Austin Dillon officially confirmed in RCR’s No. 3 for Sprint Cup

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NASCAR’s worst-kept secret is finally official. Austin Dillon will move up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series full-time in 2014 with Richard Childress Racing, and he’s bringing back the No. 3 to Cup for the first time since 2001.

No driver – not even Dale Earnhardt Jr. – has raced with the No. 3 in Cup since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s fatal accident in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Still, the majority of this morning’s press conference to confirm the news to say that after 13 years, it was time.

“I know in my heart that Dale Earnhardt is smiling down,” Childress said.

Childress has held onto the number rights for the No. 3 since 2001, but hasn’t been challenged on its use. Only family will have the opportunity to race it in NASCAR’s top level, Childress explained.

“We held the number. I’ve been paying NASCAR for it. Bill (France) Jr. said we may have to give it up if someone wanted it, but we weren’t challenged,” Childress said. “It would have to be an Earnhardt or one of the Childress family that we’d put in the 3. Unless I get Jeffrey Earnhardt, it won’t be in Trucks. For Austin to go out and do what he’s did with that number proves it’s time. The first time I put out the idea of running the 3, support was around 80-85 percent, then after a day, it went to 90. It was time. It was Austin’s choice.”

Dillon, too, understands the significance and heritage of running the 3. He has the opportunity both to create new memories and rekindle old ones.

“It’s a huge responsibility,” he said. “I’ve been put in by my grandfather, and he’s been great to push me in right direction and handle things the right now. Everyone knows who made this number famous. We feel like, with bringing it back, and working with RCR, it is going to be special. I feel fortunate, and I want to run well. I want to set high goals and maintain those.”

Dillon, 23, replaces Kevin Harvick, as Harvick leaves RCR after 13 years to move onto Stewart-Haas Racing. With the driver change comes the number change, back to 3 from the 29 Harvick ran for the entirety of his career there. Dillon will work with crew chief Gil Martin, who said he felt “a little bit of rejuvenation” with this news.

Dillon made sure to ask the right people, from Earnhardt Jr. through to RCR veterans like Danny “Chocolate” Myers and J.R. Rhodes, for their thoughts and approval. He earned it.

Alas, Dillon enters the seat as a champion. He won the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, despite not winning a race, and also took home the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title. In 13 Sprint Cup starts, Dillon has a best finish of 11th at Michigan in June 2013 in a fourth RCR car.

Dow Chemical and Cheerios will split the role of primary sponsor. Dow has been involved with many of NASCAR’s products, but not directly as a primary sponsor. Cheerios enters its eighth year with RCR in 2014, and 17th in the sport in total.

Childress also confirmed Brian Scott, Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan will run in the team’s three-car Nationwide program with all entries full-time. RCR will not field a truck in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and its equipment has been sold to Gallagher Motorsports.

Childress later recalled a story about how Austin wanted the 3 to begin with, when he and Ty were first growing up.

“When Ty called me and said, ‘We want to go racing,’ that was the most expensive call I’ve ever had,” Childress joked. “When I asked what number he wanted Ty said, ‘I want the number 2, ’cause my dad drove it.’ I asked, Austin, he says ‘I want the number 3.’ I say, ‘Austin, you know it’s Dale’s number.’ He knew it then. It made me proud.”

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Photo Credit: Richard Childress Racing

Vettel takes Russian GP pole, heads up Ferrari front-row lock-out

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Sebastian Vettel will start Sunday’s Formula 1 race in Russia from pole position after edging out Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen in the final stage of qualifying.

Vettel turned in a fastest lap time of 1:33.194 in Q3 to wrestle pole away from provisional leader Raikkonen, who ran wide at the final corner on his last timed effort.

The mistake appeared to open the door for Mercedes to continue its pole position streak, only for Valtteri Bottas to fail to improve, finishing third.

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton also had a session to forget, ailing to fourth on the grid, finishing over half a second behind Vettel.

The result marked Ferrari’s first front-row lock-out in F1 since the 2008 French Grand Prix, when Raikkonen took pole ahead of then-teammate Felipe Massa.

Red Bull finished as the ‘best of the rest’ once again in qualifying, with Daniel Ricciardo ending up fifth ahead of teammate Max Verstappen in seventh. Felipe Massa split the pair for Williams, with Nico Hulkenberg, Segio Perez and Esteban Ocon rounding out positions eight to 10.

Carlos Sainz Jr. had hoped to compensate for his three-place grid penalty carried over from Bahrain by reaching the top 10, only to miss out by two-tenths of a second, qualifying 11th.

