Power relieved, thankful to return to front row at Barber

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Second place isn’t ever where you want to be, but for Will Power, coming second in qualifying Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park was a perfect start to bouncing back after his disastrous Long Beach weekend.

From 18th on the grid, and after losing a lap when blocked on track prior to his first pit stop last week at Long Beach, Power finished 20th.

Today at Barber he led second practice and then ended second on the grid. He missed out to teammate Helio Castroneves but still felt he gave the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet all it had in today’s qualifying session.

“Yeah, we were strong in qualifying. Unfortunately it rained at the end,” Power said. “We were able to do our laps with just one lap in each of the seeding segments.

“I didn’t go harder. It’s everything we had. I’m very happy to start on the front row, considering last week at Long Beach.”

Power hasn’t got off to a “slow” start to the season per se, but the two-time Barber winner is keen to add his name to the 2015 winner’s list tomorrow after finishes of second, seventh and 20th to open the year.

“Qualifying well is huge here. We can win from there,” he said. “That’s definitely the plan tomorrow. It’s been a slow start to the season I guess you could say in the last two races. Very determined to get that first win of the year. See if we can get it done tomorrow.”

He’ll shoot to do so, with the race coverage of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama starting at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.