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Ten with Townsend: Fontana and 2014 IndyCar debrief

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After 500 miles of racing to cap off the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, we take a look back at the season finale and the season on the whole with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell for the final 2014 scheduled installment of “Ten with Townsend.” As always, we thank him for his time and insights. Here’s an archive.

-We know Will Power’s always battling his head, because his speed has never been in question. How do you measure his resolve and fortitude the second half of this season, to be able to get past the penalties, dominate Milwaukee, recover after Sonoma and finally capture this IndyCar championship?

I think the victory speech said it all and he readily admits there is a lot going on upstairs!  Luckily, when it comes to the driving part…he’s just that much better with raw speed.  And that helps balance the various issues.  I’m excited to see what he can accomplish the next several years with the championship box now ticked…  He could run up some even more impressive numbers with a clear head and some good sleep!

-How impressed were you with how Power ran his race Saturday night?

It was shockingly conservative at the start…became shockingly manic on that restart…. and ended about right.

-Was it refreshing to see Tony Kanaan finally break through given how strong he’s been both on ovals and the second half of the season?

It was a nice way to end the season.  There’s a nice 7 month glow in the offseason for that one.

-You noted it right towards the end of the race, but how surprising was it to see no crashes, and no reliability issues?

Never would have predicted that based on the 2013 race.  The drivers should be commended for handling a very challenging and intimidating set of conditions.

-We’ve had all three 500-mile races go 150+ laps this season before the first caution. Do you think that’s more down to the depth of talent throughout the field or are the cars fairly easy to drive? 

Well, having driven in 1 of the 3 I can say that it’s not that easy!  I just think the talent pool of drivers and teams is deeper than ever.  Reminds me of my rookie year in 2001 and 2002 CART.

-Looking back on the whole, who or what were your biggest surprises of the season?

I think Carlos Huertas.  He won a race but most impressive was that I can’t think of a single on-track driving error that sticks out.   Extremely rare for a rookie..  If not unheard of.

-JPM’s (Juan Pablo Montoya) first year back, from methodical at the start to P4 by the end, how do you rate his comeback?

JPM also exceeded expectations…  I think he’s very honest with himself and where he can focus this offseason, and that should lead to an even more impressive season in 2015.

-Where do you rate this year’s rookie class, with the year said and done?

I’d say the best I’ve ever seen. Hawksworth, Aleshin, Munoz were right there from the first session of the season.

-What were your favorite races to cover and favorite moments?

I really enjoyed Toronto because of all the chaos and unpredictability.  My favorite moment was when Will Power called me out from pit lane (Pocono).  Also when my 8 year old son asked Leigh Diffey, “Now what exactly do you do for my Dad?”

-Lastly, the schedule. Did you like the frenetic nature of the condensed schedule and what do you think IndyCar can do to enhance it for 2015? 

I liked it… Feels weird to be done so early but that’s what IndyCar used to do.  Laguna Seca was always early September as the season-ender.  Plus I love watching the NFL!

NHRA Countdown battle tightens: Langdon, Beckman, Laughlin, Savoie win at St. Louis

Sunday's NHRA winners near St. Louis (from left): Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
(Photo and videos courtesy of NHRA)
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With two races down and now just four remaining, the 2016 NHRA Countdown to the Championship is shaping up to be one of the closest battles in the playoffs’ 10-year history.

Not only did teams tighten the bolts on their respective rides this weekend, the points standings tightened up considerably with the results of Sunday’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

Sunday’s winners were: Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), “Fast Jack” Beckman (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Here’s recaps of how each pro category played out:

In Top Fuel, Langdon earned his third victory of the season and jumped to fourth in the standings, less than 80 points behind series leader and defending series champion Antron Brown.

Langdon (3.798 seconds at 323.66 mph) defeated Don Schumacher Racing teammate and eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher (3.783 seconds at 317.49 mph) in the final round to take the event victory.

It was Langdon’s 14th career win in Top Fuel and his first at Gateway. The biggest key for the 2013 Top Fuel world champion was beating Brown in the first round Sunday, followed up by wins over Doug Kalitta and No. 1 qualifier Richie Crampton before facing Schumacher.

