What to watch for: Bahrain Grand Prix (CNBC, NBC Sports app from 10:30am ET)

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If you were thinking that the fight for the Formula 1 drivers’ championship in 2017 was a two-horse race, Valtteri Bottas made you think again on Saturday in Bahrain.

In just his third race for Mercedes, Bottas surged to his maiden pole position in F1 with a stunning lap at the Bahrain International Circuit, edging out teammate Lewis Hamilton at the end of Q3.

Bottas will now enter Sunday’s race targeting his first race win in F1, but with Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for company at the front, it’s not going to be easy.

You can watch the Bahrain Grand Prix live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 10:30am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race.

2017 Bahrain Grand Prix – What to watch for

Bottas targets first race win since British F3

Valtteri Bottas proved in qualifying that he is going to be no pushover in the fight with Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes. Pole came not by virtue of his rivals’ mistakes, instead purely through his own excellence through the final Q3 lap.

Bottas now faces the tougher task of managing a race from the front as he looks to break a win drought that dates back to his brief stint in British F3 in 2011, combined with his title-winning GP3 campaign. The Finn has been present on the podium 10 times during his four-and-a-bit seasons in F1 so far, but to ascend to the top step will be a big, big ask.

However, Bottas has what it takes. His long run on the super-soft tire on Friday evening was particularly impressive, going deep into the stint with a competitive pace. A win in Mercedes colors is surely inevitable for Bottas, yet if he can tick that box so early on in 2017, it would be a big, big statement to those linking Fernando Alonso with his seat for next year.

Can Ferrari bite back in the race?

After running Mercedes close for pole in both Australia and China, Ferrari seemed further adrift on Saturday in Bahrain as Sebastian Vettel finished almost half a second back from pole-man Bottas, while Kimi Raikkonen’s struggles continued in a run to P5.

Ferrari’s race pace has been particularly strong – perhaps even better than Mercedes’ – so far this season, putting Vettel in contention today. However, as conditions cool off into the night as the race wears on, it’s likely the race will move towards Mercedes, which has operated better in cooler conditions so far this year.

Ferrari remains a threat, though, and Mercedes will need to be careful that Bottas and Hamilton do not trip over each other and open up an opportunity for Vettel to snare a victory.

Has Red Bull cut the gap?

One of the biggest surprises in qualifying was how close the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen was able to get to Mercedes and Ferrari. Despite appearing to be over a second adrift in the opening rounds, the team bounced back in qualifying, with Ricciardo even outqualifying Raikkonen.

While a race win looks unlikely for Red Bull in Bahrain, Ricciardo and Verstappen will be hoping to get in amongst the front-runners as they did last time out in China. If they can get to the finish with any of the top three runners in sight, it would go down as a good result.

Red Bull’s buffer to the top end of the midfield – the likes of Williams and Renault – should allow the team to get creative and try something different in a bid to upset the top runners.

Wehrlein gears up for full-race comeback

Pascal Wehrlein will take part in his first full race since the 2016 season finale in Abu Dhabi today, having missed the opening two rounds of the season through injury stemming from his crash at the Race of Champions in January.

Wehrlein’s fitness has been a key point of debate in the F1 paddock in recent weeks, with opinion split over whether or not he should have battled through the pain and raced on. Wehrlein hit back at his critics earlier this week, saying it was not for them to judge if they were not racing with the issue.

The big plus point is that Wehrlein is back in Bahrain and seems to be doing fine in the car. He led Sauber to its best qualifying result since the 2015 Brazilian Grand Prix on Saturday, and will line up 13th today.

A double-finish remains the target for McLaren

It isn’t glamorous, but if McLaren can simply get both of its cars to the finish in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, it would be a good achievement for the team. Blighted by numerous issue with its Honda power unit, McLaren is yet to score a point so far this season, and has just one classified finish under its belt.

However, even that might prove out of reach for McLaren today. Fernando Alonso was forced out of Q2 on Saturday when his power unit failed, meaning he will take a fresh unit for the start and need to dial it in early on – so he’s already on the back-foot.

A year since Stoffel Vandoorne’s impressive and impromptu F1 debut that saw him charge to a point, such a result can only be dreamed of today, it seems…

2017 Bahrain Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
4. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
5. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
6. Max Verstappen Red Bull
7. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
8. Felipe Massa Williams
9. Romain Grosjean Renault
10. Jolyon Palmer Renault
11. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
12. Lance Stroll Williams
13. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber
14. Esteban Ocon Force India
15. Fernando Alonso McLaren
16. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
17. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
18. Sergio Perez Force India
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
20. Kevin Magnussen Haas

You can watch the Bahrain Grand Prix live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 10:30am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

World of Outlaws release 2023 Sprint Car Series schedule

2023 Outlaws Sprint schedule
World of Outlaws
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The 2023 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule features 87 races, almost identical to the last year’s number, to be contested at 36 venues across 19 states. With cancelations for mostly weather, they closed out this year’s calendar on November 5 with 69 events in the books. Carson Macedo won a series high 11 races.

In 2022, David Gravel chased Brad Sweet into the three-race finale on the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway in one of the most hotly contested championships in Outlaws history. Sweet emerged victorious for the fourth straight year.

