Fedex 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks - Qualifying

NASCAR: Jeff Gordon leads at halfway in Pocono

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With multiple pit strategies in play, Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon currently holds the lead at the halfway mark of the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Moments after the green flag waved to start the race, Joey Logano took the lead from pole sitter Kyle Larson going into Turn 1. A short distance behind them, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch appeared to make contact in Turn 2 while fighting for third place.

The impact sent Keselowski sideways before he made a great save to keep his No. 2 Team Penske Ford off the wall. He dropped back to 12th at the end of Lap 1, but the early loss in track position certainly beat the alternative.

On Lap 9, Jimmie Johnson suffered a right-rear tire failure going into Turn 1 and scraped the outside wall. A debris caution came out shortly afterwards, allowing the team to change the flat. However, Johnson fell one lap down and to dead last in the field – 43rd place.

Kurt Busch, giving up third position, then led a number of drivers to the pits under the caution that included his brother Kyle and Kyle’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth.

Beyond Kurt Busch, most of the Top 10 stayed out for the restart at Lap 13 (Kurt himself took the restart in 21st). Logano held the point, but behind him, Kevin Harvick and Gordon jumped Larson and shuffled him back to fourth.

On Lap 16, Top-10 runner Danica Patrick started to have an apparent tire rub after glancing off the wall previously. Then on Lap 17, a tire failure caused Patrick to hit the wall in Turn 2, triggering the second yellow of the day.

While Patrick’s crew worked to fix her damaged car on pit road, the leaders again decided to stay out while Johnson returned to the lead lap by virtue of the free pass.

Logano powered past Harvick on the outside to keep the lead off the Lap 20 restart, while Larson dropped Gordon for third place.

On Lap 23, Kyle Busch slowed down dramatically from 17th position and after reaching his pit box, his crew popped the hood on his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The car was then pushed to the garage with a terminal engine problem, ending Busch’s day.

Gordon moved past Harvick for second on Lap 27 and was homing in on Logano for the lead until Landon Cassill hit the wall for Caution No. 3 at Lap 29.

At this point, the leaders finally made their first appearances in the pits. Brian Vickers and Tony Stewart each took two tires and won the race off pit road ahead of Logano, Larson and Harvick (who all took four tires).

But after pitting under the first caution, Kurt Busch stayed out to assume the race lead. Busch would hold the point until Lap 45, when he went in for service and gave the lead to Gordon. Leading up to Busch’s second stop, Gordon had passed Logano, Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. to move up to second.

By Lap 50, Gordon was holding a lead of roughly two seconds on Logano. But that edge was erased with another caution, this time for Joe Nemechek, who slapped the wall off Turn 3 after he was tapped on the inside by an oncoming Kasey Kahne.

Kahne aired his frustrations with Nemechek over his radio:

Nemechek also wasn’t thrilled with Kahne:

Another group of drivers including Johnson and Keselowski chose to pit under this yellow. Also pitting were the Richard Petty Motorsports duo of Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, who each had problems – Ambrose parked his car sideways in his pit box, while Almirola had the hood go up on his car for an unspecified issue.

Gordon lined up on the outside for the restart at Lap 56 and quickly shot past Logano to retain his lead. Meanwhile, Clint Bowyer took advantage of the restart to make a move and crack the Top 5, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. got around Vickers at Lap 60 for third place.

Bowyer and Larson decided to pit under green at Lap 64. One lap later, the Top 3 – Gordon, Logano, and Earnhardt – chose to come in together.

Kurt Busch inherited the lead again, followed by Kahne, Johnson, Stewart and Kenseth. But as the multiple strategies continued to play out, Johnson, Kahne and Stewart all pitted shortly after Lap 70.

Busch and Kenseth, who last pitted on Lap 44, went to first and second place. But on Lap 74, Kenseth gave up second to pit, and on Lap 75, Busch abandoned the lead to do the same.

A.J. Allmendinger inherited P1 as the leader of a group of cars that pitted on the Nemechek caution. But after that group cycled through, Gordon returned to the top of the leaderboard.

Grosjean unveils new helmet design for first F1 season with Haas

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© Romain Grosjean
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Romain Grosjean has revealed his new-look helmet design ahead of his first Formula 1 season with Haas in 2016.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas won the race to get an F1 team on the grid back in 2014, and has spent the past 18 months meticulously planning its arrival in the sport.

