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[SPORTS] Kyle Busch rolls to Bristol victory, caps tripleheader sweep

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – In a race fraught with tension, and with a pack of drivers with desperate agendas chasing him to the finish line, Kyle Busch held off Erik Jones to complete a sweep of all three NASCAR touring series with Saturday night’s keystone victory in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series main event at the .533-mile concrete track, Busch capped a long weekend that saw him win Wednesday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event and Friday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race.

Having accomplished the same feat at Bristol in 2010, Busch was the only driver in NASCAR history to achieve the three-series sweep in the same week at the same track. Now he’s the only driver to have done it twice.

Dicing through traffic on the final 79-lap green-flag run, Busch crossed the finish line 1.422 seconds ahead of Jones, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, who will join the race winner as a teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing next year.

“Man, Erik Jones put up a whale of a fight,” said Busch, who won for the second time this season, the sixth time at Bristol (most among active drivers) and the 40th time in his career. “That’s all I had. I was running with my tongue hanging out. My arms were Jello and my throat hurts, but man that’s awesome.

“Can’t say enough about everybody on my Joe Gibbs Racing team. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and the guys are phenomenal. Car might not have been perfect, but I’m never perfect. I never feel like we’re perfect, but this Caramel Camry was fast. So proud of these guys, so proud of my team, so proud of Joe Gibbs Racing. So proud of Rowdy Nation, this one’s for you.”

One bobble by Busch in the closing laps, however, and Jones could have usurped a playoff spot and made the lives of playoff hopefuls Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer much more stressful.

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Kurt Busch has appeal denied

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kurt Busch, whom a Kent County (Del.) Family Court commissioner determined had committed an act of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend, remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR after losing his initial appeal to the sanctioning body Saturday afternoon.

Busch has one last-ditch appeal with NASCAR available, and NASCAR Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss would hear the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s case Saturday night, NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said.”We are very disappointed that our appeal was rejected by NASCAR’s appeal panel,” Busch attorney Rusty Hardin said in a statement. “We are re-appealing immediately, per the proscribed process. We have significant and strong evidence that contradicts the commissioner’s conclusions.

“In the end we are confident that Kurt will be vindicated and he will be back racing. Until then we will continue to fight on his behalf by ensuring that the entire truth is known.”

A three-member panel of former NASCAR executive Paul Brooks, former race-car driver Lyn St. James and Greenville Pickens (S.C.) Speedway track owner Kevin Whitaker voted Saturday afternoon to deny Busch’s initial appeal as the 2004 Sprint Cup champion desperately attempts to become eligible for the sport’s biggest race.

Even if Busch had won the appeal, it was far from a guarantee he would race Sunday in the Daytona 500. SHR executive vice president Brett Frood said Saturday morning that no final decision had been made on whether Busch would race if the appeal was granted and Chevrolet, a major SHR sponsor, has suspended its personal services relationship with Busch.

Frood said SHR plans for Regan Smith to replace Busch as the driver of the No. 41 car for the Daytona 500. Smith, who practiced the car Saturday, will have to give up the 24th starting spot and start at the rear of the field as Busch’s replacement.

SHR was not involved in Busch’s appeal because the discipline was issued specifically to Busch for a non-racing violation of NASCAR rules. No attorneys were allowed in the closed-door hearing room in NASCAR’s headquarters at its International Motorsports Center, where both NASCAR and Busch delivered their points of view, could call witnesses and had the opportunity for rebuttal.

Busch left the headquarters before the decision was announced and quickly walked to a car waiting for him. NASCAR rules prohibited him from commenting before NASCAR made the decision public.

NASCAR suspended Busch after a Kent County (Del.) Family Court commissioner issued findings and opinions Friday for a protective order he granted Monday to Busch’s ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. In the opinion, Commissioner David Jones found that the preponderance of the evidence from testimony in December and January showed that Busch strangled Driscoll with his left hand and with his right hand on her chin and face, caused her head to forcefully hit his motorhome wall Sept. 26 at Dover International Speedway.

