Keselowski wins in Vegas as Dale Jr. runs dry on final lap

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On a somber day for the Ford Motor Company, Brad Keselowski gave the Blue Oval camp a reason to smile.

After winning yesterday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead on the final lap after he ran out of gas coming off of Turn 2.

Keselowski went on to claim his first career Sprint Cup victory on the 1.5-mile Vegas oval, which enabled him to pull within one point of Earnhardt for the Sprint Cup championship lead going into next weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The victory also came hours after William Clay Ford, the director emeritus of the Ford Motor Company and owner/chairman of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, passed away at the age of 88 from pneumonia.

As a native of Rochester Hills, Michigan – not far from the manufacturer’s world headquarters in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn – Keselowski is aware of the impact Mr. Ford had on his community.

“He’s a big deal where I’m from in Detroit,” he said to Fox Sports in Victory Lane. “We want to say our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

But while he paid tribute to Mr. Ford, Keselowski was also thrilled to have virtually ensured his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after failing to qualify for the postseason last year.

Shortly after the final restart with 42 laps to go, Keselowski found himself battling Carl Edwards (who, along with Earnhardt, had stayed out on that previous yellow) for second before managing to get past the fellow Ford driver for the position.

That enabled him to go after Earnhardt, who had been told by crew chief Steve Letarte that he was likely to come up narrowly short on fuel.

“Carl Edwards helped me out there – he gave me a little break so I could go run down the 88 and that’s what we needed for a Ford to win,” Keselowski said. “We needed to put pressure on Dale and not let him get into fuel save mode, because you could tell he was getting close.”

With four laps remaining, Keselowski briefly took the lead from Earnhardt on the inside of Turn 1 but lost it back one turn later as Earnhardt got a great run off the high line.

Earnhardt pulled out to a half-second lead by the time the white flag came out. But unfortunately for him and Letarte, the latter’s prediction proved correct.

“We weren’t gonna run first or second had we not stayed out on that strategy,” said Earnhardt, who coasted home for the runner-up finish. “We knew we were a lap short and tried to save as much as we could. We got it to half a lap [short] and it ran out off of [Turn] 2 there.

“We took the gamble and didn’t win the race but it still worked in our favor to run second. It gave us a chance to win. It sucks to lose like that but we can’t let that be a negative. We gotta go to Bristol and try to win there, and the only way to be productive is to be positive.”

Paul Menard put together a stout run for Richard Childress Racing, finishing third for his best finish since his third-place run back in October 2012 at Kansas Speedway.

But don’t expect Menard to celebrate Vegas-style as he has very important business to attend to back home in North Carolina: The birth of his first child.

“Daytona was really good for us and we struggled at Phoenix but these guys never gave up,” said Menard, who recorded his third consecutive Top-10 at Las Vegas.

“The car was really good on long runs. On Thursday, we had a test day and we were really good on race trim. We had no speed at all in qualifying trim, but we went back to race trim and it was fast again…It’s something we can definitely build on for mile-and-a-half [tracks].”

Pole sitter Joey Logano recorded his second straight fourth-place finish, while Edwards went on to round out the Top 5.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
Kobalt 400 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Unofficial Results

1) Brad Keselowski
2) Dale Earnhardt Jr.
3) Paul Menard
4) Joey Logano
5) Carl Edwards
6) Jimmie Johnson
7) Ryan Newman
8) Kasey Kahne
9) Jeff Gordon
10) Matt Kenseth
11) Kyle Busch
12) Denny Hamlin
13) Brian Vickers
14) Martin Truex Jr.
15) Jamie McMurray
16) Austin Dillon
17) Jeff Burton
18) A.J. Allmendinger
19) Kyle Larson
20) Trevor Bayne
21) Danica Patrick
22) Greg Biffle
23) Clint Bowyer
24) Marcos Ambrose
25) Aric Almirola
26) Kurt Busch
27) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
28) Casey Mears
29) Michael Annett
30) David Gilliland
31) Justin Allgaier
32) David Ragan
33) Tony Stewart
34) Reed Sorenson
35) Ryan Truex
36) Cole Whitt
37) Alex Bowman
38) Timmy Hill
39) Travis Kvapil
40) Parker Kligerman
41) Kevin Harvick
42) Josh Wise
43) Michael McDowell

Mercedes continuing to explore Formula E, October deadline on entry

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GENEVA, Switzerland – Mercedes has until October to make a final decision on entering the FIA Formula E championship and activating its option for a place on the grid in season five, when it would have to be a customer team.

