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NASCAR announces 2015 Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Truck Series schedules (VIDEO)

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NASCAR has officially announced the 2015 schedules for all three of its national series – the Sprint Cup Series, the Nationwide Series, and the Camping World Truck Series.

Among the big changes for the Sprint Cup schedule is a date swap between Atlanta Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway, as well as the establishment of an early-season West Coast swing.

As reported last weekend, Darlington will indeed have its Sprint Cup race return to Labor Day weekend, where it was from 1950 to 2003.

The 1.366-mile oval in South Carolina staged its race this year in April.

Atlanta Motor Speedway currently holds the Labor Day weekend spot, but its 500-mile race will move to Sunday, March 1 to become the first race after the season-opening Daytona 500.

Following Atlanta, the series will then head west for three consecutive races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 8, Phoenix International Speedway on March 15, and Auto Club Speedway in California on March 22.

In order to create this West Coast swing, Phoenix’s spring date has been pushed back two weekends. The dates for Vegas and ACS have been left unchanged.

Additionally, Bristol Motor Speedway (as announced) is shifting its spring date from March to April, while the annual 4th of July weekend race at Daytona International Speedway will now move from Saturday night to Sunday night, July 5.

That particular race at Daytona will air on NBC-TV and begin the NBC Sports Group’s 2015 Sprint Cup coverage.

Other tracks that have moved on the schedule include: Sonoma Raceway (moved back one weekend due to the earlier summer off-weekend), Kentucky Speedway (moved back two weekends), and New Hampshire Motor Speedway (moved back one weekend), as well as Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, which have swapped their Chase date positions with each other.

2015 NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES SCHEDULE

Saturday, Feb. 14 – Sprint Unlimited at Daytona (FOX)
Sunday, Feb. 15 – Daytona 500 Qualifying (FOX)
Thursday, Feb. 19 – Duel at Daytona (Fox Sports 1)
Sunday, Feb. 22 – 2015 Daytona 500 (FOX)
Sunday, Mar. 1 – Atlanta Motor Speedway (FOX)
Sunday, Mar. 8 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (FOX)
Sunday, Mar. 15 – Phoenix International Raceway (FOX)
Sunday, Mar. 22 – Auto Club Speedway (FOX)
Sunday, Mar. 29 – Martinsville Speedway (FOX)
OFF WEEKEND, APR. 4-5
Saturday, Apr. 11 – Texas Motor Speedway (FOX)
Sunday, Apr. 19 – Bristol Motor Speedway (FOX)
Saturday, Apr. 25 – Richmond International Raceway (Fox Sports 1)
Sunday, May 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (FOX)
Saturday, May 9 – Kansas Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
Saturday, May 16 – Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte (Fox Sports 1)
Sunday, May 24 – Charlotte Motor Speedway (FOX)
Sunday, May 31 – Dover International Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
Sunday, June 7 – Pocono Raceway (Fox Sports 1)
Sunday, June 14 – Michigan International Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
OFF WEEKEND, JUNE 20-21
Sunday, June 28 – Sonoma Raceway (Fox Sports 1)
Sunday, July 5 – Daytona International Speedway (NBC)
Saturday, July 11 – Kentucky Speedway (NBCSN)
Sunday, July 19 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NBCSN)
Sunday, July 26 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway (NBCSN)
Sunday, Aug. 2 – Pocono Raceway (NBCSN)
Sunday, Aug. 9 – Watkins Glen International (NBCSN)
Sunday, Aug. 16 – Michigan International Speedway (NBCSN)
Saturday, Aug. 22 – Bristol Motor Speedway (NBCSN)
OFF WEEKEND, AUG. 29-30
Sunday, Sept. 6 – Darlington Raceway (NBC)
Saturday, Sept. 12 – Richmond International Raceway (NBCSN)
Sunday, Sept. 20 – Chicagoland Speedway (NBCSN)
Sunday, Sept. 27 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NBCSN)
Sunday, Oct. 4 – Dover International Speedway (NBCSN)
Saturday, Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway (NBC)
Sunday, Oct. 18 – Kansas Speedway (NBC)
Sunday, Oct. 25 – Talladega Superspeedway (NBCSN)
Sunday, Nov. 1 – Martinsville Speedway (NBCSN)
Sunday, Nov. 8 – Texas Motor Speedway (NBC)
Sunday, Nov. 15 – Phoenix International Raceway (NBC)
Sunday, Nov. 22 – Homestead-Miami Speedway (NBC)

As for NASCAR’s No. 2 national series, the bulk of the changes for the 2015 schedule involve companion races with Sprint Cup.

