Ryan Blaney passes Kyle Busch on final restart, hangs on to win Nationwide race at Bristol

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Ryan Blaney caused a late-race crash that took out Kyle Larson and Dylan Kwasniewski, and then rallied off the final restart following a subsequent caution to steal away the win from Kyle Busch in Friday night’s Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The younger Busch brother was looking to set Nationwide Series history, hoping to earn a fourth consecutive win at BMS.

But the 20-year-old Blaney got a great restart with six laps to go while Busch appeared to have the rear of his car up in the air after being hit from behind by Regan Smith. That allowed Blaney to get a bit of a lead coming to the green flag and he never looked back.

“I have to apologize to Kyle Larson,” Blaney said of the earlier wreck. “I got loose and I’m real sorry about that.”

As for his duel with Busch in the closing laps, Blaney, who led just seven laps in the event, added, “Kyle didn’t go on that last restart. He said his tires were jacked up. … I was just driving my guts out (that he wouldn’t be caught by Busch).”

Busch tried to close the gap and came within about a car length of catching Blaney with two laps to go, but the Team Penske driver was not to be denied, earning his second career NNS win in 24 series starts (he also won in Sept. 2013 at Kentucky Speedway).

Needless to say, Busch was not happy afterward. TV replays showed Regan Smith got into the back end of Busch’s Toyota and lifted it up

“My rear tires weren’t on the ground and I couldn’t go anywhere,” a dejected Busch told ESPN.

It’s understandable that Busch would be miffed. He started from the pole, dominated the 300-lap event by leading 161 laps, only to fall short.

Later in the BMS media center, Busch expounded on his frustration at both losing the race and the potential record.

“(In the latter third of the race) I couldn’t get by (Kyle) Larson on a single-lane race track – it’s pathetic,” Busch said. “But you know, once I did get a position on him, kinda sorta, I just – you gotta try to move the guy out of the way, so I forced him high and got clear of him. And then that was gonna be the race until the last restart, when my rear tires weren’t on the race track and I couldn’t accelerate forward.”

“… The 22 was, I don’t know, 5 mph faster than me going to the first double-yellow stripe. And I didn’t go, because I didn’t want to go. But everybody behind me is trying to go because they’re following the 22. I’m trying to wait for him to stop so I can go by the single red mark on the wall. It’s stupid. NASCAR doesn’t police it and so everybody keeps jacking around on it and you know – one of these days, I’m just gonna lock all four down and stack the whole field up.”

When asked how many more laps he might have needed to potentially catch Blaney, Busch became miffed once again.

“I don’t know if I could have,” he said. “It’s a single-lane race track. You can’t (expletive) pass here. It’s pathetic.”

Chase Elliott finished third, followed by Ty Dillon and Smith, who had words with Dillon after the race.

“I just don’t like the way he (Dillon) raced all night,” Smith told ESPN. “He ran into me three or four times all night. Everybody else out there is able to give room and he doesn’t. He said he got tight. That seems to always be the excuse, when you get tight, you lift off the gas pedal. Next time I run him over, I’m going to get tight, too.”

Dillon countered Smith’s claims by saying he had to be aggressive.

“We just got a little too tight,” Dillon said. “It’s Bristol, man. That’s why I was upset. We were going for all we can. Nobody got tore up. It’s racing. I had a lot of fun. … I’m not going to give anybody anything when I’m trying to run for the championship.”

Brendan Gaughan finished sixth followed by Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, James Buescher and Chris Buescher.

Larson appeared to be the best chance of catching Busch, but was involved in a wreck 20 laps from the finish with Ryan Blaney and Larson’s Turner Scott Motorsports teammate, Dylan Kwasniewski, suffering heavy rear damage. The other cars suffered less severe damage.

“We went in side-by-side into (turn) one,” Larson said about battling for position with Blaney. “I thought he was going to chase me up the track and instead he sent me into the wall. This really sucks.”

Blaney went up heading into a turn and took out Larson. Blaney accepted the blame for the incident, saying over his team radio, “Sorry, I got loose. I’m sorry.”

