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Gordon’s crew chief: 24 team more confident after Brickyard win

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As you’d expect, spirits are high in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports camp after Jeff Gordon’s win on Sunday in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

To Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson (pictured, right), that confidence has been building within the team since their first win of the year back in May at Kansas.

But the Indy win has put them on a new level of assurance in what they can do.

“If you look at Kansas, we were good – probably a push to the 4 car [Kevin Harvick], we were about even with him,” Gustafson recalled today in a NASCAR teleconference. “We ended up getting an advantage on a pit stop and ended up winning the race. He was coming hard there at the end.

“But I think [with] Indianapolis, we were the best car and were able to execute all day and win the race. That gives us confidence and that gives us, you know, I don’t want to say added incentive, but just an added feel of ability and confidence in our ability, I guess I should say, in what we can do moving forward – maybe a little bit more than what Kansas did.”

With the Indy win, Gordon is now among six drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano) that have officially clinched a Chase for the Sprint Cup berth with six regular season races left.

The consistency that had been missing for the 24 team in 2012 and 2013 has been recaptured, but must be maintained if they’re to keep progressing in this fall’s “new” Chase – which now features eliminations after every third race to set up a one-race, winner-take-all scenario between four drivers in the season finale.

Gustafson said NASCAR’s revamped post-season will be “unprecedented territory” for everyone involved, but is expecting that his team will likely have to encounter adversity that forces them to keep their heads.

“If something goes wrong, we have to have confidence in each other and belief in the team that we can overcome it and come back that next week,” he said.

“You could be in a situation where it comes down to one race to advance. You could be in a situation where you have to do it on points or have to do it by winning the race if you have some adversity the first couple races.

“I think you have to be able to bounce back and believe in what you’re doing.”

Gustafson also gave a sorta-take on the suspension of Denny Hamlin’s crew chief, Darian Grubb, who will be out for the next six races and was fined $125,000 after issues were found with rear block-off plates on Hamlin’s car following Sunday’s race.

While saying he didn’t know enough information to really comment on the situation, Gustafson said the severity of NASCAR’s penalties against JGR caught his attention.

As for those who think the penalties were toothless since Hamlin’s likely to make the Chase anyway thanks to his win at Talladega, he believed that such a line of thinking was foolish.

“This is my livelihood. It’s Darian’s livelihood. I can’t imagine being told you can’t do it for six weeks, how you have to handle that, deal with it, what that creates,” he said.

“Fortunately for me, I’ve never had to go through that. I don’t want to ever have to go through that. I think at the end of the day, people’s livelihoods are at stake.

“This is how we make our living. This is our lives, what we put a huge amount of effort into. To say that’s insignificant, I definitely disagree with that.”

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.