Kurt Busch picks up first front-row start of season

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After making nine front-row starts throughout the 2013 season with Furniture Row Racing, Kurt Busch will find himself in familiar territory when it’s time to go racing Sunday at Pocono.

The Outlaw earned his first front-row start of 2014 (and his first such start with Stewart-Haas Racing) this afternoon in qualifying, narrowly missing the Pocono 400 pole by two one-thousandths of a second.

Busch said his team was focusing on getting the front end of his No. 41 SHR Chevrolet to settle into the track better, and was happy to see the new approach pay off.

“It’s great to cash in, be in position, and advance through knockout qualifying,” he said. “It’s something we’ve done this year but we haven’t positioned ourselves for a pole run in that final grouping of 12.

“[Racing] those final 12, you’ve got to be spot-on. After I made my [Round 3] lap, I felt like I left a little change on the track in Turn 1 – a little pocket change. So, to come this close to the pole, it shows our car’s got some speed in it and hopefully, that will translate to race day.”

Outside of his victory earlier this year at Martinsville, Busch has struggled mightily in 2014. Since winning on NASCAR’s oldest track, he’s had four DNFs and a top finish of 18th (Dover) in the last seven races.

But Busch is looking forward to using the multiple benefits of starting up front toward pulling him and his team out of their tailspin.

“It’s good for all day long on starting position, your race sequence, and our pit box [selection],” he said. “Daniel [Knost, crew chief] will get a nice pit box selection and that will help us with ease and congestion on pit road. And as the race progresses, we just have to make the right changes to the car.

“I’m glad we were able to apply something new to the car and see a good result right away. It’s not a big victory or a small victory. It’s just nice to confirm a change on the car and see it go in the right direction.”

Speaking further about his rookie crew chief, Busch said that it’s been great to see how Knost, a former engineer, has been able to grow into his role.

However, he hopes that he can get Knost to delegate more responsibilities to his crew mates as the summer progresses.

“Poor Daniel, he likes to do everything himself,” Busch said. “And in this game, there’s so much work that has to be done with templates, with car set-up, shocks, springs, sway bars – he has to rely on the talent of the guys around him that he’s positioned himself with that.

“That’s our next step – being able to allow the crew members to know that we’re going to grab another gear here during these summer months and advance as a team together. [We haven’t had] the results that we’ve wanted so far, so we all know we can work better and harder to make this 41 car faster.”

“Kurt Busch: 36,” which chronicles Busch’s historic bid to win the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, debuts this Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC. An hour-long “director’s cut” will air on NBCSN the following night at 11:30 p.m. ET.

Gasly takes Sugo podium to stay in Super Formula title hunt

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Red Bull junior Pierre Gasly will head into the final round of the 2017 Super Formula season just half a point off the lead after finishing second at Sugo on Sunday.

Gasly, 21, was placed in the Japanese Super Formula series for this season after winning the GP2 title last year, and vaulted into contention for the title with back-to-back wins at Motegi and Autopolis.

Gasly continued his good form by taking P2 at Sugo on Sunday, having narrowly lost out to Yuhi Sekiguchi following a race-long battle.

Gasly trailed Sekiguchi through the early part of the race before extending his opening stint longer than his rival in a bid to jump ahead, only to emerge from the pits second again.

Fresher tires allowed Gasly to make serious inroads through the closing stages, but Sekiguchi held on to take his second victory of the year by just 0.2 seconds.

Kazuki Nakajima completed the podium ahead of Yuji Kunimoto, while Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist took P5 from Hiroaki Ishiura.

Ishiura heads into the season-ending double-header at Suzuka leading Gasly by just half a point in the drivers’ standings, with Rosenqvist sitting a further 4.5 points behind.

The Super Formula season rounds out on October 22 at Suzuka.

Norris made to wait for F3 title after final lap crash in Austria

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Rising British racer Lando Norris has been made to wait to secure the FIA European Formula 3 title after a crash on the final lap of Sunday’s race at the Red Bull Ring ensured the championship battle will go to the final round of the season.

Norris, 17, became part of Formula 1 team McLaren’s junior program earlier this year, and enjoyed his maiden test in a grand prix racer in Hungary over the summer, putting in an impressive display.