Those races – Atlanta, Phoenix (spring), Texas (spring), Bristol (spring), Kentucky (summer), and New Hampshire (summer) – have all shifted date positions in accordance with Cup events. Also, one of the Nationwide Series’ stand-alone races at Road America has been pushed back from June to late August.

NBC Sports Group will begin its 2015 Nationwide Series coverage on Saturday, July 4 at Daytona. 15 of the Group’s 19 Nationwide races will air on NBCSN, with the other four airing on NBC-TV – including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

2015 NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES SCHEDULE

Saturday, Feb. 21 – Daytona International Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
Saturday, Feb. 28 – Atlanta Motor Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
Saturday, Mar. 7 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
Saturday, Mar. 14 – Phoenix International Speedway (FOX)
Saturday, Mar. 21 – Auto Club Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
OFF WEEKEND, MAR. 27-28
OFF WEEKEND, APR. 3-4
Friday, Apr. 10 – Texas Motor Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
Saturday, Apr. 18 – Bristol Motor Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
Friday, Apr. 24 – Richmond International Raceway (Fox Sports 1)
Saturday, May 2 – Talladega Superspeedway (FOX)
OFF WEEKEND, MAY 8-9
Sunday, May 17 – Iowa Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
Saturday, May 23 – Charlotte Motor Speedway (FOX)
Saturday, May 30 – Dover International Speedway (FOX)
OFF WEEKEND, JUNE 5-6
Saturday, June 13 – Michigan International Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
Saturday, June 20 – Chicagoland Speedway (Fox Sports 1)
OFF WEEKEND, JUNE 26-27
Saturday, July 4 – Daytona International Speedway (NBCSN)
Friday, July 10 – Kentucky Speedway (NBCSN)
Saturday, July 18 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NBCSN)
Saturday, July 25 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway (NBC)
Saturday, Aug. 1 – Iowa Speedway (NBCSN)
Saturday, Aug. 8 – Watkins Glen International (NBCSN)
Saturday, Aug. 15 – Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (NBCSN)
Friday, Aug. 21 – Bristol Motor Speedway (NBCSN)
Saturday, Aug. 29 – Road America (NBCSN)
Saturday, Sept. 5 – Darlington Raceway (NBC)
Friday, Sept. 11 – Richmond International Raceway (NBCSN)
Saturday, Sept. 19 – Chicagoland Speedway (NBCSN)
Saturday, Sept. 26 – Kentucky Speedway (NBCSN)
Saturday, Oct. 3 – Dover International Speedway (NBCSN)
Friday, Oct. 9 – Charlotte Motor Speedway (NBCSN)
Saturday, Oct. 17 – Kansas Speedway (NBCSN)
OFF WEEKEND, OCT. 23-24
OFF WEEKEND, OCT. 30-31
Saturday, Nov. 7 – Texas Motor Speedway (NBC)
Saturday, Nov. 14 – Phoenix International Raceway (NBCSN)
Saturday, Nov. 21 – Homestead-Miami Speedway (NBC)

Some schedule alterations have also been made for the Trucks as well. Their race at Atlanta Motor Speedway has now been paired up with the track’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide events, creating a triple-header weekend.

The stand-alone race at Iowa Speedway has also been moved up to mid-June.

2015 NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES SCHEDULE
*All races to air on Fox Sports 1 unless otherwise noted

