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Hamilton cruises to German GP victory as penalty costs Rosberg

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Lewis Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship to 19 points by winning Sunday’s German Grand Prix at Hockenheim in a dominant display.

Hamilton seized the lead from Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg at the start before crusing to his sixth win in the last seven races, heading into the summer break on a high.

For Rosberg, it was a home race to forget as a poor start and in-race time penalty left him down in fourth place at the checkered flag, dealing another blow to his championship hopes.

Instead, it was left to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo to take the fight to Hamilton at the front, leading teammate Max Verstappen home to secure a double podium finish for the team.

In a flurry of deja vu from Hungary, Rosberg bogged down off the line to allow Hamilton to sweep into the lead down the inside at Turn 1. Rosberg was swarmed by the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Ricciardo, dropping him down to fourth by the end of the first lap – precisely how Hamilton wanted the race to begin.

Rosberg settled down into P4 and began his fightback, but found that Ricciardo was up for a fight. The Australian forced Rosberg wide at Turn 8 when the German tried to pass, leaving Rosberg to drop back again, now with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen for company.

With a fine line between two and three-stop strategies at Hockenheim, teams urged their drivers to look after their tires early on. Verstappen and Ricciardo were able to keep Rosberg at an arm’s length early on, prompting Mercedes to bring the home favorite in early for his first stop. Verstappen pitted on the same lap, and was able to stay ahead after a slow stop from Mercedes cost Rosberg more time. Ricciardo dived in one lap later, emerging from the pits still ahead of Rosberg on the soft tire as Red Bull split its drivers’ strategies.

Hamilton pitted from the lead on lap 14, three laps later than Rosberg, but was able to retain his lead ahead of Verstappen and Ricciardo. Mercedes also ran its drivers on varying tire strategies, fitting Hamilton with soft tires before informing Rosberg that he was now on ‘Plan B’ in P4.

Despite having Verstappen behind on the faster super-soft tire, Hamilton was able to slowly extend his lead over the chasing pack through the second stint of the race. Verstappen reported to Red Bull that he was struggling on his tires, hinting that the soft compound was better-suited for the rest of the race. Rosberg was also having trouble, languishing down in P4 behind Ricciardo as Hamilton pulled further and further away at the front.

Rosberg was the first of the leading drivers to make his second stop, pitting at the end of lap 27 and making the switch to the soft tire in a bid to place pressure on the Red Bull drivers ahead. Mercedes timed the stop perfectly, dropping Rosberg into clean air and forcing Red Bull to respond by bringing Verstappen in just one lap later.

Verstappen emerged from the pits just ahead of Rosberg, but struggled to get his tires up to temperature on the long run down to the hairpin. Rosberg slung his Mercedes down the inside with an aggressive move before forcing Verstappen wide at the exit of the corner, moving up into fifth place in the process.

Verstappen immediately complained about the move over the radio, with the stewards confirming moments later they would be investigating Rosberg for forcing another driver off the track. Rosberg was duly handed a five-second time penalty, much to the German’s chagrin who protested he was at full lock.

While Rosberg’s penalty continued to sink in, the rest of the front-runners began to make their second stops. Hamilton and Ricciardo both looked set for two-stop races, only to take on super-soft tires, moving onto a three-stop strategy in the process. Hamilton continued to lead with relative comfort after stopping, leading Rosberg by five seconds heading into the final 30 laps of the race.

Rosberg was told to get his head down and focus on opening up a gap to Verstappen behind, something he did in the laps that followed. Verstappen had more pressing matters: namely Ricciardo, who was charging behind on the super-softs. With the help of DRS and little resistance from Verstappen, Ricciardo swept into third place before setting his sights on Rosberg ahead, who was told to up the pace in response.

With Ricciardo looming large in his mirrors, Rosberg dived into the pits to take his penalty and fresh tires, moving onto softs for the final stint of the race. However, more time was lost as Rosberg remained stationary for eight seconds – three more than required. Red Bull once again reacted immediately by bringing Verstappen in one lap later, allowing him to emerge well clear of the Mercedes driver. Ricciardo followed suit the next time around, coming back out ahead of Verstappen but with his teammate right on his tail.

After being given the hurry up by Red Bull to create a gap to Verstappen, Ricciardo soon began to carve into Hamilton’s lead at the front. The leader’s advantage fell to just six seconds in a matter of laps as Ricciardo put his super-soft tires to good use. Hamilton reacted well, putting in a set of personal bests to extend his advantage once again, cooling Red Bull’s faint hopes of victory.

Hamilton managed to negotiate a bit of late traffic before crossing the line to pick up his sixth win of the season and extend his championship lead to 19 points over Rosberg, who was left to settle for P4 after failing to catch the Red Bulls in the closing stages.

Ricciardo finished second ahead of Verstappen in third, lifting Red Bull above Ferrari in the constructors’ championship as the Italian marque’s cars only came home fifth and sixth, Vettel leading Raikkonen.

Nico Hulkenberg led Force India’s charge in P7 after passing Valtteri Bottas late on, dropping the Finn into the clutches of Jenson Button. Concerns over fuel mileage left McLaren sweating on its points in the closing stages, but Button was able to ease past Bottas for P8 as the Finn struggled with his tires, eventually crossing the line ninth.

Fernando Alonso lost out to Sergio Perez late on, allowing the Mexican to take P10 and secure a double-points finish for Force India.

Haas’ attempt at a two-stop strategy failed to yield any points as Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean finish 11th and 13th respectively, split by Alonso, while the Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat followed in 14th and 15th.

Kevin Magnussen enjoyed a bright start to the race, but could only finish 16th for Renault ahead of Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein. Their respective teammates, Jolyon Palmer and Rio Haryanto, finished 19th and 20th respectively behind Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race the No. 3 vs. IndyCar stars in Michigan iRacing

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).