Kyle Busch and Richard Childress, once enemies, now winning NASCAR combination
MADISON, Ill. (AP) — Twelve years to the day that Richard Childress and Kyle Busch came to blows in one of the parking lots of Kansas Speedway, the two were celebrating a NASCAR Cup Series victory at a track straight down Interstate 70 near St. Louis.
It was proof of many things: That a team that once dominated NASCAR's top series with Dale Earnhardt behind the wheel of the famed No. 3 could still contend for championships, that Busch could be every bit as successful after moving on from powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing, and perhaps most importantly, that a couple of boys can grow up.
“Yeah, I mean, people change,” Busch said after holding off Denny Hamlin on Sunday night to win at World Wide Technology Raceway.
“The relationship that I have now, and the effort that's gone into securing me, to get me to go to RCR — the discussions and talks that happened there — just proves them right, right?”
Sure seems that way.
It's not as if Busch has magically turned around the No. 8 team in his first season; Tyler Reddick drove the car to three wins a year ago. But with his green-white-checkered victory just outside St. Louis, the two-time Cup Series champion matched the total and is now halfway toward reaching Childress' audacious goal of winning six times this season.
“It's been fun to have that group around,” said Busch, who's also won at Talladega and Auto Club Speedway in California. “They know when we go to places, we struggle at places, that we all want to get better, right? I could do a better job most of the time. (Crew chief) Randall Burnett and the guys can do a better job as well. We just all continue to strive and work hard and bounce off of each other in order to come out and have the best possible stuff every time we hit the race track.”
Hard to believe there's such synergy between Busch and Richard Childress Racing given where they once were.
The infamous brawl between Childress and Busch came after a Truck Series race in 2011 at Kansas. Busch had been racing hard with Joey Coulter, who was driving for RCR, and Childress didn't appreciate it. He went to confront Busch and, after removing his watch and handing it to grandson Austin Dillon, proceeded to put him in a headlock and begin throwing punches.
Childress, a spry 65 at the time, had to be pulled off Busch, who went to the ground defensively to avoid any more punches. He was later fined $150,000 by NASCAR and placed on probation for the remainder of the season.
“Yeah, we put that totally behind us,” said Childress, now 77 yet every bit as fired up about winning races. “We talked about it. That was one of the first things we talked about. That’s history. We’ve both grown a lot. I know I’ve grown up. I’ve grown older, but I’ve grown up, too. There’s an old song out there, ‘I’m still growing up but I’m getting older.’”
His team is getting better, too.
After winning four times with Kevin Harvick during the 2013 season, Richard Childress Racing went 0-for-everything in the Cup Series the next three years. At its nadir during the 2016 season, the team managed just six top-10 finishes in 108 starts, and the trio of Dillon, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman did little to engender confidence in the direction of the program.
Even after Newman ended that maddening 112-race winless streak at Phoenix in 2017, the wins were hard to come by. The team won once more that season and reached victory lane just twice over the next four seasons combined.
But last year was a breakthrough of sorts with Reddick winning four times and combining with Dillon to finish in the top three on 10 more occasions. There was clearly speed in the RCR cars again, and with Reddick soon to depart for 23XI Racing, it was only a matter of finding a driver capable of utilizing that speed in the the No. 8 car.
Busch has turned out to be the improbably perfect fit.
“You know, we won a lot with Harvick, won a lot with Earnhardt. Our plan is to win a lot with Kyle,” Childress said, “and not only be a contender for that championship. If we make the final four, we’ll have a shot at winning it for sure.”
Not just this year but for years to come.
“Kyle has been really — he’s such a pleasure to work with,” Childress said. “Everybody says, ‘Man, how y’all going to get along?’ Same questions they asked me about, ‘You and Dale won’t last six months.’ We lasted 20 years. I want to keep Kyle here, and hopefully we can end his career when he gets ready to.”
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Column: Penske rolls into Le Mans on top of motor sports seeking evasive 1st win
LE MANS, France (AP) — Roger Penske won the Indianapolis 500 on a Sunday and celebrated Josef Newgarden's thrilling win as if it was the first for Team Penske, not a record-stretching 19th for The Captain.
He watched on his cellphone as Ryan Blaney won the Coca-Cola 600 on a Monday, streaming the rain-delayed NASCAR race during the Indy 500 banquet. As any avid race fan would do.
Blaney's victory gave Penske a resume builder that somehow had evaded his illustrious career: Team Penske swept the two Memorial Day weekend races in the U.S. in the same year.
There was zero time to bask in his press clippings. Penske was in Detroit by Tuesday to oversee the return of downtown street racing for the first time in 32 years — a three-day festival for a reenergized city as Penske's gift to his adopted hometown.
The whirlwind week closed with a sold-out Sunday race in which Team Penske driver Will Power finished second, but Penske's engine is still running at full throttle. He leads the American return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is due to arrive in France on Tuesday with a three-car effort chasing a victory that has eluded him.
“We want to win Le Mans, that’s what we’d like to do,” Penske told The Associated Press. ”We’ve got three good cars and it’s going to be competitive. But just to go there and compete, this first year with Porsche, that’s something we wanted to do for a long time with a quality brand.
