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All square between Kenseth, Johnson with three to go in Chase

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Martinsville Speedway was where Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Jimmie Johnson (an eight-time Martinsville winner) would dominate and second-place Matt Kenseth (who has never won at Martinsville) would try to minimize the points damage.

But instead, both men will be heading to Texas Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 tied atop the championship. Kenseth’s runner-up finish to race winner Jeff Gordon was enough to erase the four-point deficit he had going into today to Johnson, who led 123 laps before turning in a fifth-place result.

The two were the class of the field in the first half, but Kenseth faltered in the middle stages, dropping as far back as 16th place. However, the 2003 Cup champion was able to climb back up the pylon during a rash of caution periods and re-claimed the lead at Lap 374.

Kenseth held the point through pit stops under yellow with 83 laps remaining and stayed up front until Gordon’s late challenge. Gordon eventually took the lead for good with 21 laps to go and Kenseth was left to duel with Clint Bowyer for second – a duel that he would win by inches on the final lap.

While admitting disappointment at not being able to hold off Gordon, Kenseth knew that the weekend had been a successful one in regards to the championship.

Only three events remain in the season at Texas, Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 10), and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 17), and Kenseth feels confident of his chances.

“I always feel [the loss is] on me because they put me there and gave me the shot, but overall, what a great weekend,” he said. “I really felt like if we came out of here in the [Chase] lead or tied or close to it, I really felt like we got what it takes to race in the last three races.

“I feel like when my team is at its best and we do everything right, I feel like we can race anybody at these next three tracks.  I feel good about that. Anything can happen, but man, we’re in it, and we’re going to three really good tracks, so hopefully we can perform here the next three weeks and have a race.”

As for Johnson, he found himself stymied repeatedly on restarts in which he’d have to line up on the outside. On several of those occasions, he would lose multiple positions before finally getting to the inside line and work to get the spots back.

After the race, he said that he expected his championship battle with Kenseth and Gordon – now third in the Chase after his triumph this afternoon – to continue being the dogfight it has been.

“It’s been a great battle with the 20 car [Kenseth] and the 24 [Gordon] has really shown that he wants to be a part of this deal,” Johnson said to ESPN. “There’s no other way I’d want to go racing for a championship, and it’s exactly what the fans want to see.”

New Audi R18 e-tron quattro unveiled; two cars only for Le Mans

Photo: Audi
Photo: Audi
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Audi Sport has revealed its new Audi R18 e-tron quattro, the latest generation of diesel-powered TDI which now will run with a 6 mJ battery hybrid.

The new LMP1 car was unveiled at the annual Audi Sport Finale in Munich, among several other key announcements of note.

Audi will retain its same driver lineup, the lead trio of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler in one car with Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis back as well. After the successive retirements of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello the last three years, Audi now has the same lineup for consecutive years, for the first time in years.

However, and while the third car trio of Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Rene Rast was on stage with the six others, Audi confirmed both it and sister brand Porsche will run two cars only at next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, rather than three as each did this year.

It was a jointly agreed upon decision; both operate under the VW Group parent company. It effectively rules out the same trio of Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg repeating as a trio, although Porsche will announce the program for its own drivers next month.

“We stay with the TDI, 50 percent more hybrid power,” said Chris Reinke, Head of Audi LMP1. “Battery storage and high focus on aero as you can see. We are on our way to challenge for WEC and Le Mans wins.”

Here’s a few photos from the reveal, below:

Ferrari error leaves Vettel 16th on grid for Abu Dhabi GP

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany steers his car during the second practice second at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. The Emirates Formula One Grand Prix will take place on Sunday. (AP Photo/Kamran Jerbeili)
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Sebastian Vettel will start tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from 16th place on the grid after a miscalculation on the Ferrari pit wall caused the German to back off during his final Q1 lap.

Vettel aborted his last lap in Q1 after being informed by Ferrari that his time looked good enough to take him into Q2, allowing him to save some life in his super-soft tires.

However, late improvements from Jenson Button and Romain Grosjean caught Ferrari by surprise, leaving Vettel in the dropzone after the checkered flag had fallen.

Having already slowed on his final lap, Vettel was unable to improve his time, making him a shock casualty in Q1 alongside usual suspects Fernando Alonso, Marcus Ericsson, Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi.

“Nothing wrong with the car, we thought that the lap I had on the soft tires was quick enough, but in the end it was not,” Vettel admitted after qualifying.

“There was also a car in front which shouldn’t have been there. So we misjudged the situation, a small mistake with big consequence, but the race is tomorrow and lots can happen.”

