Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts

Brad Keselowski’s the king at Kentucky Speedway (VIDEO)

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For the second time in as many nights at Kentucky Speedway, Brad Keselowski was the dominant driver. But in tonight’s Sprint Cup race, he was able to follow through.

A late speeding penalty may have kept Keselowski from winning last night’s Nationwide Series race. But he would not be denied in the Quaker State 400, leading 199 of 267 laps and capturing his second Sprint Cup win of the season.

Keselowski and Team Penske teammate Joey Logano had led every lap of the night prior to the two of them pitting under a Lap 214 caution. He took the subsequent restart at Lap 220 in sixth place, but charged to the front and re-took the point for good when he passed Kyle Busch with 19 laps to go.

“It was kind of one of those races where you know you just have a really fast car…and you’re just waiting for something to go wrong,” Keselowski told TNT. “And it did there on that last yellow. It just caught us out of sequence and we restarted sixth.

“We got a decent restart but I didn’t think I was gonna catch Kyle. But the car was that great. [Crew chief] Paul Wolfe and these guys are doing an awesome job. It’s just an incredible feeling to have a car this fast. I hope we can keep on this.

“I really want another championship and I think this team – we’re getting closer to that position if we keep running like this.”

For a moment, it looked like luck would go against Keselowski when that caution at Lap 214 occurred for an incident involving Aric Almirola.

Busch, along with Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr., were all pitting when that caution occurred and moved up to first, second and third respectively when Keselowski, Logano and the rest of the leaders pitted.

But knowing how good Keselowski was all night, Busch ran as hard as he could in a bid to stretch a gap to Keselowski that would prove insurmountable. It wasn’t.

“Obviously, with clean air, you’ve got to take advantage of it as much as you can,” said the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. “So, I tried to hustle as much as I could early to get a big lead and once I got to traffic, I knew I’d back up a little bit.

“But that was the loosest I was the whole race, the loosest I was at the end, especially in traffic, too. I was just trying to hang on to it as best I could and not wreck. I about did probably 10 times on that last run.”

Busch still managed to earn the runner-up ahead of Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman, who secured his first Top-5 result of the year with a third-place finish.

Matt Kenseth complimented teammate Busch’s second with a fourth-place finish that had him overcome a right-front tire failure under green at Lap 120. Earnhardt also had a great run and pulled out a fifth-place result after starting 29th.

As for Logano, who was for so long tonight the only driver that could really hang with Keselowski, he ran into trouble around 25 laps to go when his engine reportedly went down a cylinder.

Logano finally fell from the reaches of the Top 2, but was able to nurse home his sick motor and come away with an ninth-place finish – perhaps not what he ultimately wanted, but much better than the alternative.

Jeff Gordon sought a win tonight at Kentucky to become the first driver ever to win at every active NASCAR Sprint Cup track. Instead, he finished a still respectable sixth ahead of Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Logano and Jimmie Johnson in Positions 7-10.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT KENTUCKY – Quaker State 400
Unofficial Results
1. Brad Keselowski, led 199 laps
2. Kyle Busch, led 31 laps
3. Ryan Newman
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Kevin Harvick
8. Kasey Kahne
9. Joey Logano, led 37 laps
10. Jimmie Johnson
11. Tony Stewart
12. Kurt Busch
13. Marcos Ambrose
14. Greg Biffle
15. Paul Menard
16. Austin Dillon
17. Carl Edwards
18. Michael Annett
19. Martin Truex Jr.
20. Casey Mears
21. Danica Patrick
ONE LAP DOWN
22. AJ Allmendinger
23. Clint Bowyer
24. Justin Allgaier
25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
26. Brian Vickers
TWO LAPS DOWN
27. Reed Sorenson
THREE LAPS DOWN
28. Cole Whitt
FOUR LAPS DOWN
29. Josh Wise
30. David Gilliland
FIVE LAPS DOWN
31. David Ragan
32. Landon Cassill
SIX LAPS DOWN
33. Ryan Truex
EIGHT LAPS DOWN
34. Travis Kvapil

35. David Stremme, Lap 257, Running
36. Alex Bowman, Lap 255, Running
37. Jamie McMurray, Lap 250, Running
38. Joe Nemechek, Lap 239, Running
39. Aric Almirola, Lap 175, Accident
40. Kyle Larson, Lap 75, Accident
41. Mike Bliss, Lap 30, Transmission
42. Denny Hamlin, Lap 27, Accident

Nico Rosberg’s F1 retirement came as no surprise to Lewis Hamilton

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP shakes hands with second place finisher and F1 World Drivers Champion Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP 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 Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton says he was not surprised by Mercedes teammate and Formula 1 World Champion Nico Rosberg’s retirement announcement on Friday.