“We can build on this. But we are going to win.”
He is 86 years old, yet Penske still moves at the same pace he did during his early days dabbling as a race car driver. And in this same year when he swept Indy and the Coca-Cola 600 — a year he has reigning series champions Joey Logano in NASCAR and Power in IndyCar under contract — he also wants to add the only race Penske has never won.
Penske himself once entered the legendary French endurance race in 1963, driving a Ferrari for the North American Racing Team. The car started on the pole and never ran lower than sixth when, about nine hours into the race, a broken oil pipe ended Penske's only run at Le Mans behind the wheel.
He eventually gave up driving — at the urging of his father — to focus on building his global transportation business and, in his spare time, one of the most respected empires in motor sports.
Penske returned to Le Mans as a team owner in 1971, an effort derailed by early engine failure.
Make no mistake, Le Mans means every bit to Penske as those 19 wins at Indy. And he wants one. Badly.
“I guess I put Le Mans in the category of the Indianapolis 500. These are the two of the greatest races ever around the world,” Penske said.
His quest is part of an agreement made with the NASCAR-owned IMSA sports car series, which reorganized its top class this year to hybrid engines to make its competitors eligible to race at Le Mans. The move by IMSA made it the first North American series to switch to hybrid, and it lured new manufacturers to the series with new goals.
Penske makes his return to Le Mans as the factory program for Porsche, and one of his 963 hybrid prototypes will carry the number 75 to commemorate 75 years of Porsche sports cars in the centennial celebration of the race.
He joins Chip Ganassi, who has a pair of Cadillacs entered, as well as another Caddy from Action Express Racing, a team owned by Bob Johnson and supported by NASCAR CEO Jim France.
France also is bringing a version of the Next Gen car now in its second season of NASCAR competition as part of the Garage 56 program with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. That means seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is coming along with Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon in a crossover nobody saw coming even five years ago.
But all eyes are on Penske, who is on a roll.
He last won the Indy 500 with driver Simon Pagenaud in 2019, the year before he bought Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He wasn't pleased to be stuck on 18 wins for three consecutive years at Indy; Team Penske and Newgarden knew it, too.
Newgarden had barely given him win No. 19 before Penske already was talking about a 20th.
"That's what we're here for: to set goals for other people to try to achieve," Penske said. “The 19th win at Indy was long overdue.”
He's relentless, at any age, and offered a vociferous defense of Blaney's 59-race winless streak finally snapped last Monday. Penske cited mechanical failures, pit road mistakes and a letdown from Team Penske to Blaney as to why the driver had struggled to win.
And then he was talking about Detroit, where Penske Entertainment was the promoter of the downtown IndyCar event. The race used to be downtown for both Formula One and an earlier version of Indy cars, but it became a hassle and fell off the schedule entirely.
It was Penske who brought IndyCar back to Detroit after his 2006 stint as chair of Detroit's Super Bowl committee. He wanted more for the city after its cleanup from the NFL title game, so he revitalized the IndyCar race on repurposed and dramatically cleaned Belle Isle.
This year he wanted it back downtown and he wanted the event to be a celebration of IndyCar, of partner Chevrolet and of downtown Detroit. He wanted a party and his staff pulled it off, even with driver complaints about the actual course.
The sparkling wine has barely dried from last week's sweep, and Detroit is still buzzing about Sunday's race, but Penske has no time to rest. He's got to pack and head to Le Mans, where he believes he's got a chance to win.
Should his team pull it off, there would be a surprisingly short list of firsts for Penske to chase. That's OK because he prefers to look out the front windshield. Win Le Mans this weekend and Penske immediately will turn to winning two in a row.
Formula 1: Mercedes optimistic after significant progress shown at Spanish GP
MADRID (AP) — Mercedes came out of Formula One's Spanish Grand Prix with increased confidence after showing significant progress and finishing ahead of Aston Martin and Ferrari.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen put on another dominant performance to win Sunday’s race from pole position, but Mercedes took a big step forward with Lewis Hamilton finishing second and teammate George Russell third to give the team its first double podium finish of the season.
Mercedes acknowledged that the gap to Red Bull remained significant, but there was optimism after the team’s much-anticipated upgrade package showed it has the potential to keep the team ahead of Aston Martin and Ferrari.
The upgrades couldn’t be introduced at Imola after the race was canceled because of floods in Italy. The changes made it to the cars in Monaco but the street circuit was not ideal to give a real sense of their potential.
“This result is definitely what we were working towards,” Hamilton said. “This is amazing and it’s down to all the great, great work that is going on with the people back at the factory, keeping their heads down. I hope everyone is feeling really proud back at the factory.”
With Hamilton’s second podium finish of the season, and Russell’s first, Mercedes overtook Aston Martin for second place in the constructors’ championship, while Ferrari stayed fourth.
“George did a really good job, so we delivered good points on a whole,” Hamilton said. “We’ve just got to try to keep this up. For us to be quicker than the Ferraris and the Astons was really mega.”
Hamilton was second after starting fifth on the grid at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit. Russell moved up from 12th to make it to the podium.
