NASCAR Budweiser Duel lineups set for Thursday

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So, qualifying is in the books for the Daytona 500, which means little in the grand scheme of things but means more in some respects because we get to talk about it for a week.

The tangible outcome of the Daytona 500 qualifying speeds though, is that they set the grid for Thursday’s Budweiser Duel… which then sets the grid for the actual Daytona 500.

The lineups below are determined by said qualifying speeds, with three exceptions. Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte will move to the back of their respective Duel race because of engine changes.

DAYTONA DUEL NO. 1

Pos Car Driver Team
1 3 Austin Dillon # DOW Chevrolet
2 16 Greg Biffle 3M Ford
3 31 Ryan Newman Caterpillar Chevrolet
4 88 Dale Earnhardt. Jr. National Guard Chevrolet
5 17 Ricky Stenhouse. Jr. Nationwide Insurance Ford
6 9 Marcos Ambrose Stanley Ford
7 43 Aric Almirola Smithfield Ford
8 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford
9 20 Matt Kenseth Dollar General Toyota
10 5 Kasey Kahne Farmers Insurance Chevrolet
11 18 Kyle Busch M&M’s Toyota
12 4 Kevin Harvick Budweiser Chevrolet
13 10 Danica Patrick GoDaddy Chevrolet
14 47 AJ Allmendinger Kroger/USO Chevrolet
15 36 Reed Sorenson Golden Corral Chevrolet
16 38 David Gilliland Love’s Travel Stops Ford
17 30 Parker Kligerman # Swan Energy Toyota
18 14 Tony Stewart Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet
19 55 Brian Vickers Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota
20 26 Cole Whitt # Speed Stick Gear Toyota
21 95 Michael McDowell K-Love Ford
22 98 Josh Wise Curb Records Ford
23 87 Joe Nemechek(i) 300 Rise of an Empire Toyota
24 23 Alex Bowman # Dr.Pepper Toyota
25 77 Dave Blaney Plinker Arms Ford

DAYTONA DUEL NO. 2

Pos Car Driver Team
1 78 Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Chevrolet
2 99 Carl Edwards Fastenal Ford
3 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Ford
4 24 Jeff Gordon Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
5 27 Paul Menard Peak/Menards Chevrolet
6 33 Brian Scott(i) Whitetail Chevrolet
7 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe’s Chevrolet
8 13 Casey Mears GEICO Chevrolet
9 7 Michael Annett # Pilot/Flying J Travel Centers Chevrolet
10 15 Clint Bowyer 5-hour Energy Toyota
11 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Express
12 42 Kyle Larson # Target Chevrolet
13 21 Trevor Bayne(i) Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford
14 41 Kurt Busch Haas Automation Chevrolet
15 51 Justin Allgaier # Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet
16 40 Landon Cassill(i) Hillman Racing Chevrolet
17 66 Michael Waltrip BlueDEF/AAA Toyota
18 35 Eric McClure(i) Hefty Ultimate/Reynolds Wrap Ford
19 1 Jamie McMurray McDonald’s Chevrolet
20 34 David Ragan CSX – Play It Safe Ford
21 32 Terry Labonte C&J Energy Services Ford
22 52 Bobby Labonte Phoenix Construction Chevrolet
23 83 Ryan Truex # Borla Exhaust Toyota
24 93 Morgan Shepherd(i) SupportMilitary.org Toyota

Hamilton and Vettel already focused on 2018 F1 title battle

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are already looking forward to fighting each other for a fifth Formula One title next year.

With Hamilton wrapping up this year’s title two races ago, the pressure is off this week at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Both are projecting to 2018, where the four-time champions get back to the serious business of trying to catch Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles.

“Certainly we will never match him in how successful he was in such a short space of time,” Vettel said on Thursday at a news conference. “Back then racing was different. The cars were not that reliable and he still managed to be successful. (He was) the best we’ve ever had in terms of putting it all together and skill.”

Only Michael Schumacher with seven titles has won more than Fangio, who drove in F1 from 1950-58.

“It was the most dangerous period of time in motorsport. I feel honored to be so close to such a great sporting icon,” Hamilton said of Fangio. “He should be celebrated more for his success. He’s not mentioned a huge amount. He’s kind of the godfather of the sport for the drivers.”

Some may come to revere Hamilton like that in time.

He has won 62 races – second only to Schumacher’s 91 – and holds the record for pole positions with 72. The 32-year-old British driver has won three of the past four titles – losing to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016 – and was at the peak of his powers this season.

After trailing Vettel at the halfway point, he pulled away after the summer break and leads the German driver by 43 points.

Hamilton is arguably the fiercest competitor around and is already thinking about how Vettel plans to turn the tables.

“Whatever weakness Sebastian had, he’ll work on those over the winter. No one’s perfect, even I have things to work on,” Hamilton said, without a trace of irony. “He’s going to raise the bar next year and I’ll have to as well, otherwise things won’t be the same.

“Ferrari had a very, very good season. Half the season they were in the lead and that wasn’t down to luck,” Hamilton added. “Red Bull is also going to be (competing for the title) next year.”

Considering how poor Ferrari was in 2016, this year can still be viewed as a success with Vettel winning five races compared to none last year.

Vettel joked that winning the title in 2018 will be “a walk in the park” if Ferrari improves by the same amount, then took a more serious view of the situation.

“That final step is always the hardest. But the team is ready and fired up,” said Vettel, who won four titles with Red Bull from 2010-13. “We made the biggest step of all. We lost out as the season progressed. In the end we weren’t good enough to take it to the last race, but there’s so much potential still.”

He accepted that he ultimately fell short because “Lewis made less mistakes” than he did.

Poised to regain the championship lead, he crashed out of the Singapore GP from pole position back in September – turning the tide in Hamilton’s favor. Reliability issues plagued Ferrari at the next two races. He started last and finished fourth at the Malaysian GP and then qualified third before retiring from the Japanese GP.

In June, the rivals were embroiled in their most heated clash at the Azerbaijan GP in Baku.

Vettel drove alongside Hamilton’s Mercedes as they waited behind the safety car for the restart, and was adjudged to have deliberately nudged the side of him. Tempers frayed and barbs were exchanged. Vettel initially denied it was deliberate but subsequently apologized for dangerous driving.

That incident genuinely threatened to spoil their healthy rivalry, but they joke about it now.

Asked on Thursday what their highlight of the season was, both drivers – sitting next to each other – laughed easily when Baku was suggested.

Referring to the upcoming end-of-season F1 awards, Vettel put himself forward for three.

“I should get (overtaking) move of the year, personality of the year, and fair play … maybe not.”