Hamilton lost out to Rosberg in the battle for the 2016 drivers’ championship, finishing five points shy of a fourth title in Abu Dhabi last weekend.

Rosberg announced on Friday ahead of the FIA prize giving in Vienna that he would be retiring from F1 with immediate effect, sending shockwaves through the sport.

However, Hamilton said that the news came as little surprise to him, given he has worked with Rosberg throughout his career and knows the German well.

“The sport will miss him but I wish him all the best,” Hamilton said at the press conference in Vienna, as quoted by F1i.

“I’m sure it was a surprise to many people. I’m probably one of the many people that it was not a surprise for but that’s because I’ve known him for a long, long time. But this is motor racing.

“This is the first time he’s won in 18 years, hence why it was not a surprise that he decided to stop. But also he’s got a family to focus on and probably wants to have more children. Formula 1 takes so much of your time.”

Rosberg’s decision brings an end to his fierce rivalry with Hamilton during their four years together as Mercedes teammates.

The two enjoyed a number of clashes both on- and off-track, but Hamilton said that he would miss not having Rosberg to go up against.

“We started karting when we were 13 and we would always talk about being champions,” Hamilton said.

“When I joined this team Nico was there which was something we spoke about when we were kids.

“It’s going to be very, very strange and for sure it will be sad to not have him in the team next year.”

Verstappen, Mercedes joke about vacant seat after Rosberg’s retirement

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer leads 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 Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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In the wake of Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement announcement on Friday in Vienna, nearly every Formula 1 driver has been named as a possible replacement for the World Champion at Mercedes in 2017.

Fernando Alonso? Sebastian Vettel? Pascal Wehrlein? Esteban Ocon? Or how about Max Verstappen?

Ah, Verstappen. The young upstart who has turned the F1 world on its head since making his debut as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in 2015. Fast-forward to the present day, and he is the youngest ever grand prix winner (and still very fresh-faced).

While a move to Mercedes is, in reality, out of the question for 2017 given the nature of his Red Bull contract and status as one of F1’s hottest prospects, Verstappen was more than happy to engage in some banter on Twitter with the German manufacturer.

Verstappen notably had the chance to join Mercedes’ junior program back in 2014, but decided on a move to Red Bull instead after it promised him an F1 drive with Toro Rosso for 2015.

Stunned racing world reacts to Rosberg’s retirement on social media

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates with his wife Vivian Sibold and his team after finishing second and securing the F1 World Drivers Championship at the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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It is fair to say that nobody saw this coming.

Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from Formula 1 just six days after clinching his maiden world championship has already sent shockwaves through the racing world.

To see a professional athlete bow out in such fashion is rare, particularly when they’re nowhere near retirement age. Alas, it seems that one world title was enough for Nico.

Here’s a round-up of how the racing world has reacted to Rosberg’s retirement on Twitter.

Smith: After his bombshell, who will replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes?

Nico Rosberg 2016 World Championship Victory Behind-the-Scenes Imagery
© Mercedes AMG Petronas
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The driver market for the 2017 Formula 1 season has been a regular talking point on MotorSportsTalk for the past few months.

‘Silly season’, as it is affectionally known, was expected to be particularly crazy ahead of the 2017 season given the number of drivers who were going to be out of contract. Daniel Ricciardo told me in pre-season it was going to be “badass.”

But things went quiet: Max Verstappen got an early promotion to Red Bull; Kimi Raikkonen got another year at Ferrari; Sergio Perez decided to stay at Force India. By the end of the racing season, just three seats remained at Sauber and Manor.

And then Nico Rosberg dropped his bombshell.

Ahead of the FIA prizegiving in Vienna on Friday night, Rosberg announced to the world that, less than six days after being crowned World Champion, he would be ending his racing career with immediate effect.

This is an enormous shock to the F1 paddock and the sporting world as a whole. While it is hardly rare for athletes to quit while on top, it is for them to do so when they’ve still got a number of years left in them. Rosberg is 31. Michael Schumacher didn’t retire until he was 43.

