NASCAR: Pistone, Gaughan go P1 in Nationwide practice at Iowa

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The NASCAR Nationwide Series began its standalone weekend at Iowa Speedway this afternoon with a pair of practice sessions on the 7/8-mile bullring for Saturday night’s U.S. Cellular 250.

A rookie and veteran managed to put up the fastest times in the two sessions. Chase Pistone (No. 31, Turner Scott Motorsports) was the quickest driver in the first practice with a lap of 132.142 miles per hour, and in the second practice, Road America winner Brendan Gaughan (pictured, No. 62, Richard Childress Racing) topped the time sheets with a lap of 133.469 mph.

In Practice 1, Pistone was followed by Sam Hornish Jr. (131.135 mph), who won the Nationwide race at Iowa in May. Nationwide Series title contender Regan Smith (130.999) was third, Gaughan (130.548) was fourth, and completing the Top 5 was Pistone’s teammate at TSM, Dylan Kwasniewski (130.489).

In Practice 2, Gaughan out-hustled JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry. Berry, making his inaugural Nationwide Series start, turned in a lap of 133.333 mph in the No. 5 Chevrolet that has been taken to Victory Lane in the NNS this year by Kevin Harvick (Richmond and Kentucky) and Kasey Kahne (Daytona).

Kenny Wallace (132.923) went P3 in the No. 29 RAB Racing entry, then came a pair of Roush Fenway Racing drivers in Ryan Reed (fourth, 132.917) and Trevor Bayne (fifth, 132.760).

Sprint Cup regular Brad Keselowski did not take part in Practice 1 due to his Sprint Cup duties at Pocono Raceway this afternoon. However, he flew to Iowa in time for Practice 2, where he posted the ninth-fastest lap (132.120) in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott (+4 points over Smith) was 11th and then eighth in the two practices. Qualifying will go off tomorrow afternoon at 4:40 p.m. ET and the 250-lap race will commence shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”