Brian France: NASCAR not looking at limiting Cup drivers racing in lower series

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NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers coming in and dominating Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series events always seems to rile up a fair portion of the sport’s fan base.

But NASCAR chairman/CEO Brian France has indicated that there’s no movement coming from the sanctioning body to limit participation from Cup drivers in the lower two national series.

“That’s always a question, when a Cup driver gets in and has a lot of success – Mark Martin did that for a long time in the Nationwide – and there’s always that balance,” France said to reporters today at Daytona International Speedway.

“But where we usually come out on that is that the younger drivers gain valuable experience even if somebody gets on a run and tends to win more events than is normal. So we try to balance that out, but we lean on the side of the greater experience for the younger drivers to get a chance to compete against, and also for our fans to want to watch the elite drivers not just on Sundays.

“We tend to let the events unfold the way they unfold.”

Cup star Kyle Busch, who also competes semi-regularly in Nationwide and the Truck Series, holds the Nationwide Series’ all-time wins mark with 66 – his most recent coming in May at Dover.

During today’s conference, a reporter at DIS noted that fan animosity over Cup drivers racing in the lower series tends to spike when the polarizing Busch is at the front in those events.

However, France insisted that the idea of a cap was not “an individual issue.”

“It’s true that if a Cup driver dominates in a lower division, it’s understandable why people will shake their head, and we understand that,” France said. “As I said, we balance that against the idea that fans like to see the younger drivers with the veterans, and the younger drivers, most of them, almost all of them, like to figure out where they’re at on the skill curve.

“So that’s good for them to compete against, and it’s unique to motorsports.  That’s how it’s always been.  But we have to balance all this, and we’ll do the best we can as we go along.”

Last night’s Nationwide race at Daytona was won by Cup regular Kasey Kahne. Six of the 16 Nationwide races this year have been won by non-Cup drivers (Regan Smith, Daytona 1; Chase Elliott, Texas and Darlington; Elliott Sadler, Talladega; Sam Hornish Jr., Iowa; Brendan Gaughan, Road America).

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.