Dale Jr. contends for win, finishes third at Pocono

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Stuck on the inside lane during the final restarts of Sunday’s Sprint Cup event at Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew that he would have to play defense in order to come out with a solid finish.

Earnhardt had two chances on restarts with nine and then four laps to go to get past race winner and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, but was unable to make the low groove work for him and was forced to settle for third place after Greg Biffle got past.

“Being on the inside on the front row really ain’t the catbird seat,” said Earnhardt after his first Top-5 run since finishing second at Fontana in March. “The guys behind you can get good runs on you and put you three wide, and I was just really more in defense mode there. If I had a shot at Jimmie, by the time we got to [Turn] 1, that was a bonus.

“They could get around outside pretty good, Greg got in there and got around us. The outside was pretty nice in [Turns] 1 and 2 on restarts.”

Earnhardt felt that Johnson had the edge over everyone in Turn 3, which leads down the long frontstretch at Pocono and thus serves as the most critical of the turns at the “Tricky Triangle.”

“Jimmie beat us bad through Turn 3,” he said. “If he was stronger, that’s where I thought he was stronger than the field. We actually gained a little bit back through 1 and 2, but he was just flying through Turn 3 and down the front straightaway, and if you’re going to be good here, that’s where you’ve got to be good.”

Next up for Junior is Michigan International Speedway, where he won last June to snap a winless streak of 143 races.

Pagenaud paces Mid-Ohio opening practice

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Defending Verizon IndyCar Series and Honda Indy 200 champion Simon Pagenaud paced opening practice for this year’s occasion, posting a quick time of 1:04.9079 at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Pagenaud, in the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, sits third in this year’s championship with 404 points. Interestingly his only win this year has come on the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway back in April.

Graham Rahal, the 2015 Mid-Ohio winner, was second in the session in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at 1:04.922. Marco Andretti made it into third in his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda at 1:04.9814.

The top nine drivers down to Scott Dixon in ninth were separated by only 0.3241 of a second and all 21 drivers bar JR Hildebrand were within one second.

Other than a near miss when Helio Castroneves almost hit Esteban Gutierrez exiting the Keyhole, there were no issues in the session and no red flags.

Second practice runs from 2:15 to 3 p.m. ET and local time.

Times are below.

Toyota ‘sad and disappointed’ by Porsche’s LMP1 exit

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Toyota president Akio Toyoda says he is “sad and disappointed” that Porsche will be ending its LMP1 program at the end of the year, leaving the Japanese marque as the sole manufacturer in the FIA World Endurance Championship’s premier class.

Porsche announced early on Friday that it would be pulling the plug on its LMP1 operation following this year’s season finale in Bahrain, switching focus to Formula E, where it will race from 2019.

Toyota and Porsche have battled for top honors in the WEC since 2014, leaving Toyoda with a heavy heart after hearing the news.

“I felt that it was very unfortunate when I heard that Porsche decided to withdraw from the LMP1 category of the WEC racing series,” Toyoda said in a statement.

“At last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race, we were honored that Porsche considered Toyota as a rival. It was a great battle as we fought against each other for victory.

“Looking towards this year’s series, we aimed to rise to and even surpass Porsche’s challenge. Those thoughts drove us to work harder and put forth our best efforts in realizing new technologies and skills.

“At this year’s Le Mans, I again had the opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Porsche. He told me that, much like us, his company participates in motorsport to enhance its production cars. As a carmaker that has been doing such for a very long time, Porsche deserves a great deal of respect.

“I feel very sad and disappointed that we will no longer be able to pit our technologies against such a company on the same battleground next year.

“However, the fight is not yet over. We will continue to battle with all our strength in the remaining five races of this year.

“Let’s make it an amazing competition that will remain in the hearts of the teams as well as of the fans.

“I am full of gratitude to Porsche, but I will save my thanks for when the season is over. At that time, I wonder which of us will be congratulating the other.

“Let’s look forward to that moment as we continue to fight. To everyone at Porsche, we’ll see you on the track!”

Ricciardo completes Hungary Friday F1 practice double

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Daniel Ricciardo continued Red Bull’s strong start to the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend by completing a sweep of Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions at the Hungaroring this afternoon.

Ricciardo led the way for Red Bull in FP1, beating early-season front-runners Ferrari and Mercedes to suggest that he could be in the mix for victory with the title contenders this weekend.

The Australian underpinned his good FP1 result by backing it up in FP2, finishing almost two-tenths of a second clear of the field with a best lap of 1:18.455.

Ricciardo overhauled a close-knit group featuring the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers, with Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton all being covered by just 0.141 seconds from second to fifth respectively.

Max Verstappen showed signs of being able to emulate Ricciardo’s pace in the second Red Bull with the early part of his qualifying simulation, only to fade towards the end and finish half a second back in sixth place.

Nico Hulkenberg put in an impressive display for Renault to take seventh place ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in eighth. Teammate Stoffel Vandoorne wound up 10th, the pair being split by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

The session was interrupted with a little over 30 minutes to go when Pascal Wehrlein crashed heavily at Turn 11 in his Sauber, losing the rear end of the car.

Wehrlein was able to get out of the car unaided before being taken to the medical center, where he was duly cleared, but his Sauber chassis was less fortunate, sustaining damage that will set the team back heading into the rest of the race weekend.

A second red flag was thrown with 15 minutes remaining when Joylon Palmer suffered his second crash of the weekend, clouting the wall at the final corner after getting a twitch, deepening the Briton’s ongoing plight at Renault.

Running at the Hungaroring continues with final practice at 5am ET on Saturday morning.

Prost stresses importance of keeping Formula E on city streets

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MONTREAL, Canada – Four-time Formula 1 world champion and Renault Formula E team chief Alain Prost has moved to clarify comments regarding this weekend’s event in Montreal, stressing the importance of it taking place on the streets of the city instead of a permanent circuit.

The all-electric Formula E championship visits Montreal for the first time this weekend, with a course being created using the city streets instead of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve that hosts Formula 1 race annually.

The Montreal ePrix acts as the season finale for Formula E’s third campaign, with Prost’s Renault e.dams operation in contention for both championships.

Formula E has enjoyed a strong ethos of racing on city streets instead of typical race circuits in a bid to promote electric vehicles and technology in the areas they are most needed for the future.

Reports in the Canadian press earlier this week claimed that Prost had said Formula E should have used the F1 track, but the Frenchman has moved to counter these comments and stress the importance of racing on inner-city street courses.

“I’ve never said that we should have gone to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, even if I love this place and I love the circuit. I think it is not adapted to the kind of race that we are doing at the moment,” Prost told NBC Sports.

“Obviously it’s too long and we need a shorter track, but most importantly we need the concept that we have from the beginning, supported by the FIA, that we want to be in the center of the cities. That is very important and I really support that.

“From the beginning that we heard about the project and we met the mayor two or three times, we were very happy and very positive to be in Montreal because we know the place, we know the fans that they love motor racing, and that will be something very different.

“We obviously give credibility to the electrical technology. We bring new people to watch the race. Maybe they are not interested by another sort of motor racing.

“We need a younger generation, maybe some children, they can see what is the car and technology for the future. So I’m very positive about that.

“I feel a bit sorry that I could be in the middle of a polemic. We want to be here for racing and we want to win the championship and celebrate in one of the best cities in the world.”