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IndyCar stars take in NASCAR finale in Miami

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The Verizon IndyCar Series is off until March 2018 but as has been the case in recent years, Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway witnessed a good contingent of IndyCar regulars on site at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale.

As NBC Sports NASCAR and IndyCar pit reporter Marty Snider noted on Twitter, it marked a great opportunity to do some advance prep work for the 2018 season!

Here’s a look at who was on site.

THE CHAMP IS HERE

This year’s IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden continued his hectic postseason tour of events, and added the NASCAR finale to his appearance at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas last month. Newgarden, who won the title in his No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, was seeing if Brad Keselowski could take his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford to his second title (2012).

Newgarden also stopped to record an episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan. That will be released in the coming days.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here or visiting the www.ApplePodcasts.com/nascaronnbc landing page. It also is available for subscription on Stitcher or by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

HELIO JOINS THE PENSKE PARTY

He won’t be a full-time IndyCar driver anymore, but Helio Castroneves seems set for lifetime membership in the Team Penske alumni roster after 18 seasons (and 20 overall). Castroneves, who shifts to Acura Team Penske in 2018 in IMSA, was on-site throughout the weekend as well.

Castroneves had the opportunity to reunite with his old IndyCar teammate Sam Hornish Jr., whose second place finish in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race in the No. 22 REV Group Ford netted Penske the Xfinity owner’s championship.

He then had a chance to join now fellow one-off participant in the 2018 Indianapolis 500, Danica Patrick, pre-grid on Sunday. Patrick’s pass of Castroneves late in the race at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan, in April 2008 netted Patrick her only IndyCar victory.

ANDRETTI, ROSSI MAKE THE PILGRIMAGE

Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi were also on site. Both have taken in NASCAR races before, Andretti having been to Miami in past years and Rossi at the Brickyard 400 and Watkins Glen International.

Andretti then posted a photo with himself, Rossi, Conor Daly and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson late Sunday night.

DALY DOES IT FOR DALE, MUNOZ MAKES MAIDEN NASCAR MEMORIES

Conor Daly has never been accused of not being patriotic and not representing ‘Merica well. So it only stood to reason that Daly would make a last-minute decision to leave Nashville to go to Miami and make it there for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race.

This follows a somewhat similar – albeit more planned out – voyage Daly’s friend Daniel Ricciardo did to Texas Motor Speedway a couple weeks ago to watch Earnhardt’s last race there.

Once on site, Daly got the appropriate Dale Jr. attire and soaked up the atmosphere, which you can see below. He also reunited with fellow Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion and alumnus Michael McDowell to watch McDowell’s final start in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet.

Daly’s fellow 2017 A.J. Foyt Enterprises teammate, Carlos Munoz, was also on site for his first NASCAR experience. Munoz lives in Miami and just wrapped his fourth full-time IndyCar campaign, and fifth overall dating back to 2013.

Neither of these two drivers has a ride for 2018 in IndyCar, both somewhat unceremoniously jettisoned from Foyt after a single season. But high on experience and potential, they’re both working to land rides for future IndyCar races in 2018 (a projected grid outlook is here at the moment).

MR. JONES CONTINUES HIS GANASSI INTEGRATION

Newly signed Chip Ganassi Racing driver Ed Jones got a chance to experience the atmosphere with Ganassi’s NASCAR operation for the weekend, and also dropped the hint he’d love to try a NASCAR race himself if given the opportunity. The Dubai-based Brit has made his U.S. residence in Miami since arriving in 2015.

OTHERS CHIME IN

Beyond those on site, a handful of other IndyCar regulars chimed in on the race and Martin Truex Jr.’s popular first championship victory for the small Furniture Row Racing team based in Denver.

F1 Preview: 2018 German Grand Prix

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The German Grand Prix continues its biennial presence on the Formula 1 calendar – it’s hosted F1 events in even numbered years since 2014 – as Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring this weekend.

The German fans will undoubtedly be joyful in Sebastian Vettel entering his home race in the championship lead, by nine points over Lewis Hamilton. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, Vettel despite being one of the most successful and decorated drivers of his generation, Vettel has won in Germany only once (2013, at the Nurburgring) and he has never won at Hockenheim.