The NASCAR appeals panel rarely overturns behavioral penalties because of NASCAR’s broad behavior rule: “NASCAR membership is a privilege. With that privilege comes certain benefits, responsibilities and obligations. Correct and proper conduct, both on and off the race track, is part of a Member’s responsibilities.”

NASCAR has no specific penalty for behavioral infractions, which is different than its six-level scale it uses to determine penalties for technical violations.

“Behavioral infractions differ from technical infractions in that each is handled on a case-by-case basis, viewed in context, with an understanding of the prominence of the sport, the large fan following that the sport has garnered, the large corporate and sponsor support that the sport attracts, and also with an understanding of the passions that the sport can evoke, as well as, the competitive nature of most NASCAR members,” the rule book states.

The final appeal is different than the initial one because now Busch has the burden proof rather than NASCAR.

Busch must show that he did not violate a rule, that the penalty is not within the scope of NASCAR guidelines and/or he was denied his rights during the initial appeal. Moss, the former president of Gulfstream, can ask questions and call any witnesses he wants.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France also can step in at any time and lift the suspension.

Missing the Daytona 500 also could keep Busch from the Chase for the Sprint Cup no matter what happens after this weekend because of a rule that requires drivers to race every event unless. NASCAR has not decided yet whether to grant him an exemption from starting the race even though he has qualified the car.

France vowed in November that NASCAR would join other sports leagues in how it deals with allegations of domestic abuse and would be more aggressive than it had in the past. In January 2014, Travis Kvapil pleaded guilty as part of an agreement that would wipe his record clean after the successful completion of two years probations. NASCAR did not discipline Kvapil.

NASCAR opted to discipline Busch after the detailed opinion was released Friday and not wait to see if the Delaware attorney general will charge Busch with a crime. Prosecutors would face a higher burden of proof — beyond a reasonable doubt — than what was needed for the protective order, which is a preponderance of the evidence.

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Kurt Busch wins, irks Keselowski

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— Kurt Busch’s Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, in some ways, was like his career wrapped into one afternoon.It started with a pit road confrontation with Brad Keselowski, one that had Busch threatening over his radio to rearrange Keselowski’s face when the race was finished, and ended with Busch ending an 83-race victory drought.

The victory was his first for Stewart-Haas Racing, in just their sixth race together, suggesting that it could prove a very productive partnership, and one that a reflective Busch said he has learned to approach with a more mature attitude.

“I ran a lot of my early part of my career as an individual and I didn’t respect my team, my team owners,” Busch said, adding that having Tony Stewart as a team owner has helped him learn the value of better team communication.

Celebrating in Victory Lane also was emotional, too, because he got to do it for the first time with girlfriend Patricia’s son, Houston.

“It was pretty emotional. To see him starry eyed and not knowing what he needed to do and I was directing him where he needed to stand and where he could see it all better and put him up on stage,” Busch said, his voice cracking. “And to have him break down in tears, it got me crossed up because I’ve been trying to deliver for him. … It kind of took it to a new level.”Busch did it by passing Martinsville master Jimmie Johnson for the lead with 10 laps to go and holding off the eight-time winner to win at the track for the first time since October 2002. It was his 25th career Cup-level victory, and that it came in the most unlikely of places suggested to Busch that he’s finally in the right place, team-wise and personally.

“You’ve got to put life in perspective, and you have to learn from your mistakes and you can’t just sit there and try to muscle your way individually through certain situations,” he said. “And so you rely on your experience level, you rely on your team, and this is a great day for me to be able to lift the trophy in Victory Lane for Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Johnson, with eight wins in 25 career starts on the 0.526-mile oval, led 11 times for 296 laps. He seemed on his way to another victory when he took the lead from Busch with 17 laps remaining. But Busch stayed close, ducked underneath Johnson seven laps later and Johnson had nothing left to make a run at the lead, making for a polite-looking finish.

“That’s all I had,” Johnson said. “Man, I ran the rear tires off the car. I flipped every switch and knob I could in there to get front brake and turns fans off and try to help bring my balance back.”