Haas F1 Team’s full debut is now just five weeks away, with the first on-track test of its new car coming on February 22 in Barcelona.

Grosjean walked away from Lotus at the end of last year to join Haas for the new season, where he will race alongside former Ferrari reserve Esteban Gutierrez.

In a post on his Twitter account on Saturday, Grosjean unveiled his new helmet design for the 2016 season, featuring plenty of Haas signage.

Grosjean also revealed earlier this week that he would be racing with a tribute to Jules Bianchi on his helmet, who died at the age of 25 last July.

Mario Andretti: 21-race calendar no bad thing for F1

FONTANA, CA - AUGUST 29:  Racing legend Mario Andretti during qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 IndyCar World Championship Race at the Auto Club Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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1978 Formula 1 world champion Mario Andretti believes that having a 21-race calendar is no bad thing for the series as it caters to the demand for grands prix around the world.

The 2016 schedule is set to be the longest yet, featuring 21 races after the return of the German Grand Prix and the addition of the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Such a packed calendar has been met with mixed responses by the F1 community, with some expressing concern over the lack of breaks between races.

FIA president Jean Todt said in January that a 21-race calendar should be seen as a “privilege” by those in F1, and Andretti echoed his comments when speaking to El Pais.

“It does represent an extra burden for the teams, but they must also appreciate that it provides greater exposure to the brands,” Andretti said.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for F1 because you have an incredible demand and 21 occasions to showcase the sport.

“Plus the drivers are willing to run more races, so that calendar’s not a bad thing in my opinion.”

Andretti also spoke of the need to safeguard the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, which remains subject to confirmation for 2016 amid concerns about its financial stability.

“After all the investments that were made on this fantastic venue, all people involved need to make sure we have a grand prix,” he said.

“I think F1 needs the US and vice versa. When you look at the sponsors in every team, you see that all of them are global and most do business in America.

“It is believed that the Mexico race has taken some of the spectators away, but as time goes by, both events will help each other because people are keen to see F1.”

2016 MotoGP calendar finalized by FIM, Dorna

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 25:  The MotoGP riders start from the grid during the MotoGP race during the MotoGP Of Malaysia at Sepang Circuit on October 25, 2015 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)
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The calendar for the 2016 MotoGP season has been finalized by the FIM and Dorna ahead of the first race of the year in Qatar next month.

The last provisional schedule issued in November featured 18 races with just one chop-and-change as the Indianapolis Grand Prix was dropped to make way for an event in Austria.

This calendar has been given the green light by governing body FIM and commercial rights holder Dorna, finalizing the dates for the coming season.

Officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to a mutual agreement with Dorna to terminate its contract for the MotoGP race early following the last race in August.

As a result, the only American round on the MotoGP calendar is the race at the Circuit of The Americas in April.

2016 MotoGP season calendar

1. Qatar – March 20
2. Argentina – April 3
3. USA – April 10
4. Spain – April 24
5. France – May 8
6. Italy – May 22
7. Catalunya – June 5
8. Dutch TT – June 26
9. Germany – July 17
10. Austria – August 14
11. Czech Republic – August 21
12. Great Britain – September 4
13. San Marino – September 11
14. Aragon – September 25
15. Japan – October 16
16. Australia – October 23
17. Malaysia – October 30
18. Valencia – November 13

NHRA: After rough 2015, Courtney Force hopes the force is back with her in 2016

Courtney Force (Getty Images)
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It would be great to borrow a line from Star Wars and to tell NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force, “May the Force be with you.”

Unfortunately for the youngest daughter of 16-time Funny Car champ John Force, the force wasn’t even close to being with her in 2015.

In 2014, Courtney was one of the most successful drivers in Funny Car. She won a career-high four wins (out of a career total of seven wins), became the winningest female in Funny Car history, and earned the 100th win by a female driver in NHRA history.

It was a dream season as Force finished a career-best fourth in the standings.

But as good as everything went in 2014, it was the complete opposite in 2015. She failed to win a race, never could mount any type of consistency, and failed to reach the Countdown to the Championship for the first time in her career.

Force ultimately finished a career-worst 11th in the final Funny Car standings.