“This result highlights all the hard work and efforts that have gone on at the factory to bring these upgrades,” said Russell, who is fifth in the drivers’ standings, just behind Hamilton. “We had a strong race here last year, so the next couple of races will be key to see if we can consistently produce results like this and close the gap to Red Bull.”
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff celebrated the podium finish but noted the team had to remain “realistic.”
“We are a good team at grinding away,” he said. “Once there is a clear direction we just go for it. Let’s keep our expectations real though. We’ve got a long way to go to catch Red Bull but it’s good to see we are moving in the right direction.”
Aston Martin had one of its worst performances of the season, with Fernando Alonso – the veteran two-time champion who is third in the drivers’ standings – finishing in seventh place. Teammate Lance Stroll was sixth.
Ferrari also struggled and seemed to take a step back from previous races, with Carlos Sainz Jr. finishing fifth and teammate Charles Leclerc 11th, out of the points.
“I think we generally had better pace than them,” Hamilton said. “Collectively as a team, we generally did a better job, we made less mistakes, we delivered through the sessions.”
Mercedes’ next chance to show its improvements and confirm where it really stands will be at the Canadian GP in two weeks, where Hamilton – who hasn’t won a race since the Saudi Arabia GP in 2021 -- finished third last year behind Sainz Jr. and Verstappen.
“We are learning more and more about the car. I am hoping that the car continues to be like it was this weekend,” Hamilton said. “I am hoping from here onwards we are in a good place. For sure, there will be some circuits where the car isn’t quite in the right window but hopefully the next few races should suit us.”
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Detroit Grand Prix aims to make track improvements for 2nd year on downtown streeets
DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit Grand Prix's short, narrow and bumpy track took some shots a day before the race returned to streets downtown.
“We recovered any potential damage," race chairman Bud Denker said Sunday.
Alex Palou won the race with a dominant performance, leading 74 of 100 laps, a day after saying the 1.7-mile circuit was too tight and too short for IndyCar.
While the Spaniard did say the race went smoother than expected, he suggested it can be improved for 2024.
“Hopefully, we can we can tweak some stuff and make it even better,” Palou said.
Denker said that's the plan.
Changes will be made to the breaking zone at Turn 3, where drivers slowed from 180-plus mph for a hairpin, and in the area near Turn 8 before the split pit lane.
The track was eight-tenths of a mile longer when it was previously downtown in 1991, but Denver said lengthening the track isn't an option because of adjacent neighborhood, businesses and a tunnel that connects Detroit to Canada.
“We are where we are,” Denker said.
Open-wheel cars first ran in Detroit in 1982, when Formula One raced on the streets of downtown before the event moved to Phoenix in 1988. The now-defunct CART series ran at Belle Isle from 1992 to 2001.
The IndyCar started racing at Belle Isle in 2007 and left the island in the Detroit River after last year's race.
“When we moved, we said we can’t bring this back downtown and put up a giant fence,” said Michael Montri, president of the Detroit Grand Prix. “We wanted it to be inclusive.”
More than half of the race track was accessible without an admission charge and some had a view from boats and jet skis on the Detroit River that separates the U.S. from Canada.
Denker said about 20,000 fans paid to watch Sunday's race and an unknown number of people took advantage of access points that were free, including an area to celebrate the winner while a fireboat in the Detroit River sent streams of water in the air.
“Honestly, Detroit did a tremendous job,” Palou said. “The fans were amazing. I was mind-blowed by how many fans we had being a first-time event. Also the podium on Victory Lane was really fun.”
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Kyle Busch holds off Denny Hamlin for NASCAR Cup Series win outside St. Louis
MADISON, Ill. (AP) — Kyle Busch had been in and out of his car through a lengthy weather delay. He had idled on the track through two red flags. He had kept his poise through 11 cautions, including five down the stretch as he tried to protect his lead.
Must have seemed like Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Race at World Wide Technology Raceway would never end.
It finally did in the twilight, though, some six hours after the green flag initially dropped. Busch got a big push from Denny Hamlin on the last restart and then held him off in a green-white-checkered finish for his third victory of the year.
“That was pretty awesome, man, to sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps and have my guys do such a great job today. It was pretty phenomenal for us,” Busch said. “We're going to have a great time with this one. This one is pretty cool.”
Bubba Wallace brought out the 11th and final yellow when he was fighting for a top-10 finish and his brake rotor let go with five laps remaining, the last in a series of broken rotors that ended the race for at least three other drivers.
Busch, who had held off Kyle Larson on each previous restart, had one last phenomenal jump in him. He was well ahead of the rest of the field by the backstretch with just over a lap left and was never seriously challenged by Hamlin after he took the white flag, giving Richard Childress Racing another victory after triumphs at Talladega and Auto Club Speedway.
"Any time we give him a car capable of winning, he's going to win it,” Childress said. “Those last three or four or however many restarts, I thought that was pretty tough, but I knew he would do his job.”
The win was especially gratifying for Busch’s crew chief, Randall Burnett, who not only produced a car fast enough to win the pole in his hometown but also made all the right calls on Sunday. Burnett hails from nearby Fenton, Missouri, and had plenty of friends and family in a sellout crowd of about 60,000 on a brutally hot late spring day.
