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Verstappen stripped of pole at Mexican Grand Prix

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MEXICO CITY – Max Verstappen turned in a brilliant lap to snatch a surprising pole position at the Mexican Grand Prix.

Then he opened his mouth.

Three hours later, the Red Bull driver was bumped down to fourth, the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel were back at the front, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was in fighting position to clinch his sixth career Formula One championship.

The changes came when Verstappen was penalized for not slowing down after Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas had a hard crash just ahead of him on his final lap of Saturday’s qualifying.

Verstappen seemed to be in the clear until he admitted in the post-qualifying press conference he didn’t slow under a yellow flag, even though the rules require it.

“I was aware that Valtteri crashed,” Verstappen said.

When pressed later whether he should have backed off, Verstappen bristled.

“Do we have to go there? To safety? I think we know what we are doing, otherwise we would not be driving an F1 car.” Verstappen said. “It’s qualifying and, yeah, you go for it. But like I said before, if they want to delete the lap, then delete the lap.”

His comments prompted an investigation from race stewards and Verstappen lost more than that.

The Dutch driver had expertly cut the thin air and slow corners at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to perfection, and an earlier lap would have been good enough for his second career pole position.

But Verstappen was still on the track because the Mercedes and Ferraris were making their last runs. Bottas was rounding the final curve when he took a hard shunt into the wall and Verstappen zipped past. The crash ended qualifying and forced Ferrari to abort its final laps.

Hamilton said the penalty was correct.

“It’s really important that (race officials) are very strict on yellow flags,” Hamilton said. “There could have been marshals on the track. These volunteers put their lives on the line to make sure we are safe, and you have got people who are being careless and not abiding by the rules.”

Leclerc said every driver knows to slow down under a yellow flag. Verstappen is only 22, but he’s a veteran driver in his 99th Grand Prix.

“On my side, the crash was behind, so I cannot judge that situation, but yeah, I think it’s clear for every driver,” said Leclerc, who is also 22. “It’s the basics.”

Ferrari is back in No. 1 for the sixth race in a row as Leclerc and Vettel hunt for the fourth team win in that span. Verstappen won the last two Mexican Grand Prix from the No. 2 spot, and the straight-line power edge of the Ferraris should give them a huge jump out of the start in the sprint to the first corner.

The entire scenario gives Hamilton a better chance to close out the championship on a race track that has not been kind to him in recent years.

Hamilton clinched the 2017 and 2018 championships in Mexico City but ran poor races both times. He hasn’t been on the podium here since winning in 2016.

Hamilton can clinch the title Sunday with a podium finish that puts him 14 points clear of Bottas. Anything less than third for Hamilton extends the championship to next week’s U.S. Grand Prix in Texas, a race he’s won five times since 2012.

A Hamilton podium won’t be easy. Verstappen has been significantly faster than the Mercedes on this track. He’ll be seething after the penalty and will want to chase the Ferraris.

A sixth career championship would put Hamilton just one behind the record seven won by Michael Schumacher.

“Maybe we’ll do the rain dance tonight for a wet track which could spice things up a little bit,” Hamilton said.

Bottas is set to start sixth depending on repairs to his car, which Team Principal Toto Wolff said took “extensive damage.” If the car needs a new chassis or gear box, Bottas could be assessed grid penalties.

Bottas was briefly taken to the track’s medical center after the crash but was declared OK to race.

“I’m all OK, but I’ve unfortunately given the boys in the garage some extra work to do tonight,” Bottas said.

 

Supercross: Tomac, Roczen square off in Arlington; Webb gives chase

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The Monster Energy Supercross championship battle remains tight after Eli Tomac took the lead from Ken Roczen just last week at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Now the series heads to Arlington, Texas, and the AT&T Stadium for Round 8. (Watch on NBCSN or stream live.)

Tomac’s third win of the 2020 season and Roczen’s third-place finish at Tampa gives Tomac a four-point advantage in what is essentially a wide-open title fight with three races on tap in Arlington.

