Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski, left, and Joey Logano talk strategy before both went out and qualified 1-2 on Friday for Saturday night's Quaker State 400 Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Team Penske again dominates Sprint Cup qualifying; Brad Keselowski on pole, Joey Logano alongside at Kentucky

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Team Penske once again dominated Sprint Cup qualifying Friday, taking the top two spots for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 race at Kentucky Speedway.

Brad Keselowski, who won there in 2012, earned the pole with a track record speed of 188.791 mph, more than 1.5 mph faster than teammate Joey Logano, who qualified No. 2 (187.175 mph).

“We’re glad we got the run in,” Keselowski told Fox Sports 1. “The Miller Lite Ford Fusion has just been real good this weekend, Paul (crew chief Paul Wolfe) did a great job with the adjustments and I’m just real proud of this effort.”

Keselowski didn’t just break, he obliterated Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s old track record of 183.636 mph – set last year – by more than five mph.

This is Keselowski’s third pole of the season and only the sixth of his career. This also marks the fourth time Keselowski has qualified for the front row on five different 1.5-mile tracks this season, but is the first time he’s earned the pole (he was on the outside pole in the other four races).

Logano appeared as if he’d earn the pole, but Keselowski’s late run in the final round was more than just stout.

“That’s a really good lap right there,” Logano said. “It says a lot about Team Penske. … It’s frustrating at the same time, we won the first two segments. Brad had a lot of speed in practice, and we kind of wondered where it went in the first couple rounds of qualifying, and then he figured it out again, obviously. We still have a good start, a good pit stall and can’t wait for tomorrow night.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Keselowski also qualified No. 1 for Friday night’s Nationwide Series race.

Jeff Gordon qualified third (186.832), followed by Denny Hamlin (186.374), Kevin Harvick (186.104), Kyle Larson (186.034), Ryan Newman (186.014), Jamie McMurray (185.957), Kurt Busch (185.950), Danica Patrick was 10th (185.803), Clint Bowyer (185.414) and Paul Menard rounded out the top 12 (185.026).

Teams barely dodged a rainstorm at the start of the three-session knockout qualifying session, but all 42 cars entered were able to make runs.

“I’m just thankful it didn’t rain and we got all three runs in,” Keselowski said. “If you looked at the radar before qualifying, there was no way it wasn’t going to rain. … There was a huge rainstorm coming at the racetrack and then it stopped.”

Among highlights (and where appropriate, lowlights) of the three qualifying rounds:

* 25 drivers broke Earnhardt’s old track record in just the first session.

* Defending race winner Matt Kenseth failed to get out of the second round of knockout qualifying. He’ll start Saturday’s race 14th, alongside Tony Stewart in Row 7.

* Of note in the first round, Danica Patrick recorded the fifth-fastest speed at 185.899.

* Two of the biggest surprises in the overall session were the qualifying efforts of Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In a phrase: not so good.

Johnson qualified 25th and failed to transfer to the second round.

“We didn’t get the lap we needed out there and didn’t transfer, but I feel actually decent about our car in race trim,” Johnson told Fox Sports 1. “We just couldn’t get out of our own way in the interim.”

Earnhardt, meanwhile, will start 29th.

“We were slow in practice, have been fighting the car all day and haven’t had any gains, haven’t really been able to figure out what we need to do,” Earnhardt said. “We just had a real rough go of it.

“The car is just way too rough, way too much movement and it’s hard to control it that way. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that this front straightaway is pretty mean. … It’s something else. I ain’t never seen anything like it.”

* This will mark the first time since Nov. 2001 that a Sprint Cup race has not had a full 43-car field. Only 42 drivers/cars entered and qualified for Saturday night’s race.

Here’s the starting lineup for Saturday’s Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway:

Row 1 Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

Row 2 Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin

Row 3 Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson

Row 4 Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray

Row 5 Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick

Row 6 Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard

Row 7 Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth

Row 8 AJ Allmendinger, Austin Dillon

Row 9 Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch

Row 10 Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne

Row 11 Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola

Row 12 Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle

 

Row 13 Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears

Row 14 Justin Allgaier, Cole Whitt

Row 15 Dale Earnhardt Jr., Reed Sorenson

Row 16 Michael Annett, Alex Bowman

Row 17 Josh Wise, Marcos Ambrose

Row 18 Travis Kvapil, David Ragan

Row 19 Landon Cassill, David Stremme

Row 20 Ryan Truex, Joe Nemechek

Row 21 David Gilliland, Mike Bliss

* Note: Only 42 cars/drivers entered this race.