“It means a lot to me coming home," Burnett said.
Hamlin finished second while Joey Logano, the winner a year ago in the Cup Series debut at the track, got around Larson on the final lap for third. Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five ahead of Ryan Blaney, last week’s winner at Charlotte.
“Long day for sure,” Logano said after climbing out of his car. “There were four or five cars that were just better than us. We made some good adjustments at the end and we were in the hunt.”
It was a long day for Corey LaJoie, who filled in for Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports and spent most of the day near the back before finishing 21st. Elliott was suspended for the race for intentionally wrecking Hamlin last week.
It also was a long day for everyone on pit stands. There were some technical issues that not only prevented them from having communication with teams back at their shops, but also limited the amount of data that they were able to see.
“It was interesting for sure,” Truex said. “It was just an uphill climb."
The race went to caution on the second lap when Tyler Reddick spun on the back stretch. Moments later, the race was halted due to popup lightning in the area. While the delay lasted about two hours, rain never fell on the track.
Carson Hocevar made his Cup Series debut in place of LaJoie in the No. 7 for Spire Motorsports. But the car still carried LaJoie’s name, so the 20-year-old Hocevar walked through the fan area several hours before the green flag handing out drinks to make sure everyone knew he was in it. Hocevar was on the move Sunday when his brake rotor broke during Stage 2.
“I was running 16th and it was so surreal. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot,” Hocevar said. “Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”
The egg-shaped oval at World Wide Technology Raceway is particularly hard on brakes. Reddick was running seventh when his rotor exploded, putting him into the wall and out of the race. The same fate as Hocevar and Reddick hit Noah Gragson, who spun from the bottom of the track up into the wall and made hard contact with 42 laps to go.
CREW MEMBER HURT
Thomas Hatcher, who changes the right front tire for Erik Jones, was hurt when he got tangled with another crew member as the car slid into the stall during a pit stop. Hatcher was taken by ambulance to the hospital but was awake and alert.
The series heads next Sunday to the road course in Sonoma, California. Daniel Suárez became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race when he dominated the final stage to win the race a year ago.
Alex Palou wins Detroit Grand Prix in IndyCar's return to downtown track
DETROIT (AP) — Alex Palou went from critic to champion in a day.
He started and finished first in the Detroit Grand Prix on Sunday, roughly 24 hours after the IndyCar points leader said the street course was too tight and short for the series.
“It was a lot better than I expected," said Palou, who won his second race in less than a month and the sixth of his caeer.
The Spaniard, who won the Indianapolis Grand Prix, led 74 of 100 laps on Detroit's new street circuit and went ahead for the last time on lap 77. He stayed in front after Will Power made a move that didn't pan out as he made contact with Scott Dixon on lap 91.
“I couldn’t get him,” said Dixon, a Team Penske driver. “I tried everything. My one chance was when Dixon got into me.”
After a seventh yellow flag, Palou pulled away in his Honda with five laps left and beat Power's Chevrolet by 1.1843 seconds. Flex Rosenqvist finished third, followed by Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi.
Indianapolis 500 champion Josef Newgarden finished 10th in the 27-car field.
The race got off to a rough start.
It was waved off because there wasn't enough space between cars. When the race resumed on the second lap going into Turn 3, Callum Ilott damaged Kyle Kirkwood's wing by running into him in the middle of the pack.
Palou said his plan was to stay in front with clean air ahead of the chaos as much as possible.
It worked out well.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the race from the start until pitting on lap 29 and allowing Power to pull into the lead.
When Power pulled into the split pit five laps later, Pato O’Ward had a lead that didn't last long. Just after leaving a pit stop, his Honda stalled due to a mechanical issue and his Chip Ganassi Racing crew had to push him back to address the problem.
Trying to make up ground, O’Ward made an aggressive move to get inside Santino Ferrucci and ran into a barrier wall ending his day 41 laps into the 100-lap race.
Palou, meanwhile, was fast and steady enough to lead the race for most of the afternoon.
While he complained about the short, tight and bumpy circuit, fans seemed to enjoy the day above the fray and some watched for free. More than half of the race track was accessible without an admission charge and some had a view from boats and jet skis on the Detroit River that separates the U.S. from Canada.
The Detroit Grand Prix returned downtown for the first time since 1991, when it was held on a 2.5-mile course in the same area, after running up the river at Belle Isle.
“Detroit did a tremendous job,” Palou said. “The fans were amazing.”
Flavor Flav, a founding member of Public Enemy, was at the track during the weekend and Power's friends were impressed by his photos with the hip hop artist.
“It’s pretty cool to put on your personal Facebook,” Power said.
Palou has won two of the last three races and two straight poles.
“We'll try and keep the wave rolling if we can,” he said coming off the first IndyCar street course victory of his career. “It’s a great moment for us.”
Romain Grosjean, an Andretti Autosport driver, started third and finished 24th in Detroit and lamented a suspension failure in a Twitter post.
“Guess the track wasn’t made for our car,” he wrote in the post.
Grosjean finished 30th the previous week in Indianapolis.
