Denny Hamlin sets track record to take Food City 500 pole at Bristol

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Denny Hamlin spoiled the bid by Penske Racing teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski to share the starting front row for the third straight race during Friday’s Sprint Cup qualifying for Sunday’s Food City 500.

Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry set a new Bristol Motor Speedway qualifying record with a speed of 129.991 mph (at 14.761 seconds).

It marked was the third straight Sprint Cup race this season that a new track qualifying mark has been set.

“It’s fast, faster than I ever imagined going around this track,” Hamlin said. “Darian (crew chief Darian Grubb) just made an excellent call with our adjustments and the team stepped up. … We thought it was going to be one and done for us, one good effort in that final round.”

Keselowski went out for a last-ditch attempt and rallied to knock off Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth, from the outside pole with a lap of 129.965 mph (14.764 seconds).

“Denny did a great job,” Keselowski said. “My team did a great job and another front row start. That’s always good at Bristol because track position is important.

“But more important than track position is pit stall selection, so we’ll get a good pit stall out of that and go racing to the front.”

Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano have owned pole qualifying in the last two races. Keselowski took the pole and Logano was second at Phoenix, while it was reversed last week at Las Vegas, with Logano qualifying first and Keselowski second.

Kenseth will start Sunday’s race third (129.073 mph), Logano fourth (128.830) and Marcos Ambrose came through with a stout (128.727) effort.

Current Sprint Cup Series leader and Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 14th (128.271).

The news was not so good for four drivers who were forced to take provisionals to make the race: Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers, Travis Kvapil and Ryan Truex.

Here’s the starting grid and each driver’s qualifying speed for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Food City 500:

Row 1

Denny Hamlin 129.991, Brad Keselowski 129.965

Row 2

Matt Kenseth 129.073, Joey Logano 128.830

Row 3

Marcos Ambrose 128.727, Jeff Gordon 128.245

Row 4

Kyle Busch 128.159, Greg Biffle 127.946

Row 5

Ryan Newman 127.801, Kasey Kahne 127.690

Row 6

Jimmie Johnson 127.385, Carl Edwards 127.073

Row 7

Kurt Busch 128.322, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 128.271

Row 8

Clint Bowyer 128.245, David Gilliland 128.236

Row 9

Jamie McMurray 128.168, Cole Whitt 127.929

Row 10

David Ragan 127.903, Kyle Larson 127.792

Row 11

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 127.682, AJ Allmendinger 127.648

Row 12

Aric Almirola 127.605, Michael McDowell 127.605

Row 13

Casey Mears 127.597, Austin Dillon 127.529

Row 14

Kevin Harvick 127.444, Paul Menard 127.436

Row 15

Martin Truex Jr. 127.351, Justin Allgaier 127.343

Row 16

Landon Cassill 127.182, Josh Wise 127.174

Row 17

Alex Bowman 127.165, Michael Annett 126.896

Row 18

Reed Sorenson 126.645, Danica Patrick 126.628

Row 19

Tony Stewart 126.545, Brian Vickers 126.445

Row 20

Travis Kvapil 126.303, Ryan Truex 125.363

Row 21

Parker Kligerman 124.460, Joe Nemechek 122.537

Row 22

Timmy Hill 122.084

Did not qualify: David Reutimann, Dave Blaney

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Hamilton leads first Monaco F1 practice, Button makes solid return

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Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel’s ongoing battle for supremacy in Formula 1 continued during first practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday morning as the duo locked out the top two positions.

Hamilton and Vettel have won four of the opening five rounds of the 2017 season and look set to enjoy a season-long fight for the championship, representing Mercedes and Ferrari respectively.

Hamilton drew first blood in Monaco, turning in a best lap of 1:13.425 around the tight streets of the principality to finish two-tenths clear of Vettel at the top of the timesheets.

The session saw Mercedes and Ferrari run close once again, yet Red Bull was also able to get into the mix at the head of the field with Max Verstappen finishing third-fastest, three-tenths of a second off the pace. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was fifth-fastest.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth in the second Mercedes, but Kimi Raikkonen was less able to match his teammate’s pace, coming home seventh for Ferrari, half a second down on Vettel’s time in the same car.

