NNS: Smith, Sadler, Scott, Chris Buescher in Dash4Cash this weekend

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After claiming the first Nationwide Dash4Cash bonus last weekend at New Hampshire, Regan Smith is now in line to eventually earn up to $1 million through the contest.

But getting that big payday is going to take a lot of work.

He’ll need to win the next two D4C bonuses and then win the event next month at Iowa Speedway in order to secure a $600,000 prize from Nationwide Insurance – which would bring the total bonus sum to that million dollar mark.

Meanwhile, he still has to worry about maintaining the Nationwide Series points lead this weekend in the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.

And while Smith wouldn’t mind earning some more extra cash, the championship comes first.

“We’re still focused on the big picture,” he said heading into the weekend. “This summer stretch can be ruthless, and we didn’t have the start we were looking for back in June.

“Aside from Daytona, it’s been a challenge. So we have our work cut out for us over the next couple months. There is always room for improvement and Chicago will be the place to start.”

However, Smith has not usually had great performance at Chicagoland. He has only been able to earn an average finish of 24th-place over five NNS starts on the 1.5-mile oval in Joliet.

Two of Smith’s D4C rivals this weekend, Elliott Sadler and Brian Scott, have had more success. At Chicagoland, Sadler’s earned one win and four Top-10s in nine series starts, while Scott has an average finish at 9.8, good for second-best among active drivers.

“The way that the track is laid out, the way you can ride the high line…My strong suit seems to be typically, when the race gets going and the tires fall off, I’m able to work the high groove really well and make up a lot of time there,” Scott said of the track.

“It’s a fun place, I like going to Chicago. It’s just a track I feel comfortable at and I have a lot of confidence when I go in. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.”

Then there’s Chris Buescher (pictured, right), the Nationwide Series rookie that put himself in contention for the Chicagoland D4C bonus by finishing fifth last weekend.

Buescher will tackle Chicagoland for the first time in a Nationwide car, but has picked up two Top-10s on 1.5-mile ovals this year (a pair of ninth-place finishes, Las Vegas and Charlotte). He also finished in the Top 5 in both of Chicagoland’s 2011 and 2012 ARCA races.

If he can replicate such form, he could drive away with the loot on Saturday night.

“We had an awesome run at New Hampshire, finished fifth and had some really good pit strategy – everything worked out in our favor and I am really proud of all of our guys,” he said.

“I am hoping that we can keep the momentum rolling in our Ford EcoBoost Mustang and not only get the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash, but capture another Top-5 or possibly a win at Chicagoland.”

Penske drivers lament missed victory at Road America (VIDEO)

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Team Penske dominated the entire Kohler Grand Prix weekend at Road America, twice going 1-2-3-4 over the three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday and then doing the same in qualifying, with Helio Castroneves taking pole from Will Power, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud.

However, race day represented a missed opportunity. Though Castroneves led early, it was Newgarden who emerged as their best hope for victory following a spectacular outside pass on Castroneves entering turn 1 on lap 19. That put Newgarden in the lead, and he seemed to be in full control.

Still, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon had been stalking the Penske foursome all race long, and sat behind Newgarden in second for a lap 30 restart. With Newgarden on primary blacks and Dixon on alternate reds, Newgarden was somewhat of a sitting duck, and Dixon muscled his way into the lead with an equally spectacular outside pass in turn 1, with Newgarden briefly falling to third behind teammate Castroneves.

Josef Newgarden led several laps, but could not find his way around Dixon for the win. Photo: IndyCar

Although Newgarden regrouped, overtook Castroneves during the final pit stop sequence, and closed to within a second following a restart with seven laps remaining, he was never close enough to make a move for the win.

Even though the Team Penske drivers all finished in the top five, going 2-3-4-5 with Newgarden leading Castroneves, Pagenaud, and Power, missing out on victory was a bitter pill to swallow.

“It stings a little bit coming home second when you feel like you have a winning car,” Newgarden revealed in the post-race press conference.