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‘Fast Jack’ Beckman back to living up to his nickname at Gateway

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“Fast Jack” Beckman came into this weekend’s AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park in a big predicament.

He didn’t live up to his colorful nickname during last week’s Carolina Nationals, the opening race of the six-race Countdown to the Championship.

Beckman was actually more like “Slow Jack,” as he failed to advance past the first round at Carolina in last Sunday’s eliminations.

He also failed to advance past the first round in the final pre-Countdown qualifying race, the U.S. Nationals, which he won last season.

All those things combined have put even more pressure on Beckman. He left Charlotte eighth in the 10-driver Funny Car Countdown standings.

2016_Jack_Beckman headshot

Being scored 110 points behind Funny Car points leader Ron Capps, Beckman had his work cut out for him heading into this weekend’s race at Gateway, in Madison, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

And as he has done numerous times in his career, when the pressure was on him, Beckman responded, qualifying No. 2 on Saturday for Sunday’s eliminations.

Robert Hight earned the No. 1 qualifier position (3.893 seconds at 328.38 mph), but Beckman wasn’t far behind (3.907 seconds at 325.22 mph).

That’s a big start for Beckman, who won at Gateway in 2012 and ended up second in last year’s championship battle that was won by fellow veteran Del Worsham. Beckman will face Dale Creasy Jr. in the first round of eliminations.

Last season, Beckman won seven races in the 24-race NHRA national event schedule. This season has been much different, as he has just one win (Chicago in July).

But that doesn’t mean he still can’t win each of the five remaining Countdown races – which obviously would go a long way towards earning him his second career Funny Car championship (and in five seasons).

Beckman isn’t panicking after Charlotte. He’s finished first, third and second in three of the last four seasons. He knows he and his Infinite Hero Dodge Charger have the capability to make a serious championship run.

In addition to hoping he wins Sunday, Beckman is defending champion of next week’s Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove (Pa.) Raceway.

“Since you can’t control how the leading cars do, really the goal is simple: you just need to win the race,” Beckman said in a media release. “At some point we have to win the race if we have a chance.

“There’s not any other path to a championship. We lost ground we couldn’t afford to lose (at Charlotte) and we can’t afford to lose any more ground. I don’t see those teams not continuing to perform well and the only way we win the championship is to outperform them. It’s imperative we get back to our capabilities.”

A major change for Saturday’s qualifying effort paid off handsomely with his No. 2 spot for Sunday – although admittedly it was a gamble of sorts for Beckman and crew chief Jimmy Prock.

“We’re still running a five-disc clutch and we have one disc on there that when it works it’s great and when it doesn’t it smokes the tires instantly and becomes too aggressive,” Beckman said. “We’re going to take that one out and take our chances with a brand new disc. We’re taking a calculated risk but I think it’s the only choice we have.

“We have to take baby steps but we have to take them quickly or we run out of races. Before we can go quick consistently we have to get back our predictability and we have to do that by the end of (this weekend’s race at) St. Louis.

“All we can control right now is our lane. Because we’re running out of rounds, every single pass becomes more important. But if you dwell on that, there’s a high likelihood you’re not going to do as well as you want.

“As the season winds down, the pressure goes up, but if you let it affect you, you’re not going to be at your best. The only thing you can do is take a positive mindset every time you go up there.”

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Touring car legend Yvan Muller to leave WTCC after 2016

STRASBOURG, FRANCE - OCTOBER 04:   Yvan Muller of France attends the FIA pre event press conference at rally headquarters after the Shakedown of the WRC France on October 04, 2012 in Strasbourg , France.  (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)
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Touring car racing legend and four-time world champion Yvan Muller will leave the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) at the end of the 2016 season.

Muller made his name in the British Touring Car Championship before making the switch across to WTCC in 2006 with Seat.

The Frenchman claimed his first world title in 2008 before enjoying further successes in 2010, 2011 and 2013, the latter three championships won while behind the wheel of a Chevrolet.

