NASCAR: Global Rallycross points leader Piquet Jr. to make Cup debut at the Glen

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Nelson Piquet Jr. will not only be returning to NASCAR in this weekend’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.

He’ll also be looking to make his first Sprint Cup Series start.

Piquet Jr., who has flourished this year in Red Bull Global Rallycross and currently sits as the series’ points leader, will drive the No. 77 Randy Humphrey Racing Ford Fusion with backing from WORX Yard Tools.

“Nelson Piquet Jr. is an extremely talented race car driver,” Humphrey said in a statement. “It’s been impressive to watch him race, not just in NASCAR, but in Formula One and Rallycross as well.

“He’s excelled at all levels of racing and we’re very excited about his Sprint Cup Series debut with RHR.”

In Red Bull GRC, Piquet Jr. has earned four podium finishes in the first five races of 2014 and holds a 46-point edge in the championship over Scott Speed.

But before Piquet Jr. migrated to GRC, he competed full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series last season for Turner Scott Motorsports. He earned five Top-10 finishes (best finish, 8th at Kentucky 1) and finished 12th in the NNS standings.

Prior to 2013, he ran full-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. He also ran a limited number of NNS races in those years, and took the checkered flag in the 2012 NNS event at Road America.

“Ever since I made my NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at The Glen in 2010, I’ve wanted to do the same in a Sprint Cup car,” Piquet Jr. said in the same release.

“I’ve really enjoyed racing in other series this year, but I’ve missed being in the NASCAR garage. I’m very grateful to Randy Humphrey, Bray Pemberton and WORX Yard Tools for making this opportunity happen.”

Piquet Jr. made his official NASCAR national series debut in the 2010 Truck Series’ season opener at Daytona International Speedway after running 28 races in Formula One across 2008 and 2009.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.