Despite Chase battle, Keselowski set for NNS-Cup double this weekend

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If the Chase for the Sprint Cup began this weekend, Penske’s Racing Brad Keselowski would not have the chance to defend his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Winless in 2013, the Michigan native is 13th in the standings, just six points out of 10th-place Jeff Gordon.

But even though Keselowski is facing a grueling battle to make the Chase, which continues tomorrow with the 400 at Pocono Raceway, that won’t stop him from competing in tonight’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Iowa Speedway.

Furthermore, he’s bringing members of his No. 2 Ford Fusion pit crew along with him into the cornfields.

“I had committed [to the NNS race] and Iowa is a special track to me and the Nationwide program is important to me as well,” Keselowski said on Friday at Pocono. “We have been having some struggles on pit road and that has led to part of our [overall] struggles, and we are using this as a weekend for the Cup pit crew to go out there and pit the Nationwide car and try to get better on pit road.

“Going to Iowa is a way for me to support that cause. I am trying to look at the positives that way.”

Keselowski brushed off any idea that the Nationwide race would add negative wear and tear for him, saying “I get paid to be tough enough to do that – that is my job.” He also considers the trip to Iowa as a promise that needed to be kept.

“That is just as important as anything else I do,” he said.

Still, he might have caught a break physically when rains washed out two Sprint Cup practice sessions this morning at Pocono. On Friday, Keselowski qualified 11th for Sunday’s Cup event in Pennsylvania.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”