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Melancholy return: Tony Stewart goes back to Iowa, site of worst crash of his racing career

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KNOXVILLE, Iowa – Being back in Iowa this week has been bittersweet for three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.

While he considers the Hawkeye State almost like a second home because of all the time he’s spent there over his career, particularly when it comes to sprint car racing, Iowa also brings back some horrendous memories.

It was on August 5, 2013 that Stewart suffered the worst injury of his roughly three-decade racing career, incurring several fractures in his right leg.

One year and a day later, Stewart was back in Iowa for Wednesday’s charity go-kart event at Slideways Karting Center, about two miles north of Knoxville Speedway, where the annual Knoxville Nationals are being held throughout this weekend.

Stewart admitted that he flew back to Iowa after last Sunday’s race at Pocono, where he was caught up in the big 13-car wreck.

He then returned to the same site where he suffered the injury, Southern Iowa Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

In a way, it was a cathartic return for Stewart.

“I went back out to Oskaloosa for the race,” Stewart told MotorSportsTalk about watching the same event he crashed in last year, fracturing both the tibia and fibula in his right leg.

“I wasn’t going to miss it regardless,” Stewart said. “My intention was actually to run (at Oskaloosa), but I’ve run four (sprint car) races this year and haven’t raced enough to be able to run good out there yet. I need to race some more.”

Before they all headed to New York state for this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen International, Stewart was joined in Knoxville for much of the week with fellow NASCAR stars Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson, who like Stewart, are long-time sprint car drivers and fans.

“I wouldn’t miss this week for the world,” Stewart said. “I don’t think Jeff, Kasey or Kyle would, either. We’re diehards about this. We love what we do full-time, but we’re passionate about dirt racing and the Nationals.”

Surprisingly, Stewart admitted that he’s still not fully recovered from last year’s life-changing wreck.

“I thought I’d be a lot further along than I am right now,” he said. “But I’m pretty grateful to have a leg to stand on and am able to do what I still love to do. So, you’re not going to hear me complain about it.”

Rather, Stewart is focusing on not only completing his comeback, but also to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He has five races left, including Sunday’s, to make the expanded 16-driver field.

When and where will he get that elusive win?

“I don’t know,” Stewart said. “It can come anywhere, honestly. I don’t think it’s a scenario where you can throw all your eggs in one basket and say, ‘This is the one we’ve got to make happen.’

“It’s just like last week (at Pocono). We weren’t great, but it wasn’t our crash that we got involved in. We ended up in it. So, you never know what can happen.”

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Button taken to hospital for check-up after eye irritation

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Jenson Button of Great Britain driving the (22) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jenson Button has been taken to hospital for a precautionary check-up after reporting an eye irritation during practice for the German Grand Prix that cut his session short.

Button completed 16 laps in FP2 en route to eighth place in the final timesheets, but was taken to the medical centre after complaining of an irritation.

McLaren confirmed on Twitter shortly after the session that Button had been taken to the local hospital in Mannheim for a check-up.

Rosberg doubles up in second Friday practice for German GP

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 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 Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg made it two-for-two in practice for the German Grand Prix by topping the timesheets at Hockenheim for Mercedes on Friday afternoon.

2014 winner Rosberg topped the opening practice session on Friday morning at Hockenheim before underpinning Mercedes’ impressive pace by leading FP2, beating teammate Lewis Hamilton once again.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:15.614 to beat Hamilton by almost four-tenths of a second on the super-soft tire, sending out a firm warning to his title rival ahead of qualifying on Saturday.

Hamilton had a scare after coming across Daniel Ricciardo while exiting the pits late on, but escaped unscathed, although not without telling his team and FIA race director Charlie Whiting over the radio that he felt the Red Bull driver had got too close for comfort.

Sebastian Vettel finished as the best of the rest once again for Ferrari, reducing the one second gap to Rosberg from P1 down to just six-tenths of a second.

