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NASCAR: Shepherd/Logano contact creates more questions than answers

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Two days after one of NASCAR’s youngest full-time competitors got collected by its oldest competitor – part-time or otherwise – there’s more questions than answers that must come out of the contact.

On Lap 212 on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the AutoTrader.com Ford driven by Team Penske’s Joey Logano got looped around by Morgan Shepherd, in the underfunded Circle Sport Chevrolet, entering Turn 3. Logano’s 24; Shepherd is three times his senior, age 72.

The resulting Logano interview and the TV camera angle didn’t give a great deal away, other than it showed Shepherd moving up the road slightly and enough to contact Logano. There’s not enough shown to potentially alleviate Shepherd of blame; say the angle at which he entered lower into Turn 3 was enough to send the car up the road.

An unlikely war of words has followed.

Logano, in his immediate post-race interview: “To get taken out by the slowest car – I feel like there should be a driver’s test when you get out in a Cup car and make sure you know how to drive it before you [race] one. But I don’t know, I guess there isn’t.”

And Shepherd, defending himself, via NASCAR.com: “Maybe he didn’t realize how wicked loose I was; I was having to tiptoe through the corner.”

NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton defended Shepherd and told reporters post-race, to the letter of the law, Shepherd was all clear to race.

“He’s been approved for decades,” he said. “You take a physical at the beginning of the year. You pass your physical. You pass inspections with your car, you qualify for the race and you run the event. He met everything he needed to meet.”

That may be true, but it doesn’t guard against questions raised in the approval process to race.

So, a few questions I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering as a result of this contretemps:

  • What is involved in the physical beyond standard procedure? How are reaction times determined? Is there an eyesight check?
  • Why do smaller teams, such as Joe Falk’s Circle Sport Racing operation, look for a driver like Shepherd to fill in at this type event instead of a younger driver, even one who could bring money?
  • Why does Shepherd, who’s been accomplished in the past, but in the 1980s and 1990s, want to subject himself and his reputation to this kind of criticism? What does he have to gain other than setting the record for being a septuagenarian on-track in the highest division of NASCAR?
  • If Shepherd’s car was as loose as he claims, why was a call not placed to the No. 33 team to pit?
  • How does NASCAR guard against this level of accident – where regardless of age, someone running so far off the pace could potentially be hazardous – could affect the Chase for the Sprint Cup? Especially in the new elimination format where there are fewer races to advance.

Answers from the sanctioning body need to be forthcoming fairly soon, and it would probably behoove NASCAR in the offseason, if not sooner, to examine its criteria for both minimum speed requirements and performing more stringent tests on older drivers seeking to compete.

Alonso targeting ‘decent points’ in Monaco from P9 on grid

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso believes that “decent points” are within his reach in Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix from ninth place on the grid.

Alonso reached Q3 for just the second time this season in Monaco, qualifying 10th overall for McLaren.

The Spaniard will gain a position for the start of the race by virtue of Kimi Raikkonen’s grid penalty, giving him a good chance to add to the points he scored in Russia earlier this month.

“We had a little bit of stress with the red-flag stoppage in Q1: we only had six minutes left and I hadn’t set a time,” Alonso explained.

“Our main goal today was to get into Q3, but I still don’t really feel confident with the car – I didn’t have a perfect feeling with it, and I wasn’t therefore confident enough to really attack the corners.

“Our predictions ahead of this weekend were maybe a little over-optimistic, but let’s see what happens tomorrow.

“We’ll need some rain, snow or whatever to give the race a little bit of action – the start will dictate the complexion of the race, but hopefully the weather will make the show more exciting.

“It would be great to come out of the weekend with some decent points.”

Teammate Jenson Button was unable to make it through to the final stage of qualifying, finishing 13th in Q2 in the second McLaren MP4-31 car.

“My lap in Q1 felt okay, then the balance went away from me as the circuit gripped up,” Button explained.

“On my final run in Q2 I had front-locking into Turn 3, locked the front-left and overheated the tire, which meant I lost front-end grip after that.

“Still, this is Monaco, and anything can happen. The first corner is usually eventful; then, after that, it’s about sitting behind the guy in front.

“You can try and dive down the inside of another car into Turn 10, but that’s a no-go for us because we’re too far back by the time we get to that part of the track.

“So, as I say, I’ll be hoping for rain tomorrow.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

VIDEO: Ride onboard with Ricciardo on his Monaco pole lap

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Daniel Ricciardo’s charge to pole position in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix came as a surprise to many in the Formula 1 paddock as Mercedes’ streak of pole positions came to an end.

It was just the third time since the start of the V6 turbo era – 44 races ago – that either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg did not claim pole position, and arguably just the second where Mercedes had been simply outpaced.

Ricciardo enjoyed an edge during practice before producing a stunning lap of 1:13.622 in Q3 to score his first pole position in F1.

In the video above, you can ride onboard with Ricciardo as he tames the fearsome Monaco street circuit, overcoming one of the biggest challenges in racing.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.

Verstappen to start from back row in Monaco after qualifying crash

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Two weeks on from his shock maiden Formula 1 victory in the Spain, Max Verstappen came back down to earth with a bump in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix after a crash resigned him to the back row of the grid.

Verstappen clipped the inside of the wall at the Swimming Pool chicane, breaking his front axle and sending him straight into the barrier at the exit of the corner.

The Dutchman walked away from the incident unharmed, but having not set a time in the session, he was classified in 21st place.

Speaking to NBCSN after the session, Verstappen admitted that the crash was down to driver error despite not pushing as hard as he could have.

“I was was not pushing to the limit,” Verstappen said.

“I just turned in too early. If you’re pushing to limit, normally you would go off track or miss the corner. I just in turned early.”

Wet weather is forecast for Sunday’s race, but Verstappen still feels that it will be difficult for him to salvage anything from the weekend after this error.

“Hopefully it will help a bit, but obviously on this track it will be very difficult to overtake.”

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo stormed to his first F1 pole in qualifying, leaving the team with two very different races to manage on Sunday.

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am.

Hamilton escapes engine scare to qualify third for Monaco GP

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Lewis Hamilton escaped an engine scare early in Q3 to qualify third for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Hamilton arrived in Monaco hopeful of kick-starting his championship bid and ending his poor run of form in the principality, having won there just once in Formula 1.

The Briton appeared to be in the fight for pole heading into the final stage of qualifying, only to report a loss of power on his Mercedes car in the pit lane.

While the rest of the drivers streamed out onto the track, Hamilton was wheeled back to his garage so the team could set to work on fixing the issue.

Mercedes confirmed to the media that Hamilton had suffered a fuel pressure issue that prompted the team to stop his car in the pit lane. Teammate Nico Rosberg had a similar problem that delayed his first run in Q3.

Hamilton made his one flying lap count to finish third in Q3 behind pole-sitter Daniel Ricciardo and Rosberg, but felt pole was for the taking had it not been for the issue.

“It was a difficult qualifying, I don’t really know what to say at the moment,” Hamilton said.

“The good thing is that I did get out to do a lap at least, it wasn’t as bad as some races have been in that respect with the engine problems.

“I’m grateful to be up in third. Pole was there for the taking I think, but nevertheless I’ll do what I can in the race to salvage what I can from today’s result.”

The Monaco Grand Prix is live on NBC from 7:30am ET on Sunday, with F1 Countdown beginning on NBCSN at 7am ET.