Aaron's 312

Elliott Sadler heads back to Victory Lane in Nationwide at Talladega

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Elliott Sadler successfully held off the swarm in the final three laps to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway for his first NNS triumph in almost two years.

In the final dash to the checkers, Sadler was pushed on the bottom by David Ragan while Chris Buescher and Regan Smith hooked up on the outside.

That was how they looked as they crossed the stripe side-by-side at the white flag, but in the end, Sadler was finally able to clear Buescher and lead the pack home in a clean finish.

“We just got on the inside line and we just had to make some good moves, and the sea kind of opened up for us,” Sadler said to ESPN. “It means a lot to me to get these guys in Victory Lane. I disappointed them last year when I wasn’t able to do it.

“To do it at Talladega – everybody’s always asking [me] about flippin’ at Talladega. [Darn it], man, we’ve won one at Talladega, so this feels a lot better.”

The stage was set for a wild finish with 10 laps remaining, when Chad Boat was spun hard into the inside backstretch wall to bring out the caution flag.

David Starr had been able to get in front of JR Motorsports’ trio of drivers (Smith, Elliott and Kasey Kahne) in the short green run that began with 14 to go, but lost the lead to Elliott right before the race went yellow for Boat’s wreck.

Elliott would lead the field to the restart with six laps to go, but quickly fell back on the outside. Then, as the field went into Turn 3, Elliott Sadler and Ryan Blaney made contact while fighting for the lead.

Blaney skidded into the outside wall then came back down into Elliott, who in turn sent Jeremy Clements hard into the wall. Kahne and Ryan Sieg were also impacted by the incident, which triggered a red flag period of just over nine minutes.

When the cars got rolling again under yellow, Sadler was now leading ahead of Buescher, Ragan, Smith and Starr. The green came back with three to go, and Sadler was forced to play some great defense before finally earning a hard-earned W.

“Under the red flag, I was playing all these scenarios in my head – really on how many races I’ve lost in the last couple of laps by not making the right decision,” Sadler said.

“But we just stayed to the bottom and stuck to our guns. David Ragan did a good job pushing us and we were just able to hold those guys off at the end.”

Today’s race proved to be a war of attrition, as the Sadler-Blaney incident was just one of several crashes that kept crossing out potential winners.

On Lap 45, James Buescher was tagged by Blaney in Turn 3 and spun to the bottom, where he ended up hitting Darrell Wallace Jr. and Dylan Kwasniewski.

Wallace was especially frustrated, declaring flatly “I hate plate racing.”

“I’m gonna be the Debbie Downer here,” said Wallace, a regular in the Camping World Truck Series. “I’m not looking forward to Talladega for the Truck race. That’s just the way it goes.”

Then on Lap 62, Brian Scott – who had won the pole just hours earlier for tomorrow’s Sprint Cup main event – was caught in an eight-car pileup that began after he was spun by Trevor Bayne in Turn 3.

Scott’s teammates at Richard Childress Racing, Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan, were also involved in the crash (Gaughan was knocked out of the race along with Scott, while Dillon kept going and finished 15th).

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT TALLADEGA
Aaron’s 312 – Unofficial Results
1. Elliott Sadler, led 40 laps
2. Chris Buescher, led 1 lap
3. Regan Smith, led 20 laps
4. David Ragan
5. Sam Hornish Jr.
6. Joe Nemechek
7. J.J. Yeley, led 1 lap
8. Landon Cassill
9. David Starr, led 5 laps
10. Trevor Bayne
11. Joey Gase, led 1 lap
12. Mike Bliss
13. John Wes Townley
14. Tommy Joe Martins
15. Ty Dillon, led 3 laps
16. Jeffrey Earnhardt
17. Eric McClure
18. Dakoda Armstrong
19. Chase Elliott, led 3 laps
20. Ryan Sieg
21. Ryan Blaney, one lap down, led 2 laps
22. Kasey Kahne, Lap 111, Accident
23. Jeremy Clements, led 1 lap, Lap 111, Accident
24. Ryan Reed, Lap 108, Running, led 29 laps
25. Chad Boat, Lap 107, Accident
26. Josh Wise, Lap 91, Engine
27. Jamie Dick, Lap 87, Running
28. Mike Harmon, Lap 86, Accident
29. James Buescher, Lap 86, Running
30. Kyle Larson, Lap 78, Running
31. Darrell Wallace Jr., Lap 74, Running
32. Robert Richardson Jr., Lap 63, Engine
33. Brian Scott, Lap 61, Accident
34. Brendan Gaughan, Lap 61, Accident
35. Dylan Kwasniewski, Lap 43, Accident
36. Bobby Gerhart, Lap 31, Engine
37. Carl Long, Lap 14, Electrical
38. Jeff Green, Lap 4, Vibration
39. Matt DiBenedetto, Lap 3, Vibration
40. Blake Koch, Lap 1, Vibration

Sebastian Vettel dismisses suggestion he could replace Rosberg at Mercedes

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP is congratulated by Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari on the podium during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel has brushed off suggestions that he could take Nico Rosberg’s vacant Formula 1 seat at Mercedes next year, saying his focus lies on working with Ferrari to improve on their 2016 season.

Rosberg sensationally announced on Friday that he would be retiring from F1 with immediate effect, just five days after winning his maiden World Championship.

Rosberg’s move has sent the driver market into a late flux, with Mercedes’ Niki Lauda claiming that half of the F1 grid has been in touch regarding the seat despite many of them having contracts.