Toro Rosso and Force India both had impressive sessions as both teams got their drivers into the top 10. Daniil Kvyat was sixth for Toro Rosso as teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. was ninth, sandwiched by Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon for Force India.

Jenson Button’s first running in a 2017-spec F1 car was impressive as he finished 14th for McLaren ahead of his one-off grand prix return. The Briton turned in 31 laps in total and lapped less than two-tenths of a second slower than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne, proving he has lost little of his touch over the winter.

Running in Monaco continues with second practice live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Thursday.

Sebastien Bourdais released from IU Methodist hospital; begins rehab

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INDIANAPOLIS – Sebastien Bourdais only posted just yesterday that he was “unable to go for a run” – his spirit and humor clearly not affected despite sustaining multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in his crash during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 18 GEICO Honda on Saturday.

On Thursday, his post revealed even better news: he’s been released from IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and will be set to fly home soon to Florida for his rehabilitation.

Bourdais’ place in the race at Dale Coyne Racing will be taken by James Davison, but judging by this first round of leaving, the Frenchman is keen to begin the recovery process as quick as humanly possible.

Bottas remains confident he can close gap in F1 title race

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MONACO (AP) Valtteri Bottas has put his recent bad luck behind him and remains confident he can close the gap in the Formula One title race at this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver’s fledgling Mercedes career has been a topsy-turvy one since he joined from Williams as a replacement for F1 champion Nico Rosberg.

He drove brilliantly to win his first career race at the Russian Grand Prix after securing his first ever pole position in Sochi last month. But two weeks ago he was undone by engine problems in practice for the Spanish GP and then failed to finish because of a turbo issue late in the race.

“It’s one to forget for sure. It’s been a bit up and down for me this year,” Bottas said Wednesday at the Monaco GP. “Bad result, good result.”

His other results so far are two third places and one sixth place, putting him 41 points behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel and 35 behind three-time champion Lewis Hamilton, his Mercedes teammate.

“The gap to Sebastian, to Lewis, is bigger than I was hoping for this year. But things can change quickly,” Bottas said. “What gives me confidence is that there is still 75 percent of the season left. I feel my best races are ahead this year. I feel I’ve done a good job in some races, but I feel there is more to come to be at a consistently good level.”

Although Bottas has impressed with this speed, he has yet to show the hallmarks of a genuine title contender.

His magnanimous approach goes somewhat against that.

Bottas showed his team ethic by allowing Hamilton past him in Bahrain so that the British driver could chase after Vettel.

He did so again in Barcelona, holding up Vettel for a crucial few laps. That allowed Hamilton to gain some precious seconds on Vettel’s chasing Ferrari. Hamilton won a thrilling race, Vettel was second and Bottas got nothing – except praise for his efforts.

It is a difficult situation for Bottas, who is on a one-year contract and has the added pressure of the demanding Hamilton as a teammate. With 55 race wins to his name, Hamilton is clearly the No. 1 driver, even though the team has not officially said so.

Over the past three years, Hamilton was on an equal footing with Rosberg as they fought each other for the title. This led to tensions and fall outs.

The 27-year-old Bottas is not relishing the prospect of finding himself in a similar position. But it might become inevitable if he does manage to close the gap on Hamilton and turn the title race into a genuine three-way battle.

“I can’t even imagine how it can be after a few years with a teammate battling for the title always. There is respect both ways (with Hamilton), which is good,” Bottas said. “(We are) just enjoying working together and hopefully that will help us in this close fight with Ferrari. It is a team sport anyway, so we need to push forward together.”

It’s hardly the talk of a driver desperate to win the title.

F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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From the streets of Monte Carlo, Monaco, comes the crown jewel of the Formula 1 season (all times for the weekend via NBC or NBCSN here) this weekend, the Monaco Grand Prix.

And here with the pre-race updates from the paddock are NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales, along with the race crew from the F1 on NBC team who are on site in Monaco.

This is an interesting weekend for Monaco, given the Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battle for race wins and the championship so far in 2017. There’s also the question of whether someone can spring a surprise in Monaco, as has been done on several occasions over the years.

Here’s the show, below: