Marcos Ambrose falls short of earning Chase berth at Watkins Glen, but still has a chance with 4 races left

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Marcos Ambrose went for the weekend sweep, but in the end, he got the brush-off from A.J. Allmendinger.

In perhaps both Ambrose’s best and last chance to make the Chase – and potentially competing in the last road course race of his NASCAR career – Ambrose came up short, finishing second to Allmendinger in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.

Ambrose won Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at WGI and was the overwhelming favorite to win Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.

But Allmendinger engaged in a tight but clean finish, particularly on the final two laps of the race following a final caution and resulting restart, got ahead of Ambrose and went on to his first Sprint Cup career win.

To his credit, Ambrose was quite cordial about being the first loser.

“First of all, congratulations to AJ,” Ambrose told ESPN. “He really deserved that win because I was giving it everything I had to rattle his cage. He withstood the pressure and congratulations to him.

“We had a great day on the Stanley Ford. We had a little mistake on pit lane, I half-stalled leaving the box and I think that was the difference today between winning and second place.”

No one had to tell Ambrose the significance of Sunday’s race. Had he won, as he had done twice previously in Cup races at the nearly 2.5-mile twisting road course, Ambrose would likely have punched his ticket to the expanded 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins five weeks from now.

Instead, Ambrose remains on the outside of the Chase looking in.

While he mathematically moved up to 16th in the Sprint Cup standings, there are four drivers behind him in the rankings that have at least one win this season, meaning they’d vault over Ambrose to make the Chase: Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Ambrose’s Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, Aric Almirola.

For Ambrose to have any chance to make the final 16 without earning a win, he’d have to climb to at least 12th position after Richmond to sneak into the Chase only on points.

Unfortunately, Ambrose is still 42 points behind the current 12th-place holder,Greg Biffle, with four races left. While it’s not an impossible task to reach 12th, it definitely won’t be easy – if Ambrose can do it at all.

That leaves Ambrose back to square one: His only other chance to make the Chase is to do so on an oval at one of the four remaining pre-Chase tracks: Michigan this coming Sunday, Bristol, Atlanta and the final Chase qualifier at Richmond next month.

“We put a lot of effort into this race, knew it was our best shot at the Chase and it was this close,” Ambrose said. “I’m pretty disappointed just because there’s so much to win, so much effort, but congratulations to AJ.”

ESPN reported that Ambrose’s crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, planned to question NASCAR about the final restart – believing it may have been improper – Ambrose downplayed the impact such a query might bring.

“It didn’t change the outcome of the race,” Ambrose said. “We raced each other to the line and he was the winner.”

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Azerbaijan GP red flagged after 22 laps following chaotic sequence

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The Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been red flagged for debris following a chaotic sequence of laps that saw three safety cars be deployed following multiple incidents, leaving the track covered in debris.

The first safety car was called after Daniil Kvyat stopped out on-track, with the marshals able to recover it with relative ease, but the bunched field on the restart soon descended into chaos.

Debris from Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari caused a second safety car period to be called within a lap, but the marshals were again able to clear this easily, allowing Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to lead the field away for the second restart.

Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel made contact twice behind the safety car, leaving debris on-track at Turn 15, with both drivers blaming each other for the incident.

The greater clashes came on the first lap of green flag running as Force India teammates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon clashes at Turn 3, the latter bumping Perez into the wall. Both were required to pit for repairs, and while Ocon could get back out, Perez was less fortunate, retiring from the race.

A third safety car was called, with the stewards then deciding to throw a red flag to allow the debris on the track to be cleared.

More to follow…

Hunter-Reay leads warmup at Road America

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A weekend that has been dominated by Chevrolet and Team Penske so far saw Honda jump to the top during morning warmup. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest for Andretti Autosport, followed by Max Chilton for Chip Ganassi Racing. Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi ended the session third, making it a Honda 1-2-3 in the morning warmup.

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was the quickest of the Chevrolet camp in fourth, followed by A.J. Foyt Racing’s Carlos Munoz in fifth.

Only 19 of the 21 drivers turned laps during the session, with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato failing to put laps in. Dixon’s No. 9 NTT Data Honda was suffering from fuel pressure problems that kept it in the garage, while Sato was feeling under the weather during the morning, and the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda team elected not to go out.

Coverage of the Kohler Grand Prix begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 

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Nato takes F2 sprint win in Baku after Leclerc penalty

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Norman Nato picked up his first win of the 2017 FIA Formula 2 season on Sunday after a post-race penalty denied Charles Leclerc a weekend double in Baku.

Ferrari junior Leclerc took an emotional victory on Saturday just days after the death of his father, and charged from P8 on the reverse grid to take the lead from Nato late on.

However, the Monegasque driver was denied the first perfect weekend in the category (including GP2) in eight years when he was hit with a 10-second time penalty for failing to slow under yellow flags.

Despite the penalty, Leclerc was still classified second behind Nato, with Nicholas Latifi completing the podium for DAMS.

Jordan King took fourth place for MP Motorsport, while Sergey Sirotkin was fifth on his stand-in weekend at ART Grand Prix ahead of fellow Russian Artem Markelov.

Nobuharu Matsushita took seventh ahead of Luca Ghiotto, while Ralph Boschung and Sergio Sette Camara rounded out the top 10.

With second place, Leclerc extended his F2 championship lead to 42 points after chief title rival Oliver Rowland retired after leading the early part of the race.

The F2 season resumes in two weeks’ time in support of the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg.

Lauda on Hamilton’s Baku pole lap: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’

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Formula 1 legend and Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda was quick to heap praise on Lewis Hamilton after qualifying in Azerbaijan on Saturday, saying he had “never seen anything like” the Briton’s Q3 pole lap.

Hamilton charged to the 66th pole of his F1 career at the Baku City Circuit on Saturday after a last-ditch effort took his four-tenths of a second clear of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Hamilton was overjoyed by the lap, having struggled to tame the Baku circuit during its inaugural race in 2016, and three-time world champion Lauda was equally as impressed.

“We had some problems on Friday, but the team really did a fantastic job to set the car up in the right way. And Lewis with his lap today… I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lauda said, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“It was not plain sailing at all, but a lot of thinking, digging, back to the factory, and in the end the improvement the engineers and mechanics did to the car is outstanding.

“And then Lewis, what he did today, no one else I think can do that.

“He’s fantastic, especially thinking about his lap time here, because the difference he makes to everybody – it’s only Lewis.”

Hamilton will go in search of his fifth win of the season in Baku on Sunday, with coverage of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET.