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Dale Jr. tops Sprint Cup “Happy Hour” at Martinsville

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Seeking to claim his first Sprint Cup win on NASCAR’s shortest track, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led this morning’s final practice at Martinsville Speedway for Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger with a lap of 19.415 seconds (97.533 miles per hour).

Earnhardt qualified 12th yesterday for Sunday’s race, but may have a pace quick enough to perhaps have a say in the outcome. Earlier, in the first practice session today, he was third-fastest behind Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

“Driver 88” is currently the “best of the rest” in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, albeit by a slim margin. He sits sixth in points (52 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, 18 behind fifth-place Jeff Gordon), but only holds a one-point edge on seventh-place Greg Biffle and a five-point edge on eighth-place Clint Bowyer.

Bowyer was second on the “Happy Hour” time sheets behind Earnhardt, posting a lap at 97.133 mph. Kasey Kahne was third in the session (97.068 mph), followed by Kyle Busch (97.038 mph) in fourth, and Matt Kenseth (97.033 mph) in fifth.

Chase leader Jimmie Johnson, currently holding a four-point lead over Kenseth with four races remaining in the season, was sixth-fastest (97.023 mph). Pole sitter Denny Hamlin was 17th in the session (96.489 mph).

DiZinno: Engine drama dominates 2015 silly season thus far

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So it’s mid-October, and in both Formula 1 and IndyCar, the story of silly season 2015 is not about the drivers behind the wheel, but more about the lumps giving the drivers the power with which to do so.

The war in IndyCar has gone on more behind-the-scenes between Honda and Chevrolet as it relates to performance clauses and what can or can’t be updated for 2016.

However F1’s engine battle has been a very public spat, and been the dominant silly season storyline this fall.

F1’s driver silly season never really got going for next season. As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith has chronicled, the one potential domino that could have made things interesting – Kimi Raikkonen’s status at Ferrari – will go unchanged into 2016.

As such, it leaves with a grid where the lineups at Mercedes, Ferrari, Williams, Force India, Sauber and most recently McLaren are confirmed to stay the same for 2016.

The only driver switch at present is Romain Grosjean leaving the unsettled, fluid situation at Lotus to lead Haas F1 Team’s charge in its maiden season.

This brings us then, simply, to the Red Bull teams.

Red Bull may give you wings, and wings right now are all that’s confirmed to power the teams into 2016.

A season-long row, spat, disagreement or whatever word you want to call it has occurred between Red Bull and Renault to the point where Red Bull has threatened to pull out of Formula 1 – which would leave its quartet of talented youngsters, Daniel Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat, Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. – all sidelined. Let alone all its talented mechanics and crew.

Mercedes has already moved its fourth engine supply from Lotus to Manor, and Ferrari has proposed offering a 2015 power unit, neither of which were really feasible solutions for Red Bull and by default, Toro Rosso as well.

It’s then left the two parties in a proverbial stalemate, where Red Bull needs Renault more than Renault needs Red Bull.

And in social terms, it’s a case of Red Bull needing to go back to the girl they want to dump, because it’s their only option. Perhaps it’s no coincidence the term “F1 booty call” was occasionally used on social media over the weekend to describe the situation.

The Red Bull quit threat, unfortunately, continues to persist. Adrian Newey, the sport’s most successful designer, has reiterated the concerns in an interview with Reuters over the weekend.

“Unfortunately, our relationship with Renault is pretty terminal — there’s been too much of a marriage breakdown, so we have no engine,” Newey told Reuters while in Abu Dhabi to judge the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy.

“Red Bull should not be put in a position where they’re only there to make up the numbers,” he added, noting the desired need for improvement from Renault.

One could argue, of course, that Newey’s departure has had a psychological effect on the team, perhaps as much if not a greater impact than Renault’s engine woes. And easy as it is to forget, Ricciardo still won three Grands Prix a year ago and was in mathematical championship contention until the final few races of the season.

Think in Renault’s case as well, that as a sole constructor and owner of Lotus as it is shaping up to be next year, it would behoove them to have a second set of data at its disposal, rather than going solo without another team. See Honda and McLaren for how that’s gone this year…

The fact that Red Bull has opted to go for the nuclear threat in print of quitting when all it’s really had is a bad year – something it’s experienced plenty both early in its own team lifespan, and in its prior guises as Jaguar and Stewart dating to the Stewart team’s inception in 1997 – really smacks of poor professionalism, unbecoming of the brand.

Red Bull didn’t get the top of the mountain in the business world, and in F1, without a desire to be the best.

But in the interest of becoming a true fabric of the F1 community through both thick and thin – as teams like Ferrari, Williams and McLaren have done for decades – it needs to take a step back, chalk 2015 up as a year to forget and figure out a way to bury the hatchet so it doesn’t leave all the affected individuals high and dry.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Ryan Briscoe

Ryan Briscoe
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MotorSportsTalk continues its review of the Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver, with a look at Ryan Briscoe. Despite not having a ride to start the year, Briscoe ended strongly courtesy of a series of strong runs at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Ryan Briscoe, No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

  • 2014: 11th Place, Best Finish 4th, Best Start 4th, 1 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 12.8 Avg. Start, 10.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 18th Place (8 starts), Best Finish 5th, Best Start 2nd, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 10 Laps Led, 17.8 Avg. Start, 12.0 Avg. Finish

For those who slag on Briscoe as being undeserving of top level equipment, his 2015 second half provided a friendly reminder of his overall ability level in what might be less than the best machinery.

Briscoe was thrust into the No. 5 car under trying circumstances to begin with, getting all of an hour’s worth practice replacing the injured James Hinchcliffe ahead of the Indianapolis 500. But subsequent drives on the ovals there, Texas, Fontana, Milwaukee and Iowa – even if the results were less than ideal – showcased a driver determined to show to the paddock he still had it, and then some. His defense against Juan Pablo Montoya in Sonoma was nothing short of brilliant, and courtesy of double points he actually finished ahead of full-season driver Stefano Coletti.

The Australian immediately gelled with the SPM team, engineer Allen McDonald and race strategist Robert Gue. He continues to prove he’s an asset, as he has enjoyed multiple opportunities to extend his career in various arenas of motorsport in both open-wheel and sports cars, the latter of which he won at both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with Corvette Racing this year.