NASCAR: Matt Kenseth continues hunt for first win of year at Kentucky

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As the defending champion at Kentucky Speedway, you would figure that this weekend would be the best opportunity Matt Kenseth has to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a win.

Last year’s race at Kentucky was one of seven that Kenseth won in his inaugural season with Joe Gibbs Racing. But while Kenseth has remained steady enough to be fourth in overall points this year, he hasn’t yet recaptured the blistering pace he seemed to have week in and week out last year.

“Sometimes, things change differently than maybe you think they would have,” Kenseth said today in a NASCAR teleconference. “I think that with the rules changes, the aero changes…We just haven’t got a hold of it as fast as we did last year.

“Last year, we just came out of the box and we were really strong right away, where this year we’ve still been searching, honestly, just to get right where we need to be.”

The last three races have been the toughest stretch of the season so far for Kenseth. After mid-pack finishes at Pocono and Michigan, he was taken out in a hard crash last Sunday at Sonoma after Dale Earnhardt Jr. made contact with him and sent him into a tire barrier.

But Kenseth puts emphasis on staying on an even keel regardless of the results. To him, it’s one of the most important parts of the job and it’s helpful when things hit a rough patch.

“Things in general are usually not as great as they seem when they are going great and they are not as bad as they seem when you are struggling a little bit,” he said. “So I think you’ve just got to keep that focus, keep working on it, keep trying to figure out how you can get better, how you can do a better job at doing your part, how you can help your team more.

“I think everybody just has to keep working on it, and you know, it’ll turn around sooner than later. Everybody always hopes for instant success, and you always hope it turns around on the sooner side. The fact is you’ve got to keep working on it and give it 100 percent, and it’ll come back around.”

It could come back around this weekend at Kentucky, where Kenseth will also compete in the Nationwide Series race on Friday.

Today, Kenseth also addressed reports of one of his main sponsors, Home Depot, deciding to leave the sport at the end of the season.

The home improvement chain has been involved in NASCAR since the late 1990s. But in recent years, it’s dialed down its primary backing as Dollar General has gradually gained the majority of the races on Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota.

“It’s not something I’m concerned about, but I really don’t know much about it, either,” he said about the matter. “The thing that I do know is they’ve been a great partner at Joe Gibbs Racing for a lot, a lot of years, and NASCAR, as well.

“I’m really not sure what their future plans are. We’re focused on really trying to get our cars running a little bit better right now, hopefully get up there and get a win and get in the Chase.”

F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Following his victory in Bahrain two weeks ago, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel arrived in Russia on Thursday targeting a third win of the year to extend his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Not since 2004 has a Ferrari driver made such a good start to a season, putting Vettel in contention for a fifth world title this year – although with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton hot on his tail, it will have to be a hard-earned success.

The fourth round of the year sees F1 head to the Olympic city of Sochi, which hosted the winter games back in 2014. The Sochi Autodrom played host to its first grand prix the same year, and is now a key part of Russia’s post-Olympic legacy.

Bringing you all of the latest news and interviews ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, Will Buxton brings you Paddock Pass.