Mercedes announced last October that it had secured an option on a place in Formula E from season five, becoming the latest manufacturer to express its serious interest in the all-electric series.

No updates have been forthcoming from Mercedes regarding its Formula E interest since then, although a number of personnel are understood to have attended the recent Berlin race as it continues to evaluate the series.

When asked by NBC Sports about Mercedes’ Formula E plans at the FIA Sport Conference in Geneva earlier this week, head of Mercedes-Benz motorsport Toto Wolff confirmed that an evaluation was still ongoing ahead of an October deadline to trigger its option.

“We are exploring Formula E at the moment and try to form an educated opinion,” Wolff said.

“It is something that is very different, although I think they’ve done a great job in establishing the series in a couple of years only.

“We are in a fact-finding moment and we will make up our mind until October.”

Mercedes missed the deadline to join Formula E in season five (2018/19) as a manufacturer, with nine companies being listed by the series back in March.

Should Mercedes want to enter Formula E in season five, it would have to do so as a customer team, enjoying a powertrain supply from another manufacturer.

“The rules are what they are. If we decide to enter Formula E, we will be a customer team in season five,” Wolff said.

“There’d be no other solution.”

Verstappen quickest in opening Azerbaijan GP practice

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Max Verstappen led Red Bull Racing to a one-two finish in the opening Formula 1 practice session ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, finishing half a second clear of teammate Daniel Ricciardo at the top of the FP1 standings.

Verstappen and Ricciardo were able to make the most of low grip conditions at the Baku City Circuit through first practice, with a number of their rivals finding things more difficult and struggling to keep their cars on-track.

Verstappen recorded a fastest lap time of 1:44.410 in the Red Bull RB13 to take P1 overall, finishing four-tenths of a second clear of Ricciardo.

Sebastian Vettel took third place for Ferrari, half a second down on Verstappen at the front after squeezing a late lap in before a red flag stoppage in the closing stages of the session.

FP1 was halted when Sergio Perez became the first driver to crash at the tight Turn 8 section, carrying too much speed into the corner and clouting the barrier with his Force India car.

Despite the shunt, Perez ended the session fourth ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who failed to challenge the front-runners at the head of the field, finishing over a second behind Verstappen.

Valtteri Bottas was sixth in the second Mercedes ahead of Esteban Ocon and Felipe Massa, with Kimi Raikkonen and Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

Second practice in Baku begins at 9am ET live on the NBC Sports app before being re-aired on NBCSN at 2pm ET.

Road America weekend, Thursday notes

Brett Hundley with Will Power and Mario Andretti. Photo: IndyCar
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – It’s a busy day of testing, practice and qualifying for all the series not named the Verizon IndyCar Series on Thursday at the KOHLER Grand Prix weekend.

IndyCar sessions begin on Friday and as such there wasn’t meant to be as much to report on that end… until late Thursday afternoon when Schmidt Peterson Motorsports confirmed Mikhail Aleshin’s temporary absence and Robert Wickens to fill in.

Meanwhile with Esteban Gutierrez having been confirmed for the rest of the season at Dale Coyne Racing, it’s anticipated he will have his first oval test next week at Iowa Speedway, to have his first running on an oval ahead of the July 9 Iowa Corn 300.

Here’s a couple other IndyCar notes…

DIXON’S SURPRISE TO A YOUNG FAN

Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network reporter Jake Query, who will also be hosting this weekend’s Indy Lights coverage from Road America on NBCSN, found a fan letter from a young girl named Lucy addressed to INDYCAR after Scott Dixon’s wild ride at the Indianapolis 500. Lucy proceeded to thank INDYCAR for its safety efforts in keeping Dixon intact.

Well, between the efforts of Query and the IndyCar PR staff, a meeting between the two was arranged. You can see the video of that, below.

PACKERS QB TAKES A RIDE WITH MARIO

Not that Packers QB though.

Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley had a ride today with Mario Andretti in Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports, the two-seat IndyCar. He posted on it below.

Elsewhere, here is a bit more from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and Pirelli World Challenge ranks.

