Lewis Hamilton demands answers over Malaysian GP failure

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SEPANG, Malaysia — A furious Lewis Hamilton demanded answers from his Mercedes team after an engine failure cost him victory in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix and severely dented his chances of winning this year’s Formula One drivers’ championship.

Hamilton was leading on lap 41 of 56 at the Sepang International Circuit when his engine blew, handing the race lead and ultimately victory to Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

It was Ricciardo’s first victory since the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, leading a one-two finish with his teenage teammate Max Verstappen.

More painfully, it gave Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg — who finished an impressive third — a 23-point lead in the championship. Rosberg had to fight back from 21st place after lap one when he was the innocent party in a collision with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

With five races left in the season, it will be difficult for Hamilton to make up the deficit to the ultra-consistent Rosberg in the championship tussle. The frustrated Hamilton was upset in the circumstances, and he hinted at perhaps more than that.

“My question is to Mercedes,” Hamilton said. “We have so many engines made for drivers, but mine are the only ones failing this year. Someone needs to give me some answers because this is not acceptable. We are fighting for the championship and only my engines are failing. It does not sit right with me.

“Someone doesn’t want me to win this year, but I won’t give up. I will keep pushing.”

Red Bull and Ricciardo took a lucky victory, given the circumstances that afflicted the Mercedes pair, but were in the right place to capitalize and make up for the win the Australian driver felt he was deprived of in Monaco when a team pit-stop misunderstanding cost him victory.

“Told you I’d win one. Sometimes you just need things to swing your way,” said Ricciardo, whose tears during the Australian anthem played after the race mixed freely with the copious sweat generated in the tropical conditions, which generated track temperatures consistently topping 50 degrees (122 F).

“It’s been an interesting, I would say, two years since my last victory and it feels awesome for sure. I am so grateful for it,” he said.

Ricciardo delighted many fans, and disgusted quite a few others, by celebrating victory with his newly adopted tradition of pouring the celebratory champagne into his sweaty race shoe and then drinking it — something he calls the `Shoey’. Not only that, he also convinced team principal Christian Horner, plus Verstappen and Rosberg, to also drink from the unconventional vessel.

Asked to comment on the flavor, Ricciardo said it had a fruity taste, but Rosberg deadpanned: “I hope he does not win any more races this year.”

Rosberg held onto third place despite incurring a 10-second penalty for an aggressive passing move on Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen on lap 38. Raikkonen placed fourth, extending Ferrari’s winless streak this season.

Williams driver Valtteri Bottas made a one-pit stop strategy work to take fifth place, as did Renault’s Jolyon Palmer who finished tenth for his first ever points finish in F1.

Force India’s Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg took sixth and eighth places respectively, separated by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who did well to finish seventh after starting the race from last on the grid. Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button was ninth in his 300th grand prix start.

The next race is in Japan next weekend, with Rosberg eager to press home the advantage over Hamilton in his quest for his first championship.

“I thought the race was all over (after the first-corner crash) so I am really happy to fight back all the way to the podium,” Rosberg said. “It is a good moment in general, and I look forward to the next one.”

Meet Rutledge Wood

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Rutledge Wood currently serves as a features reporter for NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR coverage.

Wood contributes reports on the storied raceways, unique towns and enthusiastic fans that make NASCAR an American treasure. Wood made his Olympic debut with NBC Sports Group as a reporter during the 2016 Olympic Games. In May, he traveled to his first Kentucky Derby and served as an event reporter for NBC Sports’ coverage of the event.

Prior to joining NBC Sports Group, Wood was a correspondent for FOX Sports 1’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pre-race show, NASCAR RaceDay. He has also hosted and co-hosted several NASCAR events, including the annual NASCAR Awards Banquet.  Wood served as co-host on History Channel’s Top Gear, the American iteration of the legendary BBC program, and Lost in Transmission. Wood’s first experience in NASCAR came during his first job traveling the NASCAR circuit for Country Music Television’s mobile marketing activation. Soon after, he was hired by SPEED, where he worked for 10 seasons covering NASCAR.

Suarez opens NASCAR doubleheader with Xfinity win at Dover

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DOVER, Del. — Daniel Suarez jumped out of his car and sprinted down the front stretch to grab the checkered flag and take an untraditional victory lap on the track.

“I had to run a little bit. That’s fine,” he said, laughing. “When you win, you can run a little bit.”

Suarez cruised into the second round of the Chase in the Xfinity Series with a win Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

He won his second career Xfinity race a day after rain washed out the race and forced a rare NASCAR doubleheader. NASCAR ran its first Xfinity-Cup doubleheader since April 25, 2010, at Talladega Superspeedway.

Suarez became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national race in June at Michigan. He became a part of NASCAR in 2011 and was involved in its Drive for Diversity and Next programs.

Team owner Joe Gibbs has been a stout supporter of NASCAR’s diversity programs.

“From a diversity standpoint and all he represents there from a Hispanic standpoint too, I think it’s huge for our sport,” he said. “He’s the perfect representative. He’s funny, he’s got a good sense of humor and I think he really, really appreciates where he is.”

Suarez said he was proud to learn in victory lane that he won during National Hispanic Heritage Month. He said he won for all of his fans across North America.

“Having all of the support that I have had from Mexico and from here in the U.S. and all of Latin America has been super special,” he said. “I really feel lucky to be in this position and to be able to represent all of them.”

Suarez led 123 of 200 laps in the No. 19 Toyota and joined Elliott Sadler in the second round of the Chase.

Ty Dillon was second, followed by Justin Allgaier, Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman.

With three top NASCAR Cup stars sitting out, the top five was filled with Xfinity regulars. Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano all had replacement drivers in the Xfinity race to focus on the Cup race scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Regan Smith finished 13th driving for Dillon; Drew Herring was 21st subbing for Busch; and Blaney filled in for Logano.

Busch has eight Xfinity wins, Dillon has two and Logano has one this season.

Allgaier said that even if the three stars raced, Suarez was still the driver to beat.

“I don’t know that anybody was going to beat him today,” Allgaier said. “I think it was smart for the Cup guys to sit out. I think two races in one day would have been a strain, mentally.”

Ty Dillon, Ryan Sieg and Brandon Jones are in danger of being eliminated from the Chase next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. So is Erik Jones, one of the top rising stars in the sport who entered the Chase as the top speed. Jones finished 16th and was 28th last week.

“It’s pretty embarrassing not to even be in the Chase right now for the next round,” Jones said. “It’s just unfortunate; it’s just something that I never would have seen it coming.”