Just ahead, Busch wasn’t sure he could hang on. He hadn’t finished in the top 10 in his last 16 starts here.

“I didn’t know if we’d be able to do it, you know? The 48 car is king here, him or the 24,” he said in Victory Lane, referring to Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, who also has eight Martinsville victories.”I’ve been on this journey for a while and every time you come to Martinsville, you just kind of draw a line through it like there’s no way I’ll be able to challenge those Hendrick guys or be up in the top 10,” Busch said.

When it was over, Busch brushed aside talk about his in-race comments about his feud with Keselowski, who claimed that Busch “just drove right through me and ruined my day” on pit road, causing Keselowski to lose 30 laps and retaliate.

“He tried to flatten all four of my tires,” Busch said of his former teammate with Roger Penske Racing. “That’s a no fly zone. … He will get what he gets back when I decide to give it back.”

The race featured an event-record 33 lead changes, and Johnson expected there would be one more, but on a slippery day on the smallest circuit in NASCAR’s premier series, the cars at the end weren’t conducive to typical short-track racing.

“Man, we were so on edge slipping and sliding,” Johnson said about the final laps duel, during which there was very little of the beating and banging that usually typifies end-of-the-day racing at Martinsville. “I think the lack of security in our own car kept us from feeling more racy and putting a bumper to someone or really getting inside someone aggressively.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, followed by Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose.

Virginia native Denny Hamlin, a four-time winner at Martinsville stung by criticism when he missed last week’s race in Fontana, Calif., because of an eye infection, promised Friday that he would win, and qualified second, but finished 19th.

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Danica: Negative spawns positive

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Danica Patrick has brushed off Hall of Famer Richard Petty’s criticism.

Speaking at Daytona 500 media day Thursday, Patrick said the seven-time series champion is entitled to his opinion, adding that good things could come from it.”As I said the last time somebody said something that was not so positive for me, it spawns so many positive articles,” Patrick said. “I love the conversation that it creates in sport, and across the board it makes sports interesting. It makes life interesting when people have different perspectives, and that’s fine with me.”

Petty said last week that Patrick can win a Sprint Cup race only “if everybody else stayed home.”

Petty, speaking at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto, also said Patrick gets attention because she’s a woman, but he added that the publicity is good for NASCAR.

“If she’d have been a male, nobody would ever know if she’d showed up at a racetrack,” Petty said. “This is a female deal that’s driving her. There’s nothing wrong with that, because that’s good PR for me. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport.”

Patrick is at Daytona International Speedway this week to begin her second full season at NASCAR’s top level. A year ago, she became the first woman to win the top starting spot for the Daytona 500 and finished eighth.

It was Patrick’s best result during a rough rookie year in which she averaged a 26th-place finish. Patrick was 27th in the final Sprint Cup standings.

Still, she refused to fire back at the former driver known as The King.

“It has nothing to do with where it comes from,” Patrick said. “The people that matter the most to me are my team, my sponsors and those little 3-year-old kids that run up to you and want a great big hug and say they want to grow up to be like you. That’s the stuff I really focus on.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., long NASCAR’s most popular driver, said Petty was a “little rough” on Patrick.

“Danica deals with more criticism than anybody else has ever faced in the sport,” Earnhardt said. “She goes by a different set of rules because of her gender, and that’s unfortunate. It seems like she’s always having to answer to something like that, and that’s a pain in her butt.

“And frankly it’s just got to get old.”

Patrick said in an interview with ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Thursday that she had no plans to seek out Petty to talk with him about his comments.

“I won’t seek him out for any reason,” she said. “Never have in any situations in the past where somebody has said something about me.”

Patrick also knows contending for wins at Stewart-Haas Racing can silence the doubters who believe she’ll never be a factor in NASCAR.

“There’s a lot I have to learn, and I know that,” she said.

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Matt Kenseth hangs on for Bristol win

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– Kasey Kahne was fed up with all of Joe Gibbs Racing by the time contact with Matt Kenseth ended his race at Watkins Glen earlier this month.

