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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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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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Nobuharu Matsushita to remain in GP2 with ART Grand Prix

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 27 November 2015.
Nobuharu Matsushita (JPN, ART Grand Prix).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _MG_4660
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Nobuharu Matsushita will remain in the GP2 Series for the 2016 season after agreeing a new deal with defending champions ART Grand Prix.

Matsushita made his GP2 debut in 2015 with ART, racing alongside Stoffel Vandoorne who ultimately won the drivers’ title in record-breaking fashion.

Matsushita finished ninth in the final drivers’ standings with one race win to his name, and is now gunning to battle for the championship in his second year with ART.

“I would like to thank Honda and ART Grand Prix for giving me this opportunity to continue racing in GP2 Series,” Matsushita said.

“ART Grand Prix won the championships last year, and I am so honored to be part of such an amazing team again. As a member of HFDP, Honda Formula Dream Project, aiming to be the top-world-class driver, I will give my best to win the drivers and the team championship in my second GP2 season.”

Matsushita will race alongside Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin at ART in 2016, with the Russian driver moving from Rapax for his sophomore year in the series.

“I am truly delighted to start our third year of partnership together with Honda with this reinforcement of our collaboration,” ART team boss Sebastien Philippe said.

“Nobuharu will partner Sergey Sirotkin in the GP2 Series. He had an incredible year in 2015 when he did not know Europe or the championship, the team and the car, but nevertheless he secured one win, several podiums and made massive improvements all year long.

“As a driver and on a personal level, we have no doubt at all that he has all the assets needed to fight for the title in 2016.”