NNS: Ryan Sieg avoids call for pushing, finishes 3rd at Daytona

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Perhaps the biggest reason for Kasey Kahne winning last night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway was the help he got behind him from Ryan Sieg.

However, the Nationwide Series has a rule in which pushing another car (in effect, tandem drafting) is forbidden – and earlier in the Subway Firecracker 250, race officials tagged Josh Wise and Landon Cassill with drive-through penalties for that very reason.

But in post-race comments, NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton explained why officials didn’t call Sieg for pushing.

“When you look at any of the situations and the cars make contact and bump and in that last lap there, a car will close on another car and the accordion will close up and make tight quarters all the way down through the whole row,” he said to reporters late last night.

“Cars are moving side to side, which tells you they are not directly connected.”

As part of the no pushing rule in Nationwide competition, cars are allowed to bump other cars in the draft but cannot stay “locked” together.

With the no-call, Sieg’s third-place result stands and it’s a big deal for the 27-year-old, who runs for the small RSS Racing team in the Nationwide Series.

“Hopefully, it will bring some more sponsors,” Sieg said in a statement. “We have some sponsors here and there, but it would be nice to have a full-time sponsor, because we run full-time Nationwide, hopefully we turned some eyes.”

Sieg’s efforts got the attention of both Kahne and his Nationwide Series team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who both praised him for being able to run with the big boys.

“He does a great job,” Kahne said. “It’s tough to run with the JR team and Gibbs and Penske and Roush and Turner Motorsports. He does a good job with what they have, and if he keeps it up, he’ll get more opportunities.”

Earnhardt said he first noticed Sieg earlier this year at Dover, and was impressed.

“I haven’t really paid a ton of attention to him prior to that,” he continued. “He had a couple runs during the race at Dover that were better than anyone outside the Top-5 for sure. He kinda hung around and raced with the 62 [Brendan Gaughan] and a couple of other guys in some equipment that’s far better than his.

“It was great to see him run well [Friday], because I think he does a lot with very little, so [it’s] good to see.”

Additionally, Sieg was able to make the Nationwide Series’ Dash 4 Cash with his third-place result. The Dash 4 Cash, which begins next weekend at New Hampshire, is a series of four races in which four eligible, full-time NNS drivers can compete for a $100,000 bonus that goes to the highest finisher in the D4C group.

For New Hampshire, the D4C drivers are Sieg, Regan Smith (finished second at Daytona), Ryan Reed (fourth), and Jeremy Clements (eighth).

Should one driver win the first three D4C awards at New Hampshire, Chicagoland, and Indianapolis (July 26), then win the Iowa race outright on Aug. 2, Nationwide Insurance will award a $600,000 bonus to that driver – bringing the total payout to $1 million.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.