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Kevin Harvick wins pole, Joey Logano starts second for Saturday’s Sprint Cup race at Darlington

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It’s no secret that Kevin Harvick has struggled since winning the second race of the 2014 Sprint Cup season at Phoenix.

But Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway could be where Harvick begins his comeback.

He certainly got off on the right foot in Friday evening’s qualifying, being one of 16 drivers to break the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval’s track record with a speed of 183.479 to earn the pole for Saturday’s race.

“I don’t know if you ever get a perfect lap at Darlington,” Harvick said. “This is a track that’s fun to drive, but every lap is different and a challenge.

“Our team has dealt with a lot of adversity over the weeks, but they’ve kept their focus and done what they had to do to keep putting good race cars on the track.”

It was only the seventh pole (and his first ever at Darlington) in 474 starts in Harvick’s Sprint Cup career.

What’s more, in a season that has seen seven different winners in as many races, Harvick also becomes the eighth different qualifier in the first eight events.

“You know when they qualify that good – and I’m not the world’s greatest qualifier – the car’s pretty good,” Harvick said with a smile.

Harvick bested Joey Logano, who earned yet another front row spot this season with a speed of 183.049 mph.

Logano may have had a little bit extra to potentially wrestle the pole away from Harvick, but his car started losing its grip and he backed off so as not to wreck.

“When in doubt, throttle out, that’s my motto,” Logano said. “This is such a fast race track. You have to have so much guts to go fast here.

“It’s a lot of fun. Qualifying is probably the most fun thing we do all weekend. It’s just so much on the edge, and you make a little mistake, you’re in the wall. If you go a little bit too careful, then you’re mad at yourself for not going fast enough. It’s such a fine line of going fast here.”

Richard Petty Motorsports continued to impress, putting both its drivers on the second row. Aric Almirola (182.946) will start alongside teammate Marcos Ambrose (182.485).

Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon will start ninth. The four-time Cup champ has eight top-five finishes in his last 10 starts at Darlington.

And what’s more, Gordon is the winningest active driver at the track also called “The Lady In Black” with seven triumphs. NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads all drivers in Darlington history with 10 wins there.

Defending race winner Matt Kenseth had a rough qualifying effort and will start in the 13th role from the 25th position, alongside six-time Sprint Cup champ and three-time Darlington winner Jimmie Johnson.

Only one driver failed to qualify: David Reutimann.

Here’s the starting grid for Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway:

Row 1

Kevin Harvick 182.485 mph, Joey Logano 182.059

Row 2

Aric Almirola 182.946, Marcos Ambrose 182.485

Row 3

Brad Keselowski 182.059, Jamie McMurray 182.019

Row 4

Ryan Newman 181.985, Kyle Busch 181.763

Row 5

Jeff Gordon 181.756, Denny Hamlin 181.548

Row 6

Paul Menard 181.481, Martin Truex Jr. 181.200

Row 7

Kurt Busch 182.181, Brian Vickers 181.985

Row 8

Dale Earnhardt Jr. 181.689, Clint Bowyer 181.247

Row 9

Kyle Larson 181.194, AJ Allmendinger 181.127

Row 10

Greg Biffle 180.947, Austin Dillon 180.914

Row 11

Carl Edwards 180.901, Kasey Kahne 180.787

Row 12

Tony Stewart 180.185, Justin Allgaier 178.958

Row 13

Matt Kenseth 182.059, Jimmie Johnson 181.911

Row 14

David Gilliland 181.548, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 181.394

Row 15

Josh Wise 180.549, Michael Annett 180.330

Row 16

Casey Mears 180.310, David Ragan 180.204

Row 17

Danica Patrick 180.158, Alex Bowman 179.993

Row 18

Landon Cassill 179.717, Dave Blaney 179.606

Row 19

David Stremme 179.024, Parker Kligerman 178.543

Row 20

Ryan Truex 178.400, Reed Sorenson 177.961

Row 21

Travis Kvapil 177.768, Cole Whitt 177.659

Row 22

Joe Nemechek 177.166

DNQ: David Reutimann

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Max Verstappen named F1 Driver of the Day for USGP despite DNF

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing on the grid before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen has been voted Driver of the Day for the United States Grand Prix despite retiring from the race due to a gearbox failure.

Verstappen qualified fourth in Austin before a poor start saw him slip behind Kimi Raikkonen during the opening stages at the Circuit of The Americas

The Red Bull driver took the position back before closing in on Nico Rosberg through the second stint of the race, but retired soon after due to a gearbox issue.

Nevertheless, Verstappen has won the online fan vote for Austin, the result being announced on F1’s official Twitter account on Sunday night.

Grosjean secures point in Haas F1 Team’s home Grand Prix

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 walks in the Paddock after practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – After an eight-race scoring “drought” since the Austrian Grand Prix, the 10th race of the season, Haas F1 Team broke its longest pointless scoring streak to date with a welcome and perhaps surprising return to the points in today’s United States Grand Prix in Austin from Circuit of The Americas.

Although Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez started only 17th and 14th respectively in the pair of Haas VF-16 Ferraris, they both made it to the fringes of the top 10 early before resuming in their sometimes eternal position of 11th.

