Dale Jr. claims Sprint Cup pole for Dover

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With his championship hopes seemingly all but extinguished, Chase contender Dale Earnhardt Jr. is setting his sights on winning races and letting the chips fall where they may.

The son of the Intimidator bagged his second Sprint Cup pole of 2013 earlier today at Dover International Speedway with a track-record lap of 161.522 miles per hour around the concrete “Monster Mile.”

Earnhardt finished sixth last weekend at New Hampshire, but still lost ground to Chase leader and good friend Matt Kenseth and now sits 62 points off the pace with eight races remaining in the season. But he maintains that fretting over the points picture is not of concern to him.

“We are just going to show up and try to run hard and be smart,” Earnhardt said Friday after his pole run. “If we can unload great cars like this it makes that all easier.

“We are going to try to win some races before the year is out. I would be really disappointed if we don’t win a race this season, because I think we are a better team than we were last year. I felt we’ve came so close so many times so we would just like to get out there and get some trophies. The points will take care of themselves when you are doing that.”

Meanwhile, Kenseth is once again seemingly in strong position this weekend after qualifying second with a lap at 161.805 miles per hour. The 2003 Cup champion, who has had a blazing start to the Chase with back-to-back wins at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, seemingly blamed himself for missing out on pole position for Sunday.

“You feel like, especially with me driving the car, we don’t get that many chances at the pole so I hate that we missed it by that little bit,” said Kenseth, who finished 40th this past summer at Dover due to an engine failure. “I probably steered [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] wrong a little bit and warmed up a little and just got too free.”

Four other Chasers will be among the Top 10 of the AAA 400 grid. Row 2 features Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards, while Jimmie Johnson starts eighth and Kurt Busch will start ninth. Non-Chase contenders in this part of the grid are Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski in Row 3, Jamie McMurray in seventh, and Martin Truex Jr. in 10th.

Other Chasers qualified as follows: Joey Logano in 11th, Kevin Harvick in 12th, Kyle Busch in 14th, Jeff Gordon in 16th, Greg Biffle in 19th, Kasey Kahne in 20th and Clint Bowyer in 23rd.

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.”