It was the fourth time a JGR driver had wrecked Kahne, and he took to Twitter to voice his But when Kahne had his chance Saturday night to right all of those wrongs, he passed on retaliation.

A clean racer to his core, he trailed Kenseth for a dozen laps around Bristol Motor Speedway, trying every which way possible to pass him without wrecking him and failing miserably. Kenseth ended up with his Sprint Cup-leading fifth win of the season, and Kahne settled for a disappointing second.

“I don’t know,” sighed Kahne, winner of the spring race at Bristol. “I just … I think at the end of the day, I just don’t wreck people. I just didn’t get it done and I’m upset with myself for not figuring out how to win.”

It’s the third time this season Kahne has finished second behind Kenseth, who wrapped up at least a wild-card berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.”Kasey’s as good as they get and he’s a clean driver,” Kenseth said. “He raced as hard as he could, we ran out of room off (turn) four, we were both digging as hard as we could to try to get it. Kasey’s just an unbelievable talent, he wanted it bad. We raced as hard as we could race and used every inch of race track.”

Kahne, meanwhile, is still hoping just to make it into the Chase. With two wins on the year he’s in pretty good shape, but he’s only eighth in the standings with two races remaining to set the 12-driver field.

“I needed a win bad, but I also needed a finish,” Kahne said. “I just basically ran as hard as I could, tried to pass him two different times and ran on his bumper and hoped he’d screw up, and he really never did.”

After Kahne passed Juan Pablo Montoya for second, he set his sights on Kenseth and tried numerous times over the final dozen laps — “It felt like 112,” Kenseth said — to make the pass, but never could make it stick. He went for the bump and run on the last lap and missed, and had to settle for second.

“I had a better car. I just couldn’t clear him,” Kahne said. “There was a couple shots I took, and I had to have been close, but I could feel him on the right side of my car, and I just didn’t clear him. I didn’t figure out how to get by. It’s disappointing not to win here. I thought we had the best car the last 200 laps, and it was a lot of work.”

Montoya, who learned two weeks ago he won’t be brought back to Chip Ganassi Racing next season, was third. Although he could use a win, especially on an oval to prove he belongs in NASCAR, he said he was pleased with the result — especially since he came back from an early speeding penalty.

“To be honest with you, where we are with the team and the result, it’s pretty good,” he said. “I’m still running until the end of the year with (sponsor) Target, and I want to make sure I can do the best for them.”Brian Vickers was fourth, followed by Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Jeff Gordon. Marcos Ambrose was eighth and Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 10.

With two races remaining, at Atlanta and Richmond, to set the Chase field, only points leader Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Kenseth have locked up berths. The rest of the top 10 in points are Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Earnhardt, Kahne, Biffle and Logano.

Defending series champion Brad Keselowski is 11th, four points out of 10th and not in Chase contention because he’s winless so far on the season. Keselowski admitted he’s not breathing easy the next two weeks.

“If you’re not in right now, I don’t care if you’re running eighth or you’re running 13th, every team is worried and concerned — not just mine,” he said. “I’m not going to be out of the worried zone unless I make it or it’s over. That’s my job as a race car driver. I care about my team. We’ve got two races left. I think they’ll be good race tracks for us.”

The two drivers currently in position for the wild-card berths are Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr., who maintained his position despite finishing 35th when he was collected in an accident that began on a restart when pole-sitter Denny Hamlin had his tire cut by contact with Vickers. Also caught in the accident was Harvick, who drove his battered car into Hamlin’s pit, and Hamlin responded by intentionally shoving it out of the way.

An animated Harvick had to talk his way past a NASCAR official to get to Hamlin’s car window, where the two quickly came to a resolution.”He was under the impression that I caused it. He didn’t see the replay,” Hamlin said. “I talked to him. Luckily, we were able to talk right away and hash it out.”

It was a long and disappointing night for Kurt Busch, who started second in his effort to make the Chase for single-car team Furniture Row Racing. But a vibration dropped him from first to fifth, then sent him to pit road for a repair. He was then flagged for speeding, the pit stop was slow, and by the time he served his penalty for speeding he had dropped three laps to 39th place.

