JR Motorsports is the new team to beat in Nationwide Series

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Last year, the Nationwide Series effectively belonged to Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing. Penske’s platoon of drivers for its No. 22 car (Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, A.J. Allmendinger) and JGR’s Kyle Busch in the No. 54 car flat-out dominated NASCAR’s No. 2 national series.

But so far this year in the NNS, JR Motorsports has been returning the favor.

Kevin Harvick brought home JRM’s third consecutive NNS win last night in Richmond, while Chase Elliott, the man that had won the first two races in that streak, finished second.

Overall, it’s the fourth win in eight races this year for the JRM camp when you count Regan Smith’s season-opening victory at Daytona International Speedway.

And while Smith has been somewhat overshadowed by Elliott’s meteoric rise as of late, he’s also posted Top-10 results in every race (he finished eighth after contact with Elliott Sadler caused him to spin off of a late restart).

Then there’s the fact that Elliott and Smith are first and second in the NNS championship standings.

Indeed, between the strong cars and talented stable of drivers, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears to have created a monster.

“All the performance on all the cars is a direct reflection of everybody that works there,” Earnhardt said after another trip to Victory Lane. “It’s working good and I hope we can keep it going. I think we can get even better and continue to get stronger.”

Following his first win as a member of JRM, Harvick admitted that he was a little surprised that everything’s worked out as well as it has – but he’s certainly enjoying it.

“It’s a lot of fun to see this whole thing come together,” he said. “It’s still kind of strange sitting up here with [Earnhardt] and in Victory Lane.

“We talked about a lot of things going into the year and you want them all to come together, but I don’t think anybody knew they’d come together like they have. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Now, Busch and the Penske No. 22 haven’t fallen off completely in 2014. Busch has taken the No. 54 to two wins in the NNS at Phoenix and Bristol, while Keselowski took the No. 22 to a win in Las Vegas.

But at least for the time being, JRM has become the team to beat.

“There is a lot of effort put in by everybody back at the shop, and it’s great to see it paying off,” said Smith.

F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Following his victory in Bahrain two weeks ago, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel arrived in Russia on Thursday targeting a third win of the year to extend his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Not since 2004 has a Ferrari driver made such a good start to a season, putting Vettel in contention for a fifth world title this year – although with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton hot on his tail, it will have to be a hard-earned success.

The fourth round of the year sees F1 head to the Olympic city of Sochi, which hosted the winter games back in 2014. The Sochi Autodrom played host to its first grand prix the same year, and is now a key part of Russia’s post-Olympic legacy.

Bringing you all of the latest news and interviews ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, Will Buxton brings you Paddock Pass.