Coming off the Indy 500 and Detroit Grand Prix in consecutive weeks, the series gives its drivers and teams a much-needed break before racing June 18 in Wisconsin at Road America.
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Alonso’s long wait for 33rd F1 win goes on after disappointing Spanish GP
MONTMELO, Spain (AP) — The prospect of Fernando Alonso ending a decade-long wait for his 33rd Formula One win in front of tens of thousands of fans at his home race proved too good to be true on Sunday.
Alonso turned in his worst performance of the season when the two-time former world champion finished the Spanish Grand Prix in seventh place, one spot behind Aston Martin teammate Lance Stroll.
Spanish fans had packed the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya hoping to witness their idol finally return to the top of the podium. The last time Alonso won, he did so right here on the same track back in 2013 with Ferrari when he claimed victory No. 32. He also won the Spanish GP in 2006 with Renault.
But the Spanish driver was unable to recover from a mistake in Saturday’s qualifying when he drove his car into the gravel and damaged its floor. He could do no better than an eighth-place start and only managed to move up one spot through 66 laps.
Alonso was passed by George Russell in his Mercedes and Sergio Pérez in his Red Bull, even if he did manage to keep well ahead of a struggling Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.
“We didn’t have the pace of other race days,” Alonso said. “In reality, it all started with qualifying on Saturday, which was our weak point. Mercedes has taken a step forward and was too much for us. But I am not worried, we will (try to) beat them in Canada.”
Fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz also had a bad day. He had started a season-best second after putting his Ferrari in good position in qualifying. But even though he had faster tires from the start than polesitter Max Verstappen, the defending champion fended off his challenge to the first turn. Once clear of Sainz, Verstappen never looked back and cruised to victory. Sainz finished fifth.
Alonso is third in the points standings at 71 points behind Verstappen and 18 points behind the other Red Bull driver, Sergio Pérez, in second.
Even though they rooted for Sainz, this was really about Alonso for the Spanish faithful. He was the driver who thrilled Spain by winning titles in 2005 and 2006 with Renault. That earned him a place in Spain’s sporting pantheon alongside Rafael Nadal, cycling great Miguel Induráin, and its top soccer players.
The track's stands and grassy areas were speckled with the emerald green shirts and caps of Alonso’s new Aston Martin team. Before the race a huge flag of Alonso was draped over a large part of one of the stands.
After a stint away from F1 and some middling cars with other teams, Alonso has finally found a car to match his talents at a revamped Aston Martin in what has been an impressive season so far.
The 41-year-old Alonso had tried before the race to be realistic about his chances, given the dominance of Red Bull and the field of competitive cars fighting to be second best. Even so, he admitted that he could only embrace the enthusiasm he has unleashed among followers who likely never thought they could see him win again. Expectations were even higher after Alonso took second last weekend at Monaco.
The only moment, however, for his fans to really relish was when Alonso swept past former Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon late in the race.
Alonso then waved to the fans as he drove down the final straight to the checkered flag.
His next attempt at win No. 33 will come in two weeks at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal.
Verstappen wins Spanish GP from pole for 40th career victory
MONTMELO, Spain (AP) — Max Verstappen had warned that his Red Bull team was good enough to win every single race of the Formula One season. On Sunday he took one more step toward that ambitious sweep by easing to victory at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The two-time defending champion started from pole position and never was challenged as he breezed to his fifth win of the year.
Verstappen beat Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari to the first corner and then eased his superior car around the 4.6-kilometer (2.8-mile) Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya to finish well ahead of Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
“It is a big pleasure to drive a car like this and it showed on a day like this,” Verstappen said. “Hopefully we can keep it up throughout the year."
But Verstappen warned against complacency.
“We just have to focus on ourselves and try to keep on improving our car," he said. "Of course right now it all looks great, but you can’t stand still in this world."
His dominant race performance came after he secured pole position with intimidating ease on Saturday. Verstappen set an untouchable top lap time and then watched the rest of the pack scramble for the other spots on the grid from his garage.
The Dutchman had said before practice for the Barcelona race that while the Red Bull cars were fast and reliable enough to win every single race, he figured that “We will always have tracks where it doesn’t work out exactly, bad luck in qualifying, mistakes, whatever.”
Nothing went wrong, at least not for Verstappen, this weekend.
As expected given the pace of the Red Bull, the 66-lap race was largely decided in the 595-meter run from the starting line to Turn One.
Sainz tried to get the jump on Verstappen from the off by starting on a faster, although less durable, tire than the polesitter. Sainz was side-by-side with Verstappen after the long opening straightway going into the first turn, but the Red Bull fended off the Ferrari to stay in front.
His 40th career win, including his third in Barcelona, leaves Verstappen one win behind the late Ayrton Senna’s total of 41. He also seems well on course to matching Senna’s three world titles. Verstappen set a Red Bull record with 39 wins last weekend at Monaco, breaking Sebastian Vettel’s record of 38.
Red Bull's other driver, Sergio Pérez, finished fourth after fighting his way up from 11th at the start. Pérez won the two races Verstappen didn't win this year.
Verstappen grew his lead over Pérez to 53 points after he also grabbed an extra point for the fastest lap.