Max Verstappen followed in P4 for Red Bull ahead of Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari. Nico Hulkenberg survived an early run over the curb at Turn 1 that sent him airborne to finish seventh ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button and Force India teammate Sergio Perez. Fernando Alonso rounded out the top 10 in the second McLaren.

Button’s session came to an early end after he reported an “irritation” while in the car, resulting in a visit to the medical centre for a check-up.

The session also saw a clamp down on track limits at Turn 1 after race control reported 93 incidents of running wide in FP1, prompting a resumption of the three-strike system seen in Hungary.

The on-track action at Hockenheim resumes on Saturday morning with FP3 on the NBC Sports app from 5am ET ahead of qualifying on NBCSN at 8am.

Hamilton expects to start last at either Spa or Monza

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton expects to start last in either Belgium or Italy as a result of exceeding the number of permitted power unit components for the first time in 2016.

Hamilton took the lead of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship for the first time this season in Hungary last weekend, moving six points clear of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

However, Hamilton has long expected to take penalties later in the year after failures in China and Russia earlier this season forced him to use additional power unit components.

Drivers are limited to five usages of six power unit components throughout the season, with a 10-place penalty applied for those using a sixth.

A further five-place grid drop is applied for all the other components used for a sixth time, followed by a 10-place drop for a seventh, and so on.

Hamilton is on the limit for two of his power unit components (turbo charger and MGU-H), but would take a complete new unit to gain additional components for the rest of the season, resulting in a drop to the back of the grid.

Hamilton hopes that he can get through this weekend’s German Grand Prix without any setbacks, and anticipates he will take a new power unit at either the Belgian or Italian Grand Prix after the summer break.

“Hopefully I get through this weekend at least and then it takes hopefully the weight off, and [I’ll] know that either in Spa or Monza we’re going to be starting last,” Hamilton told NBCSN.

“But then after that hopefully I’ll be able to get to the end of the year with whatever I have in the pool.

“I’ve dealt with it, I’ve accepted it, it is what it is and I’m gonna try and do the best job that I can.”

Hamilton enters this weekend’s German Grand Prix on a roll after winning five of the last six races, and put his upturn in fortunes down to a lack of issues on the car that blighted his start to the year.

“I’ve been fighting the whole year, particularly with the failures on the car, and me and my engineers, we’ve been fighting as hard as we can,” Hamilton said.

“It’s just that we’ve had no issues since Monaco with the car. Since qualifying in Monaco we’ve had few issues apart from Baku with me in qualifying and then the car on the Sunday.

“Otherwise the car has really been performing well and I think I’ve utilized that in the last six races.”

Renault won’t rush decision on 2017 F1 line-up

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo makes a pit stop during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Renault Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur says a decision on the French marque’s driver line-up for the 2017 season will not be rushed as ‘silly season’ begins to ramp up.

Renault returned to F1 as a constructor in 2016 after five years away after taking over the financially-ailing Lotus operation at Enstone.

Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen were signed as drivers for 2016, but both have struggled for form with the R.S.16 car.

Magnussen’s seventh-place finish in Russia remains Renault’s only points finish of the season so far.

Speculation has been growing about the future of both Magnussen and Palmer at Renault, with a number of drivers out of contract and available for next season.

Renault also has an extensive junior program featuring drivers such as Esteban Ocon, Sergey Sirotkin and Oliver Rowland, all of whom are vying for their F1 debuts next year.

With so many options and many drivers to consider, Vasseur is keen to take some time before making any call on Renault’s line-up for 2017.

“We are at that time of year when we are asked these questions, but the questions and the speculation often happen before any decision is made,” Vasseur said.

“What I can say is we have two good drivers, who are improving weekend after weekend. Let’s not forget that Jolyon is a rookie and that Kevin only had one year driving full-time at McLaren then a year not racing.

“They are both doing a strong, solid job and work very well within the team. I have a strong relationship with them both and they know what is expected of them.

“Within the team we are very happy together. We will make our decisions for 2017 in our own time.”