Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth in 2012 Contenders Live (NASCAR photo)

NASCAR’s 12 Chasers to answer fan questions in Contenders Live Chicago event

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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series enters the final three race weekends before the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, starting this weekend at Bristol. As the field is narrowed down to the 12 drivers that will qualify over these three weeks, the drama intensifies.

Fortunately before the Chase starts, NASCAR fans will have a chance to interact with all 12 drivers – plus NASCAR President Mike Helton – in a lighter setting: the second annual NASCAR Contenders Live Sponsored by Toyota and Sprint event to be held September 12. It will be at Navy Pier in Chicago from 1:30 to 3 p.m. CT, just a few days before the 2013 Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. Further information is available at www.nascar.com/ContendersLive.

Matt Kenseth is among those who will be participating for a second year running. He’s not officially locked into the 2013 Chase, but with four wins thus far this season, he’ll make it in either via the top 10 or as one of the two Wild Cards in his first season driving the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“The Chase has been going on for nine years now, and now it starts at Chicago, but for me it’s always fun and always great to be in the Midwest,” Kenseth told MotorSportsTalk in a Tuesday interview. “For me, it’s the closest track to where I grew up (Cambridge, Wis.) It’s fun to have the chance to see the fans and interact with them for a little bit, and get going for the weekend.”

Miss Sprint Cup, Kim Coon, will be on hand for a second year in a row in the crowd, relaying fan questions to drivers and Helton.

“You have the drivers here that are so accessible, and you have the president that’s here, answering questions and bantering; it’s very unique,” she said in an interview. “NASCAR fans are so passionate about their sport. I’ll go to a NASCAR race and see people who have traveled from across the country or around the world. My last race was in Watkins Glen, and people had traveled from Australia, Germany and Japan to come to this race. It’s not something you see in any other sport with regularity.”

FURTHER DETAILS:

  • NASCAR Contenders Live sponsored by Toyota and Sprint will be making its return to Chicago at the historic Navy Pier on September 12.
  • This year’s event will feature the top 12 drivers on stage to discuss the most competitive time of the season, The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
  • The event provides drivers with a great opportunity to interact with our passionate fans and answer their questions. Miss Sprint Cup and Mike Helton will also be in attendance.
  • Fans can visit www.NASCAR.COM/ContendersLive to purchase tickets for $10 dollars and enter the Contenders Live sweepstakes for a chance to win an all-new 2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax Limited and more great prizes.

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.