NASCAR Daytona 500 Auto Racing

Primetime, Twitter, and 3 Steves play key role in Daytona 500 “meta” marathon

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The first 38 laps of the Daytona 500 on Sunday afternoon were fairly uneventful, save for Martin Truex Jr.’s engine failure and rookie Kyle Larson’s early race struggles.

Then the rain fell, tornado warning sounded, and things got interesting.

Social media can be a boon during a rain delay, and Sunday was no exception.

You can argue whether Stewart-Haas Racing’s “AirTitan” jokes – essentially substituting the AirTitan track drying system in for Chuck Norris – were actually funny or not.

But without question, the team was “winning” – to borrow another years-old joke (thanks, Charlie Sheen) – because during the rain delay, that was what people were talking about, sharing and retweeting on Twitter.

They had a social media strategy and game plan, had all these dozens of jokes in the canister ready to deploy at the moment there was going to be a long delay, and then made “AirTitan” the top non-sponsored trending topic on Twitter later that afternoon.

As the team tweeted at the end of it all, “our work is complete.”

Then there was the other part of the six-hour, 22-minute rain delay – the FOX TV coverage, which opted to run a replay of the 2013 Daytona 500 in the break.

From there, hilarity ensued, thanks to NASCAR fan and Twitter user @SteveLuvender.

Luvender started retweeting fans who thought they were watching a live race, even though the crawl at the bottom of the TV screen clearly indicated it was a replay of the 2013 race. And even though there were several interruptions from the FOX Sports 1 studios saying “the 2014 race is in a rain-delay, and you’re watching an encore of the 2013 race.”

No matter. The tweets keep coming, as did Luvender’s retweets, and the story grew so big it made to both the AP and Deadspin.

There was hilarity during the break, but there was also a constant update of information from another Steve, NASCAR executive vp of racing operations Steve O’Donnell. O’Donnell (@odsteve) spent the delay providing pertinent and key time updates before the race eventually resumed.

By the time the actual 2014 Daytona 500 was set to restart, even the drivers were riffing off it. Jimmie Johnson cracked that he had a chance to “win his second ‘500 of the day.”

And suddenly NASCAR garnered 12 hours worth of entertainment and chatter out of a race that officially ran for only 3 hours, 26 minutes and 29 seconds.

It featured the sport’s biggest name, Dale Earnhardt Jr., taking the win. And it featured another Steve – his crew chief, Steve Letarte – earning a win in his last Daytona 500 on the box before he heads to NBC’s NASCAR coverage in 2015.

Luvender, fittingly, had the perfect tweet to sum it all up later in the day.

That was, of course, before Dale Jr. decided to one-up the three Steves and start tweeting himself.

Still, the primetime race is NASCAR’s second unintentional primetime Daytona 500 in the last three years, and fair to say, a fairly big deal.

With all the build-up and hoopla to the Super Bowl, which starts later into the evening, could the results – and ratings – of the 2012 and 2014 Daytona 500s provide an impetus to eventually turn this race into a night race, permanently?

Or were these two Daytona 500s just fitting one-offs that will grow in stature by the oddities that made them head to primetime?

It’s certainly something the brass at NASCAR could consider in the days and weeks to come.

But if nothing else, it gives us something to discuss in 140-character bites on Twitter.

REMEMBER: You can see the premiere of NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN tonight.

Grosjean: Aggressive tire strategy could give Haas points at Spa

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean believes that an aggressive strategy could see the Haas Formula 1 Team score points in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix after qualifying 11th at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

Grosjean struggled with the setup on his car throughout practice, venting his frustration over the radio on a number of occasions, but managed to rein the VF-16 car in during qualifying to get into Q2.

Although the Frenchman was unable to secure Haas’ first Q3 appearance since entering F1 at the beginning of the season, he was pleased with the result and the progress made by the team.

“The car was fine in qualifying. We made a good step before the summer break, so I’m more happy with the car,” Grosjean said.

“There are still a few things we can improve but, generally, it’s not a bad place to be after qualifying.

“For the race, I don’t think we’ll be as challenged as some of the other teams. Hopefully, we can have a good, aggressive strategy and try to make it work to get some points.”

Grosjean has scored all 28 of Haas’ points so far this season, with his P6 and P5 finishes in Australia and Bahrain respectively coming in part thanks to canny strategy calls by the pit wall.

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

Rosberg wary of Verstappen, Hamilton threats in Belgium

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany drives the  Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg may have swept to his sixth pole position of the 2016 Formula 1 season in Belgium on Saturday, but the German remains wary of the threats posed from either end of the grid by Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes opted to curtail Hamilton’s qualifying program early due to the array of penalties he has picked up for engine changes that meant he would start last regardless of where he finished in qualifying.

