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Team Penske sweeps top 10 in two series; Will Power third at Sonoma

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Sunday was a good day to be named Roger Penske.

Team Penske scored its 500th win as an organization.

They placed five of six IndyCar and Cup drivers in inside the top five – with one other narrowly missing in eighth.

Penske finished the IndyCar season with three drivers in the top six in points. In the Cup series, Brad Keselowski became the first driver to lock into Round 2 of the playoffs.

Yeah, “the Captain” had a command performance.

A little after the start of the Grand Prix of Sonoma, Keselowski won the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to give Penske his 500th organizational win – one week after he won the first ever Brickyard 400 for Penske.

Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney finished fourth and fifth at Las Vegas respectively.

One state over in California, Will Power led the IndyCar contingent by finishing third in the Grand Prix of Sonoma.

“I think if we would have started farther up front, we would have had a chance to win,” Power said after the race. “It was a good year though. Roger got his 500th win today. We won the Indy 500. We won the 200th IndyCar race for Team Penske. We won the Brickyard 400. Just couldn’t get the championship here. But overall, it was a good year for Team Penske.”

Winning the 500 is not only enough to make a season successful, it can make a career for both drivers and owners. Power’s 2018 victory marked the 17th time that Penske won that race.

It didn’t end there, however. Power’s Indy 500 win was part of a sweep Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. He also won the Grand Prix of Indianapolis two weeks early. Power added a third win for Penske in 2018 at Gateway.

Power entered Sonoma with a mathematical opportunity to win the championship, but that faded midway through the race and he finished third in the points behind Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi.

Right behind Power, Simon Pagenaud finished fourth in the race and sixth in the standings.

“It was a good day: definitely competitive, we definitely unlocked a lot of secrets,” Pagenaud said. “I think we cracked the code this weekend on the car and what I needed so we were much more competitive that we’ve been on the road course and it felt good. It felt fun.”

And while Pagenaud did not add to Penske’s win total in 2018, he came close with runner-up finishes on the oval of Texas in June and the street course in Toronto in July.

“I found my smile back, so that is a good thing,” Pagenaud told NBCSN after the race. “I’m really excited for next year; I’m already thinking for next year. … I think it’s in these kind of situations you learn the most and you come back stronger.”

Josef Newgarden was the only Penske driver who failed to finish in the top five Sunday. He crossed under the checkers eighth and finished fifth in the standings.

If not for one bobble in the pits, Newgarden might have given Penske a perfect sweep of the top five.

“It really all started with the first pit stop,” Newgarden said. “We just had a mistake in trying to get out and I stalled it. It kind of ruined the whole day from that point there on. It was tough to recover after that. I think we had a lot of potential today and we could have contended for the win, but it was too hard to come back.

“It was a great season and a lot of great moments for the whole team and myself.”

In his quest for 500 wins this year, Newgarden gave Penske three. These came at Phoenix and Barber Motorsports Park early in the season and at Elkhart Lake just past the midpoint.

“We’ll double down for next year,” the 2017 champion Newgarden said after the race. “We’ll try to take that number one plate back.”

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Lewis Hamilton aims to match Michael Schumacher’s F1 win record

Lewis Hamilton Schumacher record
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton has set many Formula One marks over the years, but few are as significant as the Michael Schumacher record he can match Sunday at the Russian Grand Prix.

Victory for Hamilton at the Sochi Olympic Park would see him draw level with Schumacher at 91 career victories, more than any other driver in the 70-year history of F1.

It also would increase Hamilton’s commanding 55-point lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas in the championship standings, putting him closer to a seventh world championship, matching another Schumacher record.

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History is on the side of Hamilton, who won Sept. 13 at Mugello. He’s won four of the six Russian races so far, and all six were won by Mercedes drivers. His closest challenger is likely to be Bottas, who beat Hamilton in the 2017 edition of the Russian Grand Prix.

Elsewhere in the championship hunt, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s season has gone up in smoke since his Aug. 9 victory at Silverstone. An overheating engine forced the Dutch driver out of the Sept. 6 race at Monza and then a similar problem struck just before the start at Mugello. Verstappen was far slower off the line than the cars around him and was struck by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

That leaves Verstappen 80 points off Hamilton in the standings and a 25-point deficit to Bottas.

If Hamilton does win to tie Schumachher at Sochi, more fans will see it in person than any other race in a 2020 season mostly run before empty grandstands because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Organizers say the race weekend is sold out but haven’t given final ticket sales figures.

Race promoter Alexei Titov previously told Russian state TV that the stands would be at 50 percent of their capacity, which equates to around 30,000 spectators.

That’s far more than the previous season high of 3,000 fans for the most recent race, the Tuscan Grand Prix at the Mugello circuit.

Unlike at the last two races in Italy, there will be a full entertainment program on offer for fans with concerts featuring some of Russia’s most popular musicians.

Russian organizers say they’re taking precautions to keep fans safe and will have medical staff posted at checkpoints around the venue, and that spectators will have their temperature measured on entry.