Vettel has been named as a possible candidate for Rosberg’s seat despite having one year remaining on his Ferrari deal, but when speaking at the Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, the German stressed he is focused on his current commitments at Maranello.

“I think it’s no secret the fact that me and Kimi Raikkonen have a contract for next season,” Vettel is quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Kimi and I are already committed. In 2017 we will be competitive.

“We have not reached the goal this year, but now it will be important to do the job at the factory in the next two months.

“I am confident that we will definitely present an improved package.”

Vettel signed off with a message to Rosberg, wishing the retiring champion “happy holidays!”

Vettel finished 2016 fourth in the drivers’ championship without a win to his name as Ferrari struggled to keep up with Mercedes and Red Bull in the pecking order.

Mercedes is set to begin its search for a replacement on Monday, with the other big-name driver besides Vettel linked to the seat being McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

Should Mercedes want to promote one of its junior drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon are both also available, although neither has more than a season of F1 experience.

Hamilton not chasing number one status at Mercedes after Rosberg exit

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the Paddock during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says he is not chasing number one driver status at Mercedes as the team begins its search for a replacement for Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg edged out Hamilton for the F1 drivers’ championship in Abu Dhabi last Sunday before sensationally announcing his immediate retirement from the sport five days later.

Mercedes has said it will take its time when looking for a replacement for Rosberg, with the majority of the F1 grid tied up contractually for 2017.

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have both been linked with the Mercedes drive in the wake of Rosberg’s departure, leading to questions about whether Hamilton would want another big-name star alongside him.

Mercedes has always stressed that it does not have a number one driver, and Hamilton said that he would not insist on that changing when his new teammate arrives.

“I’ve never been a driver to ever request that,” Hamilton said when asked about number one status.

“I know a lot of the other drivers Sebastian, Fernando make sure that’s in their contract.

“I’ve just always asked to have equal rights. As long as we’re treated fairly, it doesn’t really matter who’s alongside you.

“But of course, we’ve got great team bosses, who I’m sure will choose the right people to be representing the brand.”

Whoever replaces Rosberg will become Hamilton’s fifth teammate in F1, the Briton having previously worked with Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button during his time at McLaren before joining Mercedes in 2013.

Rosberg: Hamilton’s late-season form ‘the best Lewis I’ve ever seen’

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo neads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
© Getty Images
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Nico Rosberg believes that Lewis Hamilton produced some of the best performances of his career towards the end of the 2016 Formula 1 season when the Briton had nothing to lose in the championship fight.

Rosberg clinched his maiden F1 drivers’ championship by five points in Abu Dhabi last Sunday, defeating Hamilton for the first time during their time as teammates.

Rosberg closed out the season with four straight second place finishes, with Hamilton’s run of victories in the same period not being enough to catch up in the standings.

Speaking in a video produced by Mercedes after his championship win, Rosberg said that he felt the most pressure after his final win of the season in Japan, the result that meant he could wrap up the title without taking another victory.

“The changing moment was Suzuka for me, when all of a sudden I had the 33-point lead and that meant it was in my hands, and it’s mine to lose, because it was enough to do second-second-second and third,” Rosberg said.

“That’s when really the pressure started for me because it became real, the chance to win the championship and to beat Lewis. It was real.”

Rosberg was only assured of the title when he crossed the finish line in Abu Dhabi, with Hamilton going deliberately slow in a bid to back the German into the chasing pack.

“Abu Dhabi was intense. It was the most intense experience I’ve ever had in a race car,” Rosberg said.

“Even qualifying, the laps in qualifying, not easy really. And for sure it has an impact on your performance. It’s not possible that you do the same performance as if you’re in Lewis’ position where he has nothing to lose.”

Rosberg believes that the lack of pressure brought the very best out of Hamilton, as he closed out the campaign with four consecutive victories from pole position.

“That’s why he got the pole positions and why I was second in the last couple of races because he’s free, has no weight and nothing to lose,” Rosberg said.

“It was the best Lewis I’ve ever seen, the last few races, because not only was he completely free, but also the most determined and motivated ever, working as hard as ever.

“[It was] massively difficult to beat him in those circumstances.”

Rosberg announced on Friday that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, meaning we have likely seen the last of his rivalry with Hamilton in F1.

Lewis Hamilton escapes punishment for defying Mercedes team orders in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP prepares for the race on the grid  during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton will face no punishment for defying team orders from Mercedes during the Formula 1 title decider in Abu Dhabi last weekend.

Hamilton took his fourth straight win and 10th of the season at the Yas Marina Circuit last Sunday, but fell five points short of Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the final drivers’ championship standings.

In a bid to make Rosberg lose places, Hamilton slowed the pack down in Abu Dhabi, causing concern on the Mercedes pit wall as Sebastian Vettel threatened to snatch victory away.

Hamilton ignored several calls from the Mercedes pit wall to pick up the pace, risking disciplinary action from the team after going against its orders.

However, Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda has confirmed that Hamilton will not be punished and that the team has moved on from the incident.

“There is no need to say anything to Lewis,” Lauda told The Mail on Sunday.

“We have no problem about how he raced in Abu Dhabi. We have drawn a line under it.”

Mercedes’ more pressing concern at the moment is finding a replacement for Rosberg after the German’s shock decision to retire from racing with immediate effect.

Hamilton’s contract with Mercedes runs for another two years, and without erstwhile rival Rosberg to battle against, is the early favorite for the championship in 2017.