Gutierrez fell out after Lap 17 with an apparent brake failure, but Grosjean pressed on the rest of the race. Once Kimi Raikkonen retired in one of the factory Ferraris after one of his tires hadn’t been secured properly, that promoted Grosjean into 10th and a World Championship point, a welcome result in his 100th Grand Prix start.

Grosjean noted that after a tough weekend for the team, down on downforce and with some aero parts breaking off on Friday, the point was a welcome result.

“It didn’t go too bad. Bit of a messy first lap. We did an aggressive strategy. It worked pretty well,” Grosjean told NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“I’m lucky a few cars retired in front of us. We needed to finish the race. Great to score points in front of the home crowd. It’s been a long time since we’ve scored points!”

After the run of 11th-place finishes, Grosjean said scoring points late was a huge confidence booster for the team.

“Yeah it’s a great thing to score points at the end of the season,” he said. “It means a lot for how we’ve worked. Yesterday he’s not so happy after the performance we had but today he is. Gene’s mother, his sister, and there are a lot of people here. Now I have to watch Talladega and see how our boys are doing in NASCAR!”

Gutierrez, who retired early, was still diplomatic and thankful for the weekend experience.

“Yes it was (brake failure). We think one of the discs broke,” Gutierrez told NBCSN’s Will Buxton. “It’s not what we wanted for a race weekend. Not easy to accept either. Difficult start of the weekend and it was not going to be easy. We went on.

“We did a great qualifying, optimizing what we had. We pushed to the maximum. We got into the top 10 the first few laps. Aggressive strategy. At some point I lost the brakes. Fortunately I didn’t run into the barrier (at Turn 11).

“It’s very disappointing but we have to continue focusing on the positives. I want to thank everyone for the enthusiasm and support all weekend. I’m sorry for all of you who were here to support us and ensure we are doing our best.”

Gutierrez now heads to his home of Mexico City next week, where he’ll race in his first Mexican Grand Prix.

Rosberg content with damage limitation in Austin, finishing second

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP on the grid before the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg was content with his drive to second place in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, ensuring his Formula 1 drivers’ championship lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton remains healthy.

Rosberg arrived in Austin leading the drivers’ championship by 33 points, enjoying the luxury of being able to finish second in the remaining four races of the season and still win the title.

The German qualified second behind Hamilton at the Circuit of The Americas on Saturday, and opted to slot in behind his teammate through the first corner.

This allowed Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo to dive up the inside, taking second place through the esses and leaving Rosberg with a mountain to climb.

Mercedes opted to put Rosberg on medium tires for his second stint, causing him to come under pressure from Max Verstappen behind, but then gained a place from Ricciardo after pitting under the Virtual Safety Car.

Taking what essentially was a free pit stop saw Rosberg file out five seconds clear of Ricciardo in second, where he remained to the end of the race, finishing four seconds down on Hamilton up front.

“Lost it at the start. In the end I came back,” Rosberg said of his race on the podium after the race.

“Second place is OK, damage limitation. I wanted to win in America, would have been awesome, but it wasn’t to be. I was going for it. Flat out. All the way to the end.”

The result marks Rosberg’s first defeat in a race to Hamilton since the German Grand Prix at the end of July, and leaves the points difference at 26 points with three races to go.

Rosberg can afford to finish second twice and third once and still win the title, but will undoubtedly be keen to boost his points advantage to prevent the title fight going down to the wire in Abu Dhabi on November 27.

Mathematically, Rosberg can wrap up the title in Mexico next weekend should he win the race and Hamilton retire or fail to score.

Fifth USGP win draws Hamilton level with Schumacher’s record

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win in parc ferme  during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton drew level with Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher for the most United States Grand Prix victories by taking his fifth win on Sunday in Austin, Texas.

He’s the third driver overall to do so, with Ayrton Senna having also won five times in the U.S. – albeit only two of them in the USGP title in Phoenix. He also won three Detroit Grands Prix from 1986 through 1988.

Hamilton won his first grand prix on American soil back in 2007 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and had won three of the four races held at the Circuit of The Americas since 2012 heading into the Austin weekend.

A perfect start saw Hamilton forge an early lead over Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, the latter’s championship advantage looking precarious as he ran third on-track.

While Rosberg was able to fight back up to second place before the end of the race, Hamilton managed to dominate proceedings at the front of the field and cross the line for his fifth USGP win.

It was also the 50th win of Hamilton’s F1 career, leaving him just one shy of Alain Prost in second place on the all-time win list. Schumacher stands clear on 91 victories at the top.

The result was significant for Hamilton given his affinity with the United States, as well as being much-needed in terms of his championship aspirations.

“What an incredible crowd we have here. It’s you guys that make this race so special. Thank you so much for coming out!” Hamilton said on the podium after the race.

“This is always been a good hunting ground for me, and it very much feels like home. I’m so thankful to everyone. The team did a great job for the weekend. Very proud to be a part of it.”

Rosberg can still beat Hamilton to the title with second-place finishes in the remaining three races, but the Briton is refusing to back down.

“All I can do is my best like I did this weekend. Hope that will continue,” Hamilton said.

“Please keep your fingers crossed. I’ll be going for it!”