I wrote on Monday in the wake of Rosberg’s title success that one world title might be enough for him. He’s not wired the same way as the Lewis Hamiltons or Fernando Alonsos of this world, to whom three and two World Championships respectively seem an injustice. Rosberg is World Champion forever now; that won’t change no matter how many more times he wins it.

Now Nico gets the chance to be a father and a husband full-time. To him, family is everything. His wife, Vivian, was in all of his post-race shots, celebrating the world title success, while little Alaia is just one year old; it’s a precious time for fathers.

In F1 though, the question now surrounds who will step into Rosberg’s shoes.

It’s time for Silly Season 2: Electric Boogaloo.

The two men who were perceived as being the natural successors to Hamilton and Rosberg at Mercedes were junior drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon. Both raced for Manor this year, making their F1 debuts, with Ocon impressing enough to get a seat with Force India for 2017. Wehrlein is still yet to be signed to a seat for next year.

If Mercedes wants a quick fix, then Wehrlein is a viable option. He is known to the team and has shown signs of pace, scoring just the second point in Manor’s seven-season history this season. However, Force India’s decision to pass on him and take Ocon surely raises doubt as to his suitability to the Mercedes seat.

Because what is now on offer for next season is the chance of a lifetime for the F1 grid. New regulations may be on the horizon for 2017, but Mercedes is expected to still be fighting at the front of the grid. It has enjoyed one of the most dominant spells in the long history of F1. Driver contracts may be in place, but they can be bought out if the price is right.

As one Twitter follower put it: “The hottest girl in school is without a prom date at the moment.”

So who might be the Prom King to this Prom Queen?

The immediate aftermath of the announcement has seen all of F1’s biggest names linked with the drive, including Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, both of whom enter the final year of their contracts in 2017 with McLaren and Ferrari respectively.

Both moved to their new teams at the end of 2014 as part of a long-term project to take them back to the front of the grid; both were left to endure trying 2016 campaigns that yielded not a single victory.

So could either make the move up? Frankly, the money would have to be staggering from Mercedes to get either out of their contract, particularly in Vettel’s case. And things haven’t exactly reached ‘Alonso level’ of frustrating and anger for the German at Maranello just yet.

The Red Bull boys are locked in for 2017 – although you’ve got to think that Mercedes is surely now feeling even more frustrated that it missed out on Verstappen three years ago – and should be in a position to mount a title challenge next year given the progress the team has made through this season. So again, a no-go really.

So instead, it would have to be a driver who is up-and-coming but currently mired in the midfield. Two drivers come to mind.

Firstly, there is Valtteri Bottas. The Finn was the breakout star of F1 in 2014 with Williams, taking a number of podium finishes, but has failed to reach such dizzying heights over the past two campaigns, scoring just one top-three result through 2016.

However, Bottas is still widely regarded as being a top talent, and is managed by Toto Wolff, who also happens to be Mercedes’ F1 chief. If the money is right to prize him away from Williams, Bottas could be a good fit.

Another possibility is Carlos Sainz Jr. Sainz had a hugely impressive campaign in 2016 with Toro Rosso, but there is no room for him to move up to Red Bull’s senior F1 operation for the foreseeable future with Verstappen and Ricciardo in place.

Sainz is currently slated for another year at Toro Rosso, but Red Bull must know deep down that keeping him at STR in the long-term will be an impossible task. So why not ask Mercedes to cough up the cash, while also freeing up a seat for GP2 champion Pierre Gasly in 2017?

You could also make a case for the likes of Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean, both of whom seem to be waiting for their ‘big shot’ in F1.

For Mercedes, it all boils down to its long-term plan. If it thinks Wehrlein is ready, he would be a sensible choice, although it would act as an enormous leap as he literally goes from the back of the grid to the front. Ocon would be in a similar boat, and Mercedes would need to pull him out of the Force India deal.

If Mercedes wants the best driver available, then surely Alonso and Vettel will be on its radar. But it would be more troublesome to hire them – plus the team has Lewis Hamilton to appease, who will be hungrier than ever for a fourth world title in 2017.

If Mercedes wants to take a shot on one of the midfield up-and-comers, then Bottas and Sainz are perhaps the best bets.

But it must be stressed that these are all ‘ifs.’

2016 has been a year packed with shocks and surprise. Rosberg’s retirement is really just the icing on the cake.