After seeing off Sainz, the biggest challenge that Verstappen faced was staying within the track lines: he was warned three times by race officials that he had driven out of bounds.
Sainz had to settle for fifth after being passed by the Mercedes cars and Pérez’s Red Bull.
Home favorite Fernando Alonso disappointed the legion of Spanish fans by finishing a season-worst seventh place, right behind teammate Lance Stroll.
Esteban Ocon was eighth in an Alpine ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Pierre Gasly in the other Alpine to round out the top 10.
As Verstappen sailed off into the distance, the competitive racing came for the other podium spots and the points positions of the top 10.
Mercedes got the better of Ferrari and Aston Martin with its new upgrade in the battle for a likely second-place finish in the constructors championship.
Hamilton, a six-time winner in Spain, got past Sainz early on and never let go of the runner-up spot.
Russell, meanwhile, produced the most impressive driving of the day by overtaking car after car to make up for his 12th-place start.
Russell also provided some humor when at one point he told his team radio that he thought rain was falling, only to realize that it was sweat inside his helmet.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was 11th after starting the race from the pitlane following a change to the rear of his car after a disastrous qualifying session left him 19th.
The season now heads to Canada in two weeks.
Hamilton is fourth in the standings, behind Alonso in third.
“The Bulls are still a bit ahead but we will keep chasing them down,” said an exuberant Hamilton, who saw Verstappen snatch the world title from him in the final race of the 2021 season.
“I think they are still a bit too quick at the moment. If we can close on them by the end of the year then that will be great. If not, then next year.”
The race attracted several celebrities including pop star Shakira, Paris Saint-Germain forwards Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, and tennis player Daniil Medvedev.
Detroit Grand Prix's split pits adds intrigue to IndyCar race's return downtown
DETROIT (AP) — IndyCar is throwing two new wrinkles — and a lot of bumps — at its drivers in the Motor City.
The Detroit Grand Prix will make its debut on a 10-turn, 1.7 mile downtown street circuit Sunday. Just to add more intrigue for fans and complexities for teams, the course includes a split pit lane that will force drivers to find a way to peacefully merge back onto the track.
“We're going to find out if we can get along this weekend,” Indianapolis 500 champion and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden said.
The split pit will position 14 drivers on the left 13 on the right, experimenting with such a setup for the first time in series history.
“I think it’s innovation,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O'Ward said. “If it works out, we’re going to look like heroes. If it doesn’t, well, we tried.”
The Detroit Grand Prix is trying to make another run at hosting the event downtown — under IndyCar owner and Motor City advocate Roger Penske — after having races on a 2.5 mile course in the same area from 1989-91 before moving to Belle Isle.
Points-leader Alex Palou, who won the pole Saturday, is not keeping his criticism of the new circuit to himself. Palou wrote Detroit POV in a post on Twitter, showing a GIF of jeeps bouncing on an undulating road.
“It’s too tight for INDYCARs," said Palou, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing. “It’s too short for INDYCARs. There’s too much traffic. It’s too bumpy."
Scott McLaughlin, perhaps predictably because he drives for Team Penske, defended Detroit's new circuit.
“There’s been a lot of noise I’ve seen in Twitter from other drivers and stuff,” McLaughlin said. "At the end of the day this is a new track, new complex.
“Belle Isle was getting old. We had to do it.”
The new, shorter track includes a straightaway on Jefferson Avenue, in the shadow of General Motors world headquarters, that is seven-tenths of a mile long to potentially make passing more possible than it was on the narrow track at Belle Isle.
“It seems like this is wide open," Andretti Autosports driver Kyle Kirkwood said. “Once you’re doing 180, 190 down into there, it doesn’t feel as wide.”
Soon after finishing the straightaway, Turn 3 is a hairpin that might present problems.
“Everyone is going to be, I imagine, trying to get through there single file,” Kirkwood said. “That’s never really the case, right?”
After turning only left at the Indy 500, drivers will go right and left - sometimes at 90 degrees — on a surface that is a mix of asphalt and concrete.
Felix Rosenqvist expects traffic on the track to be the worst it has been this season and many drivers are expecting chaos.
“There’s no space," the Arrow McLaren driver said. “It’s 330 feet between each car is I think what we calculated. Under 2.2 seconds is the gap if all the cars were on track at once.”
Palou won the pole for the first time on a street course, turning a lap at 1 minute, 1.8592 seconds in one of four Hondas that are were among the top six in qualifying.
“Hopefully we can try and keep the first position, then try and be up front,” Palou said. “We know we have a lot of speed. If we have clean air, we’ll be able to have a good race.”
McLaughlin finished second in qualifying followed by Romain Grosjean of Andretti Autosport, six-time champion Scott Dixon from Chip Ganassi Racing, Newgarden and Ericsson.
Newgarden became the first IndyCar driver to win two races this season at the Indy 500. He passed defending race winner and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Ericsson during a controversial, one-lap shootout after there were three red flags in the final 16 laps. Palou, Ericsson, Kirkwood and McLaughlin each has won one race.
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Ryan Blaney joins pole sitter Kyle Busch on front row for NASCAR Cup Series race
MADISON, Ill. (AP) — Ryan Blaney isn't slowing down now that he's finally reached victory lane again.