Muller joined Citroen following its arrival in WTCC for the 2014 season, but has been unable to add to his haul of championship as teammate Jose Maria Lopez romped to three straight crowns.

With Citroen set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, Muller has decided that the time is right to follow suit and call time on a stint in the series that has seen him score 47 wins, 119 podium finishes and over 2,600 points.

“I am not sure that age is the main factor when it comes to ending a career. It’s more a matter of desire and motivation,” Muller said.

“With all the testing, the simulator sessions, the physical training and the travel to the race venues, a season of professional motor racing requires a level of personal commitment that I am no longer prepared to put in.

“At the same time, I am at a time of my life where I want to do something else and I am happy to be able to make that decision after eleven seasons of FIA WTCC.

“I’ve had some great experiences over my career. These three seasons with Citroën Racing have been particularly special, even though I never managed to be world champion with this team. But I will always be proud of having helped to build our racing programme and develop the Citroën C-Elysée WTCC. I have also met some great people who are passionate about their job and have a fierce competitive spirit.

“Driving has been part of my daily life for so long that I can’t see myself stopping racing entirely. But I am going to spend more time with my family and developing my team, Yvan Muller Racing. Before that, though, I am going to put everything I’ve got into meeting the team’s goals.”

Lopez is also set to leave WTCC at the end of the year, having agreed a deal to race for Citroen sub-brand DS in Formula E for the all-electric series’ third season.

The 2016 WTCC season closes on November 25 at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar.

Report: Sam Schmidt to receive America’s first driver’s license for semi-autonomous car

2016 Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 29, 2016
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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt is set to receive America’s first driver’s license for a semi-autonomous vehicle, according to a report from Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Schmidt sustained a spinal cord injury in a testing accident at Walt Disney World Speedway ahead of the 2000 IRL season, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

Schmidt went on to establish Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with programs in IndyCar and Indy Lights, both of which he still heads up.

Schmidt has previously completed laps behind the wheel of a modified 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray at Indianapolis in 2014 and in Long Beach last year, dubbed the ‘SAM project’ – semi-autonomous motorcar – developed with Arrow Electronics.

Schmidt controls the car using a breathing tube for acceleration and braking, and steers using his head movements that are picked up by infrared cameras.

Now, the SAM project is set to hit the road, with Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting that Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles will grant Schmidt the first road license for a semi-autonomous car in the country.

The report says that Arrow has worked closely with the Nevada DMV to update regulations so that Schmidt is able to drive on state roads.

“Nevada is leading the nation in promoting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle technologies that can bring mobility and independence to people with physical disabilities, including our wounded warriors,” officials from the Nevada DMV said.

Robert Kubica scores podium finish on Renault Sport Trophy debut at Spa

16 KUBICA Robert (POL) HAMON Christophe (FRA) RENAULT RS 01 Team Duqueine action during the 2016 Renault Sport series  at Spa Francorchamps, Belgium, September  23 to 25  - Photo Eric Vargiolu / DPPI
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Robert Kubica enjoyed a successful debut in the Renault Sport Trophy at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on Saturday, finishing third alongside Christophe Hamon.

Former BMW and Renault Formula 1 driver Kubica announced last week that he would be entering the race weekend at Spa after accepting an invitation from the French manufacturer.

Kubica spent five seasons racing in F1 and won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW before having his stint in the series cut short after a rally crash ahead of the 2011 season.

Severe injuries sustained to his right arm and hand meant left Kubica spending a lengthy spell in rehabilitation before making his return to motorsport in the World Rally Championship.

The Pole made his final WRC appearance in January at the Monte Carlo Rally before making his circuit racing return in the 12 Hours of Mugello with Mercedes.

Kubica enjoyed his first qualifying session since the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of the Renault Sport Trophy weekend, finishing third.

After seeing Hamon complete the first 10 laps of the race and suffer contact, Kubica completed the final 17 behind the wheel of the Renault R.S.01 car.

A late charge saw Kubica rise from P6 with 10 minutes remaining to cross the line third, six seconds behind race winners Raoul Owens and Fredrik Blomstedt.

Curiously, Kubica’s last F1 podium finish also came at Spa in 2010, finishing third for Renault behind Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber.

Kubica will return to Spa on Sunday for the sprint race, where he will race in the Pro class.