No worries for Kurt Busch: Takes back-up car to top of speed charts in Saturday’s Sprint Cup practice in Texas

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Kurt Busch is NASCAR’s version of Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman. When Busch wrecked his primary race car in Friday’s practice at Texas Motor Speedway, the 2004 Sprint Cup champ had confidence in his back-up car and his team.

And just like Neuman (no, not Ryan Newman, Busch’s former teammate) infamously says, “What, me worry?”, Busch didn’t worry at all, waiting until the final minute before recording the fastest speed in Saturday’s final pre-qualifying practice.

Busch absolutely nailed it perfectly, saving the best for the last of his 18 practice laps, speeding around the 1.5-mile TMS layout at 194.630 mph. It’s obvious Busch is still riding a wave of momentum he gained in winning last Sunday at Martinsville, as he seeks back-to-back wins in Sunday’s Duck Commander 500 at TMS.

Busch, who has one previous win at TMS (fall 2009), knocked Ford driver Carl Edwards (194.616) off the top of the heap. Kevin Harvick was third-fastest (194.328), Greg Biffle was fourth (194.014) and Aric Almirola was fifth (193.979).

Austin Dillon is battling flu-like symptoms, prompting younger brother Ty to take a handful of laps just in case he’s needed to step in during Saturday’s qualifying or Sunday’s race.

In 28 initial laps, Austin Dillon had recorded a weak best-effort of just 186.220 mph. But after Ty went out to shake down the car, Austin found a second wind, climbed back in his No. 3 Richard Childress Chevrolet and pumped out a much more respectable effort of 192.623 mph, good for 23rd on the speed charts.

Unlike Friday’s practice session, when David Ragan tore up the front end and undercarriage of his Ford when he slid into the infield grass, and Kurt Busch’s wreck, there were no incidents in Saturday’s practice.

Tony Stewart’s team had to repair damage to the front end of his car caused when debris from Busch’s Friday wreck punctured the headlight bezel area. But Stewart was none the worst for wear in Saturday’s practice, clicking off the ninth-fastest lap of the field (193.840).

Also of note, current Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. was only 25th fastest (192.596). And like Friday, JJ Yeley failed to crack 180 mph, once again recording the session’s slowest speed at 179.045 mph.

A field of 47 cars took practice laps and are preparing for Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session, which will force four of those cars to fall short of the 43-car field for Sunday’s race.

Here’s the results from Saturday’s final pre-qualifying practice for the Sprint Cup Series:

1 Kurt Busch 194.630 mph

2 Carl Edwards 194.616

3 Kevin Harvick 194.328

4 Greg Biffle 194.014

5 Aric Almirola 193.979

6 Paul Menard 193.924

7 Jimmie Johnson 193.875

8 Trevor Bayne 193.854

9 Tony Stewart 193.840

10 Jamie McMurray 193.521

 

11 Matt Kenseth 193.500

12 Ryan Newman 193.396

13 Martin Truex Jr. 193.237

14 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 193.181

15 Jeff Gordon 193.126

16 Marcos Ambrose 193.050

17 Joey Logano 193.016

18 Alex Bowman 192.836

19 Michael McDowell 192.809

20 Kyle Larson 192.740

 

21 Brian Vickers 192.678

22 Danica Patrick 192.664

23 Austin Dillon 192.623

24 Casey Mears 192.616

25 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 192.596

26 Justin Allgaier 192.321

27 Brad Keselowski 192.280

28 Clint Bowyer 192.184

29 Denny Hamlin 192.157

30 Kyle Busch 191.925

 

31 Michael Annett 191.171

32 Kasey Kahne 191.164

33 AJ Allmendinger 190.975

34 Parker Kligerman 189.887

35 David Stremme 189.560

36 David Reutimann 189.500

37 Ryan Truex 189.474

38 Cole Whitt 189.367

39 Travis Kvapil 188.607

40 Josh Wise 188.357

 

41 Dave Blaney 188.107

42 Landon Cassill 187.787

43 Joe Nemechek 186.955

44 Reed Sorenson 185.790

45 David Gilliland 185.408

46 David Ragan 184.508

47 JJ Yeley 179.045

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Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.