After snapping his 59-race winless streak by holding off William Byron to win the rescheduled Coca-Cola 600 on Monday, Blaney put his No. 12 Ford on the front row to start the NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway.
He was less than a hundredth of a second behind pole sitter Kyle Busch in qualifying Saturday.
“It's been satisfying not having to answer, ‘When are you going to win again?’” admitted Blaney, whose victory gave team owner Roger Penske a Memorial Day weekend sweep following Josef Newgarden's victory in the Indianapolis 500.
“When they won," Blaney said, "it was like a big pressure on us — ‘We’ve got to get this done.' I didn't know a sweep had never been done before. It was cool to be a part of it, cool to be part of the job and completing the sweep. I was able to call (Penske) Monday night around midnight, they were on the plane headed back to Michigan after the Indy banquet, and they were really excited. They were at the banquet and had their phones under the table watching the end of the race.”
Blaney turned the fastest lap during first qualifying runs on a brutally hot Saturday morning just outside St. Louis. But he didn't quite replicate it in the pole shootout: Busch had a lap of 137.187 mph while Blaney had a lap of 137.153 mph.
Busch's pole came about 12 hours after his family's winning night at Doe Run Raceway. Busch won in an outlaw winged micro sprint car at the dirt track about an hour south in Missouri, while his son Brexton won in his junior sprint.
“Being able to get a pole here with Richard Childress Racing and Team Chevy and everybody with this No. 8 car is great for us, and we'll try to get some momentum rolling,” said Busch, who battled with winner Joey Logano in the Cup Series' debut at World Wide Technology Raceway a year ago. “Just excited to have the guys pumped up and raring to go.”
Denny Hamlin qualified third, Kevin Harvick was fourth and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five.
Hamlin said he was still feeling sore after his wreck Monday night by Chase Elliott, who was handed a one-race suspension by NASCAR for the intentional hooking maneuver. Hamlin said it was one of the hardest hits that any Joe Gibbs Racing driver has experienced in the Next Gen car, right along with his Dayton wreck last August.
“I told my team all this did was remind me, you know, that I'm not built for these types of impacts. Many of them in a row, that's for sure,” said Hamlin, who had a compression fracture in his back from a 2013 wreck and a history of chronic back pain. “It was certainly a tough week. I don't want to do many more of these, that's for sure.”
A sellout crowd of about 60,000 is expected Sunday for the second trip by NASCAR's top series to the St. Louis area. But with temperatures expected to hit the mid-90s by the afternoon start, it could be a grueling day for drivers and fans alike.
“It might be a little tough to pass,” Busch said. “I hope I'm wrong and it widens out and we can have a good show for these fans that are coming out to pack the house and sit in this heat.”
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Corey LaJoie gets long-awaited Hendrick Motorsports shot in NASCAR Cup Series
MADISON, Ill. (AP) — Corey LaJoie is finally getting a chance to drive for Hendrick Motorsports this week.
He wanted so badly to drive for the team a few years ago, that when it became common knowledge Jimmie Johnson was retiring as a full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver, LaJoie used his best cursive penmanship to write a letter to owner Rick Hendrick asking for the job.
It didn't work out then — Alex Bowman got the No. 48 car — but it may have laid the groundwork for this week.
When it appeared that Chase Elliott would be punished for his intentional wreck of Denny Hamlin at Charlotte, the team put LaJoie on standby. And when the one-race suspension was handed down, taking NASCAR's most popular driver out of the No. 9 car for Sunday's race at World Wide Technology Raceway, LaJoie finally got the call he'd long sought.
“I missed the call,” he said, by way of clarification. Turns out he fell asleep early. But at least Hendrick left a message.
“He was like, ‘Hey Corey, it’s Rick Hendrick here. Just wanted to thank you for filling in under these circumstances. I appreciate the help and I know you'll do a good job,'” LaJoie said Saturday. "I feel like it's a video game. You start your career mode on the bottom team, and you get called up to the next team and the next team, and then you get the call-up from Mr. Hendrick.
“That's how I felt,” LaJoie said. “I was laying in bed and I told my wife, ‘My life is like a video game right now.’”
Elliott, who popped into the St. Louis area for some fan events this week, denied deliberately hooking the rear of Hamlin's car during the rain-rescheduled Charlotte race on Monday. Hamlin countered by posting a stream of data on social media backing up his claims, then pointed out that Bubba Wallace — who drives the car Hamlin owns with 23XI Racing — was suspended last year for deliberately hooking Kyle Larson during a race in Las Vegas.
“You never want to see Chase out of a car by any means,” Bowman said, “but I understand why NASCAR has got to be consistent with things, and then also excited to see how Corey does. It's a big opportunity for him.”
LoJoie was hired by Spire Motorsports — which will have Carson Hocevar in its No. 7 on Sunday — when he didn't get the No. 48 ride a couple of years ago. The team has steadily improved thanks in part to a working relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, and LaJoie was fourth earlier this year in Phoenix and has two other top-15 runs.
He knows expectations are greater with Hendrick, though, where his father Randy made nine starts some 25 years ago.
