Quaker State 400 - Qualifying

Fresh start has turned stale quickly for Martin Truex Jr.

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What was supposed to be a fresh start for Martin Truex Jr. in 2014 has instead become a frustrating if not stale start, with seemingly one bad thing after another this season.

Forced out of Michael Waltrip Racing when NAPA Auto Parts pulled their sponsorship in light of the attempt to manipulate the field of last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Truex had high hopes moving on to his new team, Furniture Row Racing.

FRR was coming off its best season ever, becoming the first single-car team to ever qualify for the Chase, with Kurt Busch behind the wheel.

When Busch moved on to Stewart Haas Racing, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Truex. He moved into a ride that appeared, at least on the surface, maybe even better than what he had at MWR.

But what Truex hoped for and what has turned out in actuality in the first five races of the season are 180 degrees apart.

Things looked like they’d start out great when he qualified on the outside pole for the season-opening Daytona 500.

Unfortunately, he ultimately wound up finishing last when his engine blew up just 30 laps into the race.

He finished 22nd at Phoenix, 14th at Las Vegas, fell back to 36th at Bristol and left Fontana this past Sunday 23rd.

Add those five races together and Truex’s average finish thus far this season is 27.6.

At the same time, he’s back to 30th in the overall standings, 82 points — almost two full races of points — behind series leader Carl Edwards.

There’s an old saying in NASCAR that how you do in the first five races of the season is usually a reflection of how the rest of your season is going to be like.

If that’s the case, The Mayetta, N.J., native is in big trouble heading into Sunday’s race at Martinsville, because the .526-mile bullring is one of his worst-performing tracks.

“We need to start finding a rhythm with this Furniture Row Racing team,” Truex said earlier this week. “Things have not gone our way so far this season.

“Some of it is our fault and a large part has been some very tough luck.”

While Truex obviously hopes he’s ready to break out, his past record at Martinsville appears to indicate he’ll suffer more of the same fate he’s had both this year overall, as well as throughout his career thus far at the southern Virginia track.

“Going to Martinsville presents another challenge,” Truex said this week. “To be honest, Martinsville is a place I still haven’t figured out. I have had some good runs over the years there, but it has been very inconsistent. I’ve been hooked up at Martinsville sometimes and other times I couldn’t get out of my own way.”

Even before Saturday’s washed out day of both Sprint Cup practices as well as the Camping World Trucks Series race (postponed until after Sunday’s Sprint Cup event), Truex was expecting a different kind of track.

Now with the rain having washed away all collected rubber, a completely green track is not in Truex’s favor, either.

“The biggest challenge about Martinsville is the track changes so much throughout the weekend,” he said. “And the track is never on Sunday what it was like all weekend.

“As soon as they drop the green flag, the track is completely different than it was the day before when you feel you have your car dialed in for the race. Though brakes aren’t as big of an issue as they use to be at Martinsville, you still need to take care of them. If not, you can burn them up.”

Truex needs a big lift this weekend, especially after last weekend’s race at Fontana. Not only did he crash in practice, forcing him to go to a backup car for the race, he ultimately finished a lot worst – 23rd – than what he felt his secondary ride was capable of.

“Every time we felt the momentum swing our way, we seemed to take a punch in the gut,” Truex said. “Finishing 23rd is never acceptable for us because we feel that we are a Chase-caliber team. But considering the incidents that we were faced with, I can honestly say that we fought for every inch of that 23rd-place result.

“Not a good weekend, but I am proud of the way we kept on bouncing back from all of the adversity. We’re going to be ok. We’re just going through a rough streak right now.”

For his sake, hopefully that rough streak will end Sunday.

“We understand the challenges and the uncertainty of Martinsville,” Truex said. “But when this Furniture Row team goes to a race, we feel confident that we can put together a strong race and be a contender. This weekend is not any different.”

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Hulkenberg signing buys Renault time to decide on second seat

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo on track during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Renault Formula 1 chief Frederic Vasseur is in no rush to complete the team’s driver line-up for 2017, saying that the recent arrival of Nico Hulkenberg has given him more time to make a decision on the German’s teammate.

Hulkenberg was lured away from Force India for the 2017 season, announcing last week that he had signed to join Renault and aid its revival after its return to F1 as a constructor this year.

Renault is thought to have been chasing a number of drivers under contract elsewhere for 2017, including Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

However, Renault is still exploring a number of options for its second seat, with Vasseur seeing no reason to rush any decision.

“We are in talks with many drivers,” Vasseur told the official F1 website.

“For sure, that we have secured the situation with Nico buys us time. Now we can postpone the decision for the second cockpit.

“Yes, we do have some young drivers and rookies in the loop, so it is important to see how they are improving.”