He added that an ill-timed lap 28 caution for a spinning Takuma Sato ultimately put paid his chances of victory. “The caution didn’t fall our way. You can’t predict that stuff. It hurts when it comes at the wrong time. That’s pretty much what happened today. With (Tim Cindric calling the strategy), I feel confident with all our decisions, everything those guys do on the pit box. Things just didn’t fall our way today.”

For Castroneves, a slight error before his final pit stop saw him pit earlier than the team wanted, due to an alarm that went off in the cockpit. However, as he explained to NBCSN’s Marty Snider, it was of little consequence to the outcome of the race.

“We mentioned in the debrief that if in turn 14, the blue lights come on, you are to come right away. So I came in. I am sure they had a little buffer, and they knew what exactly was going on. (Race engineer Jonathan Diuguid) said keep going but I couldn’t quite understand him. But at the end of the day it didn’t cost us anything in terms of a win or second place.”

Still, the strong results see Pagenaud and Castroneves sit second and third in the championship, while Newgarden and Power sit fifth and sixth, respectively.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

F1 Paddock Pass: Azerbaijan Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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One of the crazier, most eventful Formula 1 races in recent memory took place at the Baku City Circuit today in Azerbajian.

That makes it a challenge to recap but it’s something NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, along with producer Jason Swales, attempt to do in the latest post-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass.

You can see it below. Thursday’s pre-race edition is linked here. A full roundup of Sunday videos from Baku is linked here.

 

Bottas gives everything in Baku fightback from a lap down to P2

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Valtteri Bottas says he “gave it absolutely everything” after falling a lap down and running last early on in Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Baku before fighting back to finish second for Mercedes.

Bottas qualified second for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix behind teammate Lewis Hamilton, but dropped back after contact with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 2 on the opening lap, sustaining a puncture.

Bottas fell a lap down on the field immediately, but was waved past and able to get back onto the lead lap during the first safety car period.

From there, Bottas produced a stunning fightback, dodging the minefield of incidents through the race to eventually cross the line second after a drag race to the checkered flag with Williams’ Lance Stroll.

“Today was a crazy race, especially for me. I had a puncture on the first lap after the contact with Kimi on Lap 1,” Bottas said.

“I was a lap down, then had to overtake the field under the Safety Car. The second Safety Car after that really helped me out and, step by step, I moved forward from there.

“My main goal today was to fight for the win but that went out of the window after the first lap. I was actually last at one point, but I got my head down, gave it absolutely everything and tried to get the absolute maximum out of every single corner.

“We didn’t quite manage to win but P2 from where we were is a great feeling. Importantly for the team, we scored more points in the fight with Ferrari and I got some good points for myself as well.”

Bottas ultimately finished as Mercedes’ lead driver following Lewis Hamilton’s second pit stop when his headrest came loose, resigning the Briton to fifth place at the checkered flag.

F1: Azerbaijan Grand Prix race videos on NBCSN (VIDEO)

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Videos from today’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit from NBCSN are linked below.

Daniel Ricciardo won a chaotic, crazy, bizarre race for his first victory of the season.

With a mix of post-race interviews and in-race highlights, there was a lot to digest. The post-race edition of Paddock Pass will also attempt to recap it all.

POST-RACE INTERVIEWS/FEATURES

Lewis Hamilton

Sebastian Vettel

Sergio Perez

Lance Stroll’s podium “shoey” with Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo’s “shoey” tradition

IN-RACE HIGHLIGHTS

Bottas, Raikkonen tag each other at start of race

Verstappen tries to force Perez into errors at Azerbaijan GP

Verstappen forced to retire in Azerbaijan GP

Fernando Alonso calls for a red flag due to debris

Vettel hits Hamilton in crazy restart

Repercussions possible for Vettel and Hamilton after contact

Ricciardo slings his way to third

Sebastian Vettel relinquishes lead due to penalty

Ricciardo drives to victory, Bottas steals second at the flag