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Updated: Even out of gas, Earnhardt extends best season start with runner-up finish at Vegas

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With about 20 laps remaining, crew chief Steve Letarte warned race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. that he would be about a half-lap shy of enough fuel to finish Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

And even though his driver did everything he could in the closing laps to conserve fuel, Letarte couldn’t have been more precise.

Earnhardt was heading towards what would have been his second win in the first three races of the 2014 Sprint Cup season when his car began sputtering on the backstretch, coming out of turn two on the final lap.

Keselowski passed Earnhardt and went on to win the race. Junior, however, was able to restart his sputtering motor just enough to make it to the finish line in second place.

“I was lifting real early trying to save even more,” Earnhardt said about his fuel level in the post-race press conference. “We figured we were a lap short, and I was lifting early and let Brad get there.

“I felt like if we were good enough to hold him off, then we’d win the race.  If we weren’t, we would have saved enough fuel to have finished the race, at least get to the end. I can run out of gas on the back stretch and be okay, but if I run out off of 4 coming to the white it would’ve been big trouble, so I had to save a little bit. So I let him catch us and once he got there, I ran as hard as I could and could pull back away from him.”

When asked if he second-guessed the decision to stay out and not pit for a splash of fuel, Earnhardt said it was the right strategy to keep racing.

“You know, it did pay off.  Not the ultimate prize, but we did run second,” he said. “As much as you want to win, and believe me, we were out there trying to win, you do take pride in a good performance, a good finish, and we weren’t going to run in the top 5 if we hadn’t have used that particular strategy. If we’d have run the same strategy as our competitors we would have probably run just inside the top 10 where we were all day.

“At least it felt like I was around eighth all day.  I just couldn’t get any ground, and we fought the car all day. Just the air is so dirty behind everybody, the further back you get you’ve got less and less grip.  Once we got the lead, it was like driving a Cadillac.”

Even though Earnhardt didn’t win, he nonetheless continued his torrid hot streak – the best start of his 15-year Sprint Cup career, with a win in the season opening Daytona 500 and back–to-back runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas.

And while he also has never won at LVMS, Sunday marked the third time Earnhardt has finished second in 15 career starts there.

“Yeah, this is a good start for sure,” Earnhardt said. “Yeah, the confidence is up there. When we first got together we’d run our guts out to run in the top 15.  Then the next year we’d run our guts out to run in the top 10, and you wondered when you’d get up to fifth and start running in the top 5 regularly.

“We started doing that finally last year, and so our team just keeps stepping up this ladder. It just makes total sense to me how that process has went, having lived it and having seen the progression. So the sky’s the limit for us, and if we are smart and keep our composure and don’t get foolish and don’t get too proud of ourselves, just keep it in perspective, we’ve got a great opportunity this year to be this competitive every week. … You definitely don’t want to take it for granted, get used to it, but this is what we envisioned, and starting to bear some fruit.”

With his win, Keselowski closed the points gap on Earnhardt in the Sprint Cup standings. Junior came into Las Vegas leading by six points; he now leads Keselowski by only one point after the first three races.

“It’s disappointing (to finish second), but at the same time the good Lord has blessed me with a good team and good fortune and great opportunity,” Earnhardt said. “So I don’t want to get too down and think (only) about the positives and be productive so we can go to Bristol (next Sunday) and try to win there.”

Keselowski and Earnhardt are both past winners at the half-mile track at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“It sucks to lose like that, but we can’t let it be a negative,” Earnhardt said. “We have to go to Bristol and try to win there. Only way to be productive is to be positive, so we’ve got to look at the positives today and keep working toward our goal of winning some more races.”

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Is there a new adventure for Lowdon, Booth? @RealManor Twitter launches today

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A mere two days after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and John Booth and Graeme Lowdon’s sign-off to the Manor Marussia F1 Team occurred, Lowdon’s already dropped a hint of what his next move could be.

Lowdon and Booth sat front and center in a Twitter post released Tuesday, with Lowdon writing: “So maybe time for a new adventure? Why not come along too? For any news, just follow MM .”

Fittingly, the aforementioned new Twitter account – @realManor – has premiered today.

Two things to note here. One… the timing is very intriguing to say the least. Booth, then team principal, and Lowdon, then sporting director, tendered their resignations from a team that appeared to be moving forward for 2016, with confirmation of a new Mercedes power unit and technical support from Williams, in the form of gearbox and suspension components. But Booth and Lowdon resigned following apparent disagreements with the direction of the team under new owner Stephen Fitzpatrick.

Second, the naming of the new Twitter account as Real Manor implies, intentional or not, that Manor is more closely aligned to Booth and Lowdon, rather than with the Manor Marussia F1 Team. The Twitter bio page makes that fairly clear: “Official Twitter account of Manor Motorsport. Established in 1990. Over 180 race wins and 19 National and International Championships. We love racing.” Naturally though, the Manor Marussia F1 Team continues with @ManorF1Team as its Twitter account.

With Manor F1’s management structure now going through the change, with Booth and Lowdon now out and former McLaren F1 sporting director Dave Ryan joining the team as racing director, and now this new cat out of the bag, it will be very intriguing to see what develops from a name and/or new adventure standpoint that Lowdon is referring to.