Lance Stroll followed in P12 for Williams ahead of home favorite Daniil Kvyat, who struggled to impress in front of his home fans en route to P13 ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

Fernando Alonso’s woes with McLaren continued as he lagged to P15 in Q2, finishing 3.3 seconds off Bottas’ fastest time. The Spaniard called it “unbelievable” over the radio as the issues with his Honda power unit once again left him off the pace and crest-fallen.

After changing chassis overnight and engine following FP3, Jolyon Palmer’s miserable weekend continued when he crashed out at the end of Q1, leaving him 16th on the grid.

The incident sparked yellow flags and prevented a number of drivers from improving their time, with McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne ailing to 17th. Sauber drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson finished 18th and 19th respectively, the former also spinning on his final Q1 lap, while Romain Grosjean propped up the timesheets for Haas in P20.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

Sirotkin set for F1 practice return in Spain as Russia run is cut short

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Sergey Sirotkin is set to get his next chance in a Formula 1 race weekend during practice for the Spanish Grand Prix after completing just two laps on Friday in Russia.

Sirotkin was given the chance to impress in front of his home fans in Russia on Friday with Renault, deputizing for Nico Hulkenberg as part of his test driver deal with the French manufacturer.

Sirotkin’s hopes of impressing the watching F1 paddock were dashed when a gearbox issue caused his car to lose power on his second installation lap, forcing the Russian to park up at the side of the track early on.

“It was a short run for me in FP1, but that’s motorsport and it’s better to have an issue with the car in practice than in qualifying or the race,” Sirotkin said.

“There’s not much I can say about today other than I was happy with the car at the Bahrain test and I was fully prepared to deliver everything required today.

“I’m next out in Spain so that’s where my focus now lies.”

“We got some good mileage on our new aero package today despite a tricky morning for Sergey which saw his session cut short after a hydraulic problem which then damaged the gearbox,” Renault technical chief Nick Chester added.

“It’s disappointing as we know he would have done a good job.”

Besides his Renault duties, Sirotkin has no full race program in 2017, having opted against a third straight year in GP2 (now Formula 2).

Honda in talks with ‘various’ F1 teams over 2018 engine supply

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Honda is in talks with various Formula 1 teams over a possible engine supply for 2018 as it looks to reach beyond its current partnership with McLaren.

Honda returned to F1 as an engine supplier in 2015, striking an exclusive deal with McLaren that saw the famed partnership of the late 1980s and early ’90s be rekindled.

The championship-winning form enjoyed back then has been hard to come by, with reliability and performance issues with the Honda power unit leaving McLaren at the back of the field, currently without a single point to its name in 2017.

McLaren previously blocked Honda from working with other teams, but is now receptive to the idea, with the Japanese manufacturer talking to possible customers for 2018.

“From the start of this Formula 1 activity, we committed to support this Formula 1 society, so from that point of view it is duty and we have to support multiples teams,” Honda F1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa said.

“Also we are thinking it will give us some benefit to have multiple teams as we will have more data and more chance to make the car running, so we don’t deny to have a second or third team.

“We are talking to various teams but at this moment, unfortunately, we have nothing to say here.”

Honda has most closely been linked to Sauber for 2018, with the Swiss backmarker outfit currently using year-old Ferrari power units.

Current Formula 1 Power Unit Supplies

Ferrari – Ferrari, Haas, Sauber (2016-spec)
Mercedes – Mercedes, Force India, Williams
Renault – Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Renault
Honda – McLaren

Vettel tops final Russian GP practice after tight Ferrari, Mercedes battle

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Sebastian Vettel closed out Formula 1 practice for the Russian Grand Prix at the top of the timesheets following a tight battle between Ferrari and Mercedes on Saturday at the Sochi Autodrom.

Vettel headed up a one-two finish for Ferrari on Friday in Russia, suggesting the Italian marque had the march on the rival Mercedes team heading into the remainder of the weekend.

Mercedes was able to put up a more stringent challenge through FP3 as both teams experimented with their tire strategies, finding that the ultra-soft tires were at their best on the second hot lap.

Vettel eventually worked the fastest time down to 1:34.001 – the best-ever lap at the Sochi Autodrom – to finish three-tenths of a second clear at the top of the standings, heading up a one-two finish for Ferrari ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

Valtteri Bottas led Mercedes’ charge in third place, 0.363 seconds off Vettel’s benchmark, while teammate Lewis Hamilton struggled to keep his rear tires alive, leaving him fourth-quick and over half a second back.

Red Bull had a difficult session as Max Verstappen finished over 1.4 seconds off Vettel’s time in fifth place. There was worse news for Daniel Ricciardo, who suffered a stoppage late in the session after losing power on his car. Although Ricciardo was able to get the car back going, he could only finish eighth.

Felipe Massa led Williams’ charge once again in sixth place ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, while Carlos Sainz Jr. and Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top 10 behind Ricciardo.

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