“We didn’t really have a dominant car in qualifying, but we just kept picking away at it,” said Langdon, whose other wins thus far this season came at Bristol, Tenn., and Norwalk, Ohio. “That’s what we’ve been doing since we got those two victories (earlier this year). The car has just responded well.

“All in all, this was a great team effort. The whole team did a great job and gave me a great racecar today.”

Despite his early exit, Brown remains the points leader in Top Fuel, but saw his lead shrink over second-ranked Kalitta to just 13 points.

In Funny Car, Beckman avenged early first-round exits in the previous two races – Indianapolis and Charlotte – and lived up to his nickname indeed.

Having qualified No. 2, Beckman (3.928 seconds at 324.51 mph) defeated fellow Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Joe Johnson (4.185 seconds at 231.40 mph) to capture the Funny Car class win.

It was Beckman’s 24th career win, his second win of 2016 (also won at Chicago) and his second career win at Gateway. He is seeking his second Funny Car world championship in the last five seasons, having done so in 2012.

Beckman made a huge jump up in the standings after the win, going from eighth coming into this weekend’s race to third place, now just 70 points behind series leader Ron Capps.

Aiding in that big points jump for Beckman were quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Charlotte winner and 16-time Funny Car champ John Force and Capps, respectively.

“Our team was in a slump and we did what was incredibly difficult with the way our car was acting unpredictably,” Beckman said. “I’m not quite sure what changed, but I think I had a good outing as a driver today, the guys tuned smart and we turned on the win-light every time.”

Johnson, who has one win thus far in 2016 (Bristol, Tennessee), made his fourth final round of the season. In doing so, he jumped to No. 2 in the points, now just 48 points behind Capps.

In Pro Stock, Laughlin – who did not qualify for the Countdown – earned his first career victory in the class.

Laughlin (6.611 seconds at 208.68 mph) defeated Bo Butner (6.637 seconds at 209.26 mph) in the final round. The way it turned out, no matter who won would have been a first-time winner, as Butner has reached the final round five times this season and six overall in his career, but has yet to reach victory lane.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Laughlin said. “It’s not even real at this point. This has got to be a dream. The whole day has been a blur.

“Took it one round at a time and ended up coming up to the final. I was a little nervous but took a couple deep breaths and told myself, ‘It’s just like any other round, just go up there and do your deal.’ As soon as I let the clutch out, I knew my crew chief gave me a good car.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Savoie (6.933 seconds at 189.36 mph) defeated Angelle Sampey, who fouled at the starting line when she red-lighted.

Savoie, a Louisiana alligator farmer, earned his first win of the season (in four final round appearances), the fifth of his career and his second at St. Louis. He also jumped up to fourth in the PSM point standings.

“You go to the finals four times and win one, but out here the competition is so strong and it takes a little bit of luck,” Savoie said. “We got some luck in the finals. Losing hurts so bad, but winning feels so good. My team is a great team. Our bike is really consistent and we’ve had some issues, but today was our day.”

Even though she lost in the final round, Sampey still received a consolation prize of sorts, moving up to second in the PSM point standings.