Then he made contact with Josh Wise to cause damage to his car, sending him back to pit road. The original vibration wasn’t fixed, and Busch had to go behind the wall for a lengthy repair. He wound up 31st and dropped three spots in the standings to 12th.

“When you are 20 laps down there is nothing you can do,” he said. “We are not out. My thoughts all through the race were we just have to go to Atlanta and Richmond and win them both. We have two races to go and I heard we are only five points out of 10th.”

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Tony Stewart wins at Monster Mile

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DOVER, Del. — With one big move, Tony Stewart put Juan Pablo Montoya and a sluggish season well behind him.

After a mundane start, Stewart is back in Victory Lane — and in the thick of Chase contention.
Stewart’s outside pass on Montoya with three laps left was enough to win Sunday at Dover International Speedway and snap a 30-race winless streak.

“Our guys at our shop have been digging,” Stewart said. “None of these guys get down. We have been down, but they haven’t gotten down. That is what carries you to days like today at the end of the day.”

Stewart was stuck in 20th in the standings and didn’t even have a top-finish before he rallied in Dover. Stewart hadn’t won on the concrete mile track since he swept both Cup races in 2000.

The No. 14 team erupted in celebration in the pits after winning for the first time since last July in Daytona.

It was a long time coming for the two-time Cup champ.

“It’s been such a tough year,” Stewart said.

It got a little easier Sunday. Stewart stoutly defended crew chief Steve Addington’s performance this year and thanked Hendrick Motorsports for supplying engines to his Stewart-Haas Racing team.

He also knows their work is far from finished.

“We realize this could put the 14 team in contention to make the Chase,” he said. “That’s not good enough.”

Meaning, he wants to not only make the 12-driver field, but know he’s a top contender to win another championship. His 48th career win pushed him to 16th in the points standings and aided his cause for a wild-card spot. The two drivers in the 11th to 20th spot in the standings with the most wins earn a slot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Stewart is the only driver in those spots with a win.

“It’s been very hard when you have the start of the season that we had,” Stewart said. “You start questioning, you start doubting, you start looking for answers that you don’t have the knowledge to diagnose. That makes you feel very helpless at times.”

Seven-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson appeared to have the car to beat, but jumped a restart and had to serve a pass-through penalty. Johnson argued over the radio and stayed on the track before he finally hit pit road.

With Johnson out of the picture, Montoya and Stewart battled for the lead the rest of the race.

Jeff Gordon was third, followed by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. NASCAR said Keselowski, the reigning series champion, failed post-race inspection because the entire front of his No. 2 Ford was too low. This was crew chief Paul Wolfe’s first race back after a two-race suspension for unapproved parts.
Stewart tested at Dover and hoped that would help at a track that’s given him fits the last few years. He hadn’t finished better than 20th in his last four races at Dover.

He might not have gotten this win had Johnson not been penalized with about 19 laps left. Johnson jumped ahead of Montoya out of the restart box and NASCAR quickly threw the black flag.

“We certainly had the winning car,” Johnson said. “We’ll have to come back and do it in the fall.”

Montoya’s only two career Cup victories came on road courses. He tried to play the spoiler after Johnson’s penalty but just didn’t have enough to hold off a hard-charging Stewart.

“The car was a little bit too much of a handful at the end,” Montoya said. “We tried. I think it was too hot on the tires the run before and our left tires were completely gone.”

Johnson, who kept the points lead, finished 17th.

“He just wanted to get the jump on me,” Montoya said. “He just jumped it too much. I would have tried to do the same.”

Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., both in the top 10 in points entering the race, made early exits because of engine issues.

Pole sitter Denny Hamlin finished 34th after he hit the wall late in the race. Hamlin needed a big points day to try and crack the top 20 if he has any hope at a Chase for the Sprint Cup championship wild-card berth. Hamlin is 26th in the standings, 122 points out of 10th and 74 points out of 20th.

Few drivers run as well deep into the season as Stewart. It might be time again for him to get rolling.

