Advocare 500 - Qualifying

Brad Keselowski hungry to reclaim his place at the top

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Taking a field of the finest stock car drivers on the planet to the proverbial woodshed would give anybody a heaping dose of confidence.

So it went for Brad Keselowski, who after burying the field last Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, declared over his team’s radio that “this feels like championship form to me.”

But those words weren’t just solely derived from the thrill of victory.

After defeating Jimmie Johnson for his first Sprint Cup title in 2012 and then being unable to defend it last year when he failed to make the Chase, Keselowski has aimed to show that he is indeed one of the best drivers this sport has to offer.

His Team Penske crew has responded, giving him fast cars almost every week. And on Saturday night, he emphatically converted that speed into a statement performance at Kentucky, leading 199 of 267 laps en route to his second Sprint Cup win of 2014.

Could that effort prove to be the start of his drive to a second Cup title? Why not? His win at Kentucky in 2012 served that very purpose, after all. Following that particular triumph, he earned two more wins and 16 Top-10s over the final 19 races of that year, which proved enough to hold off Johnson.

Then there’s the fact that half of the 10 Chase tracks are 1.5-mile, intermediate ovals just like Kentucky. You get one guess on what type of track Keselowski’s wins this season have come at.

But perhaps the most important thing in Keselowski’s favor? Experience.

The Michigan native went from the highest of highs in 2012 to the lowest of lows in 2013. Last season, Keselowski could not find the consistency that had helped him become a champion, and it ultimately cost him a spot in the Chase.

There’s no doubt that this past winter had to be humbling for him and the No. 2 team. But it’s also made him more appreciative of being able to have nights like he had on Saturday.

It’s also made him hungry – perhaps as hungry as he’s ever been in NASCAR’s top level. He wants to prove to all of us that he will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

“I want to win another championship,” he said in post-race. “I don’t want to just win one. I think I have the team to do it, with Paul and the guys. I have the owner to do it with Roger Penske, and the urgency is now. I don’t want to win one championship and that be it for my career. I’m not going to be happy with that.

“And I want to win another championship, but I don’t want it to be five or ten years from now. I don’t want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years, I want to do it each and every year, and I know that opportunity is here, and it’s present, and I want to make the most of it, and I’m not afraid to communicate that.”

As for the here and now, Keselowski knows it won’t be easy to overcome the Hendrick Motorsports armada. He and Penske teammate Joey Logano have been solid this year, but HMS is still regarded as the strongest team overall in the Cup garage.

Keselowski’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, noted that it will take an all-around effort to beat them and everyone else.

“I think we look at our program as a whole and look at areas where we can be stronger, where we need to improve, and whether it’s with our aero department or our chassis or the guys working on the cars, the pit crews, we look at it all,” Wolfe said.

“To be able to win another championship, we’ll have to be very good in all those areas, and we’ll continue to evaluate and do what we need to do to be able to be good in all those areas.”

But one area where they’re not lacking is determination. Armed with a sharpened focus and a resolve to take back what was once theirs, Keselowski and his team are looking like a group that will be very dangerous when the Chase for a championship begins.

Formula E: Team Aguri confirms da Costa for second season

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Antonio Felix da Costa has been confirmed for a second season with Team Aguri for the 2015-2016 FIA Formula E Championship, which begins later this month in Beijing.

He won once this past year at Buenos Aires and finished eighth in the points despite missing both the season opener and season finale due to clashes with his DTM schedule.

Said the 24-year-old Portuguese driver, “I am really happy to continue with Team Aguri and Formula E for season two. This championship is earning its respect in the world of motorsport and I am honoured to be involved. Regarding the season, I am really looking forward to getting started.”

Team Aguri team principal Mark Preston added, “It is a great pleasure to have Antonio continuing with the team for season two of Formula E. Antonio brought us our maiden win in Buenos Aires and helped to develop the team from scratch, he will continue to build on that success for season two and beyond.”

The team that bares the name of ex-Formula 1 driver and team owner Aguri Suzuki has not yet confirmed its second driver, which is the last outstanding seat to be filled on the Formula E grid.

Amlin, which had partnered with Aguri last year, is now present with the Andretti Formula E team and its drivers, Robin Frijns and Simona de Silvestro.

Hulkenberg leads shorter than normal FP1 in Russia

Nico Hulkenberg
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Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg posted a 1:44.355 lap of the of the Sochi Autodrom to lead a fairly abnormal, and shorter than usual, first free practice for the Russian Grand Prix.

Hulkenberg posted the time to conclude the usual 90-minute session, to pip Nico Rosberg at 1:44.407 on his final lap. The usual 90-minute session was shortened due to a track delay for cleanup of diesel fuel on course.

Sebastian Vettel, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo completed the top five.

While the clock started on time for the full 90-minute session, track activity was halted for the opening 30 minutes to clean up diesel spillage on the track at Turn 8.

It left teams and drivers with just a 60-minute first free practice to tackle the Sochi Autodrom, but did not push the session later or affect the timetable for the rest of the day. However, with a damp if not entirely wet track, it made things difficult in FP1.

The delay also meant that teams weren’t able to use an extra set of Pirellis handed out at the start of FP1. Supersofts can be used for the first time in FP2.

During the delay, it did offer a chance for sarcasm, and Manor seized the opportunity following a comment from McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso noting that even with Mercedes engines next year, Manor wouldn’t move ahead of them.

NBC’s Will Buxton explained the track surface dilemma drivers would face in this session.

With just under one hour to go in the session, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was the first to head out on course, leading several others. Ericsson made the first laps of the weekend at the track where he made his final start for Caterham a year ago.

Both Williams drivers went on course on Pirelli’s wet weather tires for their installation laps. Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg tried the intermediates, and Alonso was first on course in slicks.

No official times were registered until there were less than 40 minutes remaining in the session, with Alonso registering a 2:00.736 time, while putting down a bevy of sparks. He quickly lowered the mark to 1:56.327, and 1:53.854 after that. Ericsson was next in at a 1:58.926, although dropped into the 1:54 range not long after.

Alonso’s teammate Jenson Button clocked in at 1:50.920 with just under 20 minutes remaining and for the first time this year, we could say we had a McLaren Honda 1-2 on track, albeit under abnormal circumstances.

The trsck got busy in the final 15 minutes, with Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen posting a 1:50.870 to lead before Alonso clocked in a 1:49.240.

A 1:47.959 from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, then a 1:45.987 from Hulkenberg followed in the final 10 minutes as times firmly began to drop. Vettel got down to a 1:45.491 shortly thereafter, and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton came up two tenths shy of the mark at a 1:45.691.

Ericsson reported a power cut near the end of the session down at Sauber but otherwise there were no issues through the field, other than a handful of spins, including one from Hamilton on his final flier at the second-to-last corner.

FP2 begins from 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.