For the 19th consecutive season, the Outlaws Sprints will begin their season at Volusia Speedway Park for the DIRTcar Nationals from Feb. 9-11 and will return March 5-6 for another two-day show before hitting the road with a three-track swing into Pennsylvania to take on the Posse.

MORE: 2023 World of Outlaws Late Model Schedule

“Every year we continue to build the best schedule we can for drivers and fans across the country,” said World of Outlaws CEO Brian Carter is a series release. “I’m excited for the journey we’ve put together, which includes the biggest races in Sprint Car racing, our new Spring Swing through Pennsylvania, the thrill of combining the World of Outlaws and ‘Bike Week’ and so much more.”

Some tracks returning from hiatus and one brand new course include 81 Speedway in Park City, Kans. in April and again in October, Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon City, Ill. in April, Ogilvie (Minn.) Raceway in June and BAPS Motor Speedway in York Haven, Penn.

BAPS hosts its first race in more than 30 years when the track was known as Susquehanna Speedway. This midweek show will give the local Pennsylvania Posse 14 attempts to beat the traveling Outlaws.

Ogilvie Speedway is completely new to the series and makes it the 224th different venue they will have challenged.

MORE: Brad Sweet protects his place in history

Notably missing from the calendar are Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, Cotton Bowl Speedway in Paige, Texas, Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway and the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track.

In addition to the new spring Pennsylvania Swing, the second date at Volusia Speedway will coincide with Daytona Beach’s Bike Week and bring new eyes to the sport.

Knoxville Raceway adds another multi-night show to the calendar in April, giving this track eight sanctioned events in 2023.

And of course, there are plenty of mainstays and high dollar events, such as the Memorial Day Spectacular at Lawrenceburg (Ind.) Speedway, the 35th running of the Brad Doty Classic in July and the Labor Day Spectacular at Gray’s Harbor in Elma, Wash.

Several big paydays are on the line in 2023 including the 40th annual Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio paying $175,000 to the winner, the Huset’s High Bank Nationals’ $250,000-to-win finale and the grandaddy of them all, the 62nd Knoxville Nationals with a total purse exceeding $1 million.

2023 Outlaws Sprint Schedule

Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 9-11 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)

Sunday-Monday, March 5-6 – Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Friday-Saturday, March 10-11 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, March 17 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday, March 18 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday, March 24 – Talladega Short Track (Eastaboga, AL)
Saturday, March 25 – Magnolia Motor Speedway (Columbus, MS)
Friday, March 31-Saturday, April 1 – Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX)

Friday, April 7 – US-36 Raceway (Osborn, MO)
Saturday, April 8 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, April 14-15 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Friday-Saturday, April 21-22 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday, April 28 – Tri-City Speedway (Granite City, IL)
Saturday, April 29 – Tri-State Speedway (Haubstadt, IN)

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, May 10 – Lincoln Speedway (Abbottstown, PA)
Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Friday, May 19 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Saturday, May 20 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, May 26-27 – Atomic Speedway (Chillicothe, OH)
Monday, May 29 – Lawrenceburg Speedway (Lawrenceburg, IN)

Friday, June 2 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, June 3 – Ogilvie Raceway (Ogilvie, MN)
Friday-Saturday, June 9-10 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Friday-Saturday, June 16-17 – Beaver Dam Raceway (Beaver Dam, WI)
Wednesday-Saturday, June 21-24 – Huset’s Speedway (Brandon, SD)
Friday, June 30-Saturday, July 1 – Cedar Lake Speedway (New Richmond, WI)

Friday, July 7 – 34 Raceway (West Burlington, IA)
Saturday, July 8 – Wilmot Raceway (Wilmot, WI)
Tuesday, July 11 – Attica Raceway Park (Attica, OH)
Friday-Saturday, July 14-15 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Wednesday, July 19 – BAPS Motor Speedway (York Haven, PA)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)
Saturday-Sunday, July 29-30 – Weedsport Speedway (Weedsport, NY)

Friday-Saturday, Aug. 4-5 – Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 (Pevely, MO)
Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 9-12 – Knoxville Raceway (Knoxville, IA)
Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 17-19 – Jackson Motorplex (Jackson, MN)
Friday, Aug. 25 – River Cities Speedway (Grand Forks, ND)
Saturday, Aug. 26 – Red River Valley Speedway (West Fargo, ND)
Thursday, Aug. 31-Saturday, September 2 – Skagit Speedway (Alger, WA)

Monday, Sept. 4 – Grays Harbor Raceway (Elma, WA)
Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9 – Silver Dollar Speedway (Chico, CA)
Friday, Sept. 15 – Keller Auto Speedway (Hanford, CA)
Saturday, Sept. 16 – Placerville Speedway (Placerville, CA)
Friday, Sept. 22 – Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, OH)
Saturday, Sept. 23 – Sharon Speedway (Hartford, OH)
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 29-30 – Williams Grove Speedway (Mechanicsburg, PA)

Friday-Saturday, Oct. 6-7 – Port Royal Speedway (Port Royal, PA)
Friday, Oct. 13 – 81 Speedway (Park City, KS)
Saturday, Oct. 14 – Lakeside Speedway (Kansas City, KS)
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 20-21 – TBA

Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 1-4 – The Dirt Track at Charlotte (Concord, NC)