When told about Blaney’s apology, Larson seemed understanding.

“Ryan’s a good kid,” Larson said. “I know it wasn’t on purpose. This is Bristol. It’s short track racing.”

Championship contender Elliott Sadler was collected in a spin by Timmy Hill on Lap 184. While his crew tried to repair the damage several times while keeping Sadler on the lead lap, he eventually went one lap down to the leaders.

Then, just moments afterward, Sadler wrecked into the outside retaining wall. His team got him back out onto the track, only to be involved in another wreck on Lap 264.

Sadler’s struggles put a serious dent in his title hopes, not to mention dropping him from third to fourth, and from 11 points back to 28 points in arrears to series leader Elliott in the Nationwide Series standings.

Smith remains in second place while Dillon passed Sadler and into third place.

Rain threatened to shorten the scheduled 300 laps near the end of the event, but stayed away long enough to get the entire race in.

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Jean Todt: Playing field in F1 should be ‘much closer’

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FIA president Jean Todt has called for a more level playing field between teams in Formula 1, saying that the gaps between the biggest spenders and the smaller operations are too big.

2017 has marked the start of a new technical era for F1, with the design of the new-style cars being a focus for many teams over the past two years.

The opening round of the year in Australia saw Ferrari and Mercedes battle for victory, with Red Bull running a comfortable third-fastest, with the rest of the pack struggling to catch up. Race winner Sebastian Vettel lapped all but five cars.

Speaking to reporters in Australia, Todt expressed his concerns over the gap between F1’s ‘big three’ and the rest of the field, putting it down to the vastly different budgets.

“Ferrari did a good step forward with new regulations, it’s quite impressive. Mercedes is still very strong, there was a lot of speculation about the second driver, but for me there has never been a doubt that he [Bottas] would be very competitive,” Todt said, as quoted by crash.net.

“Red Bull seem to be a bit behind, and honestly I’m a bit concerned that between first and seventh or eighth, it is about two seconds. Still the gap is too big.

“We will really dream of having the 10 first cars within seven or eight tenths, and at the moment it is not yet happening.

“You have a lot of reasons for that, but clearly it is too big a discrepancy between the small budgets and bigger budgets, and the playing field should be much closer.”

F1 drivers relishing Silverstone, Suzuka races in new-style cars

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Formula 1 drivers Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are all relishing the challenge of high-speed tracks such as Silverstone and Suzuka after enjoying their first races in the new-style 2017 cars last weekend.

This season has seen the introduction of revised cars under the new technical regulations that are capable of lapping multiple seconds per lap faster than their predecessors, aided by greater downforce and wider tires.

The new cars raced together for the first time last Sunday in Australia, with the pace difference around the tight confines of the Albert Park street course still notable.

All of the drivers have been impressed by what the new cars are capable of, finding them more fun and rewarding to drive, but it is when F1 hits the classic, high-speed tracks on the calendar that they will really come into their own.

When asked what track they were most looking forward to racing on this year, the top three finishers in Australia gave similar answers.

“Probably Silverstone. I think with that amount of grip and downforce,” Vettel said.

“Probably Suzuka as well later on in the year. Also I guess the cars will be even faster from what they are now.

“So, yeah, I think that would be quite nice. I’m looking forward to that.”

Hamilton added: “Yes, Silverstone, I agree” before Mercedes teammate Bottas echoed his peers’ thoughts.

“I think all the quick ones: Spa; Suzuka; Silverstone will be nice,” Bottas said.

“But I think even street circuits will be a bit more challenging I think – not that it wasn’t challenging before, but with these cars it will be nice.”

One of the biggest changes for 2017 has been the extra physicality of the cars, but Hamilton said he felt no major issues following the race in Australia.

“It was more physical but it was no problem for me and doesn’t look like it was for these guys either,” he said.

Vettel added: “It’s not the most physical circuit in the year. I think later on it will be very interesting. Here is very technical. So, first couple of laps, at least for me, were very intense.

