Stewart, Harvick ready to bounce back

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Two big names are hoping to shake off a disappointing Daytona 500 and gain some positive momentum this weekend at Phoenix.

Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick were pegged as contenders to win “The Great American Race” before they both got caught in a nine-car crash on Lap 34 last Sunday at Daytona. Now, they must dig their way out of the hole on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

Fortunately for Stewart, he’s been in this situation before and it worked out pretty well for him back then.

“We’ve left [Daytona] 43rd (in points) and won a championship in ’02,” said Stewart, who qualified sixth for the Subway Fresh Fit 500k. “So, you just put it behind you and it’s no different than if you get in a wreck on any other week. You can’t change it. So, you’ve got to focus on what you can change and that’s the week ahead.”

As for Harvick, his triumph in the Sprint Cup Series’ most recent visit to Phoenix has him hoping for more good things this time around. But with the introduction of the Generation-6 cars, he and his Richard Childress Racing team know that they’re in for a real test.

“This year we have a new car and a lot of new things to deal with, you to have an open mind on how to approach the weekend,” said Harvick, who is racing in today’s Nationwide Series event at PIR and will go off from seventh on the grid Sunday.

“Obviously, running the NASCAR Nationwide Series race will help by providing a little extra track time, but Phoenix was a good track for us last year. We finished first and second in the two races last season, so we’re going back expecting that we’ll run just as well.”

Stewart has one Sprint Cup win at PIR, but comes off finishes of 22nd and 19th at the one-mile oval last season. Harvick, on the other hand, has collected three top-5 results in his last four Phoenix outings, including the aforementioned victory last fall.

F1: Max Verstappen provides late-lap thrills at U.S. Grand Prix

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Leave it to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to provide some late-race thrills at the U.S. Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s key block on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton late in Sunday’s race denied Hamilton a chance to maybe chase down Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to win. And it helped deny Hamilton’s bid for the season championship.

Verstappen’s defensive skills allowed the Red Bull driver to finish second, his best result yet at the U.S Grand Prix, his fourth podium in six races. By keeping Hamilton third, it kept the season championship alive, even if just another week to the Mexican Grand Prix.

Last season, Verstappen had surged past Raikkonen on a final-lap pass to finish third. It was the kind of aggressive move that earned him the “Mad Max” nickname. Before he could even reach the podium, race officials declared Verstappen’s move illegal and bumped an angry Verstappen down to fifth.

The Circuit of the Americas this week installed a new curb on the same corner, dubbed “Verstoppen,” to punish drivers who tried anything similar this year. It worked when Verstappen hit it hard enough in qualifying to knock his car out of the session with a damaged suspension and gear box. He started Sunday’s race 18th.

The Dutch driver launched a furious attack through the field and found himself in the thick of things late Sunday. His move to block Hamilton wasn’t on the same corner with the curbs, and it came with him playing defense instead of being the aggressor.

Verstappen had to make multiple moves to keep Hamilton behind him and finally drove the Mercedes wide, forcing Hamilton to finally concede the position and the race.

“I was trying to get close to Kimi but at the same time keeping an eye on Lewis in my mirror. It was close, but we managed to hang on,” Verstappen said. “It is safe to say today went a lot better than expected.”

Knowing Verstappen’s aggressive nature, Hamilton said there was too much at stake to risk a collision.

“The key to me was to make sure I finished ahead of Seb. I don’t care when you win a championship, just that you win,” Hamilton said. “”For Max, to come back from so far, he did a great job.”

Verstappen has been just as aggressive at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In 2016, race officials ruled he improperly left the track to gain an advantage on Vettel to finish third and he was bumped from the podium. Last season, Verstappen’s strong start sent him into the lead out of the first turn, while Hamilton and Vettel bumped each other. The collision ruptured one of Hamilton’s tires.

Verstappen won the race while Hamilton limped home in ninth place, but still won the season championship.