The next race, which will take the Countdown to its midpoint, will be this coming weekend’s (Sept. 29-Oct. 2) Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading, Pa.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL FINISHING ORDER:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Shawn Langdon; 2.  Tony Schumacher; 3.  J.R. Todd; 4.  Richie Crampton; 5.  Pat Dakin; 6.  Doug Kalitta; 7.  Leah Pritchett; 8.  Brittany Force; 9.  Clay Millican; 10.  Antron Brown; 11.  Kebin Kinsley; 12.  Steve Torrence; 13.  Wayne Newby; 14.  Kyle Wurtzel; 15.  Terry McMillen; 16.  Chris Karamesines.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Jack Beckman; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr.; 3.  Tim Wilkerson; 4.  Ron Capps; 5.  Robert Hight; 6. Matt Hagan; 7.  John Force; 8.  Courtney Force; 9.  Alexis DeJoria; 10.  Del Worsham; 11.  Brian Stewart; 12.  Dale Creasy Jr.; 13.  Chad Head; 14.  Cruz Pedregon; 15.  John Hale; 16.  John Bojec.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Alex Laughlin; 2.  Bo Butner; 3.  Shane Gray; 4.  Jason Line; 5.  Greg Anderson; 6.  Vincent Nobile; 7.  Chris McGaha; 8.  Drew Skillman; 9.  Allen Johnson; 10.  Jeg Coughlin; 11.  Aaron Strong; 12.  Deric Kramer; 13.  Erica Enders; 14.  Alan Prusiensky; 15.  Mark Hogan; 16.  Dave River.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Jerry Savoie; 2.  Angelle Sampey; 3.  Chip Ellis; 4.  Cory Reed; 5.  Matt Smith; 6.  Hector Arana; 7.  Eddie Krawiec; 8.  Andrew Hines; 9.  Hector Arana Jr; 10.  LE Tonglet; 11.  Steve Johnson; 12.  Jim Underdahl; 13.  Angie Smith; 14.  Karen Stoffer; 15.  Melissa Surber; 16.  Joe DeSantis.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: Shawn Langdon, 3.798 seconds, 323.66 mph  def. Tony Schumacher, 3.783 seconds, 317.49 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.928, 324.51  def. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 6.611, 208.68  def. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.933, 189.36  def. Angelle Sampey, Buell, Foul – Red Light.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS:

