STP 400 - Practice

More Fontana success in the cards for Kenseth?

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With plenty of success on both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide side at Auto Club Speedway, Matt Kenseth looks set to have a say in the outcome of tomorrow’s Auto Club 400.

Kenseth has earned three Cup victories in his career on the two-mile oval and four more in Nationwide in his former life as a Roush Fenway Racing driver.

Furthermore, he’s earned 14 Cup Top-10s and is high up in several important categories pertaining to Fontana, such as average running position (9.4, third-best among active drivers) and laps in the Top 15 (2,860 laps, second-best among active drivers).

After seven Cup wins last season, Kenseth has not been able to find Victory Lane yet in 2014. But he’s been steady enough to run eighth in the championship so far, and he could certainly put himself into the Chase tomorrow.

Here are a few more contenders to watch for…

JIMMIE JOHNSON (starting third)
Johnson has won five times at Fontana, and has maintained that he’s not feeling the pressure to put himself in the Chase with a win this weekend. He’s had good pace throughout the weekend, including P3 in final practice.

CLINT BOWYER/BRIAN VICKERS (starting fifth and 19th respectively)
Both Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Brian Vickers have shown speed during the weekend, with Bowyer logging two Top-10 efforts in practice and Brian Vickers topping Happy Hour.

JEFF GORDON (starting sixth)
A three-time winner at Fontana, Gordon has been solid through the weekend as the runner-up in all three of the practice sessions. We’ve talked about his teammate Johnson possibly becoming the fifth different winner of the season in as many races. But we definitely have to keep Gordon in mind as well.

DALE EARNHARDT JR. (starting 15th)
Junior has never won at Fontana, but it looks sounds like he’s got something this weekend (fourth in first practice, fifth in final practice). Said NASCAR’s most popular driver on Twitter:

Sainz uninjured, but to remain in hospital overnight

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Carlos Sainz Jr. will remain in hospital overnight following a terrifying crash during practice for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday morning.

Sainz slammed into the wall at turn 13 after losing control of his car, pitching in underneath the TecPro barrier at the end of the run-off area.

Medical crews spent 20 minutes extricating Sainz from his car due to the barriers’ placement before he was taken away to hospital for a check-up.

Sainz tweeted a picture to his followers confirming that he was okay, and Toro Rosso has now released a second statement confirming that the Spaniard was fully conscious throughout the crash and is uninjured.

“After arriving at the Sochi Hospital 4, Carlos Sainz, who never lost consciousness, underwent a medical examination, including a full body scan,” the statement reads. “The scan showed that the driver has no injuries.

“However, he will be staying in the hospital overnight as a precautionary measure, which is the normal procedure in these circumstances.

“We will release further information when it is available.”

Sainz tweeted that he was hoping to convince the doctors to release him from hospital early enough so that he could take part in tomorrow’s race, but any steps taken will be with his well-being in mind.

Rosberg charges to Russian GP pole in Sochi

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Nico Rosberg will start tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix from pole position after topping the timesheets in Saturday’s qualifying session at the Sochi Autodrom.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:37.113 to edge out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by three-tenths of a second to score pole position in Russia.

Following on from its dominant display in Japan two weeks ago, Mercedes showed few signs of easing up at the front of the field as it stormed to another front-row lock-out.

Having traded fastest lap times throughout the earlier stages of qualifying, Hamilton and Rosberg renewed their battle in Q3 at Sochi, but it was Rosberg who finished on top.

Rosberg drew early blood in Q3 by going three-tenths faster than his teammate on his first run, and when Hamilton locked up late on and opted to pit, pole was safely with the German driver.

Valtteri Bottas finished as the best of the rest in third place, beating the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen who finished fifth and sixth respectively as all of the drivers struggled to improve on their second runs.

Nico Hulkenberg and Force India teammate Sergio Perez will start sixth and seventh, while Romain Grosjean qualified eighth. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten in P9 and P10 respectively.

Home favorite Daniil Kvyat was unable to delight the local fans as he would have liked to in qualifying, dropping out in Q2 by finishing 11th ahead of Felipe Nasr. Pastor Maldonado was also eliminated, finishing 14th, but it was Felipe Massa who was the biggest casualty of the second session, ending up 15th for Williams.

McLaren experienced something of a mixed qualifying session on Saturday as Fernando Alonso was knocked out at the end of Q1. Teammate Jenson Button managed to improve late on to dump the Spaniard out and leave him 16th overall, while the Briton went on to finish 13th in Q2.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson also dropped out at the first hurdle alongside the two Manor drivers, while Carlos Sainz Jr. took no part in the session following his practice crash. The Spaniard still hopes to take part in tomorrow’s race, but will remain in hospital overnight.