Alfonso Celis Jr. makes solid F1 test debut with Force India

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Mexican driver Alfonso Celis Jr., who was confirmed as a development driver for Sahara Force India late last month, had his first running in the VJM08 chassis during today’s season-ending test at the Yas Marina Circuit.

The Pirelli test, which featured the debut of the new ultrasoft compound, hasn’t gotten much ink thus far – perhaps by design as you’ll see from Celis’ teammate Nico Hulkenberg’s quote below.

As for Celis, who ran 65 laps for his first outing, it was a chance to step up and acclimate to an Formula 1 car for the first time.

“My first day in a Formula One car certainly lived up to expectations,” Celis said. “The car had huge grip and excellent braking efficiency, but my experience in the Formula 3.5 car had prepared me quite well for this big challenge.

“I really enjoyed the experience and I’m pleased with how the day went. For the first few runs I took things steady while I got used to the car and all the systems. Then, with each run, I started to push more and more as I kept learning about the car.

“With the program for the day set by Pirelli, I could simply focus on my driving and getting to know everyone. 2016 is going to be an important year for me as I continue working with the team so I’m pleased to have some valuable miles under my belt already.”

Meanwhile, Hulkenberg’s quote was brief:

“A trouble-free and routine day of tire testing. Lots of laps, well over a race distance for me, and hopefully lots of useful information for Pirelli,” the German said after completing 71 laps.

Force India chief race engineer Tom McCullough said Celis did well enough as he prepares for some free practice outings in 2016.

“We are very pleased to have completed a successful day of Pirelli tire testing with Alfonso and Nico covering a combined total of 136 laps,” he said. “It was Alfonso’s first day in a Formula One car and it’s always fun to be part of that acclimatization process. He worked well with the engineers and improved throughout the morning as he completed numerous long runs on high fuel. The time spent in the car today has been good preparation for his involvement in free practice sessions next year.

“Nico took over the tire program for the afternoon, gathering plenty of useful data with no issues. All in all it’s been a trouble-free day and a nice way to wrap up the 2015 season.”

A handful of tweets from the day are below:

Report: Tony Kanaan undergoes surgery for hernia

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The best kind of love is Instagrammed, right?

NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan and wife Lauren Kanaan (nee Bohlander) took to Instagram yesterday to post a couple videos of Kanaan’s surgery on Monday.

Kanaan posted an Instagram picture following the surgery, which is reportedly for a hernia per USA Today Sports‘ Brant James (see below).

What was a bit funnier, perhaps, was Lauren Kanaan posting a handful of Instagram videos of a woozy – but still fast and sharp – “TK” from her own account.

If you say so, @tkanaan. 😂

A video posted by Lauren Kanaan (@laurenbohlander) on

Serious #ultimatum. Love you, too @tkanaan 😈😂

A video posted by Lauren Kanaan (@laurenbohlander) on

And one minute ago he loved me. #gofigure #wecanhang @tkanaan

A video posted by Lauren Kanaan (@laurenbohlander) on

The offseason for Tony Kanaan, since the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma on August 30, has included tests at Road America and Phoenix, another triathlon and now this surgery.

Chip Ganassi Racing generally tends to put its IndyCar and NASCAR stars in cars for the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which is already next month.

With rumors swirling that Ganassi will run at least one and possibly two Daytona Prototypes at the Rolex 24 in addition to their new Ford GT program, and with Kanaan one of four drivers with a shot to defend his overall win, you’d think he will be good to go to be named to one of those seats.

MRTI: Team Pelfrey signs Jordan Cane as its second USF2000 driver

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Team Pelfrey has filled out two of its seats in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda championship, with confirmation Tuesday that 14-year-old Jordan Cane will be one of the team’s drivers in 2016.

Cane joins Robert Megennis, 15, as the first two confirmed drivers for 2016, with Cane in the team’s No. 81 entry. Both tested at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of The Americas in late November.

Cane’s contract is for two years, with an option to extend beyond that. He graduates from F1600, where he won seven races and finished fourth in the championship despite missing several races.

“I am so pleased to continue my North American open-wheel racing career with Team Pelfrey,” Cane said.

“My time in America has been such a highlight to my resume especially breaking the all-time win record in my first season and coming away fourth in the F1600 Championship whilst missing six races –not bad for the youngest in the world this year in formula cars. I didn’t expect to have such a fantastic year and I have to thank everyone at Team Pelfrey who has made it possible.”

“We are delighted to have Jordan join us for another two years,” said Nigel Tuckey, team principal of Team Pelfrey. “His growth on and off the track has been extraordinary and his competitive nature is something every driver in the paddock wishes to inhabit. We’ve grown a custom to seeing him on the top step of the podium, and we hope to see more of that come 2016.”

Pelfrey’s four-car lineup in 2015 featured a quartet of rookies, Ayla Agren, Luke Gabin, Garth Rickards and Nikita Lastochkin. All would like to continue for a second season in USF2000, budgets pending, and Lastochkin dominated the Griffis Test while driving with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.