Top Fuel driver Antron Brown. (AP Photo/NHRA,Marc Gewertz)

NHRA Top Fuel driver Antron Brown doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘slow’

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No matter what his method of transportation, Antron Brown isn’t just fast, he’s F-A-S-T.

He’s fast afoot: He was quick enough in the 100-meter dash to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials in 1997.

He’s fast on two wheels: During his nine years in NHRA competition in the Pro Stock Motorcycle category, Brown came close to winning the championship (finished second) in 2001, won at least one race and finished in the top 10 in the final standings in every season from 1999 through his last season in the class in 2007, was a 2-time winner at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, and won the Autombile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award in 1999 (NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year).

He’s fast on four wheels – MUCH faster, indeed: Won his first Mello Yello world championship in 2012, becoming the first African-American NHRA world champion and the first black driver to win a major U.S. auto racing title; he also is the only driver in NHRA history to win races in both the Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks. Also won the U.S. Nationals yet again, this time in a Top Fuel dragster.

And Brown, 38, a resident of Chesterfield, New Jersey, is by no means showing any signs of slowing down.

The driver of the Matco Tools dragster heads into the start of the NHRA’s “western swing” this weekend at Bandimere Speedway in suburban Denver as one of only seven drivers in the sport’s history who has ever swept all three races of the “swing” in one year, having done so in 2009.

But Brown has higher aspirations than just doing well the next three races. With five wins already in the series’ first 14 events, and a solid second in the Top Fuel points standings, Brown wants his second championship in the last three seasons.

“It’s been actually incredible this year,” Brown said on an NHRA teleconference Wednesday. “The whole competition in Top Fuel this year has been just insane right now. Battling out with Dougie (points leader Doug Kalitta), he’s definitely been the leader of the class so far, but our Matco Tools car is definitely running like gangbusters.

“We’ve been right on track where we need to be. With that being said, we always look forward going on to the Western Swing because right now this time is real crucial for us to get going right now because once you get back from the swing we have the U.S. Nationals and then we’re off to the Countdown to our championship, which is where the championship is won.”

Brown’s dominance this season has only been hindered by three other races where he suffered a first-round loss in eliminations. Had he been able to advance past the opening round on Sunday morning at those three events, he likely would be closer – if not ahead – to Kalitta.

At the same time, Brown is more than poised to make up for those three early exits in the western swing, which along with the U.S. Nationals is the most important part of the season for teams heading into the Countdown to the Championship.

“To win one round of NHRA racing right now is crazy hard,” Brown said. “To get past the first round is crazy hard. There’s no more gimmies. There’s 12 great race teams out there, and to compete out there in it is just it makes it that hard and difficult to try to get it done.”

While winning the championship is his goal, Brown believes that a second western swing sweep would put him in the driver’s seat, so to speak, towards that second Top Fuel crown.

“It’d be huge (to win the western swing again),” Brown said. “You’ll be the first mark in history to do it, you know what I mean, and we came so close to doing it before. We go into Western Swing and we can think about that, but when we go into the first race in Denver, you erase all that from your mind because you don’t let your emotions get the best of you to try to actually get that done.

“There’s so much that you have to have go your way to get that done, if you’re focused on that, you’re not focused on the thing that you need to get done (win the race and come one step closer to the championship).”

Brown is not only an in-demand Top Fuel racer, he’s also known for the motivational talks and speeches he gives, especially to youngsters across the country.

He has several speaking engagements lined up in the coming weeks, and as much as his audience of kids is wowed by Brown’s presence and what he imparts, those talks also help keep him grounded and still hungry for more wins and championships.

“There’s one thing that I can tell you honestly,” Brown said. “It comes down to the heart and determination of the individual. You have to be willing and you have to want it, you know what I mean? That’s the one thing that you can’t teach people today, and like that’s the difference between somebody like Michael Jordan and somebody that comes off the bench.

“You can’t teach ‘want to’ and my deal is I just want it. I can speak for everybody on our Matco Tools U.S. Army Toyota race team is that that’s what I’m telling you; we had a lot of talented guys before even that won the championship. We had great guys. But we have a group of individuals on our team that we make up one whole team together that has that want to, that desire.

“They want to win. The boys are hungry. They’re willing to do whatever it takes, and they’re all about being perfectionists, and that’s what it takes to have a great team and win and they don’t have no attitudes. They’re willing to work together. That’s the biggest thing, that we don’t have one person going a different direction that we’ve got to reel in. We have all of our guys go together, it’s nine of us, and we’re going into the same direction. And that’s something special right there. It’s something really, really, really special. I think that’s what makes the deal so great in doing what we want to do.