Conversely, Hamilton has won in Germany three times, including twice at Hockenheim (2008 and 2016).

As such, Vettel will hope to add to his points lead over Hamilton with a win on home soil, though Hamilton may be equally as motivated after watching Vettel his own home race at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, their 2018 championship duel will most certainly continue to be closely fought.

Talking points ahead of the German Grand Prix are below.

A Different World in 2018 vs. 2016

Nico Rosberg during the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 31, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

The Formula 1 landscape looked completely different back in 2016, the last time Formula 1 visited the Hockenheimring. Bernie Ecclestone was still the chief executive of Formula 1.

Nico Rosberg was partnering Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes team, and was on his way to a driver’s championship that year.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen were in the midst of a slump as Ferrari went winless in 2016.

The world was still getting to know a then 18-year-old Max Verstappen, the young Dutchman having won the Spanish Grand Prix in May that year.

And the cars looked completely different, with skinnier and taller rear wings and taller rear tires highlighting the appearance differences.

In 2018, Vettel and Ferrari might be the strongest combination. Rosberg is long from Mercedes, and Valtteri Bottas is doing his best to shine in the wake of Hamilton’s enormous shadow.

Verstappen is still a rising star, though he has come under fire at times for overly aggressive driving and his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo has garnered more headlines this year, with a pair of race wins alongside his status as an F1 free agent after 2018.

In short, the Formula 1 landscape is hardly recognizable from what it was back in 2016. And even though Hamilton won that year, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen in second and third, very little will carry over from that race two years ago.

Hamilton, Mercedes Look to Take Back Momentum from Vettel, Ferrari

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 08: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 8, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

The seesaw championship fight has tilted back in the favor of Ferrari, with Vettel leading Hamilton after finishes of third and first in Austria and England. Hamilton, meanwhile, DNF’ed in Austria and came home second in England after spinning on Lap 1.

Hamilton trails by nine points, but this is hardly an unfamiliar position for Hamilton in 2018 – he started the year trailing Vettel until he took the championship lead for the first time after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Both teams have had multiple swings of momentum this year – Vettel won the opening two races before finishes of eighth in China (he spun after contact with Verstappen) and a pair of fourth place efforts in Azerbaijan and Spain before getting two more wins in Canada and England.

Hamilton, meanwhile stumbled out of the gates somewhat with finishes of second and third before taking a fortuitous win in Azerbaijan and two dominant wins in Spain and France before the misfortune in Austria.

All told the ebb and flow of the 2018 season seems to change with every race, and while Vettel now leads Hamilton again, things could change this weekend.

Raikkonen Trying to Fend off Ricciardo, Bottas

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – JULY 06: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone on July 6, 2018 in Northampton, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Kimi Raikkonen is somewhat of a forgotten man this Formula 1 season, but he does rank third in the championship at the moment, 10 points ahead of Ricciardo and 12 points ahead of Bottas.

However, both Ricciardo and Bottas are likely thought to have had better seasons – Ricciardo has the aforementioned wins (at China and Monaco) and the only thing that has kept Bottas from the top step of the podium is a string of horrendous luck.

However, Raikkonen, to his credit, has picked up the pieces whenever others around him have faltered, and he has six podium finishes through 10 races.

However, in order to fully silence any critics, and maybe even keep his Ferrari drive, Raikkonen would do well to get a win in 2018.

Misc.

  • The driver challenging Raikkonen’s position within Ferrari is Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari junior driver has five points finishes, and that could have been six if not for a pit stop error at Silverstone that caused him to leave his pit stall with a loose wheel – it forced him to retire. Leclerc’s star is on the rise, and he could shine again in Germany.
  • Nico Hulkenberg is the “other” German driver on the grid. And though he has a 24 Hours of Le Mans win to his name, he is yet to finish on the podium in an F1 race. The Renault package may not be a podium threat in usual circumstances, but if he stays clean and others falter, he could sneak in there…and doing so in his home race would make that overdue podium even sweeter.
  • After a pair of eighth place finishes, Fernando Alonso has helped McLaren at least stop the bleeding after a dismal stretch of races from Monaco through France in which the team scored zero points. However, the team still has a long way to go, and Germany could be another weekend of struggles.

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