Ricciardo comes close to dream pole in Australia

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Daniel Ricciardo will be celebrating tonight after qualifying in second place for the Australian Grand Prix, marking the best Saturday result of his F1 career and giving him an almost perfect start to his time with Red Bull.

After a disastrous winter testing period that saw many write off Red Bull’s championship hopes for 2014, Ricciardo bounced back in triumphant fashion to tame the wet conditions at Albert Park and put his car on the front row of the grid.

Throughout the wet qualifying session, Ricciardo was an ever-present name at the top of the timesheets, but he was not expected to beat pacesetters Mercedes in the final part of Q3. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg did have an advantage as both drivers claimed provisional pole on the wet tire. However, Red Bull opted to gamble and fitted a set of intermediates on Ricciardo’s car, but it paid dividends as he stormed to provisional pole once the checkered flag had fallen.

Unsurprisingly, the Australian crowd went into raptures upon seeing their favorite son move up into P1, but their joy was short-lived as Hamilton responded to go 0.317 seconds quicker than Ricciardo and snatch pole position away.

Nevertheless, it was a quite remarkable performance from Ricciardo on his first outing for Red Bull. During his two year stint with Toro Rosso, he established himself as being a strong qualifier and recorded a best grid position of fifth at last year’s British Grand Prix. However, some doubted whether he had what it took to join the defending world champions as Mark Webber’s replacement.

In stark contrast to Ricciardo’s success on home soil, Sebastian Vettel endured a difficult qualifying session on Saturday. The German driver scraped the wall in Q1 and was lucky to avoid damage, but he could not cope with the wet conditions in Q2 and eventually qualified in 13th place; a far cry from the driver who won the final nine races of 2013.

With more rain forecast for the race on Sunday, Ricciardo could be well placed to become the first Australian driver to win his home grand prix since Alan Jones in 1980.

You can watch the Australian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1:30am ET.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.