Ferrari’s blushes were saved by Kimi Raikkonen, who managed to qualify third behind the two Mercedes drivers, and Vettel is hopeful that he can join his teammate up the order on Sunday.

“It is good that Kimi is in the front, we have a quick car and it is possible to overtake here, even if only tomorrow we’ll be able to tell how much it is,” Vettel said.

“You can spend a lot of time speaking about what we did wrong, but in the end we know, so now we need to move forward.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Alonso cools talk of taking sabbatical from F1

xxxx during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Fernando Alonso has cooled speculation suggesting he could take a sabbatical from Formula 1, remaining adamant that he will be on the grid with McLaren in 2016.

Alonso rejoined McLaren for 2015 after a hostile exit from Ferrari, but has struggled to find any kind of form thanks to numerous issues with the Honda power unit used by the team.

After just two top-ten finishes and just 11 points in 2015, speculation has been rife about an early split between Alonso and McLaren as the Spaniard’s frustrations grow.

Time and time again, Alonso has insisted that he will see out his three-year deal with McLaren, but team CEO Ron Dennis hinted on Saturday that a sabbatical could be taken.

“He will definitely finish his career at McLaren,” Dennis said. “I have an open mind to anything, and some of the ideas involved those sorts of considerations: sabbaticals etc.

“When we have to take the decision, we will take it together, and at this moment of time, our drivers for next season are Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.”

When asked if he intended to compete in F1 next year, Alonso said: “I will, I will.”

The Spaniard went on to say that he did not feel under pressure following Dennis’ comments, and that the team boss should be instead focusing on Honda.

“If he wants to put pressure on someone, I’m sure it’s not me,” Alonso said.

“If it’s someone, it has to be on Honda so they do a good job all winter.”

Alonso’s miserable campaign continued in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday as he finished 17th thanks to a puncture in Q1.

“Our car has performed better in every session than we initially anticipated,” Alonso said. “So it was cruel luck to get a puncture at possibly the most critical point of the whole weekend, the final run of Q1.

“That was unfortunate, because we’d been looking very competitive, and our car seems to be performing quite well around here.

“The race will be difficult owing to our straight-line speed deficit, but I’ll be aiming to make a good start, run a good strategy, and make up some positions. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Perez charges to best F1 qualifying result in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg may have taken his sixth pole position of the year in Abu Dhabi, but it was Force India’s Sergio Perez who received most of the plaudits after recording his best Formula 1 qualifying result on Saturday.

Perez displayed a good pace throughout the first two stages of qualifying, finishing third behind the two Mercedes drivers in both Q1 and Q2.

At one point in Q3, the Mexican even briefly threatened to challenge the Silver Arrows for a place on the front row after lapping within one-tenth of a second of Lewis Hamilton on his first run.

Perez could not match their pace on the final laps in Q3, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was also able to edge him out by 0.133 seconds to leave the Force India driver fourth.

The result still marks Perez’s best-ever qualifying result, having previously only finished as high as fifth on a Saturday.

Although the Mexican started from P4 in Belgium 2012, Bahrain 2014 and Belgium 2015, he had qualified fifth for all three sessions before gaining a position by virtue of other drivers receiving penalties.

“Fourth place on the grid is a great result for us and I’m very pleased with our strong performance all the way through qualifying,” Perez said.

“We’ve made some good decisions this weekend with the changes we have made to the car and it’s taken us in a very positive direction. I think the analysis we carried out after the weekend in Sao Paulo has really paid off and we’ve learned a huge amount.

“All of my laps this evening were very clean and tidy, and we managed to get the maximum from the car. The challenge tomorrow will be keeping some very quick cars behind me, but I also think we have a good chance to make up some positions at the start.

“I have the confidence in the car to really push and there is definitely the potential to come away with a great result this weekend.

“In many ways it’s a shame that tomorrow is the final race of the season because the car is working very well at the moment and I’m enjoying the racing so much.”

Underpinning Perez’s good pace was teammate Nico Hulkenberg, who qualified seventh in the sister Force India car.

“It was a good qualifying session for the team, although I feel I could have been higher up the grid,” Hulkenberg admitted. “I was pretty happy with my laps, especially the one in Q3, so to find myself in seventh actually feels a little bit disappointing.

“We need to look at the data and figure out where we lost time and what we can do to recover it. Looking ahead to the race, we’ve been working hard to improve our race pace and hopefully the changes we have made will pay off tomorrow.

“The car is quick on the straights and the balance has felt good from the start of the weekend. Starting from the fourth row, we have every opportunity to score a good result tomorrow.”

Force India secured fifth place in the constructors’ championship last time out in Brazil, but will still be gunning to end the year on a high with a strong performance on Sunday in Abu Dhabi.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.