Dale Jr. takes over Cup points lead

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Let’s recap what happened on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway: Kyle Busch took the win thanks to Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin wrecking on the final lap (which wound up sending an awake and alert Hamlin to the hospital), Tony Stewart fought Logano on pit road in post-race, and oh yeah, Dale Earnhardt Jr. seized the Sprint Cup points lead.

It’s not everyday that NASCAR’s most popular driver gets buried in the news. But indeed, through all of the end-of-race madness, Earnhardt finished second to move ahead of Brad Keselowski (who finished 23rd) by 12 points for the top spot in the Cup standings.

“I wasn’t racing up there so I couldn’t really get a good view of it, but I was running around the bottom of the corner, and I knew they were going to ‑‑ they were slowing up and battling real hard, so I was just trying to get what I could get,” Earnhardt said of the final lap.

“I felt like on the back straightaway, Kyle had the best shot at winning the race because [Logano and Hamlin] were slowing down running so hard. Just lucky we were able to get by on the inside there.”

Earnhardt had to do a lot of work to make sure he was in position to capitalize on the Logano-Hamlin incident and get his runner-up finish. On a pit stop under yellow with 84 laps remaining, an issue with the right-rear tire caused him to tumble from 3rd to 22nd. But he quickly made up positions when the green flag came back out.

A four-tire stop and chassis adjustment on his final round of service enabled him to return to the Top 5, and he was running fourth at the time of Logano and Hamlin’s run-in. With Logano going into the Turn 4 wall and Hamlin sliding hard into the inside retaining wall, Earnhardt passed the pair for his second consecutive top-three result at ACS.

He is the only Cup driver to start the season with five consecutive Top-10 finishes.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.