“Obviously it’s easy to have an error, get something wrong under braking, go a bit wide etc. Later on I had a bit of a gap and I could control it, and therefore it was a bit easier.”

Chinese Grand Prix kicks off heavy April F1 stretch on NBCSN

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After an interesting kickoff to the 2017 Formula 1 season on NBCSN with the Australian Grand Prix last week, in just over a week the series will be back in action with the second round of the season, the Chinese Grand Prix from the Shanghai International Circuit. It’s the first of three F1 races in April with the Bahrain and Russian Grands Prix occurring later in the month.

Last year saw Nico Rosberg win in Shanghai over Sebastian Vettel and Daniil Kvyat, the last two having had a coming together at the start of the race before Vettel, now of Ferrari, beat his successor at Red Bull, Kvyat. Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, only finished seventh after starting 22nd and last, missing qualifying with a mechanical issue.

Vettel enters China on the heels of his victory in Melbourne, but not having won in Shanghai since 2009, when he won for Red Bull for the first time. Mercedes has won the last three Chinese Grands Prix, Rosberg winning last year while Hamilton won in 2014 and 2015. Ferrari last won here in 2013, with Fernando Alonso.

Will Vettel continue with a second straight win to open the season, or will Mercedes reassume its place up top and continue its win streak in Shanghai? Can Red Bull reassert itself and who in the midfield will emerge?

All sessions will be live streamed on NBC Sports or via the NBC Sports App. FP2, qualifying and the race also will air on NBCSN. Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett are on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock. As in Melbourne, qualifying and race run during the late hours of the evening on the East Coast, and a bit earlier for those on the West Coast.

Here’s the schedule with where to watch on TV on digital platforms.

  • Practice 1: Thursday, April 6, 10 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET (digital only)
  • Practice 2: Friday, April 7, 2 a.m.-3:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, April 8, 12 a.m.-1 a.m. ET (digital only)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, April 8, 3 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, April 9, 1 a.m.-4:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Bahrain Grand Prix, on April 16.

United Fiber & Data back, again, for Marco Andretti’s car

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The continued relationship between United Fiber & Data and Andretti Autosport rolls into 2017, although not in the way that was probably planned for either party.

UFD, which served as a major associate sponsor in 2013, primary sponsor for James Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 car in 2014 and a co-primary sponsor for Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz last year, has now been confirmed for “select races” taking over as primary sponsor of Andretti’s No. 27 Honda this year, starting with next week’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This decision comes in the wake of hhgregg’s ongoing business situation, where per media reports (one from USA Today here as a recent example) the electronics retailer plans to close a number of stores and was close to filing for bankruptcy.

“We are strategically exiting markets and stores that are not financially profitable for us,” hhgregg CEO Robert Riesbeck said in a statement in early March, via USA Today. “This is a proactive decision to streamline our store footprint in the markets where we have been, and will continue to be, important to our customers, vendor partners and communities.”

The sponsor had been announced as a multi-year, co-primary sponsor in August. A release from the Andretti Autosport team today didn’t confirm hhgregg’s exit from the team, nor did it state how many races UFD plans to be the primary sponsor. However, it would probably be a surprise to see hhgregg return later this year.

In the release, the team stated: “The rebranding comes as a result of the current issues being faced by hhgregg, leading Andretti Autosport to the decision of transitioning the branding on the No. 27 Indy car piloted by Marco Andretti.”

“We’d like to wish Bob (Riesbeck) and the entire hhgregg family luck as they work through the current situation,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “We are blessed to have such loyal and dedicated partners; and while this is an unfortunate situation for hhgregg, we are pleased to have such a strong relationship remaining with United Fiber & Data.”

“We are proud of our longstanding partnership with Andretti Autosport, and we are equally pleased to continue this partnership by serving as a primary sponsor for select IndyCar races this season,” added Bill Hynes, Founder & CEO of United Fiber & Data (UFD). “We look forward to once again bringing the signature colors of the UFD livery to IndyCar tracks across the country.”