Hulkenberg seeks end of tailspin, Ricciardo seeks BBQ after clash in Austin

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AUSTIN, Texas – “An Australian and a German walk into a Texas barbecue joint, sort out their issues and enjoy some delicious red meat.”

OK this isn’t reality but if ever there was a time, place or reason for Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg to get together and discuss in person their contact that happened during today’s United States Grand Prix, perhaps the legendary Salt Lick or Rudy’s in Austin would serve as a perfect venue.

Ricciardo and Hulkenberg’s races – which were both promising – came to a halt on Lap 36 when Hulkenberg and Ricciardo collided battling over fifth place at Turn 12.

After starting third, Ricciardo actually led seven laps from Laps 15 to 21, having got around Lewis Hamilton at one point. Hulkenberg ran as high as sixth in the opening laps.

It appeared as though Hulkenberg’s front wing was flexing and vibrating, and the issue didn’t help as Hulkenberg slid into the Australian. Ricciardo continued but Hulkenberg was done on the spot.

A post-race investigation by the stewards confirmed the technical issue was the cause of the accident, not driver error by Hulkenberg as he dove to the inside.

To hear Ricciardo tell it though, prior to the FIA confirmation, he put the blame on Hulkenberg.

“Yeah I saw him make a lunge, so I was aware he’d be close to the apex,” the Infiniti Red Bull Racing driver told NBC’s Will Buxton.

“He was sort of in my blind spot, so I didn’t take the apex, so I left a bit of room. I sort of opened the wheel, we touched and we wnet off. It felt off… him sort of overcooking it. Unless I went all the way off track I could have avoided it.

“Trying to be fair, I think that was his fault.”

Sahara Force India’s Hulkenberg didn’t exactly admit blame, but he did say the plan to pass didn’t go as intended.

“I saw my chance in taking Daniel. I wanted to go past him quickly,” Hulkenberg told Buxton. “He was holding me up quite a bit. It was damp where I was braking. It wasn’t ideal and unfortunately the move didn’t work.”

In the same interview with Buxton, Ricciardo threw another Red Bull-affiliated driver, Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, somewhat under the bus.

“With Carlos, there was contact which I thought could have been avoided,” said Ricciardo, who finished 10th. “He squeezed me on braking. Once you brake you should stay straight. We talk about it in driver meetings. It’s a part where you can’t really do much. You’re more or less not in control of moving left or right because you lock a wheel.

“I believe some other drivers weren’t too pleased with him today as well. It’s happened a few times in the past. We’ll wise him up a bit.”

But to close this chapter and turn things back to the headline, Hulkenberg will look to score points in Mexico next week after a run of three DNFs in four races.

“Yeah for sure,” Hulkenberg replied when he was asked whether this was a negative spiral.

“To get results you have to finish races, and these three haven’t been the best run for me.”

Ricciardo, meanwhile, seeks some good ‘ol fashioned Texas BBQ sustinence.

“I have been dieting all week,” Ricciardo told Buxton.

“For whatever reason the car was quite heavy this week, I was aware. They said, ‘This is the race you gotta try at least to not put on weight.

“I was like, ‘You guys are kidding me. We’re in bloody Texas and you’re telling me I can’t eat meat?’

“I’ve had no red meat all week. Tonight I’m gonna eat until I feel pretty sad.”

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.