This left Rosberg to go relatively unchallenged to pole, making it through Q2 on the soft tire before seeing off late charges from Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen to top the timesheets in Q3.

However, Rosberg felt the result was never secure, particularly after struggling in final practice just three hours earlier.

“We had a difficult weekend until qualifying, especially this morning we were thinking that we were off the pace a bit,” Rosberg said.

“So I was really happy to grab pole today. The Red Bulls were quickest on the long runs on Friday, so we need to be at our best to beat them.”

With Verstappen starting on the front row with the super-soft tire, Rosberg believes he could slip behind off the line with his soft compound Pirellis.

“The tires are a big challenge in the heat here this weekend. The degradation is very high,” Rosberg said.

“My disadvantage at the start is that I have a harder tire with lower grip, so Max should get off the line quicker on the super-soft.”

Rosberg will also be keeping an eye on Hamilton’s progress, believing he could come into contention despite being set to start from the back row.

“I reckon that with some luck and a maybe a safety car, Lewis can climb up to the top very quickly, so he can’t be ruled out either,” Rosberg said.

“In any case, I’m pleased with my qualifying and looking forward to tomorrow. It will be an exciting and intense race.”

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

IMSA: Magnussen leads Corvette Racing 1-2 in VIR qualifying

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Jan Magnussen has broken a personal drought to continue Corvette Racing’s weekend pace ahead of Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway, the GT-only round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

Magnussen hadn’t qualified on the pole since the Long Beach street race in 2014 in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R he shares with Antonio Garcia, but broke that duck today by edging teammate Tommy Milner by just 0.011 of a second. Garcia scored a pole at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the No. 3 car’s – and Corvette’s – first pole of the year.

Magnussen’s best lap was 1:41.557 to Milner’s 1:41.568; Milner and co-driver Oliver Gavin lead the points tables in GT Le Mans heading into Sunday’s two-hour, 40-minute race.

“I’m so happy. We’re here alone. Overall pole makes it even better!” Magnussen told IMSA Radio’s Shea Adam. “It’s so close up front. I knew we had to get every hundredth to beat the 4 car! It was a fantastic effort from the whole team.”

The No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT (Joey Hand, Dirk Mueller) starts third ahead of the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE and No. 100 BMW Team RLL BMW M6 GTLM. The top Porsche, the No. 911 Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR, starts seventh, a spot ahead of Gavin and Milner’s closest title rivals Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford.

Meanwhile, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 continued its pace this weekend with Madison Snow scoring his first, the car’s second (Bryan Sellers, Detroit) and the manufacturer’s third (Spencer Pumpelly, Change Racing, Lime Rock) pole of the year in GT Daytona.

Snow’s best time was 1:44.956, and that time led a top six sweep from brands under the VAG umbrella. The three Lamborghinis were first, third and fifth with the two Stevenson Motorsports Audi R8 LMS cars in second and fourth and the lone Porsche in GTD, the No. 23 The Heart of Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, in sixth.

Those six were separated by 0.607 of a second, and Ben Keating was seventh in the No. 33 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper GT3-R and the only other driver within a second at 0.724.

Christina Nielsen qualified the points leading No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 in eighth.

Tomorrow’s race rolls off at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

Qualifying results are linked here.

Raikkonen disappointed to miss out on Belgian GP pole

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) in the Pitlane during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen felt disappointed after missing out on pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix during qualifying on Saturday, believing it to have been within Ferrari’s reach.

Raikkonen’s last Formula 1 pole came back in 2008 at the French Grand Prix, but the four-time Spa winner looked to be in the mix at the front after leading final practice on Saturday morning.

With his sole flying lap in Q3, Raikkonen finished third, less than two-tenths of a second off the time set by Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg on pole.

However, Raikkonen feels that those two-tenths were lost at the final corner, making P3 a disappointing result.

“Compared to my Q2 lap, [I lost] two-tenths in last chicane. Pole position was there,” Raikkonen said.

“Disappointing. Since we were close it would have been nice to get it.

“Tomorrow is the race. Compared to previous few races we have to be satisfied.

“But until we’re in the front, we can’t be too happy.”

Raikkonen will start alongside Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel on the second row of the grid, the German qualifying fourth in the second SF16-H car.

“Looking at the gaps, when it’s close, you think you could be a bit closer. But it’s an OK place to start,” Vettel told NBCSN.

“I think we’re fine. We’re happy with what we have. Nothing has changed. Quite a bit warmer than everyone expected. In the end, we’re in Spa so there’s always a likelihood of rain somewhere! Gaps were close between cars so it should be a close race.

“Mercedes wasn’t that far away. On super-softs we weren’t that far off. Difficult to predict their real pace in the race.

“If there’s a chance, we go for it.”

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