Even worse, in 24 races, she was eliminated in the first round an unheard of 15 times.

Courtney Force in action (Richard Shute/Auto Imagery)
Courtney Force in action (Richard Shute/Auto Imagery)

But heading into this weekend’s season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif., there’s only one direction for Force to go, and that’s up.

“Last year was definitely tough,” Force told NBCSports.com. “There’s really nothing I can point fingers at, but I definitely think it’s going to make us feel a little bit better going into this year. We’re staying positive.”

Force started off positive in Friday’s first day of qualifying, as teammate Robert Hight had the quickest run at 3.942 seconds (at 322.19 mph), while Courtney Force was second-quickest at 3.945 seconds.

 

Much like her famous father, there was a significant amount of change that occurred for the overall John Force Racing operation in 2015.

There was a manufacturer change (to Chevrolet after nearly 20 years with Ford), a primary sponsor change (to Peak AntiFreeze and Lubricants after more than 30 years with Castrol) and just a whole different mojo than she and everyone in John Force Racing had never experienced.

Not so much in 2016, Courtney Force said.

“I feel like the pressure’s off a little bit for all our teams right now,” said Force, a big fan-favorite in the NHRA world. “With Chevy coming on board, Monster, Peak Antifreeze and Lucas (Oil) as sponsors, it was huge for us.

“To have them all really behind us definitely kind of puts us back to having comfort and knowing that we have support out here.”

Now in her fifth full season in the NHRA Funny Car ranks, as well as with primary sponsor Traxxas, Force is ready to forget about 2015 and look forward to a big leap forward in 2016.

“We definitely had a little bit of a rough year last year, but there were a few things we were trying out with the car and I think it just took us a little longer to figure it all out,” she said.

Perhaps the most significant change for Force this season is having two new co-crew chiefs: Dan Hood (husband of sister and former racer Ashley Force Hood) and Ronnie Thompson, who came over from sister Brittany Force’s Top Fuel team.

“I think the two of them are going to work well together and I’m excited,” Courtney Force told MotorSportsTalk. “We brought in a couple of other new people and switched a few positions.

“We’re definitely in our routine again, and the test at Phoenix (last weekend) definitely helped. We’re really just keeping a positive attitude going into this year.”

Father John Force expects big things this season from both Courtney and Brittany.

“I want this to be a big year for my girls,” Force told MST. “I want both Courtney and Brittany to have a big year.”

While that may put extra pressure on someone, knowing it’s your father who has high expectations, Courtney looks at it a bit differently.

“I think there’s always a little bit of pressure because he is my dad, but not really so much from him, maybe just more on myself,” she said. “I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself since I started racing. I push myself hard out here because I really love being in these cars and this opportunity, I’m just trying to take full advantage of it and really show these sponsors what we’re capable of.

“After a rough year like we had last year, I’m ready to get these things turned around and get back to how we used to be. We’ve won a lot of races, we know how to win and having the support of my dad, no, he doesn’t put that pressure on me, which is nice. I’m very lucky that I get to stay on as a driver for his team. I put pressure on myself more than anything.”

If there was one key to last year’s dismal season, it was missing the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, a six-race playoff that begins after the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

Heading to Indy, Courtney was still within striking distance of making the Chase, but things didn’t work out the way she hoped they would.

“It was hard, for sure, every week, we went out there,” she said. “At the start of the season, we were like, ‘No, we didn’t have it this weekend, but we’ve always got next weekend.’ The time window to get in there started to get smaller and further away.

“(Not making the Countdown) was definitely a shock. We had Indy to try to make some magic happen and it was out of our hands. We couldn’t do much about it. We went out and that was just the way it was going to be.

“We just kind of had to take it, learn from it and move on. It was definitely a bummer. Since my rookie year, I’ve been in the top 10 every year. But I think it will only make us stronger for this year, which is probably the most important thing that came out of it.”

But now Indy and the entire 2015 season is and will remain in Force’s rearview mirror. It’s full speed ahead in 2016, starting with this weekend’s 56th annual edition of the Winternationals.

“I can’t wait to get back in the swing of things at the start of the season, at my home track in Pomona,” Force said. “I think 2016 will be a great year for our Traxxas Chevy Camaro team and we are ready to make it our year.”

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