Norris has been racing in the highly-competitive FIA F3 series in Europe this year, a championship that has proved crucial in the careers for drivers such as Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Antonio Giovinazzi.

After finishing second earlier on Sunday, Norris needed to simply finish ahead of chief title rival Maximilian Günther in the final race of the weekend to clinch the championship with three races to spare.

Norris started second and retained his position throughout the race, only to come under pressure from Ralf Aron in the closing stages, the two drivers making contact on the last lap.

Norris was sent off the track and into the gravel, forcing him to retire from the race, and with Günther finishing fifth, the points gap was reduced to 72 with three races remaining at Hockenheim in three weeks’ time.

While a title win is still likely for Norris given just 75 are on offer, to have come so close to sealing it early will nevertheless come as a blow to the talented youngster.

Norris is set to be placed in Formula 2 by McLaren in 2018, but is poised to be a name that is spoken about for many years to come in F1.

Marquez fights to Aragon MotoGP win, opens up points lead

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Marc Marquez fought through to his fifth win of the 2017 MotoGP season in Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix, extending his lead in the riders’ championship to 16 points over Andrea Dovizioso.

A fall in qualifying meant Marquez started only fifth at Motorland Aragon, and failed to make any inroads at the start of the race, running only fourth in the early stages as Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo hit the front.

Marquez was able to slowly rise up the order, passing title rival Dovizioso, Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi and finally Lorenzo, taking the lead of the race on Lap 16.

Marquez ultimately crossed the line less than one second clear of teammate Dani Pedrosa, who continued his good record at Motorland Aragon to complete a one-two finish for Repsol Honda.

Lorenzo held on to take his second podium in Ducati colors in third, finishing ahead of Yamaha pole-sitter Maverick Viñales, who dropped to fifth on the opening lap and never recovered.

Rossi’s remarkable return to racing a little over three weeks since suffering a double leg break ended with a run to fifth at the checkered flag, having spent the early part of the race battling at the front before dropping back.

Aleix Espargaro finished sixth ahead of Dovizioso, who slipped to 16 points behind Marquez in the title race by only finishing seventh for Ducati.

Alvaro Bautista crossed the line eighth ahead of Tech3’s Johann Zarco, while Pol Espargaro completed the top 10.

MotoGP returns in three weeks’ time with the Japanese Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi.

Palmer calls breakthrough F1 points ‘a weight off the shoulders’

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Jolyon Palmer has conceded that his march to his first points of the 2017 Formula 1 season last time out in Singapore was “a weight off the shoulders” as he looks to gain momentum for the remaining six races of the season.

Palmer recorded his best finish in F1 under the lights at Marina Bay, crossing the line sixth in the first wet night race in the history of the sport.

The result came at the end of a tough weekend for Palmer that saw Renault confirm it would be dropping the Briton from its F1 line-up for 2018, drafting in Carlos Sainz Jr. from Toro Rosso.

Even without an F1 seat to save, Palmer hopes the result can mark the start of a strong run to finish his time with Renault through the final six races.

“Finally we had a smooth race, which is ironic given what was going on with the safety cars and the tricky weather conditions,” Palmer said.

“We made a good start, and the move on [Valtteri] Bottas was fun; a lot happened in the two hours. It feels
like a weight off the shoulders to get some points.

“I hope to push on now and get some more. I know I can do it.”

Should Palmer wish to remain in F1, his only realistic options lie with Williams and Sauber for 2018, although both teams are understood to be looking elsewhere.

A report from Autosport claims Williams has narrowed its shortlist to partner Lance Stroll next year down to existing driver Felipe Massa, reserve driver Paul di Resta and recent Renault tester Robert Kubica.

Ferrari youngster and runaway Formula 2 points leader Charles Leclerc looks nailed on to take one of Sauber’s seats next year, replacing Mercedes junior Pascal Wehrlein.

Marcus Ericsson is expected to keep his seat with Sauber for a fourth season, with Leclerc’s fellow Ferrari-backed youngster Antonio Giovinazzi seemingly the only alternative for the Swiss team.