Friday, Feb. 20 – Daytona International Speedway
Saturday, Feb. 28 – Atlanta Motor Speedway
OFF WEEKEND, MAR. 6-7
OFF WEEKEND, MAR. 13-14
OFF WEEKEND, MAR. 20-21
Saturday, Mar. 28 – Martinsville Speedway
OFF WEEKEND, APR. 4-5
OFF WEEKEND, APR. 10-11
OFF WEEKEND, APR. 17-18
OFF WEEKEND, APR. 24-25
OFF WEEKEND, MAY 1-2
Friday, May 8 – Kansas Speedway
Friday, May 15 – Charlotte Motor Speedway
OFF WEEKEND, MAY 22-23
Friday, May 29 – Dover International Speedway
Friday, June 5 – Texas Motor Speedway
Saturday, June 13 – Gateway Motorsports Park
Friday, June 19 – Iowa Speedway
OFF WEEKEND, JUNE 26-27
OFF WEEKEND, JULY 3-4
Thursday, July 9 – Kentucky Speedway
OFF WEEKEND, JULY 17-18
Wednesday, July 22 – Eldora Speedway
Saturday, Aug. 1 – Pocono Raceway
OFF WEEKEND, AUG. 7-8
Saturday, Aug. 15 – Michigan International Speedway
Wednesday, Aug. 19 – Bristol Motor Speedway
Sunday, Aug. 30 – Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
OFF WEEKEND, SEPT. 5-6
Friday, Sept. 18 – Chicagoland Speedway
Saturday, Sept. 26 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Saturday, Oct. 3 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway
OFF WEEKEND, OCT. 9-10
OFF WEEKEND, OCT. 16-17
Saturday, Oct. 24 – Talladega Superspeedway (FOX)
Saturday, Oct. 31 – Martinsville Speedway
Friday, Nov. 6 – Texas Motor Speedway
Friday, Nov. 13 – Phoenix International Raceway
Friday, Nov. 20 – Homestead-Miami Speedway

Vettel unconcerned despite ‘scrappy’ Thursday in Monaco

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel remains upbeat heading into the remainder of the Monaco Grand Prix weekend despite enduring a “scrappy” practice on Thursday.

Ferrari once again failed to match the pace of both Mercedes and Red Bull in practice in Monaco, suggesting that its struggles in Spain may continue this weekend.

Vettel had a difficult second practice that saw him hit the wall twice, albeit without sustaining any major damage.

“It was not a ‘clean’ day in the office today,” Vettel conceded after finishing ninth in FP2.

“Our session was a bit scrappy: I touched the wall, damaged the rear wing, but luckily we were able to fix it and carry on.

“I just didn’t get everything out of the car, couldn’t find the rhythm and didn’t do good laps on the ultra-soft tires. If you look at the standings, we don’t belong where we scored today.”

Vettel believes that the Ferrari SF16-H car remains competitive, and is sure that Thursday’s struggles are not a sign of things to come in qualifying and the race.

“Overall the car is good and has the pace, so I am not worried for Saturday,” Vettel said.

“Today our focus was not towards ranking high up, we tried a couple of things and it is fair to say that some of them didn’t work.

“Being the first practice day, it is also difficult to see what other people did.”

Teammate Kimi Raikkonen fared marginally better than Vettel, finishing seventh in FP2 as he struggled to get to grips with the new Pirelli ultra-soft tires.

“It was not an ideal day, but it is still the first day of practice,” Raikkonen said.

“In the morning I was not very happy with the car but in the afternoon we were able to improve the behavior. There’s a lot of work to do but of course this is not the easiest place when things are not running exactly as you want.

“It’s the first time we use the ultra-soft compound in the race weekend, the feeling is that it’s the best fitting tire of all of those we have here, but we still need to find a way to make them work slightly better.”

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Monaco GP

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Dubbing the Monaco Grand Prix as the ‘jewel in Formula 1’s crown’ may be an overused cliche, yet it also perfectly describes what is unquestionably the biggest event of the sport’s season.

Off-track, the rich and famous come out to see the on-track warriors enter battle at one of the most challenging circuits in world motorsport.

Nico Rosberg remains the championship leader upon arrival in Monaco, and he is also the man to beat around the streets where he grew up after winning the last three grands prix in the principality.

However, with Red Bull riding high after Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton keen to end his win drought, the German is unlikely to have things all his own way.

As ever, MotorSportsTalk editor Tony DiZinno and lead F1 writer Luke Smith have made their predictions for the weekend ahead. Let us know your picks in the comments section below.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg may have won the last three races around here, and Red Bull may have led the way during practice, but I’m backing Hamilton to get back into the title race on Sunday. With rain forecast, it’s about time the three-time champ delivers one of his career-defining drives, dominating proceedings while the rest flounder.

Surprise Finish: Esteban Gutierrez. After such a miserable start to the season, I’m backing Guti to end his luckless streak and score his first points since the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix on Sunday.

