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Austin Dillon learns fast: Daytona brings out best in him

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If Austin Dillon were granted three wishes by a genie, they’d likely be:

1) Win a bunch of Sprint Cup championships.

2) Win a bunch of Sprint Cup races.

3) Convince NASCAR to run all 36 races of its season at Daytona International Speedway.

Now, Dillon has the potential to make his first two wishes come true, but the third one is unlikely – even though the 2.5-mile, high-banked superspeedway has quickly proven to be his favorite and best-performing track on the Sprint Cup schedule.

Consider:

* He brought back the infamous No. 3 car for the first time since the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona.

* He won the pole for this year’s season-opening 500 at Daytona.

* He earned a (so far) Sprint Cup career-best fifth-place finish Sunday in the Coke Zero 400 – again, at Daytona.

* He was the highest-finishing rookie in Sunday’s race at Daytona.

Maybe he should start calling himself Austin Daytona?

But seriously, Dillon has taken to racing at NASCAR’s most famous racetrack like a duck takes to swimming in DIS’s infamous infield-based Lake Lloyd.

“It’s huge for us getting a top 10, a top 5 – it definitely can change the rookie race,” Dillon said after the race. “We’ve got some momentum now.

“We’ve got the last four races, I think, in the rookie race, and just stay consistent and hopefully we can come out with this thing.  Our cars have been really fast all year, and we’re getting better each week.  I feel like we’re gaining a little bit, and I’m excited about that.”

Kyle Larson had held the early lead in the Rookie of the Year performance, but Dillon has come back with a vengeance in the last few races.

He’s now 13th in the rankings while Larson has dropped to 17th. If the Chase for the Sprint Cup were to start tomorrow, Dillon would make it and Larson wouldn’t.

“We jumped from 18th to 13th in points,” Dillon said. “There’s less positions now, but just got to stay consistent. We had a test at New Hampshire this past week. I felt like it was a good test for us, and we go on and try and keep these runs going for us as a rookie, and I think it’ll close up the rookie points now, too. We’ve gained a lot the last couple weeks, and this will definitely help.”

Although Larson has had his struggles of late, Dillon knows how talented his chief rival for Rookie of the Year is. The way the first half of the season went, Dillon expects just as close of a battle now that the second half of the 36-race season begins this coming Sunday at New Hampshire.

“Kyle has had a great season and I’m kind of putting our season against his because we’re racing for the rookie of the year,” Dillon said. “That was our main goal going into this year. Any other year the last couple years it would be a great season, but the way they’ve run we’ve put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

“We’re hanging in there. We just want to find some more speed at these mile-and-a-halfs, get more consistent. … Experience will come with that, I hope. I feel like our cars are getting better and we’ve been really harping on that as a group at RCR to make our cars better, and I think we’re starting to show.”

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Greaves car, lineup confirmed for FIA WEC’s Mexico City race

MONTEREY, CA - MAY 03:  Bruno Junqueira prepares to drive during practice for the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix Powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on May 3, 2014 in Monterey, California.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
Junqueira (above) back in action. Photo: Getty Images
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The LMP2 grid will grow by one for the next FIA World Endurance Championship race, the 6 Hours of Mexico City, with the confirmation of the Greaves Motorsport Gibson 015S Nissan.

Greaves will run the lineup of Roberto Gonzalez, brother of race promoter and RGR Sport by Morand team owner and co-driver Ricardo Gonzalez, along with Bruno Junqueira and Luis Diaz.

Junqueira and Roberto Gonzalez have been co-drivers in the past with the Rocketsports (RSR) team in the Prototype Challenge class of the American Le Mans Series.

Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images

Diaz (right) is another prototype class veteran, with recent PC experience (8Star Motorsports and PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports) added to his LMP2 days with Fernandez Racing.

All three of them also competed in Champ Car World Series races in Mexico City, with Gonzalez and Diaz part of a six-Mexican driver entry in the 2003 race (Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain Jr., Mario Dominguez and Rodolfo Lavin).

Ricardo Gonzalez co-drives the No. 43 RGR Sport Ligier JS P2 Nissan with Bruno Senna and Filipe Albuquerque in the WEC.

Sainz pleased to match McLaren’s pace in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:  Carlos Sainz of Scuderia Toro Rosso and Spain during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
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Carlos Sainz Jr. was pleased with a “solid” performance in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand prix that saw him finish eighth for Toro Rosso.

Sainz spent much of the race in close contention with his childhood racing hero Fernando Alonso, finishing just three seconds behind the McLaren driver at the checkered flag.

The result means that Sainz has scored points in all but one race he has finished in 2016, leading Toro Rosso’s charge in the constructors’ championship.

“[A] solid race again, up to [the] pace of McLarens. Pretty pleased with that,” Sainz told NBCSN after the race.

“Fernando got us at the start and that was about it. Impossible to pass from there and he controlled it.

“But it’s a very solid weekend from the team to close the first half of the season quite well, and we’re pretty happy.”

Toro Rosso is just five points clear of McLaren in the constructors’ championship, but Sainz hopes that a step in performance next weekend in Germany will help him to open up the gap once again.

“We have a step hopefully coming in Germany, and a step forward in performance,” Sainz said.

“McLaren has got ahead of us which is a bit worrying.

“But we will try to compensate that and see if we can hold them back.”

FIA WEC confirms July date for 2017 Nürburgring round

Audi R18 (2016) #7 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer
Audi R18 (2016) #8 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval, Oliver Jarvis
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FIA World Endurance Championship officials have confirmed that next year’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring will take place on July 16.

The WEC ventured to the Nürburgring for the first time in 2015 before enjoying a successful return over the weekend, with a crowd of 58,000 fans turning up on Sunday.

During the race won by the no. 1 Porsche crew of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, it was confirmed that the WEC will return to the Nürburgring in 2017 over the July 14-16 weekend.

 

However, it was flagged up on Twitter that this is the same weekend scheduled to host the Formula E double-header in Montreal.

Around two-thirds of the Formula E grid also race in the WEC, with the two championships preventing clashes so that drivers do not have to pick between them. As a result, it seems inevitable that one of the races will have to change date.

Palmer ‘gutted’ after spin costs him first F1 points in Hungary

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24:Jolyon Palmer of Great Britain driving the (30) Renault Sport Formula One Team Renault RS16 Renault RE16 turbo on track  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Jolyon Palmer felt “gutted” after a likely top-10 finish in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix was lost following a spin in the closing stages, costing him his first Formula 1 points.

2014 GP2 champion Palmer joined Renault for its return to F1 as a constructor in 2016, but arrived in Hungary without a point to his name from the opening 10 races of the season.

Palmer was left disappointed on Saturday after a red flag knocked him out of qualifying at the first hurdle, but a long first stint brought him into contention for points.

Palmer moved into the top 10 after jumping Nico Hulkenberg in the pits, only for Renault’s hard work to be undone when he spun off at Turn 4, losing three positions in the process.

The Briton was ultimately classified 12th after Esteban Gutierrez’s time penalty, extending his points drought to 11 races.

“I’m gutted as my first points in Formula 1 were there for the taking,” Palmer said.

“The car was good and I was driving well within myself in P10. I turned in the same as normal at turn four – I wasn’t hanging everything out and I was looking after the tires – but for some reason I lost the car in a massive snap.

“I need to look at everything with my engineers to see if there is anything we could have done to prevent it.

“I was running tenth, we had completed all our pit stops, we had good pace relative to those ahead and behind so it looks like we’ve made a real step forward this weekend.

“It was the best drive of my career today and just one small spin took away those points.

“I’m gutted today but I’ll be fighting to get in the same position or better in Hockenheim.”