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Brittany Force, 3.756, 324.44 def. Clay Millican, 3.760, 327.82; Leah Pritchett, 4.009, 282.95 def. Wayne Newby, 4.977, 159.40; Tony Schumacher, 3.785, 322.96 def. Chris Karamesines, Foul – Red Light; Richie Crampton, 3.810, 322.81 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.909, 302.96; Doug Kalitta, 3.751, 328.22 def. Terry McMillen, 6.426, 105.64; J.R. Todd, 3.818, 320.28 def. Kyle Wurtzel, 5.595, 119.26; Shawn Langdon, 3.771, 325.53 def. Antron Brown, 3.774, 320.20; Pat Dakin, 3.779, 324.98 def. Steve Torrence, 4.405, 186.28; QUARTERFINALS — Schumacher, 3.767, 321.42 def. Pritchett, 4.183, 215.55; Todd, 3.798, 319.22 def. Dakin, 3.827, 316.90; Crampton, 3.783, 322.42 def. Force, 4.515, 200.11; Langdon, 3.782, 322.27 def. Kalitta, 3.861, 310.91; SEMIFINALS — Langdon, 3.784, 322.27 def. Crampton, 3.844, 317.79; Schumacher, 3.757, 326.71 def. Todd, 3.802, 322.04; FINAL — Langdon, 3.798, 323.66 def. Schumacher, 3.783, 317.49.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.909, 327.66 def. John Hale, Dodge Charger, 11.042, 70.12; Jack Beckman, Charger, 4.042, 309.27 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Chevy Impala, 4.076, 298.93; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.944, 320.74 def. John Bojec, Toyota Solara, Broke; Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.984, 318.32 def. Brian Stewart, Mustang, 4.024, 316.45; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.934, 327.43 def. Cruz Pedregon, Toyota Camry, 8.729, 86.18; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.953, 323.27 def. Chad Head, Camry, 4.575, 183.72; John Force, Camaro, 3.958, 327.43 def. Del Worsham, Camry, 3.989, 320.28; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.940, 321.65 def. Alexis DeJoria, Camry, 3.985, 323.35; QUARTERFINALS — Johnson Jr., 3.930, 322.42 def. Hight, 3.938, 325.37; Wilkerson, 3.928, 316.52 def. Hagan, 3.948, 326.40; Capps, 3.976, 320.05 def. C. Force, 4.100, 257.73; Beckman, 3.978, 318.17 def. J. Force, 3.961, 324.83; SEMIFINALS — Beckman, 3.954, 319.60 def. Capps, 4.112, 285.71; Johnson Jr., 3.937, 323.04 def. Wilkerson, 3.993, 283.97; FINAL — Beckman, 3.928, 324.51 def. Johnson Jr., 4.185, 231.40.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Drew Skillman, Chevy Camaro, 6.646, 208.49 def. Allen Johnson, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.82; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.632, 208.46 def. Jeg Coughlin, Dart, 6.667, 206.70; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.609, 209.43 def. Erica Enders, Dart, 6.699, 206.35; Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.641, 208.75 def. Aaron Strong, Camaro, 6.684, 206.57; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.627, 209.49 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dart, 6.769, 203.98; Shane Gray, Camaro, 6.619, 208.91 def. Dave River, Chevy Cobalt, 6.966, 198.06; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.625, 209.01 def. Mark Hogan, Pontiac GXP, 6.806, 202.06; Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.635, 209.23 def. Deric Kramer, Dart, 6.696, 205.98; QUARTERFINALS — Laughlin, 6.643, 208.59 def. Nobile, 6.655, 208.33; Butner, 6.656, 208.52 def. McGaha, 6.664, 207.56; Gray, 6.629, 209.01 def. Skillman, 6.676, 208.07; Line, 6.637, 208.49 def. Anderson, 6.645, 208.39; SEMIFINALS — Butner, 6.678, 207.75 def. Line, 6.627, 208.78; Laughlin, 6.634, 208.75 def. Gray, 6.623, 209.10; FINAL — Laughlin, 6.611, 208.68 def. Butner, 6.637, 209.26.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.887, 194.77 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.926, 191.16; Hector Arana, Buell, 6.948, 194.35 def. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.977, 192.19; Chip Ellis, Buell, 6.890, 194.66 def. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.933, 194.07; Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.873, 194.52 def. Angie Smith, 6.971, 189.98; Cory Reed, Buell, 6.873, 194.24 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.911, 193.79; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.911, 193.49 def. Hector Arana Jr, Buell, 6.908, 194.52; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.890, 192.19 def. Joe DeSantis, Suzuki, 7.236, 179.92; Matt Smith, 6.940, 192.22 def. Melissa Surber, Buell, Foul – Red Light; QUARTERFINALS — Savoie, 6.889, 194.60 def. M. Smith, 6.897, 191.81; Ellis, 6.895, 194.30 def. Hines, 6.941, 191.73; Reed, 6.921, 192.47 def. Krawiec, 6.925, 191.65; Sampey, 6.882, 195.08 def. Arana, 6.916, 193.96; SEMIFINALS — Savoie, 6.922, 193.68 def. Reed, 7.022, 189.26; Sampey, 6.873, 194.94 def. Ellis, 6.884, 193.93; FINAL — Savoie, 6.933, 189.36 def. Sampey, Foul – Red Light.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

UPDATED POINT STANDINGS:

TOP FUEL: 1.  Antron Brown, 2,258; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 2,245; 3.  Tony Schumacher, 2,204; 4.  Shawn Langdon, 2,181; 5.  Brittany Force, 2,167; 6.  Steve Torrence, 2,161; 7.  J.R. Todd, 2,152; 8.  Richie Crampton, 2,127; 9.  Leah Pritchett, 2,107; 10.  Clay Millican, 2,084.

FUNNY CAR: 1.  Ron Capps, 2,273; 2.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,225; 3.  Jack Beckman, 2,203; 4.  John Force, 2,199; 5.  Del Worsham, 2,189; 6.  Matt Hagan, 2,177; 7.  Robert Hight, 2,159; 8.  Courtney Force, 2,149; 9.  Tim Wilkerson, 2,144; 10.  Alexis DeJoria, 2,068.

PRO STOCK: 1.  Jason Line, 2,310; 2.  Greg Anderson, 2,247; 3.  Bo Butner, 2,223; 4.  Vincent Nobile, 2,185; 5.  Shane Gray, 2,167; 6.  Chris McGaha, 2,135; 7.  Allen Johnson, 2,127; 8.  Drew Skillman, 2,126; 9.  Jeg Coughlin, 2,084; 10.  Erica Enders, 2,052.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1.  Andrew Hines, 2,260; 2.  Angelle Sampey, 2,258; 3.  Chip Ellis, 2,243; 4.  Jerry Savoie, 2,218; 5.  Eddie Krawiec, 2,184; 6.  LE Tonglet, 2,138; 7.  Hector Arana Jr, 2,115; 8.  Hector Arana, 2,107; 9.  Cory Reed, 2,105; 10.  Matt Smith, 2,096.