Most to Prove: Nico Rosberg. Around the streets he grew up, Rosberg needs to truly prove his title credentials this weekend by defeating Hamilton in a straight fight… which we’re still yet to get this year…

Additional Storyline: Max in the spotlight. After his victory in Spain two weeks ago, Verstappen is the man of the moment. Quite how he manages to cope with the pressure in Monaco and build on this result will be fascinating to see.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. There is nothing on current form that makes me confident in this pick but man if there was a place for Hamilton to make some sort of comeback to his season and erase the negativity after the Spanish GP start dust-up, it’s here.

Surprise Finish: Nico Hulkenberg. Again, nothing on current form suggests any sort of Hulkenberg result is imminent, but frankly, given how poor his run is – he hasn’t even finished lately – he’s gotta be due for some points score. Right?

Most to Prove: Max Verstappen. Yeah, what are you gonna do for an encore, kid? After turning the F1 world on its head two weeks ago with an incredible, near impossible to believe win on debut for Red Bull, how will he follow up this week?

Additional Storyline: Pirelli ultra-soft tire debut. They’re the most popular tire choice and the fascinating element will be just how long they last.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull

Ricciardo takes Red Bull top in second Monaco GP practice

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 26:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 26, 2016 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo proved that Red Bull’s race-winning pace in Spain two weeks ago was no flash-in-the-pan by comfortably finishing fastest in the second practice session for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday.

Ricciardo arrived in Monaco hopeful of emulating teammate Max Verstappen’s victory in Spain, armed with an updated Renault power unit for the weekend.

Fitted with the new ultra-soft tire that is debuting in Monaco, Ricciardo dominated proceedings to finish six-tenths of a second clear of the field in FP2.

A fastest lap of 1:14.607 was enough to give Ricciardo P1 at the checkered flag, firing a warning shot to Mercedes heading into the rest of the weekend.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had eased to a one-two finish in FP1 earlier in the day, but they were forced to settle for second and third in the afternoon.

Verstappen followed closely behind in fourth for Red Bull, while the Toro Rosso pair of Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. impressed to finish fifth and sixth in FP2.

Kimi Raikkonen finished seventh in a difficult session for Ferrari that saw Sebastian Vettel hit the wall twice. The German driver escaped any serious damage, but could only finish ninth overall. Sergio Perez split the pair, while Jenson Button rounded out the top 10 for McLaren.

Much like FP1, the session was interrupted by a handful of on-track incidents. Romain Grosjean sustained damage to the front of his car after hitting the wall at the exit of the tunnel. Rio Haryanto also required repairs after a similar error, clattering the rear of his Manor into the barrier.

It proved to be a session to forget for Renault as both Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen hit trouble. Palmer missed the first hour of running due to an issue on his car, while Magnussen shunted his front-end at the final corner, prompting a Virtual Safety Car period.

Practice and qualifying in Monaco takes place on Saturday, with Friday being the traditional ‘off’ day.

Vettel reflects on early success in wake of Verstappen’s victory

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 15: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing is congratulated on his first F1 win on the podium by Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 15, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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In the wake of Max Verstappen’s shock maiden grand prix victory in Spain two weeks ago, four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel has reflected on his own early success in the sport, saying it can be “difficult to grasp”.

Verstappen became the youngest winner in F1 history at the age of 18 in Barcelona, breaking Vettel’s record that had stood since the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.

Both drivers were members of the Red Bull junior programme, making their way through Toro Rosso before racing for the energy drink giant’s senior F1 team.

When asked by NBC Sports in Wednesday’s pre-Monaco FIA press conference for his thoughts on Verstappen’s success, Vettel noted that at the same age he was only racing in Formula 3.

“I was in Formula Three so I can’t possibly share…” he said.

“But yeah, in both cases probably the circumstances were very new. It wasn’t an expected win, probably little bit less for me at the time.

“Still, I think your first grand prix win is something. You’re over the moon. Something very difficult to grasp.

“I’m sure he felt now how it was and he wants to do it again. That’s how I felt back then.

“It’s up to all the rest of us to ensure it doesn’t happen too often.”

Verstappen has been subject to a great media focus in his native Netherlands after becoming the nation’s first grand prix winner.

“Yeah, it was pretty crazy in Holland,” Verstappen said.

“The first Dutch winner I think it’s always very special, so I can call myself now the youngest and the oldest – something I’m the oldest in!

“Luckily, I didn’t go out too much in Holland on the streets, just enjoying my time a bit with family and friend but of course hopefully we’ll see more fans [at races], that’s for sure.”