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Martin Truex Jr. leads five-driver pack to exceed 200 mph in first Sprint Cup practice at Talladega

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It’s rare a driver gets a second chance in NASCAR, but Martin Truex Jr. did during Friday’s first practice session at Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.

Truex sat on the outside pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 back in February, but his hopes and dreams of a win in the Great American Race ended after just 30 laps when the oil pump on his Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet broke.

End of story, end of race for Truex, who ultimately finished last in the 43-driver field.

But in the first of two practice Sprint Cup sessions on Friday, Truex reached back for some of the same magic he had during qualifying at Daytona.

The New Jersey native, who is in his first season at FRR after a four-year stint with Michael Waltrip Racing, was the fastest in the early afternoon practice.

Not only that, Truex cracked the 200 mph mark in doing so, leading the 47 cars that took part in the practice session with a top speed of 200.721 mph.

Truex is currently 27th in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Talladega, 159 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon.

And while his record at Talladega is far from stellar – he’s managed to finish just nine of his prior 18 starts there, Truex is optimistic that he can build upon Friday’s practice time.

“The car is fast, and we knew it would be as fast as it was in Daytona,” Truex said after the first practice session. “We just didn’t have a chance to show the speed at Daytona.

“It’s good that we still have the speed in it.  We put ourselves in the right spot today to hit the big number. I think we only did nine or 10 laps and everything felt good so we’re ready to go and qualify tomorrow.”

As a result, Truex said he would not take part in Friday’s second practice session.

As for qualifying Saturday, Truex said there’s more from where Friday’s practice speed came from.

“We would like to be in the same position as we were today,” he said. “At the start of practice we got in front of a line of cars and were able to make a run up there.

“The difference (during Saturday’s qualifying) is that we don’t know what everyone else’s plan is going to be.  Everyone will be trying to do what we did in practice today and that’s to be in the right position to get the fastest speed.

“And at the same time, it’s going to be a risky session. Our No. 1 goal right now is to make sure this Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet races on Sunday. If we feel like we’re in a danger zone, we’ll abort. It really doesn’t matter where you start here.”

Truex is coming off a season-best finish of 10th at Richmond last Saturday, had plenty of company as four other drivers also cracked 200 mph:

Justin Allgaier (200.666), last year’s ‘Dega spring race winner David Ragan (200.599), Marcos Ambrose (200.540) and super rookie Kyle Larson was fifth-fastest (200.372).

Sixth through 10th were Carl Edwards (199.921), Michael Waltrip (199.875), David Gilliland (199.666), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (199.654) and Danica Patrick was 10th-fastest at 199.625 mph.

On the flip side, several drivers struggled to find speed in the first session. Kyle Busch was 41st-fastest (195.389 mph), Dale Earnhardt Jr. was right behind (195.337), six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson was 45th-fastest (190.537) and J.J. Yeley brought up the rear of the field at an almost glacial 187.331 mph.

Chevrolet dominated the first practice session from a manufacturer’s standpoint with 11 Chevy-powered drivers among the fastest in the top 20.

Ford had seven drivers while Toyota continued its struggles with only one driver in the top 10 (Waltrip, seventh-fastest) and Clint Bowyer (18th-fastest).

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Ricky Taylor to run next three FIA WEC races in Larbre Corvette

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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Ricky Taylor and Larbre Competition have worked together before, with Taylor having driven for the Jack Leconte-led team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice in both an older spec Corvette C6.R (2013) and an LMP2 class Morgan Judd (2014).

He’ll be back for a bigger bow with the team for the next three upcoming races of the FIA World Endurance Championship, in the team’s No. 50 Corvette C7.R at Mexico City next weekend (Sept. 3), Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 17) and Fuji Speedway in Japan (Oct. 16).

Taylor fills in for Paolo Ruberti alongside the team’s other two drivers, Pierre Ragues and Yutaka Yamagishi. Additionally, Corvette will provide support with a new engineer, Charlie Ping, joining the French squad.

The story was initially reported by Sportscar365 back in July, but was formally confirmed by the team late last week.

“I am very excited to join Larbre for these three rounds of the WEC championship,” Taylor said in a relase. “The team has proven its great pace this season by clinching good results. I am looking forward to supporting the squad to more success and to do my part to contribute to some points for the championship for Pierre, Yutaka and the team.

” I have enjoyed my other experiences with the outfit so it will be a nice experience to be back. Thanks to Jack and Larbre again for thinking of me and giving me the opportunity to fly their colors again.”

This will mean Taylor will be one of likely several drivers pulling double duty at Circuit of The Americas between the FIA WEC and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races; that’s the penultimate round of that series’ season. He co-drives with brother Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP for Wayne Taylor Racing.

