Martin Truex Jr. hopes momentum continues at always-risky Talladega

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Having won the outside pole, Martin Truex Jr. came into the season-opening Daytona 500 with arguably the best chance he’s ever had of winning the Great American Race.

Unfortunately for Truex, his best chance lasted just 30 laps into the 500’s 200 laps, ending dead last in the 43-car field.

“I felt I had my best opportunity of winning the Daytona 500,” Truex said. “That’s how good our Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet was. Unfortunately we didn’t get to showcase our strength due to an oil pump failure.”

As NASCAR returns to restrictor plate racing for the second time this season in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 Sprint Cup race at the massive 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway – the largest oval on the NASCAR circuit – Truex hopes fate will smile significantly more on him than it did at Daytona.

He has reason to be optimistic, coming off his best showing of the season last Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway when he finished 10th.

“After what we’ve been through finishing 10th in Richmond felt good,” Truex said. “I feel we’re in position as a team to continue the momentum.”

Momentum has been in relatively short supply thus far for Truex in 2014. After Daytona, Truex has had just the lone top-10 at Richmond and two other top-20 finishes (14th at Las Vegas, 18th at Texas).

While he’s with a new team in 2014, having left after four seasons with Michael Waltrip Racing after NAPA pulled its sponsorship from the team, Truex is coming off two of the strongest runs of his career at Talladega last season, finishing seventh in the spring race and eighth in the fall Chase for the Sprint Cup event.

But at the same time, what he did so well – prior to the oil pump failure, that is – at Daytona doesn’t really mean much at ‘Dega. While both facilities are restrictor plate racetracks, the similarities end there.

“When you go to Talladega it’s a whole new can of worms compared to Daytona because the track is so much wider,” Truex said. “There are more options as far as cars moving around at Talladega.

“Typically, Daytona is a two-wide, sometimes three-wide track where as Talladega is three-wide all the time and sometimes even four-or-five wide. There’s always a lot of side drafting going on at Talladega; these cars are very sensitive to that. The best choice of lane at Daytona is not necessary the best choice of lane at Talladega.”

While encouraged by his finish at Richmond, as well as his last two starts at ‘Dega (out of six career top-10s there), Truex is also cognizant that his average finish there is 21.2, not to mention he’s recorded nine DNFs (50 percent) in his 18 career Sprint Cup starts there.

Seven of those nine DNFs have been due to wrecks, many in Talladega’s infamous “big one,” multi-car crashes.

On the plus side, Truex has been involved in only one wreck in his last eight starts at Talladega – yet another good sign coming into this weekend.

But Truex isn’t taking anything to chance, either.

“You know there’s a good chance you’re going to crash at Talladega,” Truex said. “That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s always been. There’s not really a whole lot of point thinking about it too much.”

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Grosjean: ‘Unbelievable’ to score Haas’ best F1 qualifying result in Australia

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Romain Grosjean hailed Haas’ Formula 1 qualifying performance in Australia as “unbelievable” after picking up its best Saturday result since joining the grid.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, with Grosjean leading its charge through its debut campaign.

Haas enters its sophomore year in 2017 looking to build on its eighth-place finish in the constructors’ championship, and made a strong start in Australia on Saturday.

While new driver Kevin Magnussen dropped out in Q1 following an error on his hot lap, Grosjean was able to take Haas into Q3 before securing sixth place on the grid for Sunday’s season-opener.

The result marks Haas’ best qualifying result to date in F1, beating Grosjean’s run to P7 ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix last November.

“It was quite an unbelievable qualifying session for us. It’s a shame that we didn’t get Kevin there, but the car is looking good, even better than what we’ve seen recently,” Grosjean said after the session.

“We’ve made some good progress over the weekend. There’s a lot more we can understand and analyze but, generally, it’s a great start for us.

“It’s always good to start with a strong qualifying session. It tells you that if you keep improving the car, you could be in a good place very soon. If that’s our baseline, and you can fight between sixth and 10th position, where it’s so tight, it would be great to be there most of the time and enjoy some good times.

“Tomorrow’s start is a big unknown. We’ve been practicing and some have been good, others not so much. Hopefully, we’ll get the first one right tomorrow.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Daniel Ricciardo frustrated to crash out of home F1 qualifying

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Daniel Ricciardo made no secret of his frustration after crash out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, resigning himself to a 10th-place start for his home race on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the Melbourne weekend aiming to become the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race since the event became part of the F1 world championship in 1985.

Despite struggling with the setup on his RB13 car on Friday, Ricciardo looked poised to claim a top-five grid slot for Sunday’s race, only to lose control of his car at Turn 14 in Q3 and end the session in the wall.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top five.”

Ever the optimist, Ricciardo said the difficult qualifying will only serve as greater motivation to fight back up the order and give his home fans a result to celebrate on Sunday.

“I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright.

“To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultra-softs in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed with P3 start for Mercedes F1 debut

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Valtteri Bottas came away from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix feeling disappointed despite securing third place on the grid for his first Formula 1 race as a Mercedes driver.

Bottas joined Mercedes over the winter following world champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, and made his first official race weekend appearance for the Silver Arrows on Friday.

The ex-Williams driver made a splash in qualifying by running teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel close, but was left to settle for third on the grid after finishing three-tenths of a second off the pole time.

“Third position is not ideal. In general I’m not happy with the result,” Bottas admitted after qualifying.

“But what I’m really happy about and proud about [is] what the team has done again with this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car and the new era of Formula 1, and it’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off and we’re fighting at the very front.

“It seems to be very close this year, especially here. Myself I didn’t get any perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.

“Tomorrow’s the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. If we can keep that form I had in practice, and have a nice and clean race and get some really good points.”

Bottas’ best finish in Australia currently stands at fifth place in 2014 with Williams, with the Finn never qualifying any higher than sixth at Albert Park in his four previous attempts.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”