“My main deal in me is that I always set my goals real high and I shoot for them and I try to overachieve them, and then when I fall a little short I look back and I feel like I’ve accomplished a great bit of stuff. I think that’s one key to being successful in life is that when you stumble and fall you dust yourself off and you give it another lick and you go at it even harder, but you learn from it and grow from it.”

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Rosberg leads as Ricciardo debuts new Aeroscreen in Russia FP1

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Like in preseason testing, Mercedes AMG Petronas topped the timesheets in first practice for the Russian Grand Prix but the story of the session was elsewhere as one of the new cockpit enhanced devices made its debut at the start of practice.

Nico Rosberg was fastest in the W07 at 1:38.127 on Pirelli’s supersoft compound, while Daniel Ricciardo introduced Red Bull Racing’s new Aeroscreen to the world for an installation lap.

The device was installed on Thursday and Ricciardo rolled out with it to start practice. Following an installation lap it was back to removing the device and running in standard configuration. The Aeroscreen is one of two cockpit enhancement devices to have made its debut this year, Kimi Raikkonen having rolled out the “Halo” concept at Barcelona for preseason testing.

Alas in practice, several drivers spun on the low-grip Sochi Autodrom circuit – Lewis Hamilton at Turn 2, Jenson Button at Turn 15 and Sebastian Vettel at the same corner shortly thereafter, and local hero Danill Kvyat later in the session at Turn 17. Jolyon Palmer also had a spin at Turn 17 just after the checkered flag.

Further down the grid Manor Racing had a difficult start to the session with a floor change on Pascal Wehrlein’s chassis and an unspecified technical issue for teammate Rio Haryanto. Both made it out for some laps later in the session.

Rosberg topped Hamilton by 0.722 of a second with Vettel third, Raikkonen fourth and Felipe Massa fifth. Ricciardo was sixth in his usual car configuration.

Two drivers stepped in for race drivers this session, with Russian Sergey Sirotkin ending a respectable 13th in his debut with the team in FP1.

That being said, his number choice of 46 inspired Kevin Magnussen, who was sidelined for the session, to throw a bit of shade on Sirotkin after getting the Romain Grosjean treatment in sitting out.

Alfonso Celis Jr. also ran for Sahara Force India in place of Nico Hulkenberg and propped up the timesheets, 5.305 seconds off Rosberg and a full 3.1 seconds and change behind teammate Sergio Perez in ninth.

Times are below. You can see FP2 live on NBCSN from 7 a.m. ET, and also via live stream on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Ricciardo debuts Aeroscreen in FP1 in Russia (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo has rolled out with the team’s new Aeroscreen, the windshield cockpit device making its formal debut during FP1 for the Russian Grand Prix.

The Australian started the session with the device, ran an installation lap and then brought it in the pits. Once under normal chassis conditions, he ended sixth.

The device is one of a couple being tested in preparation for possible 2017 enhanced cockpit protection, which go along with the regulations, to see the driver cockpit area continue to be improved for safety purposes.

Quick photos of Ricciardo’s rollout are below, along with a couple videos released by Red Bull of the Aeroscreen being tested:

More to follow later today.

Hawksworth’s team’s labor hasn’t yet borne fruit of better results

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What do Jack Hawksworth and Allen Iverson have in common?

Practice, man.

“The Answer’s” famous – or perhaps infamous – “We talkin’ ‘bout practice, man” riff a number of years ago remains the go-to line whenever practice comes up in conversation.

It’s practice where the seeds of success are sown for a team when it comes to game day.

And for Hawksworth and the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda team, it’s been practice where the team has starred in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series.

But thus far, following practice, it’s been a case where the rest of the weekend has gone downhill for a variety of small but niggling reasons.

“If it was based off practice one I’d be leading the points!” Hawksworth told NBC Sports Thursday, and the thing is, he’s not joking.

In the three road or street course races this season, Hawksworth has ended second (St. Petersburg), third (Long Beach) and second (Barber) in first practice.

He’s followed it up with fellow top-10 runs in second practice of eighth, ninth and second again, respectively.

But come qualifying, it’s gone awry.

Starts of ninth, 20th and 14th have followed and in the races, it’s gone even worse with results lower than his grid spot: 11th, 21st and 19th. Toss out the Phoenix oval, because that was a nightmare weekend for him.

If ever there was a case where stats are misleading, it’s here, because Hawksworth and the team are clearly better than what they’ve been able to produce results-wise this year, and also far more gelled as a unit now compared to where they were 12 months ago as a new collective group.

