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Monday Racing Roundup: Montoya, Team Penske Make Opening Statement at St. Pete

Twenty-four hours before securing his 13th Indy car victory and first on a road/street course since Vancouver in his 1999 CART championship season, Juan Pablo Montoya was sizing up the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“Roger (Penske) hired me to get the job done and I do my best to get the job done,” he said.

Montoya did just that in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday. He held off Team Penske teammate and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power over the final 27 laps and won by .9930 of a second in the competition debut of the aerodynamic bodywork packages supplied by Chevrolet and Honda.

Montoya held a 3.3-second advantage over Power following an exchange of final pit stops on Laps 81 and 82, but Power closed to .6147 of a second on Lap 100 and was sizing up an opportunity to overtake the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Power, who set the track record on the way to winning the Verizon P1 Award for the 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course, made his move entering the tight left-hand Turn 10 on Lap 101. The cars made slight contact and Power’s No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet fell back 1.5474 seconds back at the start/finish line.

"If I hadn't damaged my (front) wing, maybe I would have had another shot,” Power said. “He was very strong on the front straight and my exits weren’t very good. That was really my only chance. I thought maybe I would catch him off-guard there. You don't expect someone to pass there, so, yeah, I gave it a shot.

“I was surprised at how aggressively he turned, but he wanted to win the race and so did I.”

Said Montoya, who recorded his second victory since returning full time to IndyCar racing in 2014: “I saw him make the move but he was way too far and I wasn’t going to give him the position. If he was beside me I would have said, ‘OK, go ahead.’ When I got to the turning point he wasn’t even close. It is a shame we touched, but it’s all good, it’s racing.

“The tires were not falling off and right there at the end I was just running slow to look after them. When I needed to push I could push. Everybody with Verizon and Team Penske did an amazing job; Chevy as well. This aero kit is amazing to drive.”

The last Team Penske 1-2 finish was August 2014 at Milwaukee, with Power beating Montoya by 2.7 seconds. It was the 175th Indy car victory for the team (78 on road or street courses).

The Verizon IndyCar Series races again in two weeks in the inaugural Grand Prix of Louisiana. Come May, the series will be on the road course for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the famed oval for the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

MotoGP: Rossi strikes first in Qatar

Valentino Rossi pulled off a sensational display of riding to claim victory on Sunday in at the Commercial Bank Grand Prix of Qatar.

The nine-time World Champion rolled back the years to provide MotoGP fans with a thrilling finish to the first round of the season, as he battled for the race win with the Desmosedici GP15 of Andrea Dovizioso. Rossi, who started from eighth on the grid, picked his way through the field before chasing down the leading trio of Jorge Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Dovizioso with 14 laps to go.

The Italian moved into second place with just three laps remaining, before commencing an epic duel with the resurgent Ducati Team GP15 of Dovizioso. In an enthralling finish to the race, both riders were constantly overtaking each other as they fought tooth and nail, but it was Rossi on the Movistar Yamaha YZR-M1 who came out on top to claim the 83rd MotoGP win of his career. Rossi called it “my best battle ever!”

“In the last three seasons I always rode solid races and arrived on the podium but to come back with a victory is another thing,” the 36-year-old added. “I am so happy because we suffered a lot during the practices and also the tests, but we worked very well for the 22-lap race and I was very strong. First of all you have to be lucky, but especially the work that we do with the team during the weekend makes the difference for my pace in the race.”

Andrea Dovizioso finished just 0.174 of a second behind Rossi in second place. His teammate Iannone made it two Ducatis in the top three as he finished third, completing an all-Italian podium in Qatar, after seeing off the challenge of Jorge Lorenzo. It was the first MotoGP podium for the man who made the move to the Factory Ducati Team this season.

MotoGP will compete at Indianapolis on Aug. 9 in the Red Bull Indianapolis GP.

 

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Hamlin, Toyota triumph at Martinsville

With Brad Keselowski beating a tattoo into his rear bumper, and with his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota sliding sideways as it approached the checkered flag, Denny Hamlin held on to his car and held off Keselowski to win Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

In winning his first race of the season, his fifth at the .526-mile short track and the 25th of his career, Hamlin took the lead for good on Lap 473 of 500, passing teammate Matt Kenseth for the top spot. Two laps later, Keselowski surged past Kenseth and tracked down Hamlin, setting up a breathtaking battle in the closing laps.

Keselowski could have won his second straight Sprint Cup race by wrecking Hamlin, but the 2012 premier series champion opted not to win the race with his bumper. Keselowski took his last shot off the final corner, bumping Hamlin’s car and turning it sideways. But Hamlin righted the car and drove to the finish line .186 seconds ahead of the race runner-up.

Hamlin, who recovered from a penalty for a runaway tire on Lap 166 and a resulting trip to the rear of the field, said the victory followed the longest competition meeting he’s experienced at Joe Gibbs Racing, one in which team owner Joe Gibbs pointedly addressed his teams.

"Joe doesn’t raise his voice very often, but he did this time," Hamlin said. "He told us to get off our tails and get to work."

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will race on July 26 at IMS in the Crown Royal presents “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard.

 

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