Alonso to retire and left Stoffel Vandoorne P13, two laps down. Romain Grosjean retired on Lap 15 with an engine issue, with smoke pouring out of the back of his car; the Frenchman had been running P7, marking a big opportunity missed for Haas. Ricciardo had a horrible home race with his engine failure.

NOTABLE: Vettel’s win over Hamilton could act as a nice foreshadowing for the title battle to come. We’re yet to see Vettel and Hamilton go head to head in a straight title battle, but this could be the year. Vettel now has four wins for Ferrari, but this could be the most significant: the last time both he (2011) and Ferrari (2007) won in Australia, they went on to win the title.

QUOTABLE: ” 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.” – Fernando Alonso to NBCSN after his retirement.

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