“It’s not a fix-all for what we’ve got going on,” Addington said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

Stewart-Haas Racing appeared to turn a corner last week at Charlotte after Ryan Newman finished sixth and Stewart was seventh.

Stewart said one strong weekend wasn’t going to cure all of SHR’s problems.

Make it two and with a big win in hand.

“We got two weeks of momentum under our belt now at two totally different race tracks,” Stewart said. “That is big. Momentum is huge in this sport. We still got a lot of work to do. We won’t sit.”

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Tony Kanaan wins first Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS — The hard-luck loser no more, Tony Kanaan finally won the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday — with a bit of luck, at that.

In the mix all day during a record 68 lead changes, the popular Brazilian dipped inside defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay on a restart with three laps to go and cruised from there under the yellow caution flag.

He flipped up his visor to wipe tears from his eyes as the crowd roared, and then poured the celebratory winner’s milk over his head in Victory Lane.
“I have to say, the last lap was the longest lap of my life,” Kanaan said. “I got a little bit of luck today. I was looking at the stands, and it was unbelievable. I’m speechless. This is it, man. I made it.

“It means a lot to because so many people, I could feel that they wanted me to win, and it’s such a selfish thing to do because what are they getting from it? I’m the one who gets the trophy. And if you can bring some joy to them and I think the best thing was trying to put an exciting race for them. And I said it before the race, I believed that this win was more for people out there than for me.”

Kanaan had his fair share of chances to win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but came up short time and time again. He was leading when the rain came in 2007, only to lose to Dario Franchitti when the race resumed.

In all, Kanaan went into Sunday’s race with 221 laps led at Indy — more than any non-winner except Michael Andretti and Rex Mays — but his second-place finish to Buddy Rice in 2004 was the closest he had come to victory. He had a pair of third-place finishes, including last year, again to Franchitti.

“I wanted it all my life, but over the years I was kind of OK with the fact that I may never have the chance to win,” Kanaan said. “We can disprove the theory that nice guys don’t win. We proved that wrong.”

This time, it was Franchitti whose crash brought out the final caution to seal Kanaan’s victory.

“It’s wonderful for him,” said Mario Andretti, himself a victim of bad luck at Indy. “He’s raced here long enough that he deserves it, no question.”

The win for Kanaan and car owner Jimmy Vasser was celebrated throughout the paddock. Alex Zanardi, who came from Italy to watch the race and gave Kanaan one of his 2012 London Paralympics medals as good luck, wept behind the pit wall as Kanaan took the checkered flag.

“I tell you I’m starting to think (the medal) really works,” said Zanardi, who lost his legs in a 2001 crash in Germany. “It’s a dream come true to see Tony win, to see Jimmy Vasser win, my dear friend. I’m so happy, I’m so happy.”

It was Vasser who brought Zanardi’s medal to Kanaan before the race, telling his driver that Zanardi wanted him to rub it for good luck.

“I cuddled with it,” Kanaan later admitted.

Fellow Brazilian Helio Castroneves, shooting for a record-tying fourth Indy win, was happy for his long-time friend.

“Finally he’s able to win this race. He’s so close so many times, but the good news is the good old boys are still able to run fast,” Castroneves said.

Carlos Munoz, a 21-year-old rookie making his first IndyCar start, finished second and Hunter-Reay was third.

“T.K. is such a fan favorite, absolutely, it’s great to see him win it. If anybody is going to win it in the field, he’s one of the few I’d like to see other than myself,” Hunter-Reay said. “We were leading on that last restart, I knew I was a sitting duck, and I wasn’t too bummed about it because I knew we had enough laps to get it going again and have a pass back. Maybe I would be third on the last lap, which is where I wanted to be.”
Only there wasn’t a last lap as Franchitti brought out the caution seconds after the race went green.

“I went into the first corner on the last restart and it just didn’t turn and then hit. The big, old hit,” said Franchitti. “When I saw who was leading, it cheered me up a little bit. He’s a very, very deserving winner.”