RC Enerson back in Coyne’s No. 19 car for Watkins Glen, Sonoma

Enerson. Photo: IndyCar
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This will come as little to no surprise given his impressive debut at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but RC Enerson will continue in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda at the final two races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. The team confirmed this at Pocono to NBC Sports and others.

Enerson will take over the Boy Scouts of America entry at the two permanent road courses at Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway. Enerson hasn’t raced at Watkins Glen but did test there in August.

Meanwhile he won a Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda race at Sonoma in 2014 and nearly snatched that series championship at the final weekend, before being edged by Frenchman Florian Latorre. He should test at Sonoma before racing there.

The 19-year-old Floridian could have made it out of Q1 in his IndyCar debut at Mid-Ohio and ran in the top-10 in the early stages at the Honda Indy 200 before a bad pit stop saw his race go awry. Nonetheless, he had the third fastest race lap and arguably the best 19th place finish in recent memory.

Enerson will have had three starts in the No. 19 car this year, as one of four drivers in the seat. Gabby Chaves has had seven, following the conclusion of Texas on Saturday, with Luca Filippi five and Pippa Mann one (Pocono).

F1 Paddock Pass: Belgian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28:  Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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An at-times chaotic Belgian Grand Prix has kicked off the run to the finish of the 2016 Formula One season, with Nico Rosberg winning and Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso both turning in great drives from the rear of the field to the points.

Meanwhile Daniel Ricciardo got his countryman Mark Webber to do a “shoey,” Max Verstappen squared off with the Ferrari boys again, and Kevin Magnussen survived a heavy accident exiting Eau Rouge largely unscathed.

It’s all those elements and then some that make up the post-race edition of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series, from Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales check in below. You can see all three parts below.

Wild and fearless Verstappen is just what Formula One needs

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) He’s very fast, very young and very confident. He races on the limit, upsets other drivers and cares little when he does. He’s also great for Formula One.

Max Verstappen may not be winning many friends among other drivers – especially those from Ferrari – but his aggressive, unapologetic, fearless driving is wonderfully entertaining for fans.

The 18-year-old Dutchman is the youngest to win a race and to start from the front row of the grid, and he’s also just what F1 needs in an era of fading former champions.

Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button are all in their mid-30s. Although three-time champion Lewis Hamilton is clearly very much on top of his game, and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg is highly competitive, both drivers are 31.

Verstappen’s star factor drew more than 20,000 Dutch fans to the Belgian Grand Prix last weekend. Legions of orange-clad fans queued at the entry gates. Dutch flags were dotted around the Spa grandstands.

“He is refreshing for me. He is a young boy that I like a lot,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “He comes in here, no fear, no respect. He puts the elbow out and it reminds me of the great ones. It reminds me of Lewis and it reminds me of Ayrton Senna.”

High praise indeed, from Wolff, who might have added that Verstappen also has some of the brashness that typified seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher. Wolff has expressed regret that Mercedes was not able to snap Verstappen up before Toro Rosso did last year.

“You can clearly see that some guys around are starting to think twice how to overtake him,” Wolff said, before adding a note of caution about Verstappen’s high-risk driving. “I just fear that it might end up in the wall heavily one day. For me it is refreshing, but it is dangerous.”

In May, Verstappen drove brilliantly to win the Spanish GP on his Red Bull debut – joining from feeder team Toro Rosso after just four races of this season – and he followed that up with three more podium finishes.

At the Belgian GP, his second place in qualifying set another record as the youngest driver ever to start on a front row of the grid.

His talent is unquestionable, but his attitude is, and the feeling in F1 circles is that Verstappen’s tender age means he gets away with things that other drivers do not.

“The FIA has not penalized him. The only thing that happened was that he was given a hard time in the drivers’ briefing,” Wolff said. “Maybe next time he will have an even harder time in the driver briefing.”

Especially from Raikkonen and his Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen criticized him after last month’s Hungarian GP and again after the Belgian GP.

There was a high-profile tangle between Verstappen and both Ferraris on the first turn on Sunday. Later in the race, Verstappen infuriated Raikkonen with some aggressive blocking moves when the 36-year-old Finn tried to get past him at high speed.

“Maybe it needs an accident before things get more clear to everybody,” Raikkonen said. “Hopefully not because it can be bad for somebody, and nobody wants to see something like that happen.”

Verstappen, however, appears to care little for reputation, does not get pushed around, and his vitriolic words match the intensity of his driving.

Blaming Ferrari, he was quoted as telling Dutch TV after Sunday’s race “I’m not going to let them past, I’d rather force them off the track,” reportedly adding “in the end I’m the victim.”