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VIDEO: Recapping Formula E’s electric second season

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With the new Formula E campaign just two weeks away, the series has released a video recapping its electric second season as Sebastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi battled for top honors.

Traveling all over the world from Beijing to London via Long Beach and Mexico (among others), Formula E continued to go to strength-to-strength in its second season.

The title fight is documented in this video, featuring interviews with the protagonists and many of the other drivers on the grid through last season.

The new Formula E season starts on October 9 in Hong Kong before finishing next summer in New York City, the latter’s race being launched earlier this week in Brooklyn.

Heineken would like to see Formula 1 race in Vietnam

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 09:  Heineken announces global partnership with Formula One Management. Gianluca Di Tondo, Senior Director Global Heineken Brand talks in the press conference during previews to the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2016 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Heineken senior global brand director Gianluca di Tondo would like to see Formula 1 stage a race in Vietnam as part of its expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dutch beer company Heineken was announced as a new global partner for F1 over the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, with its branding being visible in Montreal and at the Italian Grand Prix earlier this month.

Heineken is looking to emulate its relationship with Europe’s premier soccer competition, the UEFA Champions League, in F1 through greater interaction with fans and special events.

One such event took place at Monza when a group of F1 drivers took on a Heineken all-star team in a game of soccer on the main straight of the track.

Following the takeover of F1 by American company Liberty Media Corporation, many believe an expansion of the calendar to include new markets is on the cards in the future.

“This is really touching on an important issue for us,” di Tondo said of the F1 calendar in an interview with the official F1 website.

“Heineken is super-strong in Europe – we were ‘born’ in Europe and are a European brand – but the playground for the future is Asia Pacific.

“Asia Pacific is a strategic area for us and having seven races around this area is fantastic, and the passion for Formula 1 in Asia is tangible.

“If there is program to double up in the US that, of course, is very interesting for us as the US is our biggest market. If you take it as a single market, it is still our biggest one.

“In the US it is easier to activate things that become popular – and we are open for discussions to make Formula 1 even more popular together.”

Di Tondo was asked which race he would add to the calendar if he had the choice.

“That is very simple – it is again in Asia: Vietnam,” he said.

“We are very present in Vietnam through a local partner and they were our guests in Monza and they were over the moon.

“So why not have a race in Ho Chi Minh City?”

Vandoorne: No extra pressure at McLaren despite chance of Button comeback

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 13:  Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium driving the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MP4-31 Honda RA616H Hybrid turbo on track during F1 testing at Silverstone Circuit on July 13, 2016 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Stoffel Vandoorne believes that he will face no extra pressure during his debut Formula 1 season despite there being a chance Jenson Button will return to a McLaren seat for 2018.

McLaren announced over the Italian Grand Prix weekend that Vandoorne would be stepping up to a full-time seat for the 2017 season after spending the past year in a reserve role.

The Belgian will partner Fernando Alonso following Jenson Button’s decision to take a year out from F1 in 2017.

However, should both the driver and team be willing, Button is able to return to a McLaren seat for 2018, appearing to put pressure on Vandoorne should he not perform. The 2015 GP2 Series champion does not see it this way, though.

“No, I don’t see that situation as extra pressure. I have a long-term deal with McLaren,” Vandoorne told the official F1 website.

“Hopefully we soon will be able to get back to the competitive level where McLaren used to be.

“In terms of next year, yes it is a special structure, but I think it is one of the best. Myself and Fernando are going to race, and then it is good to keep Jenson as well.

“He is the most experienced driver in F1 now and he will be involved with the team, be it in the simulator or coming to a few races.”

“I am fully thinking about the opportunity that I get – there is no room for non-issues. I want to succeed and am very much looking forward to that.”