The leaders came to the finish line all bunched up around Kanaan, saluting the longtime IndyCar stalwart who had longed to add the final missing piece to his resume. That was about as slow as anyone had driven all day. The average speed was 187.433 mph, another Indy record.

Marco Andretti finished fourth, failing to win for the eighth time, and Justin Wilson was fifth in the highest-finishing Honda on a day that was dominated by Chevrolet. Castroneves was sixth. Pole-sitter Ed Carpenter led a race-high 37 laps and finished 10th.

For a time, it appeared the win would go to AJ Allmendinger, who led 23 laps in his Indy 500 debut for Roger Penske.

Fired by Penske from his NASCAR ride last year after failing a NASCAR drug test, Penske gave him a second chance with this IndyCar opportunity. Seven years after leaving open-wheel racing, Allmendinger finally ran “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and was leading when his seat belt came undone, forcing him to pit.

It put Allmendinger off the pit cycle, and he was forced to stop for gas twice far in advance of the rest of the field. It meant Allmendinger had to drive his way back to the front each time, and he finally sputtered out at seventh.

“Once I figured it out, it was phenomenal. I could drive by guys at will when I wanted to,” Allmendinger said. “I felt like we were up front running our own race, and, I don’t know, belts come undone. It just popped.

“I’ll be honest, pretty special moment to be leading at Indy,” he said. “My body kind of went numb, my mind was racing and I could feel my heart beating really fast, and that’s a special moment I’ll never forget.”

A year after 34 lead changes and a frantic finish created what many considered the best Indy ever, IndyCar had its hands full trying to top itself.

This one might have done it, with the slicing and dicing at the front, over and over and over again. There were a record 68 lead changes by 14 drivers, and 28 of the 33 cars were running at the end. With 100 miles to go, 25 drivers were on the lead lap.

“It was a hell of a race. That’s all I can say,” said Mario Andretti. “This is riveting competition, that’s all I can tell you. It’s just amazing. The reliability of the cars is there. The product is there. It’s unbelievable racing, the best I’ve seen in years.”

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Ex-driver Dick Trickle dead at 71

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CONCORD, N.C. — Retired stock-car driver Dick Trickle, known for his colorful name and short-track prowess, died on Thursday from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 71.

According to the Lincoln County, N.C., sheriff’s department, the incident occurred at 12:02 p.m. ET at Forest Lawn Cemetery off Highway 150 in Boger City.

The Lincoln County Communications Center received a call, apparently from Trickle, that “there would be a dead body and it would be his.” Center workers tried to place a return call to the number but did not get an answer.

Emergency units found Trickle’s body lying near his pickup truck when they arrived.

Lt. Tim Johnson, who heads the Lincoln County detective department, said that at the family’s request, no additional information would be released at this time.

Johnson said there would be an investigation, which is standard in cases such as these.

“He called in,” Johnson said. “It’s not the first time we’ve had these. It’s always a sad situation … even sadder for the family.”

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Dick Trickle on his passing today,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a statement. “Dick was a legend in the short-track racing community, particularly in his home state of Wisconsin, and he was a true fan favorite. Personalities like Dick Trickle helped shape our sport. He will be missed.”

Trickle, a native of Wisconsin, has been a resident of Lincoln County since the early 1990s. His only victory in NASCAR’s premier series was a non-points victory in the 1990 Winston Open, the preliminary to the All-Star race.

Trickle has been billed as the winningest short-track driver in the history of stock-car racing, recording about 1,000 victories in feature races, including 67 in 1972.

He was the rookie of the year in NASCAR’s premier series in 1989 with six top-five finishes and nine top 10s.

Much of Trickle’s short-track success came in Wisconsin, where he was nicknamed the “White Knight” because of his SuperAmerica paint scheme.
Reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski said Trickle was “the guy” when it came to Midwest short track racing.

“He meant a lot to the local short track racers,” Keselowski said after unveiling his Miller Lite fan mosaic paint scheme for Saturday’s All-Star race. “Kind of more the Midwest style of racing, which was track by track when NASCAR was more of a regional Southern sport before it had developed to the national platform it is now. He was the superstar of that style.