MRTI

  • First practice is in the books for USF2000 and rather than Oliver Askew being on top for Cape Motorsports, it was actually the Pabst Racing team that went 1-2-3 with Dutchman Rinus VeeKay ahead of Guyana driver Calvin Ming and Brazilian Lucas Kohl. Not bad for Augie Pabst’s Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team. Askew was fourth, and David Malukas was an impressive fifth. Full results are here.
  • In first qualifying for Pro Mazda, Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni took the pole with a best time of 2:06.5835, ahead of Cape Motorsports’ Anthony Martin at 2:07.9055. Team Pelfrey’s trio of Carlos Cunha, TJ Fischer and Nikita Lastochkin completed the top five. Full results are here.
  • Overall, the USF2000 field grows by one from the projected 18 up to 19 with F4 driver Jacob Loomis moving up to Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda, filling in for Ayla Agren. Agren’s full-season teammates Robert Megennis and Kaylen Frederick paid tribute to Agren, who is still here this weekend, with tribute cool shirts.
  • Meanwhile the Pro Mazda field dips by two. Neither Phillippe Denes, who was seventh in points heading into the weekend, nor Kevin Davis is here. It leaves the field at 15 cars, including series debutantes Kris Wright (who has tested with JDC Motorsports), Dave Zavelson and Kevin Bury. Zavelson’s car number switches from 4, listed initially, to 2.
  • Max Hanratty, who returns, has a new livery on his No. 6 ArmsUp Motorsports entry.
  • Anthony Martin is confident any issues with his Cape Motorsports Pro Mazda car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course have been sorted. The Australian proved that point by leading the opening practice session with a best time of 2:13.1661 in mixed conditions. Full times from that are linked here.
  • The reduced USF2000 field sees a couple drivers here who may be back later this year but others who may be done for the year. Agren, out at Team Pelfrey this weekend, is here and working towards a return later this season. Her past teammate at Pelfrey, Luke Gabin, is also here and is unsure whether he’ll be back in action for Exclusive Autosport.
  • Meanwhile Darren Keane, who makes his debut with Newman Wachs Racing in USF2000 this weekend, is expected to return to the team for remaining races. He’ll miss Iowa Speedway but plans to return at Mid-Ohio. Ozz Negri coaches Keane in USF2000; Tom Dyer, another Acura NSX GT3 driver, coaches the Pelfrey USF2000 drivers.

PWC

  • The PWC grid drops by a couple this week with a couple changes in the GT and GTA ranks. Bentley Team Absolute is down to one car with Yufeng Luo not here in his No. 78 Bentley Continental GT3, leaving only Adderly Fong. Fong, however, will miss the Mid-Ohio weekend owing to a schedule clash with the China GT Championship. Pablo Perez Companc, who was also due to race in GTA in the No. 69 Mercedes-AMG GT3, is another no-show this weekend.
  • K-PAX Racing has eclipsed the 100-podium plateau in recent rounds. The team’s three-car lineup resumes this weekend with Alvaro Parente, Bryan Sellers and Mike Hedlund, Parente and Hedlund having just returned from the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
  • Austin Versteeg makes his debut in the GTS class No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4, a car that’s won this season in the hands of Nico Jamin. Jamin is here this weekend in his Andretti Autosport Indy Lights car.
  • PWC had several test and practice sessions during the day.

Wickens set to substitute for Aleshin until further notice at Road America

Photo: IndyCar
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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Robert Wickens will temporarily fill in for Mikhail Aleshin at this weekend’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America.

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team released a statement on Thursday afternoon confirming Aleshin’s absence for at least Friday owing to immigration issues, with that potentially set to stretch into the remainder of the weekend if the situation is not resolved.

The statement is below.

Hinchcliffe has also posted a tweet going into the weekend. The two participated in a ride-swap earlier this year where Wickens made his IndyCar test debut at Sebring (recap here) and Hinchcliffe ran in Wickens’ DTM car in Italy after the St. Petersburg opener (recap here).

The two drivers were teammates in A1 Grand Prix about a decade ago; Wickens has race experience at Road America as he finished seventh in a Formula Atlantic race in 2007. Hinchcliffe was 14th in the same race.

Beyond his DTM commitments, Wickens raced in this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona with Starworks Motorsport, and ran 100 laps during the week in a PC class Oreca FLM09 he shared with a handful of others. Conor Daly and Sean Rayhall were among the notables in the other car.