Dale Jr. leads “Happy Hour” at New Hampshire

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will roll off 17th in tomorrow’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but appears to have the speed to make some moves on Race Day after topping Sprint Cup final practice this morning at the Magic Mile.

Earnhardt, whose engine failure late last weekend at Chicagoland has him dead last among the 13 Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders, was fastest on the time sheets with a lap of 133.059 mph in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. He finished 14th at NHMS earlier this summer.

Also looking strong is Matt Kenseth, who leads the Chase after scoring his sixth win of the year last weekend in the Windy City. Kenseth, who rolls off ninth tomorrow, was second-quickest in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with a lap of 132.938 mph.

One of Earnhardt’s HMS teammates, front-row starter Kasey Kahne, was third-fastest (132.868 mph), with JGR’s Denny Hamlin behind him in fourth (132.799 mph). Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer rounded out the Top 5, placing fifth this morning (132.591 mph).

Pole sitter Ryan Newman, however, didn’t have a great “Happy Hour,” posting only the 25th-quickest time (131.040 mph).

Kenseth had the fastest 10-lap average speed in the session (Laps 35-44, 132.128 mph), followed by Jimmie Johnson (sixth-quickest overall), Brad Keselowski (seventh-quickest overall), Bowyer and Hamlin.

Williams confirms Kubica and Sirotkin for Abu Dhabi F1 test

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Williams has confirmed that Robert Kubica will enjoy his third Formula 1 test outing with the team at the end-of-season running in Abu Dhabi next week as rumors grow regarding a possible race seat for 2018.

Almost seven years after his last F1 start, Kubica’s remarkable return from severe injuries sustained in a rally accident saw him enjoy two private tests with Renault before completing running with the team in a 2017-spec car in Hungary over the summer.

Reservations over Kubica’s capabilities prompted Renault to pass on giving him a seat, instead opting to hire Carlos Sainz Jr. for next year, only for Williams to become an alternative for the Pole.

Kubica tested a 2014-spec Williams at both Silverstone and the Hungaroring in recent months, and will now sample a 2017 car when he tests at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Kubica will share track time with regular Williams racer Lance Stroll and Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin, who has worked with Renault over the past two years but also missed out on a 2018 seat.

“Williams Martini Racing is pleased to confirm it will run Robert Kubica and Sergey Sirotkin for the Abu Dhabi Pirelli tire test, alongside current race driver Lance Stroll,” a statement from the team reads.

“The Pirelli tire test will take place over two days at the Yas Marina circuit during the week following the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“On day one Robert Kubica will drive the FW40 in the morning session, before Lance Stroll takes over in the afternoon.

“On day two Sergey Sirotkin will drive in the morning and afternoon sessions before handing over to Robert in the late afternoon.

“The test is aimed at evaluating 2018 candidate tires on behalf of the Formula 1 tire supplier Pirelli.

“Williams is excited to have this opportunity to assess the new tyres across such an interesting range of drivers: Lance, as confirmed race driver for 2018, Robert with his huge experience, and Sergey as a very promising young talent in Formula 1.”

Williams denied earlier this week it has signed Kubica to partner Stroll for 2018, but indications are the deal looks very likely to go ahead, subject to the relevant paperwork and contracts being finalized.