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Monday Racing Roundup: Rahal Ends Skid at Wild MAVTV 500

An Indy car racing-record 80 lead changes among 14 drivers was the precursor to a three-lap dash to the finish of the MAVTV 500 following a red flag.

Graham Rahal ended a 124-race winless drought dating to April 6, 2008, on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, and earned his second career victory.

The red flag was displayed on Lap 245 of 250 on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval after contact between the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driven by Will Power and the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda of Takuma Sato on the frontstretch.

Rahal, driving the No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won under caution as the cars driven by Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay made contact in a pack battling for position coming to the white flag. Briscoe's No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda flipped and landed on its wheels. All drivers were checked at the infield medical center and cleared.

“You don’t know how good this feels. It’s been so long coming; it’s awesome," said Rahal, who qualified 19th. "I feel like this year we have been knocking on the door a lot. We’ve been so close and I feel like we deserved it before but hadn’t gotten it yet so to get this one feels unbelievable. Our weakness has been these ovals and I told the guys this morning that the next three races will define our year."

Tony Kanaan finished second in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Marco Andretti placed third in the No. 27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda.

Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth to extend his championship points lead to 46 over Power, and rookie Sage Karam earned his highest finish of fifth in his eight-race career at the track where he wrapped up the 2013 Indy Lights championship.

The record for lead changes had been 73 in November 2001 in a 500-mile race at Auto Club Speedway (then California Speedway) won by Cristiano da Matta.

"I was going four-wide and thinking, ‘Man, I haven’t been four wide in six or seven years.’ It makes you nervous, for sure. You trust the guys. When you’re running up front you’re hoping you’re with all the best guys. I was racing with Kanaan and (Scott) Dixon and Power, and then Hunter-Reay a lot, so to trust those around you helps a lot. It was a hairy racing."  

The first half of the race was caution-free with 43 lead changes and heading for a record for all-time average speed. The first yellow came out on Lap 136 when the cars driven by Helio Castroneves and Briscoe made light contact on the backstretch. Five other caution periods followed, including two for debris.

“The Verizon Chevy team did a great job today, despite how tough of a day it was,” said Power, who led a field-high 62 laps but finished 19th. “When you have a pack race like what we had today, you have to take a lot of risks to gain track position. As exciting as it is, it's intense at the same time.”

Rahal was 19 years, 93 days old when he won at St. Petersburg and is still the youngest Indy car winner. After posting two top-10 finishes in 18 races in 2014, Rahal has five top fives through 11 races this season. 

MotoGP: Rossi tops Marquez in thriller at Assen

97,000 fans basking in the sunshine at the legendary TT Circuit Assen were treated to one of the greatest MotoGP battles ever witnessed as the nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi held off Marc Marquez in a dramatic finish to take his 111th GP victory and extend his championship lead.

Marquez made a move on Rossi as the duo entered the final chicane on the very last lap and made contact with the Italian, forcing Rossi to run straight through the gravel. Rossi managed to stay upright though and went on to take the checkered flag 1.242 seconds ahead of Marquez, claiming his third win of the season and first from pole position since Misano in 2009.

Movistar Yamaha’s Rossi, starting from pole for the first time since Valencia last season, led into the first corner and it didn’t take Marquez long to join him after starting from third on the grid, overtaking Aleix Espargaro on the first lap to move into second.

Marquez was happy to sit behind Rossi for most of the race, before making his move and taking the lead into Turn 1 on Lap 20. Rossi bided his time, and then responded with three laps to go to retake the lead at Turn 10. The Italian then put in his fastest lap of the race in an effort to pull away, but Marquez responded on the final lap to get within striking distance once again as the duo approached the final chicane.

Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo enjoyed a brilliant start from eighth on the grid, and found himself in third after the first lap. Any hopes the Spaniard had of making it five wins in a row disappeared shortly afterwards though, as Rossi and Marquez pulled away at the front and disappeared off into the distance. The double MotoGP World Champion eventually crossed the line 14.576 seconds behind his teammate in a lonely third position.

Ducati Team’s Andrea Iannone was another four seconds back as he also circulated for most of the race on his own, finishing just over four and a half seconds back from Lorenzo.

Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Pol Espargaro won an incredible battle for fifth that saw four riders all within 0.4 seconds of each other. The Spaniard also finished as the leading Satellite rider 0.105 of a second ahead of CWM LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow in sixth. Espargaro’s teammate Bradley Smith crossed the line in seventh in front of Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who had fought back valiantly after a crash in warm-up, and a disastrous start that saw him down in 12th after the first lap.

The Team Suzuki Ecstar duo of Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales were next across the line in ninth and tenth respectively, ahead of Octo Pramac Racing’s Danilo Petrucci (11th) and the second Factory Ducati of Andrea Dovizioso in twelfth.

EG 0,0 Marc VDS’s Scott Redding finished 46.663s back from Rossi in 13th, while Loris Baz (Athina Forward Racing) took the Open class victory, and the final championship point that was up for grabs in 15th, just ahead of Aspar MotoGP Team’s Nicky Hayden, of Owensboro, Kentucky, who crossed the line in 16th.

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

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Busch brothers go 1-2 on road course at Sonoma

Check the box. Kyle Busch has a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

That simple statement hardly plumbs the depth of emotion Kyle Busch was feeling after winning Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

In the first-ever 1-2 finish in the series by the Busch brothers, Kyle Busch beat Kurt Busch to the finish line by .532 of a second to win for the first time since returning from an 11-race absence because of a broken right leg and left foot sustained in a Feb. 21 accident at Daytona International Speedway.

"First Busch brothers 1-2, boys," Kyle Busch exulted on his radio after taking the checkered flag. "Mom and Dad should be proud."

On Lap 106 of 110, Kyle Busch muscled Jimmie Johnson out of the way and took the lead on the way to his second victory at the 1.99-mile road course and the 30th of his career. Johnson had stayed out on old tires while Busch joined a parade to pit road for new rubber after the left rear wheel assembly separated from Casey Mears Chevrolet to cause the fifth and final caution of the race on Lap 99.

Johnson led the field to a restart on Lap 104, but the cars with fresh tires soon asserted their superiority, with Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, reigning series champion Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano all following Kyle Busch in putting the six-time champion behind them.

Kyle Busch restarted seventh and got past Bowyer, the eventual third-place finisher, soon thereafter in heavy traffic at the top of the hill in Turn 2. Two laps later, he passed Johnson for the lead.

All told, 46 races had passed since Kyle Busch last went to Victory Lane in NASCAR’s premier series, including the 11 he missed because of the Daytona injuries. Busch last won at Fontana, California, on Mar. 23, 2014. The victory extends his streak of winning at least one race per year to 11 years.

More significant, the triumph gives Busch the first element he needs to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Busch also must finish in the top 30 in the series standings after 26 races in order to maintain his eligibility for NASCAR’s playoff.

With the win, Busch gained two positions in the standings to 37th, 136 points behind 30th-place Cole Whit with 10 races left in the regular season.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will race on July 26 at IMS in the Crown Royal presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard.

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