“Our team is full of good people; we really believe in the 41 garage,” he said. “We did a lot of hard work over the winter. We haven’t seen the fruits of it yet.

“It looks like we’re a long way away, but we’re incredibly close. It’s a few small details, little tweaks and we’ll be at the front. It’s imminent. We’ve not shown it yet but we know it’s coming.”

The big change occurred this weekend was seeing Daniele Cucchiaroni promoted to lead race engineer on the No. 41 car, replacing the departed Dan Hobbs.

Hawksworth and Cucchiaroni worked together at Bryan Herta Autosport in 2014 and he joined the Foyt team last year with Takuma Sato’s effort. Hawksworth called him one of the brightest minds in the paddock.

He said it’s not the operating window of the Honda aero kit that the team has missed, but it has just missed getting the setup right for the qualifying and the race, where mere thousandths of a second make a difference.

“The cars are sensitive to track temperature… the conditions… it’s easy to get outside the window, but our problem hasn’t been balance or anything,” he said.

“You’re completely right in that we’ve had very quick cars at times. We haven’t understood the (Firestone) reds yet. Really, it’s just executing the qualifying and the race, with having a quick car and right car. It sounds crazy, but it’s worked out that way.

“There’s many reasons for that. We’re narrowing them down for the next couple races. It’s just small but vital things that have tripped us up. It’s been frustrating. Different at each race as well.”

Hawksworth also said he was doing everything possible to get out of the way at Barber when leaders Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud were trying to overtake him in the final stages.

“What happened there was a funny deal. To be honest, with the day we were having, the last thing I want to do is get in the way of leaders,” he said.

“I really don’t care who wins if it’s not me. But for courtesy, you don’t want to wreck the leaders.

“So I ducked out of Turn 5 to go to the left, that was the only place I could go. I saw Graham and Simon were side-by-side. If I’d have gone to the outside or stayed in the middle I’d have caused a crash. The only place to go was the inside. Rahal tried to get a tow off of me but he misjudged it and clipped my rear pods. That’s just racing.”

Hawksworth’s race was compromised to begin with when Mikhail Aleshin on the start clipped him, after Carlos Munoz clipped Aleshin. All three had to restart at the back of the field.

“The problem is mate, when you qualify (poorly), you’re in the middle of the pack. So we were on the bad side of the 26 and the 7, then you go to the back and toss around all day… much the story of our season.

“I spoke to Brian (Barnhart, Race Director) about it. The rule is, if you don’t reclaim your position by start of the pace lap, you automatically start at the back. With me being at the back, but going onto the grass to avoid running into the side of Aleshin, they deemed that the pace lap. It was a rules thing.”

Hawksworth said he’d like to see the gray areas of the rulebook examined for future use to try to remove warnings and unclear calls as best as possible.

“I’d beat on the drum of making it as black and white as possible. If you cross a line, you cross a line. We need to simplify the rules as much as we can to where things are a straightforward decision. There still seems to be a bit of the gray area.

“Still, it’s up to the series. It’d be easier for them too (to go black and white).”

Heading into May, Hawksworth sits 20th in points (50 points) while Takuma Sato is 40 points ahead, but in ninth.

Hawksworth’s season to date:

	FP1	FP2	FP3	QUAL	WU	RACE
STP	2	8	2	9	21	11
PHX	22	21	-	17	-	19
LB	3	9	11	20	17	21
BAR	2	2	11	14	8	19

Hakkinen sure Rosberg is ready to become F1 world champion

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates his win with his team during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen believes that current series leader Nico Rosberg is now ready to follow in his footsteps and win his first title in 2016.

Rosberg has finished second to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the past two seasons, taking the championship to the final round in 2014.

Having won the last six grands prix, Rosberg is in the form of his career and is the early leader in the 2016 championship, enjoying a 36-point advantage over Hamilton after three races.

Rosberg has cooled talk of the championship with 18 races still to go in the season, but Hakkinen now believes the German is ready to win his first world title.

“I remember how he walked around as a four or five-year-old with a small helmet in his hand,” Hakkinen told Spox.

“When I see him now, I’m very proud of him. He has developed fantastically. He has became a man and a father with the responsibility of a family.

“What many people underestimate [is that] the path to being world class is incredibly long, arduous and painful. The emphasis is on pain. Since it does not matter if your own father himself was world champion or not.

“Although he has his friends and family on the side, at the end you are still alone, with an immense burden, especially mentally, to cope.

“The physique and talent were always there. Now he has the goal clearly in mind and says with conviction: ‘Yes, I want to become world champion!’ He has risen to the challenge.

“Therefore my answer is yes, he is ready for the world title.”