And while it is still much too early to call this a two-man battle, Cooper Webb is 11 points back with Justin Barcia 20 points out and Adam Cianciarulo 27 points in arrears – and all three cannot afford to lose any ground this week.

Tomac has the momentum. He allowed the field to get a jump after finishing seventh at Anaheim in the season opener, but finished fourth or better in the remaining events.

Roczen also got off to a slow start in Anaheim 1 with a sixth-place finish. He seemed to have a firm grasp on the red plate with four consecutive podium finishes until he slipped to sixth for a second time at San Diego.

Webb is coming into his own with three consecutive podiums in the last three events. If not for a 12th at St. Louis, he would be in immediate contention for the red plate.

This week is the second Triple Crown race of the season and Roczen hopes he has the same success as he did at Glendale. He won all three Mains that weekend and easily walked away with the overall victory. Tomac finished 2-2-3 for second overall. It is going to be imperative that a rider takes the early lead.

Blake Baggett qualified for last week’s Main, but chose to sit it out after experiencing sever muscle spasms. He will ride in Arlington.

Henry Miller will return to riding at Arlington after breaking a scapula in Australia.

Subscribe to the Supercross Pass for complete qualification and race coverage of the 2020 season.

For the third time in his career, Shane McElrath started the season with a victory. He won the season-opener in 2017 and 2018 in the West division at Anaheim, but failed to lock down a 250 title. His seventh career win moved him to 25th on the chart, however, with Travis Pastrana, Trey Canard, and a host of others.

Chase Sexton got his title hunt off to a strong start last week as well. He finished second to earn his 10th podium in 19 starts, but he will be hungry for a win. Despite the fact that he won last year’s 250 West championship, he has only one race victory to his credit.

Last week, Jeremy Martin looked like he had not been off his bike for more than a year. Returning from a 2018 injury, Martin snagged a podium finish in his first race back.

Schedule:

Qualifying: 1 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold
Race: 8:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Gold and NBCSN

Last Week:

Eli Tomac beat Cooper Webb and Ken Roczen in the 450 class.
Shane McElrath beat Chase Sexton and Jeremy Martin in the 250 class.

Last Dallas race (February, 2019):

Cooper Webb beat Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin in the 450 class.
Austin Forkner beat Justin Cooper and Chase Sexton in the 250 class.

Points Leaders

450s:
Eli Tomac (155)
Ken Roczen (151)
Cooper Webb (144)
Justin Barcia (135)
Adam Cianciarulo (128)

250 West:
Dylan Ferrandis (135)
Justin Cooper (128)
Austin Forkner (122)
Brandon Hartranft (110)
Alex Martin (98)

250 East:
Shane McElrath (26)
Chase Sexton (23)
Jeremy Martin (21)
Garrett Marchbanks (19)
Jordon Smith (18)

Wins

450

(3) Eli Tomac (Anaheim 2, Oakland and Tampa)
(2) Ken Roczen (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Barcia (Anaheim 1)
(1) Cooper Webb (San Diego)

250 West

(3) Dylan Ferrandis (Anaheim 2, Oakland, and San Diego)
(2) Austin Forkner (St. Louis and Glendale)
(1) Justin Cooper (Anaheim 1)

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath (Tampa)

Top-5s

450

(6) Eli Tomac
(6) Cooper Webb
(5) Jason Anderson
(5) Ken Roczen
(5) Justin Barcia
(3) Adam Cianciarulo
(2) Zach Osborne
(2) Blake Baggett
(1) Justin Hill

250 West

(5) Dylan Ferrandis
(5) Austin Forkner
(5) Justin Cooper
(4) Michael Mosiman
(4) Brandon Hartranft
(3) Alex Martin
(1) Christian Craig
(1) Jett Lawrence
(1) Jacob Hayes
(1) Luke Clout

250 East

(1) Shane McElrath
(1) Chase Sexton
(1) Jeremy Martin
(1) Garrett Marchbanks
(1) Jordon Smith

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