NASCAR may look harder at sponsorship process


NASCAR appears open to applying more scrutiny to potential sponsors as the Sprint Cup Series prepares to run tomorrow night at Texas Motor Speedway in a race backed by the National Rifle Association.

While NASCAR has chosen to take no position on gun rights, spokesman David Higdon acknowledged on Friday that a closer look at sponsorship approval is needed.

“The NRA’s sponsorship of the event at Texas Motor Speedway fit within existing parameters that NASCAR affords tracks in securing partnerships,” Higdon said according to the Associated Press. “However, this situation has made it clear that we need to take a closer look at our approval process moving forward, as current circumstances need to be factored in when making decisions.”

Before signing on as a sponsor of tomorrow’s 500-mile race at TMS — dubbed the “NRA 500” — the organization sponsored the Nationwide Series’ “NRA American Warrior 300” last September at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

But with American lawmakers currently in the midst of a debate over gun rights following last December’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, tomorrow’s event has drawn added attention and criticism. One of those critics, Sen. Chris Murphy (D – Conn.), has gone as far as writing a letter to News Corporation CEO Rupert Murdoch that asks him not to air the race on his Fox network.

But TMS president/general manager Eddie Gossage said on Thursday that he himself hasn’t seen “even a tiny uproar” about his track’s pact with the NRA.

“As far as this senator, I appreciate personally a publicity effort,” Gossage said according to The Dallas Morning News’ Gerry Fraley. “That’s two times [Murphy] has bit at this apple and gotten himself some publicity both times.”

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.