Runner-up finish at Chicago could be start of turnaround for Trevor Bayne

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JOLIET, Ill. — Saturday’s runner-up finish in the EnjoyIllinois.com 300 Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway may very well be a turning point for Trevor Bayne in the 2014 season.

His run tied a season-best showing (second at Dover), left him in sixth-place in the standings, just 50 points behind with 15 more races to go.

And if Bayne can continue his momentum this coming weekend at Indianapolis, his hopes for a Nationwide championship in his final year in the series could potentially come true.

Bayne ran a strong race, finishing second to NNS rookie and new points leader Chase Elliott, who won his third event of the season. Elliott’s margin of victory was 1.7 seconds over Bayne’s Ford.

“The last two runs of the race, we had a car that could win it,” Bayne told MotorSportsTalk. “That’s as competitive as we’ve been all year long and ties our best finish of the season at Dover.

“I felt like we had a better chance in this race than at Dover. … We ended up coming home second, just short, which is a little bittersweet, but we’ll take the sweet part because it’s just nice to be in contention in these things and have cars that are capable of winning races. If we can do that week in and week out, we’ll be there.”

In 18 starts this season, Bayne has three top-fives and 13 top-10s. He’s also had two DNFs.

But Saturday’s run brought out a new kind of confidence that even though Bayne characterizes the first part of this season as having been a struggle, there’s no reason why the second half of the season has to be the same.

“(If there had been) 10 or 15 (more) laps, I think we might have had something for them,” Bayne said. “We’re pretty happy with our run there and I was pumped to just be able to see the leader there and be making gains at him.

“This season has been a struggle for us overall. It’s nice to just have some speed here at a mile-and-a-half, track and there’s a lot of mile-and-a-halfs that are the same, so we’re hoping that carries on through the rest of the season for our Advocare Mustang.

“I’m hoping this run at Chicago can give us that momentum and knowledge we’ve been looking for. … We’ve made a lot of changes to our cars to make them all season long and we finally seemed to make some gains Saturday night.

“When you go to Chicago, you want to think you’ve learned something there that you can take to places like Atlanta, Kentucky and Charlotte, places like that and do real well at.”

Next up for Bayne is the legendary 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Having already won NASCAR’s biggest race, the Daytona 500, Bayne would love to win either the NNS or Sprint Cup event at Indy.

“Indy is one of the most overwhelming tracks you can go inside as a driver,” Bayne said. “You look down the frontstretch, it looks like a tunnel going down into Turn 1 and all of a sudden it’s just a 90-degree left without any banking, and you start second-guessing yourself if this thing is going to stick.

“We look forward to going there because we think we can run real well there, especially with the experience we have.”

And a trophy from Indy – be it NNS or Sprint Cup – would find a welcome home next to his Daytona 500 trophy.

“We’d like to add any trophy, so we’ll take them anywhere we can get ’em,” Bayne said with a laugh. “Indy is a really special place and I think it’s close to Daytona, if not tied with it, as far as motorsports is concerned.

“Indy has as much or more history than any track we go to, and to win any kind of race there, whether it’s Nationwide or Cup, winning the Brickyard 400 would be a huge deal, but winning the Nationwide race would also be great. To have a chance there, it’d be awesome to come down to the finish and see what we’ve got, sailing into Turn 4 for the last time for a battle. We look forward to going there and think we can run well there.”

Bayne has plenty of incentive to win at Indy, but there’s a bit more added this time: he’s one of four drivers who will be in contention for the Nationwide Dash-4-Cash promotion, where the highest finisher of the four drivers will take home a cool $100,000.

Bayne saw Brian Scott do just that Saturday night at Chicagoland, finishing sixth, the best of the four drivers chosen for that event.

Where Bayne goes from there remains to be seen. But if the feeling he has after Chicagoland is any indication, a turnaround is definitely on his mind.

“We’ve been consistent all year long,” Bayne said. “We had a couple races where we weren’t consistent. We got tangled up in the rain (at Road America) and got taken out at Michigan. Those were tough races for us to swallow because that’s what gave us that deficit in points.

“It’s a long season still ahead of us. There’s still two road courses left, we’ve got Bristol, some other short tracks like Richmond coming up where those guys can have bad days.

“We can have bad days, too, but we’ll just try to avoid those. Hopefully, those are between us and we can capitalize on some points.”

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Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.