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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.

Rosberg rues Q3 mistakes after missing out on Malaysia pole

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg was left ruing two mistakes during the final part of Formula 1 qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday after missing out on pole position at Sepang.

Rosberg arrived in Malaysia leading the F1 drivers’ championship for the first time since the middle of July following a string of victories in Belgium, Italy and Singapore.

Rosberg led the opening practice session on Friday, but struggled to match the pace of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton through FP2 and FP3 before falling behind once again in qualifying.

An error on his first Q3 lap left Rosberg fifth on the provisional grid before rallying with his second effort to lift himself onto the front row, albeit with another mistake at the final corner to finish four-tenths of a second behind Hamilton.

“Lewis’ lap was very quick so it was always going to be difficult. I would have come close but unfortunately I had a mistake in the last corner,” Rosberg said.

“Something just wasn’t going right there in that last corner, I just couldn’t get the settings right, I was always getting an oversteer moment into there.

“But anyway, second place, we’ll live with that now. As we know from this year, second place does not mean that victory is not possible tomorrow. We’ve seen that so many times. Still very optimistic for tomorrow.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton: Emphatic Malaysia pole lap ‘could have been faster’

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - OCTOBER 01:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates qualifying on pole position in parc ferme during qualifying for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on October 1, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton believes that his emphatic Q3 lap that secured him pole position for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix “could have been faster”.

Hamilton stormed to his fourth Formula 1 pole in Malaysia in the past five years on Saturday at the Sepang International Circuit, recording a fastest lap time of 1:32.850 to beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by four-tenths of a second.

“Just a huge thank you to the team who continue through the whole year to improve,” Hamilton said after the session.

“To come here, this year it’s the best the car has been here, and of course this year the tires are obviously better.

“Great work done coming into this weekend and over the past few weeks with Nico’s wins, but today the car felt fantastic. I really enjoyed the lap.”

The lap was the fastest at Sepang since qualifying for the 2005 race, but when asked about it, Hamilton wryly said it “could have been faster.”

The Briton locked up on his second flying lap towards the end of Q3, forcing him to abort his run early and settle for his first effort in the session.

“Of course I’m very happy and grateful for my lap but you always want to finish the last lap. I think there’s more time there,” Hamilton said, before expressing his wariness over Red Bull and Ferrari’s race pace.

“I think tomorrow, provided the conditions are like this, the track is generally better. It’s a lot smoother and seems to work better with the tires than it has in recent years.

“It will be a close race for sure because I think they had very good long runs, but I think we were looking quite strong also.”

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton sizzles in Sepang qualifying for Malaysian GP pole

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit on September 30, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton stormed to his fourth pole position in five years at the Sepang International Circuit after dominating proceedings in Formula 1 qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton entered the race weekend trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by eight points in the drivers’ championship, having not won a race since the end of July.

After leading the second and third practice sessions, Hamilton made good on this pace in qualifying by topping two of the three stages in an emphatic display.

Hamilton’s display culminated in a lap of 1:32.850, the fastest at Sepang since 2005, to record his seventh pole of the season and fourth in Malaysia.

A mistake on Rosberg’s opening run saw him provisionally qualify fifth before hoisting himself up to P2 on his final lap, four-tenths down on his teammate’s time.

Max Verstappen led Red Bull’s charge in P3 ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, while Sebastian Vettel finished as the fastest Ferrari in fifth. Kimi Raikkonen will start alongside his teammate in sixth place.

Sergio Perez finished seventh for Force India, 0.7 seconds off Raikkonen ahead, with teammate Nico Hulkenberg finishing eighth. Jenson Button was McLaren’s sole representative in Q3 en route to P9 with Williams’ Felipe Massa in P10. Late improvements from Hulkenberg and Button in Q2 denied Valtteri Bottas a place in the top-1o shoot-out, resigning the Finn to 11th on the grid.

Haas continued its streak of getting both cars through to Q2 as Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez qualified 12th and 13th respectively, while Kevin Magnussen led Renault’s charge in 14th ahead of the Toro Rosso pair of Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Sauber failed to repeat is charge to Q2 from Singapore as Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr fell short in Q1, finishing P17 and P18 respectively. Jolyon Palmer’s Saturday struggles continued as a mistake at the re-cambered final corner cost him time, leaving him 19th on the grid, while Manor’s Esteban Ocon outqualified teammate Pascal Wehrlein for the first time, finishing P20.

As expected, Fernando Alonso cut his qualifying session short in a bid to save his tires and car for the race after being handed a grid penalty earlier in the weekend. The Spaniard set a time good enough to finish within the 107% required to qualify before jumping out of his McLaren, ending up P22 in the final classification.

The Malaysian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton quickest in Malaysia FP3 as Verstappen splits the Mercedes

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Lewis Hamilton sent out a warning shot to his rivals ahead of qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon by dominating the final Formula 1 practice session of the weekend at Sepang.

Hamilton arrived in Malaysia trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship for the first time since the middle of July following the German’s trio of victories since the summer break.

Hamilton lagged behind Rosberg in FP1 before pulling ahead in FP2 on Friday afternoon, and extended his advantage in the final hour of practice running on Saturday.

A fastest lap of 1:34.434 was enough to give Hamilton P1 by four-tenths of a second, but it was not Rosberg who finished as the next-best driver.

Instead, a rapid lap late in the session from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen saw him slot into second place, giving his team hope of a challenge to Mercedes through qualifying and Sunday’s race.

Rosberg was left to settle for P3, six-tenths of a second shy of Hamilton’s best lap and just a tenth clear of the Ferrari duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Daniel Ricciardo finished sixth in the second Red Bull, one second off Hamilton’s itme, while Nico Hulkenberg ended up P7 for Force India ahed of Valtteri Bottas. Carlos Sainz Jr. and Felipe Massa rounded out the top 10.

With a litany of engine penalties already racked up, Fernando Alonso opted to limit his practice running on Saturday morning and save tires, finishing P22 and some six seconds off the pace. The Spaniard is expecting to watch most of qualifying on TV later today.

For those wishing to do the same, you can watch qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 5am ET on Saturday.