“It is very sad to see him go, and obviously difficult with the way it went.”

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Penske crew suspensions reduced

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CONCORD, N.C. — Penske Racing won a partial victory Tuesday in its final appeal to have penalties against the Sprint Cup teams of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano overturned or reduced.

NASCAR chief appellate officer John Middlebrook upheld all the fines and point penalties, but he reduced the suspensions of seven crew members from six races to two races. The crew members still will be suspended for the May 18 All-Star Race.

A week ago, the National Stock Car Racing panel unanimously upheld NASCAR’s penalties, sending the final decision to Middlebrook.

As a result, the 25-point deductions for Keselowski and Logano in the driver and owner standings stand. So do the $100,000 fines for crew chiefs Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon.

But the suspensions for Wolfe, Gordon, chiefs Jerry Kelley and Raymond Fox, engineers Brian Wilson and Samuel Stanley and competition director Travis Geisler were reduced by four races, which team owner Roger Penske considered a victory.

“Obviously, I wasn’t happy with the outcome a week ago with the three-man panel,” Penske said from NASCAR’s Research & Development Center. “Today, we had the opportunity to sit down across from John Middlebrook and also [NASCAR’s] John Darby.

“John gave us specifics on our penalty, not just sections in the rulebook. We were able to talk about areas we worked in, which obviously were undefined in the rulebook. I’m very happy with the outcome. This sport has been built on innovation. All of us try to innovate in areas that are not defined in the rulebook. We were in that area.”

A week ago with the panel, neither side was in the room when the other presented its case. Penske felt that made a difference in Middlebrook being able to come to what he called a fair resolution.

“Quite honestly, this was the first time that we had the opportunity to listen to John specifically to say these are the areas we think you were over the line on,” Penske said. “Obviously, we had our rebuttal about that.

“The appellate officer had a chance to take into consideration all of the comments we made and NASCAR [made], and came up with a final ruling. To me, it shows both sides probably had some skin in the game.”

Penske said he will announce personnel changes for the teams later in the week, but noted the organization has enough depth to successfully continue.

“I feel our bench is strong and that we have people that can step in for the two crew chiefs and the people who won’t be here,” Penske said. “So to me, it’s going to be business as usual at Darlington.”

The suspensions will begin this weekend at Darlington Raceway and include the May 26 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Those suspended will return for the June 2 race at Dover.

“The key thing is to have our people back at the racetrack operating in full control,” Penske said. “To me, that’s most important.”

Penske argued that the parts were approved and that the organization simply was working in a gray area that other teams were. NASCAR argued that the parts were modified to move before being used, thus making them unapproved.

“It was a good outcome for everyone,” Penske said of Middlebrook’s decision.

It is not the first time Middlebrook has reduced a penalty. Last year, he overturned a six-race suspension for Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Chad Knaus and returned the 25 points taken from five-time champion Jimmie Johnson for what NASCAR deemed an illegal C-post prior to the Daytona 500.

Similar to Tuesday’s ruling, Middlebrook did not rescind the $100,000 fine against Knaus at the time.

Next up for in the appeal process is Joe Gibbs Racing. The National Stock Car Racing panel on Wednesday will hear JGR’s initial appeal of penalties against Matt Kenseth’s team stemming from a failed engine inspection following his win at Kansas.

NASCAR discovered one of eight connecting rods in the engine was 2.7 grams too light during a secondary inspection at the R&D Center in Concord after the April 21 race.

That resulted in a 50-point penalty for Kenseth and team owner Joe Gibbs along with a $200,000 fine and six-week suspension for crew chief Jason Ratcliff. Kenseth also lost bonus points that would have been used for seeding in the Chase and credit for the win if he needs it as a wild-card entry.

Also, Joe Gibbs had his owner’s license suspended for six races, meaning he won’t earn car owner points during that time.

Kenseth called the penalties for what engine supplier Toyota Racing Development called a mistake by a vendor “grossly unfair” and “borderline shameful.”

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