Bottas was strongly linked with a move away from Williams for 2017, but reports over the United States Grand Prix weekend suggest that he will now stay on with the British team.

“I also have a good relationship with Valtteri. He drove for me for three or four years in the past,” Vassuer said.

“We won the GP3 championship together. But Valtteri is under contract with Williams.

“That is not the same story as [Hulkenberg] with Force India.”

Magnussen recently admitted that he was getting impatient about his future with Renault, as well as adding that he was “millimeters” away from signing a new contract with the French team.

“His situation has not changed. Millimeters. But if you have the pen millimeters off the paper, what then?”

Famous faces descend on Austin for USGP weekend

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks with actors Christoph Waltz and Rosa Salazar in the garage  during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 has a habit of attracting the rich and famous out to play for the weekend, and the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas has been no exception to the rule.

A number of celebrities have descended on the Circuit of The Americas this weekend to catch some on-track action.

Some of the names have appeared in the F1 paddock before, but others are first-timers at COTA, keen to get a glimpse of one of the most exciting sports in the world.

Here’s a quick social run-down of the famous faces that have been spotted this weekend.

Tennis star Venus Williams was a guest of Mercedes on Saturday, and even took time to congratulate Lewis Hamilton following his charge to pole position.

Noted actor and villain in the latest James Bond film, Spectre, Christoph Waltz made an appearance in the Mercedes garage, receiving a tour from Hamilton himself.

American actress Rosa Salazar joined Waltz in the Mercedes garage.

NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon took some time out of his busy schedule to pay a visit to COTA, spotted here chatting to Nico Rosberg before the race.

F1 aficionado and TV chef Gordon Ramsay chatted with McLaren chief Ron Dennis ahead of the race – given McLaren’s excellent catering, it was probably not about the food…

McLaren’s other guest is literally out of this world: British astronaut Tim Peake.

Skateboarding star Ryan Scheckler has been with Red Bull all weekend, seen here swapping gear with Daniel Ricciardo.

Skier Lindsey Vonn received a birthday surprise from the Red Bull drivers.

Gerard Butler is another big F1 fan, seen here chatting with Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.

2016 Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen also came along (not many free seats in the Red Bull garage!).

Verstappen unlikely to change style despite F1 defense rule clarification

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing in the garage during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen doubts he will change his on-track racing style despite the FIA’s clarification of permitted defensive moves in Formula 1 ahead of Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.

Verstappen came under fire from his rivals in Hungary and Belgium earlier this year after appearing to move under braking, and was subject to a brief protest from Mercedes in Japan for the same reason.

Verstappen’s on-track moves were brought up in Friday’s drivers’ briefing at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, prompting FIA race director Charlie Whiting to clarify the rules regarding defensive moves.

Whiting confirmed that any move under braking that forces the car behind to take evasive action will be investigated by the stewards, appearing to clamp down on Verstappen’s moves.

However, the Dutchman told reporters on Saturday evening that he doubted it would have any effect on his approach or style on-track.

“I don’t think so. I think it’s good to make it more clear what’s allowed and what’s not,” Verstappen said, as quoted by Reuters.

“So far it said in the rules that you could go to the inside under braking. Now it’s not. So we’ll see how that’s going to affect the racing.”

Verstappen will start fourth on the grid in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET.

Hamilton: ‘Incredible’ to be closing in on Senna’s pole tally

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP waves to the crowd after qualifying in pole position during qualifying for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton finds it “incredible” to be closing in on Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna’s tally of pole positions after adding to his haul in Austin, Texas on Saturday.

Hamilton scored the 58th pole of his F1 career in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix after edging out Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in Q3, recording the fastest ever lap around the Circuit of The Americas.

Hamilton trails only Michael Schumacher (68) and Senna (65) in the list for all-time poles in F1, the latter being an inspiration to the Briton throughout his junior racing days.

“Seven is still a long way to go but to think that I’m within shooting distance is incredible,” Hamilton said after qualifying at COTA.

“But it also just goes to show just how amazing a driver he was. To get as many poles as that in the amount of time that he had, it’s taken me a lot longer to get where I am so it was clearly phenomenal.”

At just 31 years old, Hamilton stands a good chance of becoming F1’s all-time pole position leader, particularly if Mercedes can continue its current domination of the sport over into the 2017 season.

In the running for the FIA Pole Trophy in 2016, Hamilton pulled clear of Rosberg in Austin, the pair previously tied for eight poles heading into the weekend. Daniel Ricciardo is the only other driver to have started a race from pole this year, leading the field away in Monaco.

Hamilton is bidding for his fourth victory at COTA in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET.