Harvick, Kyle Busch impressed by Larson’s poise in furious N’Wide finish

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For any driver, claiming your first checkered flag is a special accomplishment. But for Kyle Larson, who earned his inaugural Nationwide Series victory today at Auto Club Speedway, this has to feel doubly special.

Larson took the lead off the final restart with 16 laps to go but then had to hold off not one but two of the best stock car drivers on the planet in Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

But while the Sprint Cup superstars continuously filled Larson’s rear view mirror in the final dash to the finish, neither of them could put Larson in theirs.

Racing the high line to perfection with Busch right behind him, Larson still withstood a last-lap attack on the low line from Harvick to win the race.

Afterwards, both Harvick and Busch couldn’t help but be impressed.

“Since the first race he’s come in here, he’s been competitive,” Harvick said of Larson before expanding his praise to include another young gun, Chase Elliott, who finished sixth.

“He’s a lot like Chase [Elliott]…It’s like, ‘No big deal.’ They just go out, drive, and act like they’ve been here for 20 years. It’s pretty fun to see.”

Third-place finisher Busch also complimented Larson, who will start 11th in tomorrow’s Auto Club 400 for the Cup Series at Fontana.

“He held everything together – he was a little loose running on the edge and right up against the wall but that’s what Larson likes to do,” he said. “We see it a lot of weeks out of the year that he can do that, and he proved it again here today and didn’t buckle under the pressure [from] either Kevin or I up alongside him.

“He knew what he needed to do to win, and he did that.”

While Harvick and Busch obviously wanted to win as they drove their guts out every bit as much as Larson did, the fact that they were able to lay it all on the line seemed to make their own near-misses a bit more tolerable.

“You race as hard as you can, and I think if we had got our butt kicked today and finished third by a straightaway, it probably wouldn’t been as easy to swallow as it was [while] racing for a win and going back and forth with these two guys and having fun,” Harvick said.

“You want to come out here and win – that’s what we’re all here to do,” said Busch. “But when it all comes down to the end like that and it’s a great finish happens, there shouldn’t be anybody happier than the fans in the stands…All in all, the fans won today.”

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.