That was evident in a talk he had with Spire owner Jeff Dickerson.
“Jeff called and was like, ‘Hey, it’s happening,'" LaJoie said. “There was a lot of self-doubt that crept in that night, like, ‘Can you do it?’ Put up or shut up.' You're wrestling around, wrestling these emotions of like, scared and nervous. And Wednesday morning you wake up, you walk into the shop and the first five minutes, you notice like, the collective focus of that group. Their goal is to win races and championships. You walk through the lobby, you know why they are so successful.
“I texted Dickerson and said, ‘I can’t believe Spire and Hendrick race in the same series. We're closer to a good truck team,'” LaJoie added. “It's definitely a cool opportunity to this week be one of the goliaths sitting in one.”
Hamlin said he's been in contact with Elliott this week but wanted to keep the conversation private. But like most drivers at the speedway Saturday, he believed that NASCAR made an appropriate decision to sideline Elliott this week.
“I think they kind of put their line in the sand of what they deem acceptable and what they don't,” said Hamlin, who was still a bit sore from the head-on wreck. “All drivers probably recognize now, you know, what you can do and what you can't do.”
Stewart-Haas Racing was penalized 120 points in owner standings and Chase Briscoe's driver standings while getting stripped of 25 playoff points after NASCAR found a counterfeit part on the No. 14 car during a spot check from Charlotte. Crew chief John Klausmeier also was suspended six races and fined $250,000.
The penalties, the harshest NASCAR imposes under its deterrence system, came after the team had used an illegal part to create more downforce on Briscoe's car. That particular part must be from a single-source vendor for the Next Gen car.
“We're all a team, right? I mean, my name is on the penalty but we're all a team," Briscoe said. “I make mistakes every single weekend in the car, literally multiple times. So you know, mistakes happen. I mean, I got their back.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Kyle Larson is the 9/2 favorite to win, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, after a busy week in the St. Louis area. He won a sprint car race in his High Limit series Wednesday at Tri-Cities Speedway before crashing out of a World of Outlaws late model race on Friday night. ... William Byron is the second betting favorite at 13/2 and Charlotte winner Ryan Blaney is the 17/2 third choice.
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F1 drivers split over possibility that Madrid could grab Spanish GP from Barcelona
MONTMELO, Spain (AP) — The Spanish Grand Prix has been held near Barcelona for more than three decades. Now city rival Madrid wants to snatch the event from its longstanding rival, sparking mixed reactions from F1 drivers.
Barcelona's contract with Formula One runs out after the 2026 race, and the possibility that Madrid could host the prestigious race has divided opinion this weekend at Montmelo, where the Grand Prix has been run since 1991.
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of the city, is well known to drivers thanks to all the races as well as the preseason testing that until this year was conducted here in the winter.
Lewis Hamilton opposes any move. He has won the race a record six times and called it a “classic” circuit.
“I don’t think I would want to lose Barcelona,” the Mercedes driver said. “I do think it’s really important we keep some of the classic circuits, at least the ones that provide great racing. Budapest is spectacular. Silverstone is spectacular. This track (in Montmelo).”
Beyond the always intense rivalry between soccer clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona, the two cities also have long competed to attract industry.
Madrid regional chief Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a conservative who has criticized the separatist leaders of Catalonia, said last month while successfully running for re-election that she was “convinced” that her city could persuade F1 to change host cities.
“I am convinced, but we are still negotiating and must wait. In any case, I am extremely positive,” she told online newspaper Voxpopuli.
Madrid hosted the Spanish GP at the nearby Jarama circuit off and on from the late 1960s to early 1980s.
Now Ayuso is offering F1 an urban circuit in downtown Madrid.
In recent years F1 has trended toward urban and temporary circuits, which offer spectators the services and attractions of a city and are not difficult to get to.
Catalan authorities said this weekend that they are committed to keeping the event. The track is run by a public company with 80% owned by Catalonia’s regional government.
“This circuit has a present and a future,” said Roger Torrent, the head of business policy for the Catalan regional government. “I am convinced that we will have Formula One for many years to come.”
Spain had a second race at Valencia from 2008-2012, but it is not clear that F1 would want two races in the country now.
For drivers, the choice is more one of what kind of track they prefer.
While Hamilton likes the permanent Barcelona track, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who grew up in Monaco with its famous street circuit, said he would be fine with the swap.
“(Barcelona) is a track that we all know so well as drivers, so it would be strange to not come here,” Leclerc said. “But me personally, I love street tracks. I think just the feeling that you get from it is very, very special. So Madrid would be really nice too.”
Fernando Alonso, the home favorite, said that he wants permanent racing tracks to be the norm, not the exception.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the region if they are happy to host the race or not,” he said. “So if they don’t want the race, it is very easy then, because some other region will love to have it.”
The Montmelo circuit is expected to see some 120,000 fans turn out for Sunday’s race in a repeat of sellout crowds from last season.
But last year’s race weekend was also hit by big problems for fans getting to and from the circuit. That drew a rebuke from F1, which called the situation “not acceptable.”
This year, transport officials have scheduled more trains to ensure those extremely long lines are not seen again.
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